/ Elliot C Smith / blog

Soft Yes

August 4, 2019

A soft yes, one you give because it’s something you “probably should say yes to”, is a dangerous yes. A soft yes takes time or resources. A soft yes returns, but it’s dampened by its softness. A soft yes should be a hard no. Find the soft yes, and purge it.

Searching for the soft yes can be tough. Most of the time a soft yes is given without thinking. The extra meeting you didn’t have time for. The favor you promise someone to look polite in the moment. Learning to differentiate a soft yes from a hard yes takes time and introspection. In the early days of anything you’ll be tempted to say yes to everything. This is a good thing. In the early days of a career, friendship or any other endeavor, you don’t know what you want. You’re learning. Given enough time however, the soft yes takes more than it gives. As you get deeper into something it takes longer. It takes longer because things that matter take time. That makes time precious. That’s why a soft yes is so dangerous.

The soft yes is a hard habit to break. You’re hard wired to chase positive reward, everyone is. The thing that splits the prolific from the the rest of us is being good at understanding long term rewards. You need to rewire yourself to see that spending one hundred hours on one thing gives you more than ten hours on ten things. If you’re like me, you’re thinking about all the ways to waste one hundred hours on something. That’s the danger talking. Committing to something is scary and you’re built to look at opportunity cost per task. It’s easy to think about all the ways one hundred hours could be spent on other things. It’s a lot of time to give. On the other hand, an hour or two here and there is not much time to lose. Until you lose hundreds of them.

A soft yes is often a reluctant yes. Things done reluctantly don’t get your full attention. Why should they. The part of you that measures how much effort you should put into something grows a lot faster than your filter. When you’re half in, things take twice as long. These things get done, and you’ll be glad when they are, but it takes a retrospective of your time to see the price paid. Like the frog boiling in a pot, every soft yes drains a little more of your day until there is nothing left. Often ending in the cousin of the soft yes, the reluctant no.

You’ll hit it eventually. Give a soft yes enough times and you’re time is gone. A tired week passes and you think about how despite a week full of activity, nothing was done. It’s time to clean your slate and start again. Some time later, you clean slate again. The only escape is a better filter. Moving the bar so that everything below the line is a no. Not a reluctant no, a no that says I can’t make this a priority. A no that says I’d rather give you an honest no than a soft yes. A no that makes room for the strong yes. A no that when said one hundred times, gives you space for the hundred hour yes.


A word of caution. Most of us have been handing out a soft yes for so long that everything feels soft. Brushing your teeth gets a soft yes because it has to be done. You’re probably never going to be excited about brushing your teeth. If you manage to be real about saying no it can become tempting to say no to more than you should. Saying no to time with family, because its been a long week and you’re strong yes is for you time. Saying no to the gym because it feel like a soft yes. Before you start with a no, think long and hard about what’s important to you. Where you’d spend an extra 24 hours a week if you magically got another day. Don’t lose sight of those things, make time for those things. Short quality of life habits included. Brush your teeth.

Sign up for notifications of new posts