Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: March, 2014

Saying “Yes” – Maybe

red die with "yes," "no," and "maybe" on three of its sides

There are times when living life with a yes habit gets iffy and tricky. More times than I’m telling I’ve quickly and politely said yes when I should’ve said maybe. As in, “Let me think about that, and I’ll get back to you.”

There are approximately 257 million bazillion worthwhile activities, projects, charities, and hobbies on which you could spend your time. The important point here is that you pay attention and spend the time upfront deciding what you think are worthy goals for your life, given your values and worldview. There are some life-changing books out there (by authors like Stephen Covey or John Trent) that can help you through this critically important process.

Once you’ve settled on your long-term, mid-term, and short-term goals, use them as pay-attention prisms through which you examine all others’ demands on you, your time, your skills. What they’re clamoring for may fit into some of your goals. If so, by all means, take advantage of a chance to say yes.

If not, don’t hesitate to say no. And (I had to tattoo this bit on my brain!) you don’t owe them an explanation of your no. If you choose to give an explanation, fine.

If you choose not to give an explanation and they grill you with questions designed to rev up the guilt machine, use the broken-record trick. Re-state your no. Keep restating no. If they turn out to be tone-deaf to no, derail them by rerouting the conversation to a topic near and dear to their ego.

Or take a cannier tack while you’re developing your no habit: remember an “appointment” you must keep. FYI: an “appointment” can be just about anything you want it to be – as long as it requires you to be somewhere else.

I know far more people who say yes to others’ demands on their time than I know people who routinely say no. And I know far more people who moan about how they’ve overcommitted themselves than people who complain they don’t have enough to do. Oddly enough, the yes crowd and the overcommitted bunch are the same people. Go figure.

Because I have been (and still am occasionally) one of those yes people, I can speak from experience. Maybe I wanted to please others and be well liked. Maybe I figured if I just kept doing for others what they wanted me to do for them, I’d gain the level of popularity I didn’t quite achieve in junior high.

But you’re ahead of me here, aren’t you? You already know life is not a popularity contest, and I’ll bet you’ve already decided to be popular with you. So I’ll wrap it up right here.

Here’s the pay-attention finale
to this yes-no set of posts.

Say yes to life in general.

Say no to thoughtless squandering of your resources, including money and everything else.

Say yes – maybe – to those who would like a piece of you for their own goals and projects, depending on whether their goals match your goals.

© 2014 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text: “I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody” – Bill Cosby

Say “maybe” till you’ve thought it through.

red box with white text: “A 'no' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” – Mahatma Gandhi  

Gandhi’s older, loftier version of Cosby’s idea


Saying “No” – Practice, Practice, Practice

photo of ruby-encrusted Queen Elizabeth's crown

A crown?? Keep reading. It’ll make sense.

In our retail-centric culture, if you’re not willing to practice saying no till it rolls off your tongue like butter, prepare to be in debt for the rest of your life. I am not kidding.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to drop the yes habit and adopt the no habit in buying situations, you’ll stay solvent and maybe even able to hang onto enough disposable income to do something really cool. Hint: we get to no by asking Should I?

My favorite method
for practicing no

Instead of immediately pitching them into the recycling bin, open those flashy sales flyers that bulk up your daily paper, the glitzy catalogs that choke your mailbox, and the shouty, unsolicited, advertising emails that overpopulate your inbox. Now, read them.

Yes, I did say read them. And, yes, I know this flies in the face of what I said about encouraging yourself by not comparing; keep reading, and all will be made clear.

Pay attention to each piece, especially advertising fliers from stores you’d never dare set foot in. Look at each item and say no ALOUD to each item you don’t want or need. Do this as many times as it takes for no-thanks-don’t-need-it becomes your no-need-to-think-about-it, first response.

My next favorite
practice for learning
to just say no

As you sail down grocery-store aisles in hot pursuit of whatever’s on your grocery list, pay attention to all the stuff you’re sailing past. Start muttering to yourself (quietly – we don’t want them to take you away) no, nope, no thanks, don’t need that, or that, or that. You’ll be stunned by how many items there are in your favorite supermarket that you have no need of – all the things to which you can honestly and painlessly say no.

My favorite practice
for dire circumstances . . .

oh, say, a glitzy new mall or fancy-dancy department store. When someone near and dear coaxes you into into these hotbeds of fiscal ruin, use that event to practice your no habit. Wander the aisles, paying attention to all the products you have absolutely no need of and would never be silly enough (even if you had the money) to buy. Even better; pay particular attention to all the products you wouldn’t ever, ever, ever want to wear, possess, eat, etc. No! NO! NO! Excellent practice.

Pay attention, now:
yes, YOU can learn to say no.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t become a no maven in the spending arena. I’ve done it, and you already know how cluelessly average I’ve been. That means you can say no just as competently and effectively as anyone else.

