Episode 020 of the Cultivate Your Life Podcast was released on June 18th, 2019. Listen here!

Lara: Okay, moment of truth. Have you had a hard time saying no lately? I feel like we’re both sitting in the dark room right now with the spotlight on us sharing our truth that yes, saying no is hard. Okay? It’s just hard. You feel like you have a really hard time saying no. So you always say yes, and because of this, you’re feeling constantly stretched thin, like you’re not in control of your own schedule. You’re constantly overwhelmed and you just don’t know how to stop the yes train. So how do you say no when it all feels urgent and important? That yes train has come to a screeching halt, right this second. You’re going to learn how to say no so that you can say yes to the things that really matter and we have so many fun surprises up our sleeves together today. Get ready. Here we go.

Lara: You know all those things you’ve always wanted to do, you should go do them. The things that last longer than you, the things that run deeper and are more thrilling than skydiving. The things that make you come alive. Welcome to the Cultivate Your Life Podcast, where each week we talk about how to uncover what matters to you in the big picture and start acting like it today. Whether you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or in need of some refreshing truth today, I’m Lara and you are in the right place. Let’s cultivate what matters together.

Lara: Hey, hey, it’s no longer May. It’s June. It’s June. How are you doing? So a few months ago you and I chatted together about how if I ever were to write another chapter book again. I had a proposed title. My proposed title is … Well there’s several. There’s several. I have a few ideas. You can tell me which one you think would be the most compelling to you. So one idea would be, “No”. That’s it. Just simple. We’re going to keep that title simple, which is going to be a really minimalist book cover. It’s just going to say no. The other one is, “no, no, no”. Or my personal favorite is, “All the things I’ve said no to.” I am well acquainted with long rides on the yes train. We go through scenic routes to countries I never ever wanted to explore. We fully get distracted from the things that matter by beautiful scenery, over in some far off land. And boy, that train just speeds out of control until I feel like I have to make a full body stop effort to just make it all stop.

Lara: Let’s, do a little story time, shall we? I’m going pull up in a book. It’s this like masterpiece theater style. Here we go. This is a book I’m very familiar with, Cultivate. I wrote this book, but really this story wrote me. The spring I started my garden, I was speaking at conferences, traveling, running two businesses and consulting for small business owners while caring for my first child Grace. I was doing good and purposeful work, but too much of a good thing can still be too much. I was addicted to yes. Yes, I’d love to do this project with you. Yes, I’d be happy to write a blog post for you. Yes, I’d love to speak at your conference. Yes, I’d love to get together. Yes, I’ll be there. Yes, yes, yes. And come summer, I was flat out burned out. I was tired of growing. I was worn out trying to do it all and not doing a whole lot. Well, I was tired of my overcrowded life.

Lara: Whoosh. I have a feeling you’re tired of your overcrowded life too. I craved margin in my schedule. I craved room for physical and emotional and spiritual care in order to better care for others. I wanted to flourish as a friend, a mother and a wife. And so something had to change. But how was I supposed to make changes when everything was already in motion? The train was just going. So it’s simple gardening math. When I go outside my garden, plants need space for roots to grow and they need adequate nutrients. If you want them to flourish, you’ve got to give them those things. However, untangling our lives can feel a lot more complicated, right? Relationships, expectations of others, deadlines and dates, press in on us and feel pretty much impossible to unravel and unrush. So how do you do it? How is a girl supposed to know what to say no to when it all feels urgent? How do you simplify?

Lara: A powerful fertilizer to nourish the things that truly matter in life is the word no. We often think of no as a scary and disconnecting word, but it has the power to be one of the most loving and connecting words you use. It’s okay let go, to not keep up and to not do it all. It’s okay to disappoint people in favor of growing what God has given you to grow. It is okay to say no. Say it with me now; It is okay to say no. We only have so much space, energy, and nutrients in our lives. You know this. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. You are very well acquainted with what this feels like. You know that you only have so much energy and space and nutrients in your life, and I don’t know about you, but I do not thrive in an overcrowded life. Whether it’s too many dreams planted at once, or too many social commitments. Can I get an amen? Work projects, family activities or, sometimes it’s not just the things that we can see with our eyes. Perhaps it’s too many unresolved conflicts. All those things, they take up space. And when I tried to do it all, nothing grows well.

Lara: Today I’m going to guide you through three ways, three very practical ways for you to become an expert in saying no, for you to love, not the challenge, but the opportunity of being faced with a no. You’re going to feel so equipped after this episode. You’re going to get those three tips, but first let’s talk to one of my friends who knows a whole lot about decision making, Emily P. Freeman.

Lara: Friends, I’m so excited for the conversation that we are about to enter into together alongside my friend Emily Freeman. Hi Emily. It’s so good to have you here.

Emily P. F: Oh, I am so excited to be here with you today.

Lara: You guys are in for a treat because I know the things that are heavy on our hearts are these unmade decisions. And Emily, you have just released a beautiful new book. So first of all, tell us about that book and then I am really curious, you have said that unmade decisions hold power. I want to know about that, so tell us.

Emily P. F: Well, the book is The Next Right Thing, and the whole idea of the book is that if someone picks up this book who has a decision to make big or small, my hope is that by the time they put the book down, hopefully that decision doesn’t feel so daunting and they’ve been given some tools to walk through that decision making process simply, and in an approachable way. But I also hope secondarily, secretly, I hope that it will be a kind companion to help a reader or a listener realize that oftentimes the thing that we think is the thing with a capital T, is actually only a thing. And we try to make the decision, the point, which is when I think unmade decisions hold so much power, is because we’re looking to it and thinking, “If only I could resolve this, then I could rest.”

