Not long ago I noticed how easy it was for our youngest daughter to shake her head ‘no.’ Some of this, especially early on in life, is probably due to physics—it’s easier on the little muscles to swivel the head side-to-side instead of lugging it up and down. But even once her muscles develop, the word ‘no’ likely isn’t going anywhere.

‘No’ tends to be one of the first words children learn, and they become quite adept at using it without much help. If they don’t want to do something, they’ll say ‘no.’ If they don’t like something, they’ll let you know. ‘No’ is very much a part of their vocabulary. Sometimes too much a part.

But later in life, instead of using ‘no’ too frequently, some of us end up using it far too little. Maybe we’re afraid of missing out, or of dissapointing someone. But for whatever reason, sometimes we forget how (or are unwilling) to consciously say ‘no.’ Instead, we end up saying ‘yes’ to things we may not even want (or need) to do.

But ironically, even in these moment where we forget what came so naturally as a child—where we aren’t consciously saying ‘no’ to the requests or opportunities of today—we’re still saying ‘no’ in another, more indirect, way.

With every ‘yes’ we give to a demand on our time, we’re also saying ‘no’ in the very same breath. Not to the opportunity or request we just said ‘yes’ to. But to the other things we could have used our time and energy on. So whether we like it or not, we’re still saying “no”.

The issue isn’t whether we’ll continue to say ‘no.’ That’s bound to happen in one form or another. The question is, Will we be intentional about what we say ‘no’ to? Not for its own sake, but for the sake of the other things that deserve our ‘yes.’