Stop Saying No, Start Saying Yes!

YES I know parents who have “yes” days with their kids—days when the kids can ask for just about anything (barring the hazardous, illegal, harmful or physically impossible) and the parents have agreed to go with it. While the idea assuredly raises some eyebrows and probably isn’t for every family or age/personality of child, I’ve observed that it’s rarely the Pandora’s Box most people would assume.

On the first round, kids might try to push the limits out of sheer curiosity to see how far they can ride that train—how far they can push the parental units. With time and steadiness on the parents’ parts, however, the kids generally settle into a happy but reasoned approach in which their requests end up reflecting their parents’ values to a startling degree. They plan a healthy picnic or cook a healthy, albeit strangely assembled meal together. They ask for an extended family activity or day trip that includes some hiking or biking or family sport. It becomes more about their self-determination and maybe some creative embellishments than flying in the face of the normal family guidelines, oddly even if they’re subject for regular complaint. Nonetheless, the fun factor just went through the roof. We adults can learn something from this….

What would it be like, for example, to have a “yes” day when it comes to Primal health?

I’m not talking about eating dessert for every meal of the day or lounging in front of the T.V. all day long. This isn’t about thumbing our noses at what reason and experience tell us is good for us and makes us feel good in a day. It’s about taking back the intention to live well from all the dismal commandment thinking we typically assign to it.

Think of all the “no” statements you’ve burdened yourself in the past—the “no this or that anymore,” the “I can’t have,” the “I have to,” the “Don’t do/eat/drink,” the “I need to,” the “Thou shalt not.” Seriously.

Can I ask the obvious here? How inspired do you feel day in and day out focusing on what you CAN’T do? (I can just hear the band of children’s responses.) Let me fill my mind with all I can’t eat, all I shouldn’t do, all I must now take on, all I will need to swear off for all eternity, all that I shall forsake. There’s a recipe for short-term motivation (or long-term misery).

So, how about letting go of the “no” fixation?

Imagine for a minute what it would be like to say YES? What would it mean for your commitment to health? (What would it mean for your life?) How could you reframe your own personal manifestation of the Primal Blueprint—your Primal living—with the power of YES?

Think of the dozens of food choices you make in a day—what to buy, what to leave on the shelf, what food sources/suggestions to pass by (e.g. fast food joints, office donuts), what foods to pack/prepare, what to defrost or plan for tomorrow, how to cook it, what to add to it not to mention how often and when to eat. Think of all the ways you could be sedentary but would need to say no to. Think of every poor sleep or stress choice you could make if it weren’t for the rule of “no” hanging over you. How many hundreds of crummy, self-defeating options would you be on the lookout for each day?

I don’t know about you, but it sounds like a lot of work put that way. How much more do you want to pile on in the name of proving your self-discipline?

But, wait, you might say. Isn’t healthy living about discipline after all? I think it’s all how you look at discipline. If continually testing your ability to say no a hundred times a day is the centerpiece of self-discipline in your mind, then I’d beg to differ. Research suggests overworking our self-discipline can majorly backfire—particularly at the end of the day when we’re decision-fatigued or when we’re going through stressful times.

If, however, designing a positive mindset around healthy living and putting effort into expanding and deepening your enjoyment of that lifestyle is self-discipline, then I think you’re absolutely right.

For me, it’s not about choosing a healthy life. It’s about building a healthy life.

I don’t want to visualize my life as a perpetual series of weighing tempting options—of starting over with each one of those dozens of choices I make each day. I purposely limit the number of choices I make in a day by wisely setting up my environment for that purpose. We only keep healthy food in the house. I more or less stick to a set schedule each day. I have a pretty consistent fitness/active leisure routine built into my day. I know where I like to shop. I have favorite meals, and I tend to make certain foods on a recurring basis. Keeping things simple this way conserves mental stamina which I can them put into other parts of my life.

Building a healthy life is all about where you put your energy.

If you perpetually spend your time skirting the “boundaries” between you and the forbidden lands (i.e. options), the “no” choices are always, ironically, front and center in our mind. You live suspended in a constant web of temptation and deprivation. You expend untold energy maintaining that “no” resistance. Forget the suffering and sacrifice. Face it: it gets tiring. Research shows that, while we may use our intellect to make a healthy plan, how we actually behave and choose in a day depends on our emotions.

If, however, your focus is building a healthy lifestyle one day at a time with all the things you enjoy the most, how much more pleasing and gratifying does that sound? Now we’re talking about what’s workable in the real world of human behavior.

Let’s do this. Let’s see how many positive statements about Primal living we can come up with.