Emily P. F: But upon decision, and then looking back, what I’ve discovered is that the decision is rarely the point. It is a point, but it’s not the point. The point is often the person I’m becoming in the process of making the decision. And that’s infinitely more valuable when you look at your entire life. And so that’s part of my secret agenda in writing the book, now the cat’s out of the bag, but I do think there’s something powerful about the process of decision making as well as the actual decisions that we’re making.

Lara: So I love what you said, something interesting. I actually have a note here on my desk with a quote from my father-in-law, and he said as I was writing my first book, and just feeling so much pressure to make this, like you said, the thing, he said, “Laura, don’t make this the most important thing you ever do.” And that really stuck with me. So that’s one reason why I feel like your book has been so powerful in so many women’s lives already, is that, there is this unprecedented weight on our shoulders like bricks, when we feel like we’re making a decision that feels like it is the most important decision of all time. And not to say that these things are not important, they are. But help us break that down. How do we walk through the process of making a decision in the first place, whether it’s to leap into a new season of life or a decision to take a new job, or a decision to say no to something? Where do we start?

Emily P. F: It’s a great question and I think that it’s a perfect question to ask ourselves, especially when we are in the midst of decision fatigue. I think a lot of us walk through life with a label on ourselves, which is either, “I’m great at making decisions.” Or, “I’m terrible at making decisions.” The truth is, decision making is not a character trait that you’re either born with or not. It is a skill and it is an attribute of our energy level in many ways. So I think I … I’m a great decision maker in the mornings and a terrible decision maker at night. And [crosstalk 00:10:36]

Lara: True. That’s good.

Emily P. F: So I think the one thing to recognize is that there is no character attribute. There’s no identity issue when it comes to decision making, because oftentimes if you think you’re a terrible decision maker, then guess how you’re going to feel? The posture you’re going to bring into the decision making process is not going to be a great one. And you’re going to lack confidence right out of the gate if you wear that label. So I think that’s one important thing going into it, and a distinction to make is that one.

Emily P. F: Another thing I think that we tend to do is we tend to, a lot of us, but not everyone, but a lot of us carry all our decisions at once. And they just live on our shoulders in a swirl of question marks. And some question marks are bigger, and some are smaller. And so taking the time to tease out what decisions actually are … Sometimes I … Like, for example, when we’re thinking about my girls starting high school this past fall, and it was about this time last year and I was thinking, I was just worried about, “Oh my goodness, my girls are starting high school. Are they ready? Have I prepared them? What’s it going to be like?” All the questions.

Emily P. F: And in my mind it weighed like an unmade decision. It had the type of weight that it unmade decision had because I felt like I needed to deal with it. But when I took the time, and this is the first step really, is to take some time to clear away the clutter. And for me the clutter was all this anxiety surrounding this life step of my girls starting high school. But what happened when I took time to clear the clutter, which literally Lara, that meant like spending some time in silence, setting a timer on my phone and be like, “Okay, Emily, let’s take a minute. It’s like a hot minute or five.” And just be silent for a bit, and name what it is that, if it’s a decision, let’s name what the decision is. If it’s a question, let’s write down the question, what is it? And when I took the time to do that, I realize I’m just nervous. I’m just a mom who’s nervous about my girls starting school. And when I realized the decisions were already made, there really wasn’t a decision I had to make. And not only that, it was spring and they weren’t starting school till August.

Emily P. F: So one thing I often do is, when I think about, do I need to concern myself with this issue right now? Is it a decision I need to make right now? Is I’ll take whatever the thing is, so let’s say my girls starting high school, and then I’ll add the word today at the end. I’ll turn it into a question and I’ll add the word today. So I’m nervous about my girls starting high school. Now I changed it to, “Are my girls starting high school today?” And the answer was no. And I think that’s something we can do. It’s a really practical, kind of silly exercise. But if the answer is no, then the next question can be, what is one next right thing I can do right now to help them and me prepare for the day when they do start high school?

Emily P. F: And sometimes it’s nothing. Sometimes it’s go shopping, sometimes it’s send an email to that mom whose kids are one grade ahead of mine and see if she has any insight. So there’s always something we can do, but rarely do we have to do everything all at once. And that’s where that magic question of, what is the next right thing I can do right now? And then adding that word today to our worries and concerns and our decisions and really be so practical [crosstalk 00:14:10].

Lara: Needed because we do. We feel like we have to do it all. We feel like that that event or that thing is happening in the next breath and it takes our breath away. We just walked through the transition of letting go of Southern Weddings Magazine after 10 years. And everything you’ve just said is exactly, and obviously you have much more insight and way better words to describe what we experienced than we did. But that is essentially what ended up helping us was just what you mentioned. It was first giving the urgency a place, giving our emotions even a place. Sometimes it just meant a simple conversation, a team member to say, “Hey, how are you feeling about this transition? Where are you with this?” So that we could take the urgency in this overwhelming weight .. It just felt like elephants on us sometimes. Take that out so we could see clearly to take the next best step. So that is so good.

Lara: And you know, I think something that’s really challenging though is when we do clear that clutter, sometimes we’re faced with a no that we might have to say. So tell us why do you feel like no has been such a scary word for us as women?

