Easy Yes, Easy No
If you asked someone to cut off their finger, do you think they’d do it?
If I asked you to, would you cut off your finger?
It’s an easy “No”, isn’t it?
I haven’t yet found a way to get someone to cut off a finger, especially when they’re half a world away and we’re connected only by human-looking pixel pictures on our screens.
When I ask folks to stretch for a moment and take a deep breath and look at the ceiling, they do it.
It’s an easy “Yes” for everyone I’ve asked.
For some folks, if I think it’s generally difficult for them to say “No”, I might do this:
Me: I’m going to ask you to drop a pen on the floor and I want you to say “No”. Is that ok?
Them: You want me to drop a pen on the floor and say “No”?
Me: No, I don’t want you to drop a pen on the floor.
Them: Uh, ok.
Me: Can you drop a pen on the floor?
Them: Uh, no.
Me: You have to drop a pen on the floor right now.
Not cutting off a finger is an Easy No. It’s a matter-of-fact “No”. It’s important, but there’s no uncertainty about it. We’re sure we want to keep all our fingers so it’s an easy decision to make.
Not dropping a pen is sometimes a Slightly Difficult No.
Stretching and taking a deep breath is an Easy Yes. It’s no big deal. It’s not life-or-death important.
Somewhere between Easy No and Easy Yes is a boundary.
A boundary is where two very different things meet.
We have different boundaries for everything and they depend greatly on context - who we’re with, what we’re doing, how stressed we are.
When I ask someone to cut off a finger or stretch, I’m reminding them, experientially, of what it means to be far away from a boundary.
Decisions and life problems that require action that are far away from our boundaries are easy. They don’t bother us because our reactions are matter-of-fact.
We like to stay away from our boundaries. We don’t enjoy going near them. At a boundary, the rules can change quickly. They do things very differently across the border.
Right on a boundary, when we don’t know which side we’re on, uncertainty is at a maximum and humans hate uncertainty. The more uncertain something important is, the more anxious we get.
When our life circumstances drag us unwillingly smack up against an important boundary and glue us there, we experience a crisis.
In a crisis, in the heat of the moment, when the stakes are high, boundaries jump all over the place and Easy Yes and Easy No vanish and everything is much harder.
Later, cooled down, we sometimes wonder how and why we did what we did.
There is no ordinary context where it makes sense to cut off one of our fingers.
But extraordinary contexts do happen.
One fine April day in 2003, Aron Ralston, a 27-year-old with a history of somewhat reckless outdoor adventuring, went hiking alone in the remote Utah canyonlands and told no one. He took enough food and water for an afternoon.
He drove a long way, then biked a long way, then hiked 7 miles, rappelled up an 80-foot wall, snaked 100 feet along and down a slot canyon not much wider than him and then (enormous bummer) an 800-pound chockstone shifted and fell on his right wrist and trapped him there.
Two days and two nights in, he started amputating his trapped arm with his pocketknife but stopped when he realised it wouldn’t cut through his two arm bones.
Five days and five nights in, he realised he could break his arm bones by shifting his body enough to generate big twisting torque.
He put a makeshift tourniquet on and spent the best part of the next hour hacking through the remaining muscle and arteries and tendon and nerve:
This is gonna make one hell of a story to tell my friends. They’ll never believe how I had to cut off my arm. Hell, I can barely believe it, and I’m watching myself do it.
Then he crawled out, rappelled back down the 80-foot wall, hiked 6 miles, met some other hikers, wrote a book about it (Between a Rock and a Hard Place) and Hollywood made a film about it (127 HOURS).
Hard Yes, Hard No
When we’re between a rock and a hard place, when the stakes are very high and things are very uncertain, when we’re experiencing a Crisis Of Living, there’s only Hard Yes and Hard No and we don’t want either one.
At these times, we’re in full contact with our problem and even though we may not be aware of it, our power greatly, temporarily, increases. Our steelcase boundaries turn to jelly and we can change very rapidly.
As I approach that precise moment of liberation, the adrenaline surges through me, as though it is not blood coursing in my arteries but the raw potential of my future. I am drawing power from every memory of my life, and all the possibilities for the future that those memories represent.
Do we need to hit rock bottom before we start changing?
No, but it helps.
In “The 4-Hour Body”, Tim Ferriss writes about a “Harajuku moment - an epiphany that turns a nice-to-have into a must-have. There is no point getting started until it happens.”. The context is a fat guy visiting the Harajuku area of Tokyo and making a decision to start changing.
If you’re hanging out inside a Harajuku moment, between the devil and the deep blue sea, a resourceful response is: “Wow”.
A resourceful response is: “It could be a while before I’m back this way again so I might as well enjoy it.”
A resourceful response is: “This is gonna make one hell of a story to tell my friends. They’ll never believe how I <FILL IN THE BLANK>. Hell, I can barely believe it, and I’m watching myself do it.”
If you’re going to fall from grace, it doesn’t matter whether or not you hit rock bottom, but if you do, take heart, because there’s always a small bounce, so then at least you’ll be going the other way.
If you’re very lost or very trapped, with no hope of rescue…
If you want to leave something behind and not lose anything…
If you’re facing a Really Hard Yes and a Really Hard No…
… here’s a Really Easy Yes: Say Hello
My accident in and rescue from Blue John Canyon were the most beautifully spiritual experiences of my life … When we find inspiration, we need to take action for ourselves and for our communities. Even if it means making a hard choice, or cutting out something and leaving it in your past. Saying farewell is also a bold and powerful beginning.
DATELINE’s 2012 20th Anniversary Show: Update on the inspiring Aron Ralston (6 min)
You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.
You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.
There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full.