Stop Saying “Hell Yes or No” About Your Relationships

By now, you’ve probably heard of the decision-making framework, “Hell yes, or no.” Coined by Derek Sivers and championed into the mainstream by Tim Ferriss and Mark Manson (three heroes of mine), it’s a filter for making decisions on how to spend time, energy, and money.

When opportunity knocks, if you don’t feel fireworks of yes, its “thank you, but no thank you.”

“Every event you get invited to. Every request to start a new project. If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about it, say “no.” -Derek Sivers

This framework is particularly useful for those inundated with endless requests and opportunity. And a great tool for anyone still learning how to say no or calibrate their instincts on what to pursue. But as Milton Friedland once said, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” A filter, by definition, must live up to its name. And much of what gets filtered out with “Hell yes, or no” is the beautiful, tangled web of uncertainty.

The major flaw in “Hell yes, or no” is that it assumes we have a clear vision of what a “best case scenario” might be. It may stack the odds towards a favorable return on time, but by using this filter as a default for decision making we run a larger risk than wasted energy. We risk the element of surprise. We avoid the wading into the murky water of trepidation to discover the unexpected.

Systems are needed to protect our time and attention, but is filtering out initial feelings of indifference really the path to liberation?

Frustratingly enough, inspiration follows action. When I think about the big decisions that reset the course of my life, most of them weren’t illuminated by a “Hell yes, or no” sign. The big payoffs came from the big risks. The glow of “Hell yes” appeared in the rearview, only obvious in hindsight.

From Mark Manson’s Fuck Yes or No blog post:

“The Law of “Fuck Yes or No” states that when you want to get involved with someone new, in whatever capacity, they must inspire you to say, “Fuck Yes” in order for you to proceed with them.”

I’m no expert, but from what I could find, Fuck Yes at first sight isn’t an indicator of happily ever after. When I met my fiancé, I felt more of a gravitational tilt than a binary decision. It was a feeling that burned out the entire spectrum of choice. And regardless of how she might tell it, I didn’t appear on her doorstep through a thick mist of “hell yes.”

Love doesn’t start with clarity. It’s not Yes or No. Falling in love is agony and ecstasy. It’s a ferris wheel that goes from outer space to the bottom of the ocean and everywhere in between. Falling in love is making a bet on an intangible feeling in hopes that one day two people will reach “Hell yes!” times infinity. And isn’t that what’s exciting about finding the right person?

“Falling in love is agony and ecstasy. It’s a ferris wheel that goes from outer space to the bottom of the ocean and everywhere in between.”

It makes sense that “Hell yes, or no” has caught fire and been added to our never-ending efficiency toolkit. Take a look at the polarization of today’s hot topics and you’ll struggle to find what Aristotle called the golden middle.

Like “Hell yes, or no” we swing the pendulum of public opinion from one extreme to the other. We go from “Reefer Madness” to “Weed is the cure for cancer, war, and the state deficit.” We go from sweeping sexual harassment under the rug to making it against company policy to tell anyone they “look nice today.”

It’s all or nothing. With us or against us. We even use the term “Switzerland” as a backhanded term for those who waver. As the “Hell yes or no” narrative tightens its grip, I think we could use more middle ground thinking. We need more people ready to meet with loose opinions, ready to trade traction for understanding.

Unfortunately, there are too many painful examples in history where a decisive “Hell No” came too late. This isn’t a plea to live life in the middle, but rather to embrace critical thinking. To see the entire spectrum of choice instead of just binary extremes.

“The limit of my language is the limit of my understanding.” -Ludwig Wittgenstein

Calibrating the way we make decisions is important. And swift thinking that aligns with our initial instincts is a skill worth sharpening. But chiseling our options down to a binary “Hell yes, or no” is unimaginative and ultimately lazy.

As much as we want to visualize and define our desired outcomes, rewards often come in the form of something that was never clear to begin with. The stance of, “It’s either this or that” assumes we can predict the intangibility of outcome and ignores golden middle ground where results are born.

“Hell yes, or no” is useful to gauge initial feelings. But don’t ignore all the other shades of choice on the menu. It’s by using the entire spectrum that we reach, “Hell yes, I’m glad I made that decision.”