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 😀 )

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 😀

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 😀

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 :) )