Emily P. F: You know, a few years ago, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes wrote a book called the Year of Yes. And I read that book and I was a great book. But the thing I noticed about it was that, her whole thing was she had said no so much in her life from a place of fear. And so she practiced the discipline of saying yes every time she was asked to do something. And so she had all these amazing adventures like Oscar parties and speaking in public and all these things that normal people-

Lara: Right.

Emily P. F: [crosstalk 00:15:59] quite different than Shonda Rhimes. But after I read that book, I remember thinking that in some ways that the premise of that book presupposed that a yes is brave, and a no is fearful. And while that may have been true for her personally in that season of her life, it is most certainly not always true. Sometimes a no is the bravest thing we can do, and a yes is something that comes from a place of fear. And so asking myself the question, when it comes to decision making, “Am I being led by love or am I being pushed by fear?” Can be a great filter to help me know whether or not this is a situation that requires or invites a brave yes or a brave no.

Emily P. F: And so that idea of saying no, I think, like it or not, better or worse, we all have a narrative that we attached to our yeses and our nos. And I think that when it comes to making decisions, it’s important to begin to name some of those unnamed narratives that are weaving their way beneath the surface of our lives. And so, like I said before, I think for example, Shonda Rhimes, I think her narrative of no was no as a scary thing. And some of us might have that. And so when we’re faced with something, we think, “Oh well, the brave thing, the thing to do is to say yes and that’s the helpful thing.” Or maybe for someone else it’s like, “An achiever always says yes and more is better.” And there are all crazy Pinterest things, little sayings that we believe about yes and no.

Emily P. F: But you asked specifically about saying no. I read a book by … A partial of a book. I didn’t read the whole book. Surprise, surprise. It’s a no to half the book.

Lara: That’s good. It’s good.

Emily P. F: Kevin DeYoung wrote a book called Crazy Busy. And one of the things he talks about in it is choosing your absence. And he said, I’ll quote him. He said, “The biggest deception of our digital age may be the lie that says we can be omni-competent, omni-informed and omni-present. We must choose our absence, our inability in our ignorance and choose wisely.” And this concept of choosing our absence, for me it was like, it’s not just so that I have a clear schedule and I get to lay around, but choosing my absence could be the doorway. Saying no could be the necessary doorway to some of my most meaningful yeses. But I have to choose my absence first.

Lara: Yes, yes. In this season of saying no to Southern Weddings, which was a beautiful season. Like there was really … On paper, nothing that was wrong with it. But I think something that’s really difficult for us is saying no to something that’s good, and making space for something that you can’t see yet. And that’s what it was for us is, we just felt the Lord saying, “All right, I need you to close this chapter so that you can make room for what’s ahead.” And I kept saying, “Lord, please tell me what’s ahead. Can I have a view into the future please, so that …” And this is not something I vocalized at the time, but I think it’s something that I absolutely felt, it is so that I can have enough faith, which really meant seeing it first, to be able to make this leap. So how do we do that? Especially when something is really good and everyone else in the world thinks it’s good, how do we let go?

Emily P. F: It’s a fantastic question and it is what I have had to ask myself many times in my life. I’ve had to make peace with the fact that just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it forever.

Lara: Oh, amen sister. Yes.

Emily P. F: And to add to that, it doesn’t mean you have to do it at all, which is something that is so counter to the, especially the North American culture, which is capitalize on your strengths and push those weaknesses under the rug. And that is … But sometimes we are invited to lead from our weakness or to move into our weaknesses, and that is super uncomfortable and not at all the way we learn to do it in college. But I do think there is some really beautiful things that can happen when we really begin to pay attention to our life. And as writer and Quaker teacher, Parker Palmer says, “To begin to let our life speak and discern if the life that we are leading is the life that wants to be lived within us.” And that takes courage and space. And that takes time that we’re often afraid to give because we’re afraid. Sometimes, not just we’re afraid of what we’ll hear, but sometimes we’re afraid if we take that silence or take that space or that time that we won’t hear anything at all.

Emily P. F: Kind of like what you said like, “I’m willing say no to this really good thing, but I would like some information please.” Because there are a lot of people who I’m trying to explain myself to and I’ve been trained in my western culture that if I don’t know exactly why, then I cannot do the thing because I don’t have three bullet points to explain to the masses. And the truth is, to live a wholehearted life oftentimes means moving forward even when those bullet points aren’t yet there. And you spoke of moving by faith and that’s such a huge part often, of the decision making process that a lot of the productivity books ignore because they give us the three step process of do this and that. And it’s like a formula which can be very helpful, but there is a very human intangible important part of decision making and moving forward and saying yes and no, that we have to tap into, and it’s part of our inner life. It’s listening to our deepest desire and looking within and trusting the voice that comes from within rather than only depending on what the world says is successful, what the world says we should pursue. And it’s often in conflict with our inner life and our inner voice.

Lara: Oh so true. It’s like we retrain ourselves. I had a friend yesterday say to me, “We spend the first portion of our lives asking ourselves what is the world require of me?” And then we come to a point, whatever that point might be for you, of surrender. And usually those things come from turmoil or challenge or just really facing the fact that this life isn’t going to be forever. And then we start to ask the right question, which is, “What does my soul require of me?”

Emily P. F: Yes.