A Primal choice I enjoy making for myself each morning is ______.
One of my favorite Primal pastimes is ______.
The way I like to move heavy things is ______.
The best part about making sure I get direct sun each day is ______.
My favorite Primal recipes are ______.
I look forward to ______ (Primal dish) each holiday.
The slow to moderate movement activities I most enjoy are ______.
I get so much out of these de-stressing choices ____________.
I can’t wait to get all the benefits (e.g. _____) of a good night’s sleep.
It’s great to be able to _____, _____, and _____ this weekend—all things I couldn’t do before going Primal.
I’m looking forward to my _____ for dinner tonight.
I love that I do _____, _____ and _____ for myself now—what I never would do for myself before.

Apply these now, and think of all you can say “yes” to—all you can lean into (rather than recoil from) in a day. Imagine all the choices you can truly relish and even celebrate in a day.

“Yes! I get to enjoy a hearty roast or juicy steak tonight!”
“Yes! I get to spend the evening walking around the park with my partner this evening.”
“Yes! I get to make that favorite Primal dish for Thanksgiving in a few weeks.”
“Yes! I get to enjoy my morning meditation time.”
“Yes! I get to feel the sun on me and take in the fresh air over my lunch hour walk.”
“Yes! I get to track my lifting progress at the gym tonight and see if I can top my personal best.

“Yes! I get to relish that afternoon nap!”

You get the point here, but the permutations are endless. Instead of engaging in yet another nagging internal battle around denial, we can turn the whole game on its head and ask ourselves what we are fortunate to enjoy that’s life-giving, healthful and happiness-inspiring. What are our favorite aspects of Primal living, and how are we looking forward to living them today?

What Primal choices and activities are you celebrating getting to do, feel, eat, achieve, enjoy, share today? And how does reframing it in YES mode make you feel differently about your selections each day? Share your thoughts, and thanks for reading, everyone. Enjoy your end to the week.

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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30 thoughts on “Stop Saying No, Start Saying Yes!”

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  1. Couldn’t agree more. Last year I did NOvember where I challenged myself to go for the month with NO coffee, NO alcohol, NO wheat and NO sugar.

    This year I am repeating the exercise, expanded somewhat, and renamed YESvember. I have 10 daily habit goals I want to achieve and have expressed them all positively. OK I had to cheat a bit to get to “YES to coffee-free”, but in general it feels more positive, more enriching and more achievable.

  2. Reading the first couple of paragraphs, I was thinking about the value of submitting to making ‘yes’ the answer when it’s te right answer. Like daring to do something you old yourself back from.

    More to he point in question, doing a run that is mostly sprinting at certain places on the route is something that I feel positively about, and I can feel like I need it. Sometimes it’s because I’m angry.

  3. “A Primal choice I enjoy making for myself each morning is ______.”


    1. “Bacon,” “eating bacon,” “lifting bacon” and “chasing bacon” answers all of Mark’s questions above!

  4. When I had children, my Mom’s advice was “say ‘yes’ as often as you can, and when you have to say ‘no’, stick to it. “. Well that worked famously for my two daughters, who are now 18 and 21 year old lovely ladies, happy, respectful and well-rounded. After going “mostly Primal” for two years, and completely Primal for 5 or 6 weeks, I am finding this is great advice for me too, in sticking to my food principles.

  5. Yes to embracing primal abundance!

    I love food and would never stick to a primal eating pattern if it was all about deprivation (or even willpower).

    My husband (who, unlike me, has only been eating primal for a couple years) often declares as we’re enjoying dinner together: “We sure do eat really well.” He’s talking about how the food makes us feel…AND about how delicious it is!

    We usually prefer to eat simple meals made with good ingredients–often a simple protein surrounded by various veggies, followed by a couple squares of 85% dark chocolate. Tonight’s his 53rd birthday dinner, however, so I’m saying Yes by making a yummy coconut-flour cake for dessert, followed by a nighttime walk on along the ocean:)

  6. “The best part about making sure I get direct sun each day is…balconies!”

    You get a bird’s-eye view of trees and goings-on, from critters on the roofs to people going in and out of shops. I find that even in a busy city nobody bothers to look up, so it’s totally free of interpersonal stress 🙂

  7. I like saying yes to simplify. Primal living exposes the trap and expense of modern convenience. Coffee is a perfect example. To the unenlightened, getting in a car driving and parking waiting on line to pay $4 for mediocre coffee in a disposable plastic container is a daily ritual. To me primal coffee consists of grinding the beans of my choice, boiling water and preparing the finished product in a French press. The most simple and primitive device still makes better coffee. I go to a gym for variety and the social interaction with other like minded people. However on my off days, I seem to enjoy trail hikes and human powered water sports more. An energetic dog makes a great personal trainer. Simplify shopping by just visiting the meat counter and produce section. In that case you will never discover there are 12 different types of oreo cookies to say no to. I did say yes to the golden kiwis in season from NZ. With options like that to say yes to its simple to say no to junk.

