Prosilience #28: Saying Yes
Using the Priorities muscle to allocate your energy
The Prosilience framework includes a set of seven muscles we use to “resilience” our way through a wide range of challenges. This post focuses on the third of these muscles: Priorities,1 which helps us align our energy with the values and concerns that are most important to us.
Each of us has a finite supply of energy—a personal battery. When we are functioning well, and periodically recharging/replenishing our resources, this energy helps us move toward higher levels of effectiveness and well-being. Because we use energy to fuel all of our resilience muscles, it is easier to meet new challenges when we have a strong supply. However, we can also get into spirals of expending more energy than we have available—becoming drained, depleted, and burned out.
What does it feel like to have a full “personal battery”? How do you know when your energy is getting low? Have you experienced periods of burnout or exhaustion? What did you do to replenish your energy? What new challenges have you been able to take on with your available energy?
Not surprisingly, managing our energy involves making choices—deciding what we will and won’t do. As new requests, demands, and opportunities come up, we either apply our priorities and values to determine which to pursue, or allow circumstances and others’ wishes to determine our course of action. Here are some things to think about as you use and build your Priorities muscle:
Knowing What’s Most Important
How do we decide where to invest our energy? It starts with being clear about what’s most important to us. Some people talk about this in terms of purpose; we can also frame our thinking in terms of the values that guide us. Values are the things we are motivated to work toward in our life—they can include things such as self-respect, freedom, peace, pleasure, social recognition, and enduring love. Many of the choices we encounter require us to make trade-offs between different values.
For example, we may need to decide between comfort and self-respect when we see some form of injustice and decide whether to speak up or not, or decide whether it’s more important to be present for a child’s school event or attend a critical meeting at work.
You can take time in advance to think about your values—here’s one list of personal values to consider—so you have a reference point to consider as you encounter new challenges and choices.
You may need to make decisions in the moment, thinking about the short and long-term implications of the options in front of you. Here’s one approach to this process.
You can also adjust your values and priorities over time, shifting the emphasis you place on self, family, work, friendship, community, etc. as you move through various stages of life.
What are the core priorities and values that guide your choices? What are some of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make about investing your energy? How did you move through those decisions? How have your values and priorities shifted over time?
Evaluating Our Energy
Even when we are clear about our priorities and values, we usually have more demands for our energy than we can take on. If we had perfect clarity about the future, we could put all our options on one page and make decisions. However, we are swimming in an ongoing stream of choices.
Make sure you think through the full energy demands of the choices you are making, including both short- and long-term implications.
Many people bring pets into their home without thinking through the daily effort that will be required to fully honor this commitment, or take on a volunteer role without understanding the time and energy it will take.
As each new opportunity arises, match it against not just the energy you have now, but the energy you expect to have down the road. Otherwise, you can end up running out of the fuel you need to do the things that are most important.
A friend of mine could see that his father’s health was declining and that he would want to spend more time with him over the coming year, so he decided to turn down a promotion at work to protect the flexibility he needed.
It’s often helpful to keep some energy in reserve for unexpected demands. Building a little “slack” into the system by saying no to some things, even when you have the energy to do them, gives you some surge capacity.
I recently turned down an opportunity to do a client project that would have been fun and interesting. I had enough energy in my “bank” to do the work, but I decided that it did not meet the “most important” test. This came in handy when a family member needed me to be available for an unexpected medical challenge.
How do you measure the amount of energy you have available when a new opportunity arises? How do you estimate the long-term demands of a new commitment? How much slack do you have in your energy commitments for unexpected demands?
Saying Yes and No
It’s easy to think too much about the “no” side of these energy-allocation decisions. We may feel we are letting someone down, missing an opportunity, or failing to live up to our own expectations when we choose not to take on a particular commitment or challenge. The “yeses” deserve every bit as much attention. When you recognize that every “no” makes possible a “yes” to something more important, you begin to pay more attention to what you are placing at the center of your choices. If you are clear about those priorities, saying no to everything else becomes a lot easier.
See what “yes” feels like in your body and in your heart as well as your head. When you say yes with your whole self, it often comes with a deep sense of joy and satisfaction. This can further help you clarify what is most important to you and strengthen your sense of priorities.
Practice saying “no” with a clear mind and conscience, trusting your own sense of where you most need to be allocating your energy. The more effectively you are able to let go of the lower priorities, the more you can invest your energy into taking on new challenges and bringing your best self to the world.
Recognize that your choices are not permanent. You may need to let go of a commitment you have made. You may decide to say yes to an opportunity you weren’t able to pursue before. You may have a shift in your priorities or values, or a significant reduction in your available energy, that requires you to make significant adjustments to your life. These adjustments require thought, care, and potentially difficult conversations, but they are part of living in alignment with yourself.
How does your body feel when you say a sincere and solid “yes” to a new opportunity? What space has opened up in your life when you have said no? What are some of the situations you’ve encountered where you drew on your priorities to do decide which path to take? What ?
I always find it helpful to look for role models—people who are particularly good at using one of the resilience muscles. When I think about Priorities, my role models tend to be people who make space for activities—such as writing, creative arts, or music practice—that require uninterrupted periods of time. This calls on them to set boundaries around particular hours, days, and even months and years, dedicating consistent energy to bringing their unique voices into the world.
Who are some of your role models for priorities? What inspires you about what they do? How might you try some of their strategies in your own life? What tough choices have you seen others make to stay aligned with their own values?
What would you like to do with your energy? Are there particular challenges you have taken on, or aspire to take on that require you to protect your energy?
Thanks for reading Prosilience! Subscribe here to receive new posts every other week.
Strengthening Your Priorities
Here are some small moves you can make to stretch this muscle and bring it more confidently into your daily decisions.
Take a few minutes in the morning to think about the most important things you want to accomplish during the day.
Keep a notebook where you can capture thoughts about your own values, priorities, and goals—sometimes just writing things down makes them clearer.
Practice saying “no” to small things in ways that are polite but firm.
When a new energy demand, request, or opportunity arises, ask for a little time to think about it before you make a commitment.
Think back over the past week or month, and the ways you have spent your time. What do you wish you’d done more of? Less of? What one small step could you take to use your energy in ways that are better aligned with your values?
Our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy fuels our resilience. When we are able to direct that energy toward the things that are most important, and to remain focused on our core values and priorities in times of uncertainty and turbulence, we have more resources available to help us move through challenging times. By taking time to clarify your values and goals, accurately evaluating your available energy and the impact of the choices you make, paying attention to both “yes” and “no,” identifying role models, and taking small steps to flex and strengthen your Priorities muscle, you will have more energy to work towards higher levels of effectiveness and well-being—bringing your best self into the world.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this issue of the Prosilience newsletter. See you in a couple of weeks for the next installment.