My Real-World “Yes Man” Experiment

by Vlad Dolezal on May 13, 2009

Who says real life isn’t like movies…

Have you seen the movie “Yes Man”?

In the movie, Jim Carrey plays a sad lonely bank worker, who sticks within his comfort zones and rejects any novelty. He basically says “no” to everything, and even misses his best friend’s engagement party.

Then a friend from his past suddenly turns up, and drags him to a motivational seminar. The seminar’s speaker grabs Jim Carrey, shakes him up, forces him to take a good long look at his life, and convinces him to say “Yes!” to every request and opportunity. It leads to… well I won’t spoil it for you, in case you haven’t seen the movie ;)

So I decided to do my own “Yes Man” experiment. For a week, I would say “Yes!” to every request.

I did it because I thought it would be fun. And I was absolutely right. But it turned out to be a lot more than just fun…

My week of saying “Yes!”

On Monday afternoon, I was working on a presentation with a few fellow math geeks that was due for Tuesday.

Since it was a bank holiday, the maths department was closed. But as we were walking past the entrance, we saw some guy get in with a key. After a moment’s hesitation, I decided to say “Yes!” to the opportunity, called after him, and asked him to let us in. After a moment’s negotiation, he agreed. (Victory for saying Yes :D )

As we stayed there, long into the night, a friend mentioned he’d like to do a Eurotrip in the summer. I think that’s a brilliant idea, so we got talking about it, and we might do it together this summer. Yet we probably never would have talked about it if we didn’t sneak into the math department and stay there all day.

Of course, Monday was just the beginning. The really crazy stuff started on Tuesday…

On Tuesday, I went to a dance show, because some of my breakdancer friends asked me to, and I decided to say “Yes!” to the request. I didn’t know what the show was going to be like. It turned out to be a huge 3-hour show of all the dance-related societies at the university, and it was absolutely awesome!

That alone would have been worth saying “Yes!”.

But that’s not the end of it. Because I went to the dance show, I met a friend of a friend (whom I’ve met once before) in the queue. We got chatting and had a fun time at the dance show.

Then, out of the blue, she calls me on Thursday morning (I didn’t even give her my phone number), asking me if I can come along to a photoshoot. Appranently, a friend of hers was doing some arts project.

I was feeling tired and lazy that morning, so I automatically said “no”. I put down the phone, and then realized what I had just done. I spent about 10 minutes struggling with myself, torn between facing that I said “no”, and calling her back, looking stupid, and telling her I actually DO have time to do the photoshoot.

In the end, saying “Yes!” won, so I called her back. The photoshoot turned out to be a quick half-hour, and great fun! And I talked to one of the photographers, and he agreed to meet up sometime and do a free photoshoot of me for my blog’s new header image. (University life is awesome. There’s so many hobbyists willing to do great-quality work for free!)

So coming to a dance show resulted in getting in touch with a photographer for my blog’s header image. It’s like the scene from Yes Man where Jim Carrey finally makes use of his guitar lessons. Completely, utterly unrelated and unexpected. 2 Cuils.

(Maybe Cuil was ahead of its time, and actually models reality more accurately than any other search engine :p )

Another thing happened that was completely insignificant, but quite fun!

I was walking on campus, and a girl tried to hand me some flyer. Per reflex, I just said no and kept walking. After 100 metres, I realized what just happened. I stopped dead in the middle of a frequented walk, and just stood there for about 2 minutes, torn between going back, asking for the flyer, and looking stupid… or breaking my covenant and saying “no”.

So I walked back, said “On second thought, give me one”, grabbed a flyer out of her hand, turned around and walked away. The flyer turned out to be useless to me (advertising some communist seminar in the summer. Unfortunately, I’ll be on holiday in a different country at the time), but walking back and asking for it was was tons of fun :D

There was one other completely unexpected way my “Yes Man” experiment affected my life.

I’m on next year’s committee for the Enterprise Society, and I was invited to a posh dinner on Thursday with some university officials. At first I was hesitating about going, because Thursday evening was pretty much the only chance I had all week to get some exercise (volleyball training).

But I decided to say “Yes!” to the dinner, and instead get my exercise by jogging every morning.

I’ve only missed one morning since. Jogging turns out to be surprisingly pleasant! Yet I never would have tried it if I didn’t fill up my schedule by saying “Yes!” to the dinner.

Saying “Yes!” is DEFINITELY worth it!