Lara: And I’m curious, and I’m not sure how many times you might have been asked this before, but I’m sure lots of people are curious. How did you come to write a book about this? What is it in your life? Have you always been great at decision making? I would just love to hear. Tell us a little bit more about how you landed in this seat of having more wisdom on this.

Emily P. F: Well, my last book before this one came out in 2015, and that was the second book of a two book contract. And so once that second book was written and done, I was like, “Woo hoo. Freedom. I can do anything.” And I was actually really looking forward to some time of practicing what I had been writing about for so long, which was this idea of celebrating my smallness and enjoy my place in God’s kingdom, my place in my community, my place in my family, without it having to be public, or promoted or broadcast, which is all things I actually really enjoy doing. I’m not one of those people who’s like, “Well, I don’t want to talk about my work because that’s self-promotion.” No. That is not self-promotion. That is, “Here, I made something. I made it for you. It’s a gift and I want to share it.”

Emily P. F: But even though it’s a gift and I want to share, a posture needs some time of quiet. And so I was like, “Yes, I’m going to look forward to that.” Well, I made it, maybe like six months. And then I was itching to start writing again because it’s what I do. It’s in my DNA. I can’t help it. So I’m always as a writer, I’m paying attention to two things. I’m paying attention to the world around me and the world within me. And then I write from the place of where those two things begin to connect. And so I feel like that part of my job is to create new metaphors for people to live by. And so that’s what I’m always doing. I’m always just … It’s just the way my brain works all the time, for better or worse.

Lara: It’s just like you can’t turn off. I know how you feel.

Emily P. F: You can’t turn it off, and that’s a gift and a curse ending on the day. So all that to say, I started paying attention. And I started to recognize how I responded and moved through the world when I had a decision to make. Just personally. It wasn’t really a writing project or something like that. But about a year went by and I began to consider whether or not I wanted to go to Grad school. And was, I think 39 at a time, 38, 39 at the time, some approaching 40. And this idea of going to school, though a very privileged concept, an idea, a choice that many people don’t have. So I was definitely aware of that part of it, but it was a path that it was open to me and it was an option.

Emily P. F: And as I talked with my husband and my family and looked at our calendar, it looked like the door was open. It was an opportunity, but I could not make the decision. I kept going back and forth. I talked people’s heads off about it. I got on my own nerves about it after a time. And I started to recognize, and it was like, “Why can’t I make this decision?” And part of it was, if I went, it would be great. If I didn’t go, things would also be great. Nothing would be missing. It would be fine. Sometimes those are the hardest decisions is when they’re entirely in our own lap, and either choice would be fine. It wasn’t like I was choosing between a really great thing and a really terrible thing. It was just like a really great thing or life as I know it and it’s just fine.

Emily P. F: That was what was happening on the outside. But what was happening on the inside was I was recognizing, like I said, how it was consuming me. And I also recognize the opportunity that I had to walk with God in a way that I would not have access to were it not for this unmade decision. And I recognize the opportunity for my own personal spiritual formation, my own faith walk, my own posture towards him was so attentive and so open. And I thought, “Well, isn’t that interesting? I wonder if this process of decision making is not just spiritually formative for me, but is actually part of the plan in God’s kingdom to help to form us as humans, as the people we most deeply are meant to be? Maybe the decision making process is actually a vital part of that.” And the point isn’t necessarily whether or not I choose to go to school or not. It’s the path that I take in getting there and how it draws me closer to God and closer to the people in my community, which it did. But then also, there was the opportunity for it not to do that. And so I just was fascinated by that.

Emily P. F: So I started taking notes and I started thinking like, “Oh, this is going to be my next book because it’s coming to me the same way all my other books did.” But then, plot twist is I tried to write down these concepts in an outline the way I had done in the past with past books, and it was so stubborn. This idea would not form itself into an outline the way that my other books would. It was endlessly frustrating to the point where I thought, “Okay, I guess I’m not a writer anymore. It was a great run, but it’s over now.” And it was so frustrating. But that was … That process, it’s very Meta because I’m talking about, decision making and [crosstalk 00:27:58]. But I recognized that I had to take some space to let the art or the work speak to me and tell me what it want it to be, because I was in the driver’s seat saying, “You are a book. This is what you are to-“

Lara: It’s so great. I can see that. Yes.

Emily P. F: Right? Because I’m a writer … But the work was refusing to dance. I mean really, like sometimes when I turned myself towards the work usually, and I finally give it my attention, it’s like it comes alive this was not happening. And so I just sat with it and it was another six months probably. And then I started falling in love with the audio format. And when I recognize how I was consuming content at that time, which was a lot of audio books and Podcast, I thought, “Huh! I wonder if this concept would be one that wants to be explored through the spoken word, through a medium where I could say … If only a medium existed where I can say words and people could tune in?’

Emily P. F: And as soon as I considered this decision making, next right thing, this whole process of decision making and how it forms us as humans, as soon as I gave it even the hint that maybe this is a podcast, everything seemed to fall into place. Now the technology piece of the podcasts learning was a learning curve for sure. But as far as the content and the creative part of it, it came in like 10 episodes. It was like, “Oh, here’s the path.” And I wanted them to be short, and I wanted it to be like a speed bump and people’s days. And it just made a lot more sense when I realized that, when it’s spoken. And honestly I thought, “Oh, that’s it. It’s not a book, it’s a podcast.” And I thought that’s all it would ever be. And of course as you know, spoiler alert, it became a book after all. But it had to go through the process that it wanted to be, which was spoken, before I could come back around and see, “Okay, now I see the narrative arc. Now I see how this can actually be a book.”