However, you have some serious catching up to do. On my best no day, NO ONE can beat my no habit. Queen Elizabeth could offer me her crown for only $29.95 and before I could stop myself, I’d blurt out, “Rubies are kinda winey red, aren’t they? That’s really not my best color. Naaah, no thanks.”

Not exactly the sort of dialogue that makes for good Anglo-American relations across the pond, but then it’ll never come to that, now will it?

Can you learn to say no to spending? Of course you can! Pay attention and utilize every arena where you can practice, practice, practice saying no. Then do us all a favor, and share your best no-to-spending story.

© 2014 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text: "Most of us have very weak and flaccid 'no' muscles . . . . . Your 'no' muscle has to be built up. . . ." – Iyanla Vanzant

How’s YOUR “no” muscle? Weak? Practice!

Saying “No”

photo of resistant customer in furniture store

How long before a pro gets him to say yes?

Learning when to say yes and when to “just say no” (á la former First Lady Nancy Reagan) has to be one of life’s most valuable discernments.

If you’ve ever had an encounter with a professional salesman (as opposed to the non-professional hordes who greet you in most retail stores), you know the alarming consequences of not having developed this ability. After an unfortunate engagement with one of these guys, you wonder what hit you.

Why did you buy something you can’t afford and didn’t even think you wanted that badly? You bought because he’s an expert at moving you along to that holy-grail-YES – the one which earns him a juicy-fat commission – and that all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii.

How does he do it?

Here’s a clue from my last professional-salesman skirmish. See if you can spot it.

Pro: “Gorgeous day, isn’t it?”

TLB: “Yes, it is gorgeous out there.”

Pro: “You looking for [whatever his store is selling]?”

TLB: “Actually, I am.” Duh. why am I there otherwise? (Notice he didn’t ask if I were “looking to buy,” just “looking for.”)

Pro: “I expect you’d like to be left alone and look around for a while.”

TLB: “Yes, thanks.” Yes. Please DO go away.

A little later.

Pro: “I notice you keep coming back to this [whatever I’ve been circling back to over and over].”

TLB: “Yeah. I guess I have.”

Pro: “Would you like a brochure about it? I think that manufacturer left us a few.” 

TLB: “Yes, thank you.” A “few”? A cartload, I’ll bet.

Pro: “Here you go. Nice, isn’t it? This manufacturer really goes all out on their advertising.” (Translation: If a manufacturer spends this much on their advertising, just think what they’re willing to sink into their products!)

TLB: “Whoa. This is nice.”

Enough of that. You were paying attention and found the obvious clue. After only six minutes on the battlefield, I’d already said yes or its synonym six times. Count ‘em: six. AND the two of us hadn’t discussed anything remotely involving product features, benefits, prices, terms, etc. in this introductory sparring. He was good.

And I was embarrassingly

  • Outmaneuvered because Mr. Pro kept plying me with seemingly innocuous questions to which the only reasonable answer was yes. He never gave me a chance to just say no.
  • Outmaneuvered again when he deftly asked questions about my mental wish list.
  • Outmaneuvered yet again when he circled around with questions that lured me into signaling possible willingness to part with my credit card for a few seconds.

In minutes, I became a conquered blob, so accustomed to saying yes that I couldn’t help (later on this bloody battlefield) but say it one last, fateful, costly time.

That’s how the yes mentality works; it’s a habit, a way of thinking and responding. The professional salesman simply encouraged me to slip into this otherwise healthy habit as skillfully as a Lord of the Rings swordsman backs an Orc into a corner.

As we saw in Saying Yes, living life with a will-do, yes habit is a good thing. But there are situations, like this area of spending money, in which we need to decide we’d rather eat glass than fall into our normal yes habit. So how do we prepare ourselves to say no to these sales-guy pros (and even the not-so-professional sales guys and gals)?

You thought I’d never get here, didn’t you? Check out my disarmingly simple tricks for learning how to say no to spending in my next post. And, as always, pay attention!

© 2014 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text: "Too many people spend money they haven't earned to buy things they don't want to impress people they don't like." – Will Rogers

Will Rogers got it right – 80-plus years ago!

Saying “Yes”

No doubt about it. Living life with a yes habit is, as Martha likes to say, a good thing. It’s a positive, will-do attitude that:

  • takes us far,
  • endears us to many, and
  • ramps up our feel-good status.

We become the go-to people at work, in volunteer groups, on church committees, in neighborhood HOAs, whatever.

Develop the yes habit, and you’ll find yourself energized. That would be the opposite of frazzled – the typical feeling that comes from saying yes on an all-Saturday-afternoon buying frenzy at the mall.