So, in a single week of saying “Yes!”, I managed to:

  • find friends to potentially do a Eurotrip with
  • get in touch with a skilled photographer
  • develop the habit of jogging every morning
  • have TONS of fun :D

And that was just a single week! Imagine how much can happen if you say “Yes!” to the hundreds of little opportunities you encounter every day.

Saying “Yes!” can utterly transform your life, often in completely mysterious ways. I had no idea going to a dance show would lead to meeting a photographer. Jim Carrey’s character had no idea what learning to play the guitar would lead to.

It seems like blind luck. But it happens far too often to be a co-incidence. There’s just something about saying “Yes!” that can completely turn your life around.

Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself!

(Update: Several readers pointed out “Yes Man” was actually based on a real story. So it seems like I did a real-world experiment based on a movie based on a real-world experiment. Oh well :) )

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris May 13, 2009 at 13:17

“Who says real life isn’t like movies…”

Er..sorry to break this, but the film was based on real life. Danny Wallace wrote a book abou it.

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Vlad Dolezal May 13, 2009 at 13:18

@Chris:
I didn’t know that. Thanks for sharing!

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Dalibor May 13, 2009 at 13:54

One of my favorite topics is microemotions. They appear on a face and last fraction of seconds but they are also in our brain. Every Yes is microemotion, and every no is microemotion and sum of this is slow lazy person or fast and agile. So Yes every yes counts. :)

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Vlad Dolezal May 13, 2009 at 14:20

@Dalibor:
That sounds pretty damn interesting.

So you’re saying that if you condition yourself to always automatically think “Yes” and only switch to “No” if you have compelling reasons, rather than the other way around, you’re going to be much happier and a quicker thinker? Awesome :D

That’s one of the effects of my week-long experiment. “Yes” is now my default response. It’s an awesome feeling!

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kx May 13, 2009 at 16:41

i just saw the film yesterday… saying yes definitely has the power but i think no voodoo is involved. All that happens is the birth of new opportunities. lifeline is like the branch of trees: when you grab an opportunity more of them will appear, so it is an exponental growth of opportunities.

kx’s last blog post..Pénteki bölcselet #9

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Positively Present May 13, 2009 at 17:34

Wow! That sounds really interesting. I’m going to give it a try and see how saying “yes” works for me!

Positively Present’s last blog post..when life gives you lemons…

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Chris May 13, 2009 at 17:34

@Dalibor

It’s called Microexpressions

Microexpressions have nothing to do with “yes” or “no” and “yes” and “no” have nothing to do with agility, intelligence, or laziness.

Microexpressions are unconsciousness displays of the six base human emotions that are visible even if a person is attempting to suppress emotion.

Do you want to be more intelligent?

Don’t blindly say “Yes” or “No” to anything. No knee-jerk reactions. Instead, take a step back and learn to analyze each situation. Learn to use your brain to actively make decisions. Sure, you can bias towards “yes” or “no”, and that’s fine. But you shouldn’t use auto-pilot to make decisions.

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Srinivas Rao May 13, 2009 at 18:28

Great post. In the spirit of your experiment, I wanted to see if you’d be willing to be interviewed for The Skool of Life? :). I just started the blog mastermind program and the next step is interviewing other bloggers.

Srinivas Rao’s last blog post..5 Simple tips for Starting the Personal Development Journey

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simplystephen May 13, 2009 at 19:07

Vlad…I’ve been working on so many things but recently a similar approach to just doing it is having an awesome effect on my life. I’m feeling extra good about myself and climbing mountains. It parallels the “procrastination” you recently cited.

I was thinking if you’re dedicated to saying yes then would you write 700 posts on productivity for me…kidding. A guest post exchange would be welcome however. Since you asked.

Keep up the good blogging…your posts seem to improve each time, like a fine wine. Thank you for sharing.

simplystephen’s last blog post..How do you eat an Elephant?

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Vlad Dolezal May 13, 2009 at 23:00

@kz:
Yeah, I also think it’s all natural phenomena… but it sure feels like voodoo :). (Kinda like when you try explaining probability to non-mathematicians, e.g. the Birthday paradox)

@PP:
Get back in touch when your experiment is finished. I’d like to hear how it turns out!

@Chris:
Speaking of microexpressions, Dr. Paul Dobransky has this cool technique he uses to pick up women he calls sending. Basically, you focus on a strong image or emotion, and then make eye contact with a woman and let the hundreds of little muscles in your face communicate the message. And because we humans have mirror neurons in the brain, which basically mirror the emotion you see another human feeling, she will also start feeling those emotions and feel attracted to you.