Lara: So good. I feel like that’s so perfectly illustrates what some decisions end up being. We really think, and I’m sure that you’ve seen this with so many women, that we think that when we make the ‘right decision’, that it’s going to have a bow wrapped around it, that it’s going to feel great afterwards. And many times it does. Clarity feels good. But many times when we do make the right decision, it can lead us on a path of more hardship, or what feels like difficulty and challenge. And I know that’s what it was for us. Again, back to Southern Weddings, which was such a big decision to make. When we finally made the decision, I thought to myself, “Okay, finally when we make this decision, we’re going to feel like we can just sore after this.” And it was anything but that.

Lara: In fact it led us into a very difficult season. But there’s more butts. Those difficult seasons just as you have expressed, are really part of the refining. They’re part of us learning to grow more fruit for his kingdom. And that’s what it was for us. It was almost like the right decision, actually led us to more pruning, which as you know with plants, it just makes them more fruitful in the right ways. So I love that so much. In thinking about those that are listening right now, that they have a decision on their plates, something that they are just like you did, wrestling with back and forth. They cannot seem to get a word in, what would you say to them right now? Knowing what you know now on the other side of making decisions, what would you say to them right now?

Emily P. F: Well, I think the most obvious and simple question is to ask, “What is one next right thing you can do today that will possibly lead you in the direction of this decision or not?” And I think sometimes we think, “Okay, I have to work on ‘this decision’ and I have to find my answer.” But oftentimes, a couple of things, if you’re a person of faith, I think it helps to state the decision in plain English in the presence of God. And when you’re done, go about your day as normal. Go out to the garden, go run your errands, go to the post office and let the speaking of the decision of the question into God’s presence, or into the world. Let it linger there without trying to choke an agenda out of it right now. I think that sometimes-

Lara: We want to do that. Yes.

Emily P. F: Okay, I prayed about this and now I need my answer. And instead I think what we can begin to do, second thing, instead of looking always for answers, begin to look for arrows because arrows will lead us to an answer eventually, but it might not lead us to an answer right now. My Dad used to give me this analogy when I was in high school about decision making, and he used to say that … We lived in Indiana and he would say, “Okay, if we are going to Florida, we don’t get on the highway out here and it says, “To Florida, this way.” and you just get right on the highway and go. Instead, you have to go to Indianapolis and then it takes you down south into Columbus and you go to each town at the time and you follow. But you know the big picture, eventually you’re going to get to Florida. But first you have to go through these other areas. And as you get closer to Florida you’ll see signs to Florida.”

Emily P. F: But I think the same goes for decision making. So often we know we’re headed in a direction maybe, but we don’t maybe know exactly. Right now it’s the destination isn’t going to present itself to us first. First we have to do the next thing in front of us, and then the next thing will make its way known after. But first we have to do this one. And I think that’s one thing that can relieve some of that anxiety of having to have the whole answer right now is just begin to state what the decision is, maybe even write down some of the questions that you have about it, but then don’t force yourself to come up with an answer. Allow yourself to begin to look for arrows and see what happens next.

Lara: So much wisdom. Emily P. Freeman, you are a gift to this world. I’m so grateful that your challenges in decisions led you to write this book so that we could benefit from all that you learned in that process. Leave us with some encouragement here; just anything else that you feel like listeners really need to hold on to when they are facing those yeses or nos, and when they’re facing this process of discernment that can be so intimidating.

Emily P. F: So intimidating. And you know, you say it well there Lara. I think one of our biggest fears when it comes to making decisions is in the end, we’re afraid we’ll make the wrong choice. And so I would just invite listeners to, if you’re in that place of needing to make a decision and maybe it’s coming up fast and furious, your deadline for making that decision, is begin to practice the discipline of being relentlessly kind to yourself. And know that as you move forward doing your next right thing in love, you don’t move forward alone. That there are people who you can invite into your life to be co-listeners with you, who can ask you some curious questions. And then as you move forward and do your next right thing and love, that you can trust that no matter what happens, even if something goes awry, that you can always come back to love. That you can always remember that practicing relentless kindness to yourself will never be the wrong decision.

Lara: That equips us so well. Just circling back to the very first thing you said to us when we have this posture of feeling like we are bad decision makers, that really doesn’t allow us to move forward at all. It’s just like for most of my life I felt like I said to myself, “I am not a numbers person.” Until one day someone said to me, “You know what?” How about instead flip that and say, “I am becoming more skilled at numbers.”” And it was because of that flipping of my mental script, I was able to then become equipped. But before I just had this big wall up. So Emily, thank you for helping us to break down that wall today. It has been such a joy to have you here. Friends, give her a round of applause wherever you are. And if people ask you why, you just say, “You know what? I’m becoming more skilled at decisions and I’m clapping about it.”

Emily P. F: That’s right. I love it.

Lara: Yes. Emily, thank you so much.

Lara: Whoa. She is such a wealth of knowledge. That was a whole lot of fun. Emily has such a wealth of wisdom and knowledge and yes, go and grab a copy of her book, The Next Right Thing wherever books are sold. Man, Emily, thank you so much for helping us to become better decision makers. Now we’re going to take what we’ve learned together so far and we’re going to break it down into the three things you can do right now to help yourself say no to the things that don’t matter, so you can say yes to the things that do.

