If You Don’t Ask, The Answer is Always No

I’m a big fan of a process I call “imprinting mottos”.

No, that’s not a official or scientific term.  In fact, it’s a widely popular concept and probably does have a real name.  Instead of trying to figure that out, I just made up this ghetto name.  Only I know what it is, so it’s useless to everyone but me.  I tend to do this a lot.  *shrug*

Anyway, “imprinting mottos” is what I call the process of latching yourself onto a phrase, a motto, or a saying so intensely that it becomes part of your thought process.  Some astute people may call it “anchoring”… sure, that’s cool too.

Whether we realize it or not, we do this all the time.  “I’m not good enough…”  “I’m cold never earn that much…”  “Just one piece is o.k….”  “I work hard, I deserve this car…”

These sayings become part of our thought processes… part of who we are.

By nature, most of my automatic “imprinting” or “anchoring” tends to be negative.  They are mostly justifications or excuses to make me feel better.  What I try to do is find sexy, compelling quotes or concepts to help reverse my unfortunate natural trend.

For example, Tony Robbins lent me this one “Nothing tastes as good as being fit feels!”. Sure, it doesn’t always work (especially for me), but occasionally I do find myself passing up certain foods or extra helpings because this phrase pops into my head.  I’ve made an active decision to adopt this…  I’ve repeated it to myself…  I’ve made it part of me (at least a small… small part).

I’m not talking about affirmations here, either.  I’m not suggesting you repeat “…and gosh darn it, people like me” a hundred times while doing jumping jacks.  I’m not against affirmations, but I’m not captain of the fan club if you will.

Let me find the point of all this…

Don’t ask… Don’t get…

Ah yes, I remember.  Probably the best example of “imprinting” I use in my life is with the following phrase:

If you don’t ask, the answer is always No!

I don’t remember where I first heard that saying, but as soon as I did…  it was mine.  I own it.  It’s a core part of who I am now.

Any time I find myself in a situation where I’m stuck or contemplating my options… this phrase pops into my brain.  I’m not smart enough to know how I imprinted it so deeply.  All I know, is that it happens all the time now.

And nearly every time it pops into my brain, it spurs me into action.  It gets me to do the most important thing 95% of the time when stuck…


Ask for help.  Ask for what you want.  Ask for a discount… a raise… for an honest opinion.

So many of the best things in my life have come out of simply asking:

  • “Will you marry me?”
  • “Do you really want to go to Australia?”
  • “How specifically did you build this community?”
  • “Wait… how in the heck did you get pregnant?”

Ok… so maybe the last one isn’t a good example.  But the first three are questions that radically changed my experience of life for the better… and are all in situations where I was nervous and/or stuck.  Break through the hestitations and just ask…

Ask for a discount.  Ask for a better rate.

Ask for a raise.  Ask for a promotion.

Ask for advice.  Ask for honest feedback.

Most things in life aren’t going to just fall in your lap.  When was the last time you were at the register, getting ready to pay, and the clerk said “you know what… here’s a 20% discount.” Sure it happens, but not as often as when you ask.

You think your boss sits around and says “If Sally doesn’t mention or hint at a raise for another two months… I just may give it to her.” Again, rarely if ever.  You’ll get it faster by asking for it professionally and confidently.

Don’t get me wrong, you will still be told no.  Sometimes that’s the answer either way.  But one way to guarantee you never get a yes… is to avoid asking altogether.  You can play chance or you can make your own.

Don’t just ask others…  ask yourself…

In all the examples above, we’re asking others.  That’s where I started.  It’s helped me break out of decision-making paralysis and the far majority of the time actually ends up with a “sure” or “yeah” as the result.

But recently, I’ve realized that this isn’t just for asking others.  It applies to asking yourself, too.

So many times, I find myself trapped by fake excuses and barriers.  I, like you, put these up to keep me from uncomfortable change.

Leaving to live in Australia with a one year old was impossible all the way up until the point that… it wasn’t.

I’m not being funny, I’m being serious.  It was literally impossible in our minds until the actual point that it wasn’t.  You know what changed?  We asked.

We had thrown around the concept for a year, both laughing and sort of brushing it off.  It was an inside joke… it was a someday-it-would-be-nice dream.  It was impossible anyway, no need to think about it seriously.

Then, on a day filled with a unique amount of clarity, we simply asked… “Hmmm, is this actually possible?  Do we really want to go?  Could we really do it?”

All the sudden, the answer was Yes.  It went from impossible to probable in the time it took to ask a question. A year later we boarded a plane with no consumer debt, two backpacks, and a baby.

For Pete’s sake…  go look in the mirror and HONESTLY ask yourself what is possible.

As those of you know that have followed the blog for a while, not everything will be automatically peachy (wasn’t for us).  That’s not what I’m saying.  I’m not telling you that asking will always get you a yes.  I’m not saying that Yes is always the best answer for you either.