Say yes more often than no to:

photo of seated, depressed, elderly man leaning on his cane handle with hands and chin

  • visiting crabby old Gramps in the nursing home once a week – whether you feel like it or not – because he desperately needs the company.
  • exercising till you lose those love handles – because they won’t go away on their own.
  • learning new ways of thinking about food – because, well, you know why.
  • forgiving that sorry so-and-so – because you want to be free of his hold on you.
  • digging yourself out of debt – because your big plans for life don’t include debtors’ prison.
  • love – because it’s the most important thing in the world.

Reams have been written about this yes habit. It’s called everything from positive mental attitude to good karma and everything in-between. I can’t hold a candle to authors who’ve hit the best seller lists with their books about saying yes.

I just checked Google for “positive thinking authors”: 13,900,000 pages of books. Whoa. I can’t compete with that. Don’t even plan to try. Pay attention to what they say about saying yes to life. (Then share your best gem with the rest of us.)

Confession time. I’m not really interested in yes since, as I’ve said, thousands have already covered the topic. This post is just a warm-up for the next post – knowing when NOT to say yes. Pay attention, as my saying-no post has just come out of the oven.

© 2014 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text: "If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, says yes – then learn how to do it later." – Richard Branson

From the Virgin Atlantic Airways rich guy


You’ve heard the mantra, “Knowledge is power,” right?


That much-quoted “truth” is so blatantly and utterly ridiculous, I can’t believe I believed it. I heard it repeatedly spouted in motivational seminars and books and – for more years than I’m willing to tell – totally bought it.

Those speakers and writers all stole it from Sir Francis Bacon – the person credited with first making this statement in the early 1600s. To be fair to Sir Francis, he didn’t mean what our culture thinks he meant. He was all about using technology and philosophy to understand and control nature. Our culture has twisted his statement to mean “knowing something gives power to the person who knows it.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And I can prove it with just two garden-variety examples.

TV shows vs. good books

Have you heard the old Chinese proverb, “Those who do not read are no better off than those who cannot”? Our own, pithy Mark Twain tweaked it to: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

Both lead to my first example. We know our lives will be far more enriched by reading good literature than by watching the vacuous stuff on most TV and cable channels (PBS excluded). In fact, I’ve heard several researchers claim that our brains are more active and engaged when we’re staring at a blank wall than when we’re watching the latest reality show. Yikes. Let that sink in.

How often have you heard someone say, “Oh, I’d love to read that latest book by _____. I’ve heard it’s really insightful reporting about ______. But, dang, I just don’t have time.” How many times have you said or thought that? I’ll fess up right now; while I’ve learned not to vocalize it, I still think it which is just as daft.

The truth is, almost all of us have time to enrich our lives with educational books and good literature. We know if we delete an hour of worthless TV drivel, we’ll have an hour to spend on a worthwhile book. We simply chose not to act on knowledge we already possess about the worthlessness of pop TV shows and the contrasting worth of good books.

Then there are those of you who’ve decided to use your knowledge, turn off the boob tube, and read that latest New York Times Best Seller. Good for you! You have converted your knowledge into power.

photo of young woman reading a book

For her, knowledge equals doing.

Second example:
body weight

Look around you. How many people do you see who could stand to drop 20 to 30 pounds? How many obese people do you see? A whole bunch, right? (According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, about a third of us are obese.)

  • Do we know how much damage we’re doing to our bodies?

  • Do we know how expensive it will be to mitigate that damage later in life?

  • Do we know how in-the-basement our quality of life is now?

Of course we do! We can’t go a day without hearing or reading about the altogether nasty ramifications of being overweight or obese – or seeing its consequences up close and way too personal. But many of us simply decide not to do anything with the knowledge we possess. Our knowledge is not power.

Then there are those of you who, bless your souls, have decided to act on your knowledge and are slogging through the difficult process of losing weight. Good for you! Your knowledge has, indeed, turned into power.

By now, you’re probably thinking of examples you’ve seen of our persistent disconnect between knowing and doing* and wondering Why, oh why, do we do this?? Sloppy filing systems inside our brains? Laziness? Forgetfulness? Hard to say.

For a tiny percentage of us, there’s valid cause: brain damage. (In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell quotes a researcher who states, “Damage in the ventromedial area [of the brain] causes a disconnect between what you know and what you do.” But the vast majority of us, despite what the in-laws say, can’t claim brain damage.

Knowledge is NOT power.

Only when we DO something with our knowledge does knowledge translate into power. I’ll not belabor this. Here’s my pay-attention tip, which is a more accurate version of the motivational-speaker tripe: USE of knowledge is power.

Have I told you anything new? Nah. But we all need reminders that encourage us to do what we know we need to do. Why not do your part? Share a way you’ve turned your knowledge into true power.

red box with white text: " learn and not to do is really not to learn. To know and not to do is really not to know.” – Stephen Covey

That 7-Effective-Habits guy you’ve heard about

*A couple of smart guys have teamed up to write a book about this very issue, as manifested in the workplace: The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action. See? It isn’t just little old ladies harping about this issue. Plenty of people a lot savvier than I are trying to get us all to pay attention to this worrisome gap.