Lara: Number one, when you’re faced with a decision, ask yourself, does this yes that I’m considering align with my big picture vision? Does this yes align with my big picture vision? So you’re faced with a decision that maybe even seems like a small thing, whether it’s a small thing or a big thing, stop for just a moment and ask yourself, “Does this help me to get to where I want to be when I’m 80 or 90 or 100 years old? Does this help me to have a stepping stone to that big picture vision?” And I love Emily’s question from her book. She phrases this in such a beautiful way and says, “Am I being pushed by fear or led by love?” So are you being pushed by fear, or led by love? Led by that really big picture vision? Which one is it in this decision that you’re weighing? And if that thing does not fully align with your big picture vision, if you feel like you’re being pushed by fear, then it’s a no.

Lara: Now, maybe for you it doesn’t feel so clear cut though. So let’s just go there for a minute. First, it means knowing what really matters to you. If we were to look at the big picture, what are the things that when you reach that age of 80 or 90 or 100, whatever it is, what are the things that you’re going to be so glad you spent your time on? So just envision yourself there for just a minute. And I know this is really hard to do. Trust me. I know. But you know what’s harder? Staying stuck, feeling like you’re on that crazy, crazy yes train all the time. So I know you don’t want that. So let’s push ourselves. Let’s just for a moment, envision yourself at that point in your life looking back on the life you just lived. Man, this just gives me a pit in my stomach and in the best way. It’s a literal gut check for me to say, “Okay, am I looking back and seeing that I spent my time on the things that matter or did I waste it worrying about what other people thought, worrying about disappointing people temporarily in saying and no to something that really did not match up to my big picture vision?”

Lara: Envision it. What are you going to be so glad you spent time on, and what are you going to be so glad that you didn’t spend time on? What are the things that are not going to mattered to you? Here’s what that clarity does. You know that clarity about where you want to be in the big picture, you know what it does? It breeds action. When you’re clear about what matters and what doesn’t, you can’t help but do something about it. And action over time, little by little adds up to a whole new life. Saying no becomes so much easier when you know what really matters to you. It’s like you’ve got this clear compass, you know that destination on the map, you know the direction you’re heading and you know the direction you’re not going to hit. Sometimes that is the thing that helps me the most.

Lara: It’s sometimes difficult to see, “What do I want in the big picture? What are my steps forward?” But you know what’s easy to see? What I don’t want. So if that’s you, stop right now and write those things down. What are you going to be so glad that you spent time on? What are you going to be so glad that you didn’t spend time on? If that helps you more like it does for me. And when you get clear about those two things, those yeses and those nos becomes so much easier. It’s just simple. You think to yourself, “Well, if that matters to me in the big picture”, if say, relationships matter to you in the big picture, if loving your children matters to you in the big picture, you know what?

Lara: The decisions you’re making today about doing all those social things you feel pressured to do, or even a volunteer thing, or something that you feel strangely obligated to do because you’re worried about what the other person might think of you, you know what? That’s going to be so much easier to say, “Absolutely not. I want to cultivate the faith of my children moving forward. Spending time with them is more important than saying yes to this silly thing that somebody really wants me to do. It is worth me saying no and temporarily disappointing someone in favor of the big picture.”

Lara: Another great question that Emily poses to us and her book is, is this yes life-giving or life-draining? I love that so much Emily. Is this yes life-giving or life-draining? Make a list for yourself. Put that decision that you’re weighing on paper and then just ask yourself, “If I were to say yes to this, would this be life-giving or would it be life-draining?” It helps things to become pretty clear cut.

Lara: And number three, I ask myself this all the time. Literally many times a day, even today, several times this morning. Number three, if you were to say yes to this, what would you have to give up? Because when you say yes to something, you know you’re going to have to say no to something else. For me, I made an intentional decision several years ago to say no to pretty much all speaking of all kinds. Essentially I was saying no to travel because I wanted to say a big emphatic yes to being here for my kids and using these years on purpose. And that has not always been easy. There have been so many wonderful opportunities for me to do good work for other people, and to do things that would either grow our business, grow the mission and the heart of what we’re doing, or opportunities to serve people who have blessed us so much. There have been lots of factors that I have felt as pressures in a way.

Lara: But you know what? It’s really clear to me what matters in the big picture. It’s super clear and not by accident, but because I come back to that golden question constantly. Where do I want to be in the big picture? What’s going to matter? What’s not? And I constantly pray about these things and it’s not to say that I make all the perfect decisions, but I know right now in this season I’m supposed to be here. So if you said yes to whatever it is you’re considering, what would you have to give up? Because saying yes means that it’s going to cost you something. Every yes cost us something, whether it’s time or energy or effort of some sort or a clearing something else off your calendar. Every yes costs us something. If you don’t say no to this, what would happen? What would the consequences be of your yes? So if you don’t say no, write that down too. What’s going to happen? Perhaps what’s going to happen is your schedule is going to fill up. Perhaps it means you won’t have time for something else. Really weigh those consequences.