My point is this: The most powerful concept on this planet is a question.  Asking one, whether to yourself or someone else, has the potential to revolutionize.  If you never step up to the plate and ask, though, I can tell you what the answer will be.  It’ll be No.

Here’s to asking.

photo by Epi.Longo

42 thoughts on “If You Don’t Ask, The Answer is Always No”

  1. Brilliant article Baker! I’ve heard this axiom before too, but you can never hear it enough!

    I wrestle with the paradox of whether folks are (1) to unaware to ask the salient question or (2) to timid to. Certainly this isn’t a black-and-white matter. But I think that like any skill, “asking” requires development over time to really embed (imprint) it into your psyche.

    A similar truth I’ve imprinted personally is “what you do only proves what you believe.” This comes from Simon Sinek, and teaches that the “why” (not “what) matters most. It, like the “if you don’t ask…” axiom have dramatically changed (improved!) my world view.

    Cheers again for sharing!

    1. Great point, Matt. I agree. The more I tend to practice asking (and the more I see the positive results), the more willing I am to do it again! 🙂

      Love the Sinek quote too. So many people lie to themselves about what they really believe (aka me a lot). What you do is the best glimpse into the truth of the matter!

  2. Baker — Great post! You are so right. The world is not waiting to provide you with everything you’ve ever wanted. Your dream job/business is not going to fall into your lap. Financial independence will not appear on your doorstep one morning. Nothing happens until you ask. Ask for advice. Ask for assistance. Ask for clarification or direction or opinions. Asking for what we want or need is incredibly powerful, yet hugely underrated. A simple question is the beginning of all great progress. What if…?

  3. The sports corollary to “don’t ask, don’t get” is, “I miss 100% of the shots I don’t take,” attributed to Wayne Gretzky.

    One of my favorite quotes is, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” Sounds like your trip to Australia.

      1. When I Googled for it, it was attributed to George Bernard Shaw, but I have also seen it referred to as a Chinese proverb. Either way works for me!

  4. Great post! Reminds me of a book I recently read called “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” The author, Steven Covey, talks about being proactive with your life. For example, proactive people say:
    “when” instead of “if”
    “I will” instead of “I would”

    This post goes right along with that thinking.

    1. Oh man, I haven’t read that book in forever. I do remember that section now, though! Using suggestive internal language is another powerful tool… especially when combined with a question! 🙂

  5. Absolutely Baker. Too often, we’ve been chastised for asking questions (think back to school), and, as a result, people are afraid to look dumb by asking questions.

    Asking questions makes progress. It’s a no-lose proposition. Yet people still don’t do it, because of fear. Such a shame, really.

    1. Totally agree, Brett. At first we are encouraged to ask questions when we are young, but then that social stigma comes into play. Suddenly we are afraid of being vulnerable. We don’t want to show progress… we want to prove to other we are already there!

      That fear prevents so much possibility. You are right… it’s a shame!

      1. Great post Baker. I’m sometimes reluctant to ask and I’m working at becoming looser with questions. While I enjoyed the post, especially the parts about “imprinting mottos” and “asking yourself,” I don’t expect the “If you don’t ask, the answer is always No!” motto to help me. This statement is absolutely true and I know I should heed it more, but I can’t “imprint” it, so to speak, because I’m worried about downsides.

        I don’t buy into the notion that you and Brett are stating here–that “it’s a no-lose proposition.” I’m not writing this to debate this point, but rather to discuss and ask for clarification. I would agree that 99% of the time there is no downside to asking, but it’s that 1% that worries me. I know it’s ridiculous, but it gets to me. Part of it is that I don’t really understand what the risks are; I just assume there’s risk and have a vague idea of what it is. Have you had any “asking” experiences where the results were bad? Even if you haven’t, what the potential risks do you see, if any?

        I would think the biggest chance of adverse effects would be caused by asking imprudent questions or nagging with the same question. How do you determine when it’s prudent to ask?

  6. 🙂 Here is a liitle different perspective of “problem” – many wise believe it is “bad carma” to help with out being asked for help.
    This goes all the way up to “liberating wars” and down to my personal experience – as being the “helpful” type I have suffered the consequences of “giving too early” many, many times…

  7. I definitely tend to be way too timid to open my mouth and ask… I usually freak at the thought of, “I’m going to sound so stupid if I say this!”

    Caveat being I can type up an email, ask something I feel is retarded, send it and then forget about it. Which is kinda nice, but I can’t ask *everything* through email either.

    I’m slowly, slowly, slowly getting better with this. My other main issue is my overall lack of self-confidence. I certainly question myself too much when I should just go for it. (And yet, when I have things like a modeling shoot or a job interview, I can turn on the confidence like it’s nothing. I’m a weirdo.)

    I love posts like this that inspire such personal reflection! 🙂

  8. Great post! It’s totally true that asking will get you a long way, and that we imprint things in our mind that affect our behavior. My biggest imprint is something my dad used to tell me “You miss 100% of the putts you leave short.” It’s not just about taking the shot, it’s about risking overdoing it rather than underdoing it.

