How to know what to say “NO” to

No is a complete sentenceHow many times have you said to yourself:  “I just don’t get enough time for MY priorities!!” Or “When will all these distractions come to an end so I can do what’s important to me for a change??” If you close your eyes for a moment, what feeling arises in your body when you think of that? What emotion goes with those thoughts?

For most of my life, this was an endless complaint of mine. I lived with almost constant resentment, an overwhelming feeling that there was always WAY too much on my plate (and guess who put it there??), and I usually felt I was lagging behind with all the things I still needed to do.

Thankfully it changed a few years ago.  I have to say that it was not an overnight success for me. I STILL make mistakes and overload myself. Yet, if I think back to when it was the NORM for me, I am grateful for the progress I’ve made with being able to enjoy more balance in my life.

A few mornings ago, I was sitting at the hairdresser of all places, and as it happens there, I had a whole 2 hours to kill so I made use of the time by reading an awesome book called “100% Yes!” (More details later).

One of the chapters’ I read, reminded me of one of the many ways to make it easier to say NO to too much. This is SO important for a fulfilled, happy life… and I wanted to share it with you today.

Oh and in case you’re wondering – there’s no correlation between saying ‘no’ to more than we can handle, and being an egotistical, spoilt brat who only think about themselves! Self-care and self-ish are two very different concepts.

Self-ish usually means – think of yourself and what you want, to the exclusion of others. (And even THAT is okay sometimes – it’s relative!) Self-care means putting enough energy back into your OWN energy tanks, so that your life is sustainable, and you can serve from the overflow.

Back to the book.

Big Rocks and Pebbles

Do you know the story of the big rocks, little rocks, sand and water?

There are different versions of this story. In all of them, various materials are put into an empty container of sorts, in 2 different orders. The materials are usually a combination of big rocks, pebbles, sand and water.

The big rocks are metaphors for the things that are really, really important to us. Things like our values (love, connection, health, exercise, meditation, planning etc). The pebbles, sand and water are the smaller things that are less important, yet often feel very urgent, and can eat up ALL our precious time.

For simplicity, let’s say we’re going to work with the big rocks and pebbles. In an illustration of this metaphor, a person is given an empty container, and asked to fit a number of big rocks and lots of pebbles into it, starting with the pebbles. Usually, there’s no way the big rocks will ALSO fit into the formerly empty container, once the pebbles are in – there just isn’t any space left, no matter how they try.

Yet, if the big rocks are put in FIRST, it is remarkable how there’s space for all the pebbles around the big rocks. It takes a bit of shaking, and manoeuvring, yet every time everything fits in once we start with the BIG ROCKS.

Short Video Illustration

Watch this 12 minute video clip if you have a few minutes to spare, and see it in action. It gives us an incredible new perspective on putting ‘First things first’, as Steven Covey put it.

If you watched, you’ll have had some insights by now, I bet. If you didn’t have a chance to watch yet, here’s the gist.

What’s the Difference?

The little pebbles are all those things like checking email (10 times a day), responding to them immediately, checking e-mail another few times in case we missed something, responding to requests that were not on our to-do list to start with, allowing social media notifications to interrupt us, other people’s priorities, watching TV, ‘quickly’ helping someone out (because it will only take a few minutes) – and the list goes on.

It’s those tasks that eat up our time and make us think at the end of the day “What the heck did I DO today?” It fritters away the precious minutes of our days, and we feel like we’re fighting fires, not being productive (but oh boy yes, we were BUSY!!). Yet we don’t have much to show for it. We wonder why we’re tired, resentful or not fulfilled.

Then, we try to fit the big rocks (what’s really, really important to us) around all those time-eaters. It just doesn’t work. There isn’t enough space in our days.

Yet, if we put the big rocks into our days first – mediation, exercise, planning, an hour or two for that BIG project, a conversation with someone that’s really important to us – it’s remarkable how all the pebbles can fit around them.  Even if a few of those don’t get done, we’re none the poorer for it.

The moral: schedule and make time for the important things FIRST. The rest will fit in. They always do. And that means we live a fulfilled, happy life. (I’d still urge you to watch the Youtube above – you’ll get this learning in a more practical way when you SEE it in action).

First, of course, we have to decide WHAT IS important to us. Here are a few steps that can help you to know what to say NO to, so that you don’t have to continue to live with resentment, angst and guilt about everything on your plate.

Steps to Knowing What to say NO to

  1. Determine your own values. This is the starting point. If you don’t know what’s REALLY important to you, it’s impossible to set aligned goals, and the days will continue to drift away with nothing to show for them.

For a deep, thorough understanding of your values, read Steve Wells’ book “100% Yes!.

If you buy it before Christmas, you can receive a BUNCH of bonuses that includes recorded workshops, tapping exercises and valuable resources. Reply to me if you want his e-mail address, because you need to forward him your Invoice Number.  Please mention I sent you! I don’t benefit from this reference – I’m just supporting a fellow author and brilliant EFT’er.

  1. Schedule the important things into your diary FIRST, before anything else. If family is a high value to you, schedule vacation time, school concerts, and quality time with your kids into your diary. If creativity is a high value, schedule art lessons, or time for a creative hobby into your diary. If health is a high value, make sure you schedule exercise and shopping /planning for healthy meals.
  2. When a new request floats over to you, get into the habit of checking your diary/schedule BEFORE you respond. I know, it can be a hard habit to break. If we use to say ‘yes’ to everything because we love helping, and feel fulfilled by that, it’s tough to change that instinct to reply “Of course I’ll help”. But – if you don’t change this – think of the cost to yourself, your health, your wellbeing – and therefore, also of your family. If YOU are not well, who will take care of you?
  3. Learn to say “I’d love to help, AND let me check my schedule, before I respond.” In my experience, no-one has ever reacted badly to this reply.
  4. Once you’ve checked your schedule and it looks busy, offer them an alternative. “I can’t help this week, in 2 weeks’ time there’s an opening.” Or “I’m not able to help for the next month, but I know someone who would be GREAT with this! I’ll put you in touch.”
  5. If you have guilt around not being available, I get it. It happens, even to me, after practising this for a couple of years. In this case, please get help to manage those feelings because just about EVERY SINGLE TIME those feelings of guilt and obligation will make your decision for you. It’s VERY possible to get past the guilt, and I use an awesome and effective tool for this. Contact me if you need help, or contact someone else, but please don’t continue to live a life of quiet despair and “I can’t say no because I feel guilty.”

I know it’s easy to be distracted by the pebbles. Usually they seem so urgent! But you know what? When the big rocks don’t fit into my day, I find it leads to resentment, exhaustion, health problems, low energy and all sorts of other trouble – Irritability, low resilience, feeling like a victim or martyr and grumpiness feature too.

I’d love to hear from you. What are some of your big rocks, and pebbles? What can you do differently? What insights did you have?

Liesel Teversham
Liesel Teversham

Liesel helps sensitive introverts to see their sensitivity as a superpower, love their work and practice awesome self-care so they can be energized and make a difference in a meaningful and fulfilling way. She helps them to overcome the fear of being visible, avoiding the spotlight and conflict, being ‘too nice’, perfectionism and procrastination.

She’s the author of “No Problem. The Upside of Saying No”, which is a handbook for those who struggle to say no, are overwhelmed and exhausted.

Click here to read about the book.

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