Lara: So now you know these three questions and you can pull these out of your hat at any moment. Here’s the trick; the trick is stopping your mouth long enough from saying yes to ask yourself these questions. You got to buy yourself a little time and just pull these questions out. Even if just for a second, maybe put them on your phone, write them in your phones notes App. Stick them on a sticky note. Memorize these things because just imagine if you do, you’re going to buy yourself so much of your life back because you know it, I know it. How many times has the yes just kind of blah, blah, blah, just tumbled out of your mouth? Have you experienced that before? That is a rhetorical question. I think we have all experienced the seemingly, “Oops”, I said it again. Yes, it is just tumbled out of our mouths.

Lara: That is why you’re going to equip yourself with these three questions. Number one, does this yes align with your big picture? And like Emily has taught us, are you being pushed by fear or led by love? Number two is this yes, life-giving or life-draining? And number three, if you said yes to this, what would you have to give up? If you didn’t say no to this, what would happen? What would the consequences be? Now I must give you a little caveat to question number two. Sometimes our very best decisions are actually life-draining in a lot of ways. Obedience to the things that really matter like you’ve learned in our story of letting go of Southern Weddings, it was the decision that God wanted us to make, but it was a hard decision. It did not make our lives immediately easier the snap second after we made that decision.

Lara: So use that tool carefully. Equip yourself with the right mindset for that question. To me, life-giving means, is it pushing me in God’s direction? Is it going to help me to go in his direction? Because I want to go in his direction. Life-draining means it’s pushing me away from him. It’s pretty simple. So now let’s equip ourselves with some tools to avoid failure to avoid that, “Oops, I said it again,” yes.

Lara: Number one, intentionally and proactively schedule your yeses where possible. If there is something that you want to spend more time on, put it on your calendar. Schedule to spend more time on it so that it’s pretty easy for you to say, “Oh, actually no. I can’t commit to the thing that you want me to do.” Or, “No, I’m not able to do that.” Or, “Thank you so much for asking me to be a part of that, but I actually am fully committed to this other thing.” Intentionally and proactively schedule those yeses and that’s going to make it a whole lot easier to say no.

Lara: Number two, this is one of the best ways to avoid failure is to have a ready phrase. Have some other words to say besides, “Yes, I will.” My friend Jessica Turner, I love her so much. In her book, The Fringe Hours, she lays out a list for us. Are you ready for this? Y’all go get this book. It’s so good. On a page 145 of The Fringe Hours, she has this list of nine no situations and what you say. So here we go. Thank you Jessica. Number one, just no. So you would say, “Thanks. But I won’t be able to do that.” Number two, the gracious no. “I’m so thankful you asked me, but I won’t be able to commit.” Number three, the I’m-sorry no. “I would love to, but my schedule won’t allow for it. I’m sorry.” Number four, the it’s-someone- else’s-decision no. “I have committed to my therapist that I will not take on any more projects right now. I’m working to create more margin in my life.” Number five, the my-family-is-the-reason no. “We appreciate the invitation, but my daughter has a dance recital that day so we won’t be able to attend.” Number six, the I-know-someone-else no. “I’m not able to help with that project, but I know the perfect person who might be able to help.” I love that one. I love being able to set someone else up for, a really great opportunity in that one. That’s great.

Lara: Number seven, the I’m-already-booked no. “Thank you for asking, but I have an appointment that day.” Number eight, the setting-boundaries no. “This is more than I can do right now, but here is what I could commit to.” That one is really good. You know what? Here’s the thing, the most important thing in learning to say a gracious no is to be honest and also honor the other person. People can see right through a false no or a false statement. And that’s why I really love this one because you know what’s so freeing is when women say no and give you the real reason. It makes me feel like I don’t have to have it all together either. It makes me feel like, “Oh, I’m not the only one that feels like this is more than I can do right now.” So that number eight, the setting-boundaries no, that’s good stuff. Y’all say that one to me if I asked you to do something. Okay?

Lara: Let’s recap the setting-boundaries no is, “That is more than I can do right now, but here’s what I could commit to.” And number nine, the not-no-but-a-not-yes no. And this is the one that really buys you some time so you can craft a really meaningful response for that person. We say, “Let me think about it. Could I get back to you next week?”

Lara: Ooh, those were good. Between Emily and Jessica, we have had a feast of good knowledge dropped in our hearts today, haven’t we? Now if you keep saying yes to everything, you know you’re going to feel resentful. Ugh, I don’t like that feeling. You’re going to feel resentful, spread thin, over committed and drained of energy. And you might be there right now, but imagine if you do say no to the things that are on your life-sucking list, the things that don’t align with your big picture vision, but things that don’t point you in the direction of where you want to be when you’re 80 years old. Imagine if you do say no to those things, the small things and the big things. Oh that gets me excited because it means you’re going to be able to say a whole-hearted yes to the things that do matter. And that just simplifies your life.

Lara: You’ll be using your time intentionally on the right things. Your no could also … This is good. Your no could also be and for someone else to say yes. So sometimes when I say no to something, I get to envision somebody else saying yes to it, and maybe that is the perfect opportunity for them to step in. So your no could also be an opportunity for someone else to say yes and you can enjoy your yeses more with no regrets.

Lara: And now you know you can say no. It might cost you something, but it’s going to be worth it. Saying no to one thing means saying yes to something better. Now you know, on the other side of the temporary disappointment, someone else might feel is a really, really meaningful yes that’s going to be so worth that disappointment. And now you have several really easy phrases that you can use whenever you need to say no. You’re going to be so glad too that you made this a practice, because it will be a practice. It’s not like we learned this or we say our final no, and that is the end of it. No, that crazy train is going to follow you. It’s going to follow you until you practice this, and practice it and practice it. And soon enough decision making becomes easy and you feel more confident, and that crazy train as far off in the distance.