    1. I’ve had this experience a lot myself. I used to feel like I had to buy all kinds of new gear and special food just to feel like I was “on the right path.” These days, I feel like I hardly need anything to be the best version of myself, physically and mentally. I think this is why Primal and the minimalism movement seem to go hand in hand.

    1. “The way I like to move heavy things”


      An ex-coworker had a rule: he would not take home any girl he could not lift up. He was a gym freak…

  8. I don’t like to constantly say “no” to my son’s incessant asking for stuff or to do something we cannot possibly do right that instant. So I had him change his way of “asking” so that it no longer sounds like “can we ……” to “wouldn’t it be fun if we could …..” and then I can say “yes, that does sound like fun. Let’s plan to do that” (or make that or whatever……)
    Works better for both of us. My friend, (not close of course) said to him one time when he did the “new improved questioning” (before I could respond) “Well, life isn’t about having fun, we can’t always just do fun things” AAAAAAAAAAAA ….. so I told him “very good, it does sound like fun” and then told her that he has instructed to ask that way so he was doing a GOOD thing…… sigh.

  9. It’s so good to see you commenting in the comments Mark. It really is what has brought me back to daily visits to the blog. I went primal a little more than 2 years ago, and this saying yes is a great re-frame to keep things fresh. Another tool I use is a twist on affirmations I call expansive questions. Instead of saying, “I’m choosing healthy food every day,” which just actvates the little voices who call B.S. on that statement, I say ” why is it so easy for me to choose real food that tastes good most of the time?” This allows my curious loves-to-solve-a-puzzle non-consciuos mind to start looking for reasons that make sense… why IS it so easy? When I’m looking for why it is so easy, I find those answers. Thank you!

    1. Hi Kay,

      Another really great take on today’s post. It’s important to recognize what speaks to you individually (and how to speak to yourself).

      Thanks for reading!

    2. I agree, it’s great to see Mark in the comment section again.

      I do read all the post but it feels more interactive with Mark commenting here and there.

      Thanks for all you do, so much information shared freely – the Paleo/Primal community are leaders in such sharing.

      1. I love your chosen nickname, Kelda! Have you read “The Wee Free Men” by Terry Pratchett?
        Oh, and I agree that it is always great to see that Mark is reading the posts!

  10. This post is such a winner! It says it all!

    I always think of an old Far Side cartoon where the dog did something naughty, the person is shaming him/her (left side of carton, “Bad Ralph, you should not have done that Ralph, naughty Ralph”) and all the dog hears is “blab blab RALPH, blab blab RALPH, blab blab RALPH.” Ralph is wagging his tail because all he hears is his name.

    I observe the same thing happens when I have these kinds of thoughts: “I should not eat that cake.” Part of me only hears “CAKE.” CAKE CAKE CAKE. If instead my brain is filled with “I love my steak,” I hear STEAK STEAK STEAK. So much easier. It helps I don’t like cake, but you get the gist.

    A month ago I crossed over to the “alcohol is poison” place, and I have been letting thoughts of it slip away while fostering positive thoughts about everything else. This month, my project is to develop some delicious beverages with no sugar or sugar substitutes based on tea reductions and sparkling water. That’s a “yes” in the making. I have also lost nine pounds and I touch that thought the second “red wine” floats into my head. I look at my progress chart so it’s concrete.

    In addition, the first thing I do every morning is write three gratitudes about life in general, three about my husband, and three about me. I cannot tell you how many involve the loving acts of preparing or eating good healthy food or enjoying movement. I find now that during the day I am more likely to notice positive things and put my energy there as well as express my gratitude in the moment.

    Along the way, instead of feeling deprivation and its cousins, once in a while I bump into joy, happiness, and satisfaction. Thank you Mark and MDA and this community for all the positive reinforcement for this path.

    1. I had a good belly laugh at the thought of your brain hearing only “CAKE, CAKE, CAKE!” Haha ????. Seems our brains have a “mind of their own” sometimes.

    2. I remember that cartoon! And you’re right, we are just like that dog! I definitely am. You made me laugh out loud.

      I like Mark’s idea of streamlining life as much as possible to avoid exposure to those foods. If I don’t even walk down the candy aisle, there’s less willpower I have to exert. Now to put it into practice!

  11. Discipline is such an individual thing. It shouldn’t be mindless adherence to anything, and it shouldn’t be adherence for the sake of adherence. If you’re going to say “no” to something, make sure you have a good reason. The same goes for saying “yes.”

