Saying "Yes" Begins by Saying "No" -- How to Conduct an Inventory

08/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Anne Dilenschneider South Dakota Humanities Scholar, Keeper of the Canton Native Asylum Story, Clinical Counselor

Over the next few weeks I am posting excerpts from a course series I've led with my good friend Debra Satterwhite called "Spiritual Toolbox." Today's blog is Part Two of "Saying 'Yes' Begins by Saying 'No.'"

"Yes" and "No" -- each day we are pulled in many directions. The ability to say "Yes!" depends on our ability to say "No!" well. As Thomas Swears says,

Whenever a decision either for yes or for no is made on the basis of such calculated considerations as, "What will they think of me if I don't do it?" justification is being sought for a harried and unfree life, one that is bound to the opinions and desires of others. But, when a life is rooted in the presence of [the Holy], with a single focus, then either yes or no can be spoken, not on the basis of what others will think or out of guilt, but from what the Quakers call an inward rising to encourage or discourage the acceptance of the task. . . . A life with such a center can be more simply lived but it is not simplistic.

Each of us has to be clear about where our life is centered. Without this sense of center, we will say "yes" to please others and be "liked," to be "nice," to live up to the performance expectations of others, or to live up to our own self-imposed perfectionism.

Humility recognizes that no one of us can be everything to everyone. We are not omnipotent. We have limits. The same is true for our wider community -- it, too, has limits. Even working together, we cannot be everything for everyone. So, the key is for each of us to do the personal work we have before us. That means that we each must discover our personal non-negotiables, our values. Integrity -- the wholeness of our inner and outer life -- is rooted in these.

How can you discover your own non-negotiables? Try this exercise. Take a week or so to work through this in a daily meditative time.

1) Conduct an inventory:

Consider every one of your commitments. These include: possessions, relationships, activities, and daily structures. Ask yourself:

A. Does this support my priorities?

B. Does it add meaning to my life?

C. Am I doing this to please others?

D. Am I doing this to keep up my persona?

2) If the answer is YES to A & B, and NO to C & D, be sure you make time for this commitment (see Part Three on "The Datebook as a Tool for Spiritual Life")

3) If the answer is NO to A & B, and YES to C & D:

Delegate or give away what doesn't belong to you.
Turn down activities and relationships that have led you astray.
Revise your roles to support your priorities.
Stay true to your passionate values, and rearrange your life accordingly.

Spend a week working on your personal inventory and you too may find that "Saying yes faithfully begins with saying no well."

Next: Saying "Yes" Begins by Saying "No" -- The Datebook as a Tool for Spiritual Life