  9. Imprinting mottos…I really struggle with this. A lot of the time, when you do ask, the answer is no. But why be afraid of no? It’s just a word. Move on, find another solution, or ask another question. But it’s hard, truly a childhood thing, I think.

    Speaking of children, I suspected your popularity might be due to the adorable baby factor in your header. But I’ve really been inspired by your content, and your openness about your struggles with both debt and weight. I’ve found my debt and weight have been tracking together — I’ve lost 10 lbs and paid off $10,000 in debt the last year or so. Hmmm….Have you noticed this or written about it somewhere?

  10. Hey Baker, great post, I love using questions to keep myself on track (and pull my head back into gear when needed). They’re great because they are so easy to use, you don’t need to struggle, just ask the question and your brain has to give you an answer.

    What I’ve found makes a real difference is how you structure the questions, always with a vibe of possibility – instead of “I can’t afford to go overseas”, make it “How Can I afford to go overseas?”.

    Then you’ve just got to be willing to hear the answer when it comes 🙂

  11. This is a great post. I, too, am trying to remind myself to just ask…and then when I convince myself that the answer will be negative, I follow up with “what’s the worst that can happen?” Usually the answer to that is “you’ll just move on.”

    Clearly, I talk to myself a lot.

    I’m giggling over “imprinting mottos” though…what with “imprinting” being a Twilight saga thing & all.

  12. It is so important to realize that if we don’t ask, we will certainly not get what we want. This is why its so irrational to fear asking for the chance of hearing no. Most people will be willing to help and provide advice if we are only willing to ask. Thanks!

  13. So true. I wrote about something similar a while back.

    I learned this concept from Jack Canfield in his book The Success Principles. Basically if you ask and get told no, you are in no worse position than you were before you even asked.

    So if that’s the case, it makes no sense not to ask for something you want.

    This is one of the principles that changed my thinking a lot.

  14. Great post, Baker!

    Having a phrase is cool. Yours is “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no!”. Mine is “Just Do It!” – yea, I own it, not Nike 😉

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  17. Hi Baker,

    Anoter awesome (and long awaited) posted on another vitally important rule of business and finance.

    So many of us are not born negotiators and I think a lot that is down to the exclusion of the art of negotiation in traditional Western cultural values. People think it’s either rude or stupid to ask for something particularly where numbers or values are involved but it can be one of the most effective income generating tools. Sure it can be difficult and intimidating at times but like Dr Pepper says, “what’s the worst that can happen?”

    I’ve learned that I have to challenge myself and, most importantly, step out of my comfort zone from time to time and ask for business or ask for discount. Like another commenter said before, the worst that can happen is that someone says no and you’re back to where you started. My business figures have increased dramatically since I took a chance and started asking for business. In today’s market it can ake all the difference. Same goes for discounts – I’ve had sellers even shrug and say “what the hell” and sell me stuff at a drastically reduced price just cos I had the balls to ask them. It’s business and it’s life!

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  19. My mother always told me this growing up “Just ask – the answer will either be yes, no, or maybe-so, you’ll never know if you don’t ask”. I always to live by this rule with everything from my job, my relationships, negotiating a price in a store, etc. Great post!

  20. I use the concept you shared ‘don’t ask and the answer is always no’ with my group of students and myself.
    Hopefully they will start applying it in their life.
    I will be asking more too!

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  22. Love it Baker! I agree 100%. I’m a big fan of asking…no matter if it means for a referral, big favor or just a better table at a restaurant (in fact, I pretty much do this every time I go out to eat). My motto is more of “ask and you shall receive” which by way of phrasing makes me think that I will get a YES pretty much all the time! And if I don’t, no biggie.

    Another one comes straight from a Red Hot Chili Peppers song…”It’s better to regret something you did than something you didn’t do.” Same idea, different way to putting things. I tend to apply this one more to experiences…like, should I really spend the time to meet this person tonight, should I go on this trip, etc. And the answer is usually a resounding YES, too!

    Amy Carole

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  25. I remember listening in the car to an audio tape of “The Aladdin Factor,” by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, and my father-in-law who passed away in 2006 who always had an outrageous request but would follow it up with “It never hurts to ask!” Being in sales now, asking is part of my job, but it has become so much a part of my subconscious, that I’m already contemplating asking for an upgrade in room accommodations when we go to the mountains over Labor Day Weekend, something I’ve never done. I’ll let you know how it goes! And BTW, recently got a substantial reduction in my cable/internet bill because I asked.

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  27. I need to remember this because I’ve used it before like lets pay for the wedding up front, can we? Yes we did. Or need to buy a new car but I wanted to pay it off in a year, check. Or the best was- wouldn’t it be wonderful to go to Paris for our honeymoon. And then next then I knew we were on a plane heading there for a week. All we had to do was start looking and it just took off. Need to think about this in some other areas of our lives and see where it will get us.

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