Lara: Now where do you start? You start where all good things begin, with one small step. So do this; write down what you want to say yes to in the big picture. What are the things that you’re saying yes to for your life? What matters most to you? Get really clear on that. What are your life yeses? For me, yes to cultivating the hearts of my children. Yes to sinking my soul into my marriage. Yes to getting out in the garden for as many years as the Lord will let me. Yes to being here and giving my all with you as we chat about the things that matter in life, the things that last. What’s on your list? What are the things that you want to say yes to?

Lara: My absolute favorite page in my Power Sheet’s intentional goal planner is my yes-no list. I love that because it gives me direction for my year ahead. You go through the guided worksheets that lead you to this page where you write out the things you’re saying yes to for the months ahead, and the things you’re saying no to. This page becomes my compass that I come back to all year long to help me simplify my decision making. And it’s going to do the same for you. Grab your set of six month undated Power Sheets in the Cultivate shop at cultivatewhatmatters.com and use the exclusive podcast code, “Cultivate your life” for 10% off. The Power Sheets will help you know what to say yes to.

Lara: I always so enjoy my time with you and I invited a few more friends to join us for a little chat here. Are you ready? The ladies I work alongside are going to share a few things that they say no to.

Emily Thomas: I’m Emily Thomas. I’ve been with Cultivate for almost 10 years and I say no to painting my fingernails, to going to the mall and to owning a dog.

Marissa: Hi, I’m Marissa, PR and4 Partnerships Manager. I do not make the bed every morning, or cook dinner every night. I don’t battle with my daughter about what she wears to school, much to her enjoyment. I say no to feeling judged on how I mother and I say no to trying to be everything to everybody.

Julie: Hi, I’m Julie. I’m the Marketing Director at Cultivate. Here’s what I don’t do; I don’t go to the grocery store with my toddler son, and I definitely don’t hand wash all my dirty dishes. I say no to passing up adventure with my family, and I say an emphatic no to believing that my worth is in my work.

Kaylee: I’m Kaylee Hobbs, and I am the COO at Cultivate. And I say no to paying for cable, waking up later than 6:00 AM during the week and cooking fancy meals.

Mackenzie: My name is Mackenzie and I say no to getting in my bed unless I’ve taken a shower first.

Lara: Priority is people. When you know what’s important to you, you know what to say no to. You just know. You know, and life just gets better and beds get cleaner across the country. Okay? But we actually have some VIP special guests that are very eager to share with you their life nos. Here we go.

Grace: I’m Grace, and I say no to sauce pizza.

Stu: My name’s Stu. I say no to waking up early?

Lara: It’s so cute. I don’t like waking up early either. Now, what do you think Emerson?

Emerson: I say no to all the bed times.

Lara: Oh, we have a theme in the Cultivate office. Waking and early bedtimes is a no. What else do you say no to Emerson?

Emerson: I say no to eating green beans because they’re yucky.

Josh: My name is Josh and I don’t like eating chicken. It’s so stinky.

Lara: All right, stinky chicken. What else do you say no to buddy?

Josh: I think no to eating paint.

Lara: Wait? To eating paint. Is that what you said?

Josh: Yeah.

Lara: Okay, well, I think you should say no that’s son. I’ve been sitting here laughing the entire time. That was a lot of fun. See you and I, we have a lot of fun together. I just love my time with you. We talk about deep stuff, we talk about saying no to stinky chicken. And that’s why I just love hanging out with you. All right, so to get all of the links to the resources from today’s show, I’ve got some really great resources for you for this particular show. Some really good books to read, and so many links to goodness of various kinds. Go to cultivateyourlife.com for the show notes. That’s cultivateyourlife.com to get the show notes and all of those really helpful links.

Lara: And I have to say thank you. You are the most generous women to share this free resource every week with so many of your friends and coworkers and sisters and sorority sisters and students of yours, and just amazed. I’m truly amazed and very, very grateful to be a part of this with you. You are all so generous to leave five star reviews on iTunes and Sarah recently left a review and said, “You know all those things you’ve always wanted to do? You should go do them has become my mantra. I have shared this with so many people. I love the podcast.” Thank you so much for sharing, Sarah. You know, there’s something about that phrase, “You know all those things you’ve always wanted to do, you should go do them.” And I’m going to add a twist on that just for me and you. You know all those things you’ve always not wanted to do, don’t say yes to those things.

Lara: Oh my friends. I just want to give us badges. I feel like after we learn these skills together, you actually have skill badges. Like, we should have a I-know-how-to-say-a-good-yes phrase badge. Would you like badges? We should have patches. We should have patches. Let’s do that. Well, until I get my patches made, until next time, get out there. Say yes to the things that matter most to you and don’t worry when you mess up. You’re bound to mess up. I mess up all the time and say yes to things that I later on regret. Just learn from it and move forward. And remember, as always, it’s always about progress, not perfection. I’ll see you next time.

Ari: Cultivate your life with my wife Lara Casey. Isaac son, we’re not quite done. This is the outro. In case you didn’t know, now don’t forget to rate it and review it. Rate it and review it. You can do it. And tell your friends to listen and subscribe to be notified when a new episode drops. Now Cultivate Your Life with my wife Lara Casey. Was that okay babe?