I’ve tried it a couple of times, and didn’t have much success. I put that down to my lack of practice ;)

@Srinvas:
Hmmm, maybe. Get in touch by e-mail (me@vladdolezal.com) and maybe we can agree on something.

@Simplystephen:
People like you are one reason I didn’t tell others about my experiment while it was going on. I didn’t want to have to say no to a bunch of ridiculous requests, ruining my experiment :)

(jk, I still love you)

About the guest post exchange… I don’t think I could provide a guest post for you, because I can barely provide content for my own blog. And when I get ahead of myself and produce a guest post, I send it along to one of the big blogs (And I mean BIG. They have over 10 times as many subscribers as me.). But if you want to pass a guest post my way, I’d be quite happy to publish it, if it’s awesome enough.

I’m glad whatever you’re doing is working out for you! (And no thanks, I don’t want to eat an elephant. I’m a vegetarian ;) )

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Sneha May 14, 2009 at 09:48

A friend of mine tried this same thing for just one day. Here is the article:

http://ec2do.wordpress.com/2009/04/15/day2-say-yes-to-everything/

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Vlad Dolezal May 14, 2009 at 12:26

@Sneha:
Interesting, though obviously toned down because it was just one day.

The bit where your friend registered to be a blood donor reminds me of one more incident from my week. At the beginning of the week, I picked up an advertising leaflet somewhere (can’t remember where), and just stuffed it into my pocket without looking. Then I forgot all about it.

On Friday, I found the leaflet. Turns out it was advertising registering to be a bone marrow donor. And the registration was on Thursday. Damn, that’s exactly the kind of thing I’d normally never get around to, and I missed the chance!

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Hilary May 14, 2009 at 19:25

Hi Vlad – I came over from your comment on creativity on The Change Blog .. I just liked your linking 3 thoughts together and seeing what they come up with ..

however your ‘yes man’ post is fun .. and a good light hearted (serious) look at the way we say yes or no to things .. too often we don’t give opportunities a chance .. or those thought processes to link in and develop into something ..

I’ll be back to your fun life development blog!!

Thanks for this interesting post .. love your views of Uni life .. & I must look at the maths connection sometime .. when I get back to the UK next week! Go well
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Hilary’s last blog post..Love – a Chapel and an Opera House (two stories)

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Vlad Dolezal May 15, 2009 at 10:59

@Hilary:

Glad you liked the post (and the comment about creativity).

I keep a light-hearted view, even when talking about “serious” stuff. Because life is fun – there’s no reason to get overly serious about it :)

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Hilary May 15, 2009 at 13:06

Hi Vlad .. I like the idea of keeping it light-hearted, even if it’s serious .. because as you say life is fun ..

Thanks for replying ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Hilary’s last blog post..Elephants, pythons, Zimbabwe .. and more .. to be continued …

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Tula May 17, 2009 at 15:48

Two things: I think this experiment worked for you because you saw opportunities to say yes that a lot of us miss, starting with the guy unlocking the maths building. Most people wouldn’t have seen that as a yes-or-no question. But you were attuned enough to see the possibility.
Second: You met a girl at the dance performance who called you the next day to go to a photo shoot, but you end celebrating the photographer you met. Um, as a girl myself, I’d say there’s an opportunity here you may be missing (or perhaps potentially ignoring) — girl who called you to go to photo shoot is interested in you. You don’t have to beam emotions into her eyes.

Great post once again, Vlad. You never fail to inspire me and cheer me.

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Vlad Dolezal May 18, 2009 at 18:12

@Tula:

You’re right, I picked up on the spirit of “saying ‘Yes!’” to opportunities, not just the literal interpretation of just saying yes.