    As far as I’m concerned, being 100 percent Paleo/Primal–versus 90/10 or 80/20– just for the sake of “perfection” is allowing a principle to dictate one’s life. On the other hand, being 100 percent Paleo/Primal FOR A GOOD REASON–such as deteriorating health, or finding that 80/20 doesn’t work for you–does make sense. My point is, know the facts; know what works for you as a person; and always take full responsibility for your own decisions.

  12. I love your posts so much, Mark, thank you.
    The crazy thing is, the good stuff we say yes to is so much more beautiful and precious than the bad stuff we (I) still crave.
    Yes to walks in the park every day, even during the Polar Vortex. Yes to my grocery basket never having packaged goods anymore. Yes to yoga stretches, and restful sleeps. Yes to camping, hiking and swimming. Yes to time for relationships. Yes to strong legs and healthy skin. Yes to berries and kefir and lamb chops, to avocado and sweet potato and broth. Yes yes yes to reading and painting and crafting. Yes to this beautiful gift called life.

  13. I could not have gone primal had I stayed in the “no” mentality of dieting that I lived with for all of my adult life. It took me six months of reframing how I felt about certain foods, realizing they have no power over me and finding out that the things I thought I loved and hated giving up every time I “dieted” made me feel like crap anway. So, say yes. Yes to butter and cheese and well prepared meats and vegetables and fruits. Yes to a wee bit of maple syrup rather than a boatload of artificial sweeteners. The only thing to say no to is conventional wisdom. This has been only one month of primal, but a lifetime in the making and so much of my former way of eating was forged in the deprivation/discipline mindset. The weight is not falling off, and there’s a lot, about 90 lbs, but I feel amazingly different already!

  14. Yes, indeed!! The entire reason that I found MDA in the first place is that I got TOTALLY DISGUSTED WITH THE NO DIETS! I was so tired of listening to people talk about what they did NOT eat, and what was NOT in this or that food… Nobody was talking about what GOOD things were in their food! I did a search for “nutrient-dense foods”, and found MDA.

    My diet was already pretty close to paleo. I avoided sweets and white flour, and ate plenty of fresh vegetables and meats. But I did not understand the full picture about healthy fats, or about grains. I was delighted to find out about a diet that is as packed as possible with the vitamins and minerals that are both water and fat soluble, and essential fatty acids that I need to stay not merely slim, but also healthy, vigorous, and active!

    I don’t feel that I am denying myself things. I think of the richness of my food! And, since my daily food consists of organic dark leafy greens that are loaded with calcium and vitamins C and D, and pastured meats and fats, or oily fish, and colorful and delicious vegetables of all sorts, with an occasional sweet fruit, I think I am always getting the best and most nutritious of everything! I eat like a king! I do not eat dry and tasteless breads, or bowls of grain, like the poor and starving peasants of the past.

    And since I have not been sick for a year and a half (I’ve been “primal” for 2 years), and my body feels stronger and more energetic, I feel reinforced on a daily basis.

    When I am offered something SAD, I will accept it if the food and situation warrants it. I will make and eat birthday cake for my mother. I’ll make a fruit pie for Thanksgiving. I’ll make shortbread cookies for Christmas. I’ll eat my friend’s homemade ice cream, and the cookies or cakes that my kids make for my birthday. An occasional treat does not a diet make! So I don’t say “No” to these treats.

    So I almost never feel that my way of eating is a “No”. It is a “YES!”.

  15. More often than not, when I read articles like these on MDA, I find that I am practicing a similar approach in my life. Even though I have been Primal for 5+ years, articles like this reinforce the notion that this is the type of life that I was meant to have. Thanks, Mark.

  16. Our CSA just ended for the season and I had to spend a lot of time in a grocery store today with my two toddlers. I was not prepared for all the holiday food (ok, “food”) I’d have to say no to. I haven’t had an Oreo in four years. Why does it take energy to walk past white fudge flavored ones?? This is a timely article to help me reframe the experience. And, I got to tell them yes to kombucha, a bag of organic apples, some gorgeous olives, and gouda! (But no to lacroix–gotta wait for a sale.)

  17. I went Primal 3.5 years ago(!) Lost 40lb, got married, had a baby and regained all the weight 🙁

    Struggled to get back to Primal, kept falling off the wagon, until……

    I remembered that I ENJOYED living primally!

    It seemed like a huge mountain to climb to get back to my slim self, but I was looking at it in such a negative way that I couldn’t stick to my ‘diet’.

    I’m now back to Primal, I feel relaxed, in control and look forward to an improved quality of life.

    Thanks Mark 🙂