© 2014 Teresa Layne Bennett


How would you answer the question, “What do you want in life?”

Did you say, “I’d like to find:

  • a good mate?”

  • a cause higher than myself?”

  • funds for college?”

  • a rewarding career?”

  • contentment?

  • an affordable house/apartment?”

You’d be in good company, since most of us are routinely trying to find something. (Some, of a certain age, would simply settle for finding our keys. You might not settle for that, but you can bet your mom would.)

I’m right there with you, dude (or dudette). I’ve been looking for a lot of things for a very long time, and I ever so modestly suggest you might even call me The Doyenne of Looking and Finding.

Finding stuff takes up an astonishing amount of our thoughts and efforts. It’s the grand, perennial activity of life. You’ve no doubt noticed that some people are a whole lot more effective at finding what they’re looking for than others. Why is that?

Looking and finding

As with most of life, the answer is complex. Lots of reasons, but the main one is pretty simple. They’re looking. You can’t find stuff if you’re not looking. Agreed? These people, whether consciously or unconsciously, have told themselves they’re looking for such-and-such, and they find it. What a concept.

Several years ago, I listened to a motivational speaker whose audience was professional sales people – not college-kid store clerks – experienced sales professionals who were paid six-figure salaries for selling business-to-business. (I have no idea what I was doing there, as “six-figure sales professional” has never been part of my resumé.) He talked about something I’d never heard about, and it was inside my own body!

He called it a “reticular activating system,” which sounded a bit made-up to me. But I liked what he claimed it could do, so I decided to buy the guy’s story and believe I had one. He claimed it rested at the base of my brain and was the part of the brain which found what the rest of the brain told it to find.

His Reticular Activating
System examples

His first example: he wanted to buy a certain year and model of car. After making that decision and “telling” his reticular activating system, he started seeing this car model that he’d scarcely noticed before and didn’t think many people had bought. It was everywhere, in every color.

Another example: he needed a _____. (Can’t remember what it was. Doesn’t matter.) He “put the word out,” meaning he told friends and co-workers. Then he “told” his reticular activating system to find this item. Again, a commodity he thought was in scarce supply turned out to be everywhere. He found exactly the type and style he wanted and at a good price. His and his friends’ reticular activating systems were in rare form, apparently.

His next example: he wanted to find something intangible – no cars or touchable commodities this time. Again, I can’t remember exactly what it was, but it was something as ethereal as “inner peace,” so we’ll just pretend that was it. Once he told his reticular activating system that he wanted to find more inner peace, he started hearing about, reading, noticing ways others had managed to find inner peace.

But is there really such a thing
as a reticular activating thingy?

That’s a question I’ve asked myself for years, after hearing this guy, but never took the time to research.

Several years after hearing him, I got my answer. It was in a news article about goal-setting in our local paper. Check out this quote from the article.

“Setting the goal and writing it down are paramount, because that at least engages the reticular activating system in your brain. RAS is a finger-length group of cells at the base of your brain that serves as a control center, sorting and evaluating incoming data. It’s responsible for filtering out the urgent stuff from the unimportant so you can function properly.”

photo of brain and brain stem showing pathways of reticular activating system

See. He didn’t make this up. Your RAS exists.

You can imagine my excitement when I learned that this whole deal wasn’t motivational-speaker twaddle. That article prompted me to google “reticular activating system.” Most sites’ definitions included something similar to this:

“… the reticular activating system (RAS) in the brainstem controls our ability to be awake, to sleep, and to pay attention. Integration of the cerebral cortex and the RAS enables us to be aware and knowledgeable about activities in our environment.”

Did you notice
that pay-attention part?

You’re such a sharp cookie, I’ll bet you’ve already thought of some things you’d like to use your RAS to find. Good news. Just tell your reticular activating device to pay attention to ______ and it will. Tell it to find ______ and it will. It works, I’m telling you. Unfortunately, I fear my RAS is dangerously close to the end of its warranty since, Doyenne of RAS that I am, I’ve severely overused it. (Here’s a perfect example: I looked for something for 42 years – and found it!)

RAS disclaimer time

Like a good hunting dog, once your RAS gets the scent, it won’t stop barking. Long after you’ve found what you were looking for, it keeps on looking – and barking, and barking, and barking. Eventually, it does shut up. My unscientific explanation? It gets miffed because I’m no longer congratulating it on finding ______ and in a fit of pique, gives up.

Got any of your own really cool RAS stories for the rest of us?

© 2014 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text: "Look and you will find it - what is unsought will go undetected." – Sophocles

One of The Silver Spoon Set, circa 400-ish BC

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