The two reasons we resort to “maybe” and why it’s kinder, to you and everyone else, if you stick to “yes” and “no.”
The revelation first happened when I was working on a shoot out in Tel Aviv, Israel. I was seated on a park bench next to an Israeli production assistant named Adam. Behind us a film crew was hard at work setting up our next shot.
Adam is in his mid-20’s, a chain smoker, and yet is somehow more ripped than I will ever be in my entire life. He nonchalantly chastised me for drinking a Diet Coke in between the puffs of his third cigarette in twenty minutes.
“You know what the problem is with Americans?” Adam asked.
“What’s the problem with Americans?” I replied.
Gun control? Racism? The Kardashians? There were a frightening number of ways this conversation could go.
“You guys are afraid of rejecting people.”
“What do you mean?”
“When you don’t want to do something, instead of saying ‘no,’ you say ‘maybe.’ It’s why you think foreigners can be rude. We say ‘no,’ when we don’t want to do something. It comes off as brash.”
OK, the English wasn’t quite that clean but that was the gist of it.
Regardless, Adam’s hypothesis rattled my brain in a way the Kardashians never could. It had such a profound effect on me that I spent 12 hours and half a Xanax on the way home deliberating it.
I, for one, have a terrible track record with rejecting people. Not getting rejected — I can do that just fine. I mean when it comes down to giving someone a firm and concrete ‘no.’
So when I safely landed back in the states, I immediately started experimenting with my Israeli friend’s profound theory. I started paying attention to my own responses as well as those from people around me.
I’m not talking about responses to major decisions either. I’m talking “Do you want to go to the movies later?” Or “Are you coming to my birthday party later?” Or “Do you want to get hammered and stumble around ’til we find a taco stand later?”
Sure enough, I found that the vast majority of the time, when responding to a proposal I did not want to partake in, I almost always responded with “maybe” as opposed to “no.” When I did want to partake in said proposal, it was always a straightforward “yes.”
And when I did throw out a rejection, it tended to always be in some sort of bullshit logistical disguise. “I want to, but I think I’m getting sick.” “I don’t know what time I’m going to be getting off work so I can’t commit.”
That’s it. Those were my two programmed responses when I didn’t want to do something. Either it was a “maybe” or some convoluted excuse for “no.”
Sure enough, even my friends had trouble rejecting me. Not my acquaintances. My best friends. The future groomsmen of my wedding.
So, with this revelation fresh in my brain, I decided that I was going to journey into uncharted waters. For the following few weeks, I promised myself that I was not allowed to respond to any question with “maybe.”
Every time I was faced with a proposition from anyone at all, I would force myself to make a “yes” or “no” decision on it. It was alright if I needed a few minutes to think it over, as long as eventually I gave a stern answer that I would force myself to commit to.
Do you want to ask this girl out? Yes or no? Do you want to go to this party? Yes or no? Do you want to get hammered and stumble around ’til you find a taco stand? Yes or no?
Sounds so simple it’s stupid.
Well this little change to my vocabulary ended up changing my life. And mostly, for the better.
I became significantly more confident. Almost overnight. I was forcing myself to trust my own intuitions in ways I had not done before.
See, our “maybe’s,” as I came to realize, tend to be born from two ideas:
The first can be attributed to a phenomenon us Millennials have come to know as FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out. Our constant social media presence keeps us aware and engaged with everything we are not a part of.
Not only that, it does so under a guise that we know to be exaggerated, yet choose to believe anyway. What you don’t see in those Snapchats or Instagram posts is the 45 minute line to get into the bar, the overpriced drinks, or that creepy old dude in the leather jacket who knows every T-Swift lyric.
My “yes” and “no’s” therefore became an acknowledgement and dismissal of said FOMO. They were my proof that I had weighed all my options and was acting in accordance with my own personal interests.
How much easier is it to watch Netflix when you know exactly what you’ve signed on to see as opposed to browsing it’s endless options? It’s the “what if’s” that make you second guess yourself.
And so my decision making eliminated the anxieties of “what if” and with that, inspired a tremendous confidence in my own personal preferences and tastes.
The second and more noble reason for our “maybe’s” is that we are afraid of hurting people. We have come to assume that our rejection of a plan may somehow be misconstrued as insulting.
That notion gives us a lot of credit. The truth is our response to a question tends to be a much bigger deal to us than to our peers. This, obviously, makes sense, as it is our lives being potentially altered.
But after a few weeks of flat out saying “no” to be people, I quickly realized that no one gives a shit.
I didn’t lose any friends. I didn’t upset any co-workers. In fact, people seemed more relieved by my honesty than anything else.
See, the truth is we have begun to accept “maybe’s” as “no’s anyway. Most people, upon hearing a “maybe,” shrug their shoulders and write off the response with a dejected tone. And so my response actually came off as refreshing and truthful.
Every one of these interactions further proved that it was alright to trust my gut, that I was justified in my course of action. I never even needed an excuse.
A few months into this experiment and I see very few reasons to go back to my old indecisive ways. I’m happier, more confident, and my anxiety levels have dropped significantly. And it was all thanks to the re-discovery of a two letter word I had learned as a toddler.
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Photo: Getty Images