But to be honest, I didn’t always say “Yes!” to every opportunity I spotted. I did say “Yes!” to all requests, but with opportunities, I sometimes took them and sometimes didn’t. Oh well :p

And as for the girl… yes, I’m aware she’s attracted to me. But for various reasons, I’m choosing not to pursue. You’re right though, I like hanging out with her, maybe I could at least invite her for a cup of tea, or something. Being friends with cute girls never hurts ;)

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Evelin July 6, 2009 at 10:34

Hey Vlad :)
I watched the Yes man about five months ago and it had a strong affect on me, BUT I was still too lazy to live like he did. But..last week I accidently saw it again and decided to try it. And I had a lot of fun. Not just fun but A LOT OF FUN. I met tons on new and funny people :) So I strongly suppore the idea :P It was nice reading your blog :)

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Vlad Dolezal July 6, 2009 at 23:20

@Evelin:

Glad to see you think the way I do. Ya, it’s amazing how much fun you can have saying “Yes!” to random things :D

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Kevin November 8, 2009 at 01:38

Dude. I’m exactly like Jims character, Im a shut out never do anything and just play video games all day… Its so bad that my Gf and my friends are starting to ignore me and not want to do anything at all… Then I watched this movie and started taking its advice… This is the first day.. if your interested at all Throw me a email and I’ll tell you how it worked for me.

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Patrick February 28, 2011 at 15:39

well i am saying yes for a month for a school project and so far my roomate has woken me up in the middle of the night to do push ups and some of my co-workers have forced me to eat 4 borritos in a row. o and on of my friends told me not to talk to my gf for the first 2 mins that i see her next….she got pissed. but so far i haven’t had any really crazy exspereiences. What can i do to get more crazy things to happen??

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P October 24, 2011 at 10:25

Great blog post.

So I’m wondering if you have continued this experiment at all and if so; has the overall positive effect start to wear off?

I have a suspicion meeting new people and going off on adventures all of a sudden, might be exciting in the short term, but a prolonged period of yes’ing might become as tiresome as saying no more often than not.

I started reading the novel the film is based on today. So far it is a jolly good read. I’m also currently mulling over attempting this experiment myself but tossing up whether I need to set myself down some guidelines. I certainly don’t want to have any long-term untoward effects.

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Vlad Dolezal October 24, 2011 at 14:09

I’ve become a lot more attuned to the possibility of saying “yes” to things. That has been a huge positive benefit.

Of course, for some people it’s just as important to learn to say “no”. So, apply your own discretion there.

But in general, yes, I would recommend the experiment. Just don’t tell any of your real-world friends about it until it’s over ;)

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dony October 29, 2011 at 04:58

this is good .. and i say yes to tweet it :D great experiment mate

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Anonymous October 8, 2012 at 18:07

Hello,
My name is Brooke. For my english class we are required to take on or give up something for 30 days. I have decided to take on the “Yes Man” project for thirty days and was wondering if you could answer the following questions for me…
Thank You!

1. What was the biggest thing you took away from the project?
2. Did the project have a permanent effect on your life?
3. What were the negative effects the project had on your life?
4. What advice could you give someone like me who is taking on the project?

Thank you once again!

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Vlad Dolezal October 8, 2012 at 21:09

Hey Brooke!

Here are the answers to your questions:

1. If you make “yes” your default response, you will experience a lot of interesting stuff you would normally never give a chance to. It takes lots of energy though, so at some point, you’ll need to start saying “no” too, to make room for the important stuff in your life.

2. It made me more open to trying new things – surprisingly many things turn out to be more fun than you’d think.

3. I honestly can’t think of anything particularly negative, except that it takes a lot of energy.

4. Give it your all, and have fun with it. In the end, you will not stay a “yes man” (or “yes woman”)… but by giving the extremes a try (saying yes to everything, saying no to everything), you’ll be able to find a good balance that works the best for you. In my experience, most people could use a bit more “saying yes”.

Let me know how the experiment goes! (Or if you write about it on the internet, come back and share a link).

Cheers,
Vlad

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davey boy December 4, 2012 at 13:39

You should read The Diceman by Luke Rhinehart. Not a true story but the story of a man who bases all his decisions on the shake of a dice.
He makes sure there’s always options included that he would never contemplate doing and some he really wouldn’t want to do and some he really really really wouldn’t want to do.
It takes the concept a lot further than Yes man and is hilarious. It makes your week, enriching though it was for you, seem like an afternoon with the Brady Bunch. Try shaking a dice that tells you to go to a fetish club then saying yes to a guy with a whip, a ferocious looking 12 inch dildo and an evil glint in his eye.
Going back for a missed flyer won’t seem quite so rad anymore…

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Korina March 23, 2013 at 22:50

I only recently realized that I’ve been living my life the Yes Man way for…probably my whole life. I never say no to anything..which has gotten me into some very odd situations. But I definitely live a more exciting life than most people I know! Props to you for trying this yes man thing out! I encourage you to keep on going!!! :) You never know what/ where you can end up! Life’s an adventure! ;)

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