Be discerning about where you spend your energy (reading, doing, watching, eating).
My husband Nelson and I are both self-employed. When our friends approached us in January of 2013 to ask us if we wanted to claim two seats on a 16-day, 225-mile Grand Canyon trip, we said YES almost without thinking about it.
Rafting the Colorado River through Grand Canyon has been something Nelson has wanted to do since he was a boy. After college, he was a raft guide on the New River in West Virginia. It was a “bucket list” thing for him to be an oarsman and run the Grand Canyon. This trip would be a personal challenge for me, since I get weak-kneed just thinking about running big rapids.
Nelson and I knew we’d have to coordinate care for our pets, save money since we wouldn’t be working for almost a month, and let our clients know we’d be unavailable to them during that time. Somehow, everything came together perfectly and the trip was one we will never forget.
Taking the time to just be on this trip did wonders for us. Those 16 days went fast and were full of daily routines and activities. But the trip did allow us time for thinking, doing nothing, and for talking about life.
When we returned, both of us started being more discerning about the clients we worked with. We rented out our house in a town we didn’t love living in and moved instead to the mountains. We got married. And life is so much better because of it.
Beyond the Canyon
Let’s talk about this discernment thing for a minute, shall we? After all, discernment is one of one of my favorite words ever.
The definition of discerning is: being able to see and understand people, things, or situations clearly.
Discerning is about choosing. It’s not “remembering.” It’s being present in the moment, making a judgment call, and choosing the best available option for you.
Being discerning is a huge part of making some room – being able to see and understand clearly often requires you step back, take stock, and make a deliberately considered choice.
In writing this book, I realized again how faulty my memory can be. For instance, I kept a journal throughout my Grand Canyon trip. Reading it brings back memories of things I’d forgotten, funny quotes people said, and even descriptions of some of the sunsets and night views. Plus, there’s something about looking over our photographs to bring the trip right back into focus. It’s still magical to look at the pictures of the people, rafts, colors of the water, and to see the beauty of the Canyon herself.
Without that journal, my brain simply wouldn’t have retained all those glorious details. I’m so glad I wrote them down. It was also a pleasure that everyone in the group who took photos shared them.
Re-reading my experiences and reviewing the photos helped me reconnect with how I felt on the trip. The times I was so relaxed. The moment I realized I hadn’t thought about money at all. Even (especially) during the moments of terror crashing through some of the bigger rapids.
Being discerning about where I spend my energy is a biggie for me. I mean, I have basically unlimited choice.
Go to the grocery store and I see an unending amount of food (or food-like-substances) to choose from.
Television? How about 1,000 channels (and perhaps still nothing to watch?)
Reading? Amazon.com currently has millions of books available. And I can pick up a book in my hands, or read it on a device, or listen to it. I have SO many options!
In a world that feels too full (at least to me), one of the smartest actions I can take is to NOT drink from the firehose that is life.
When I think of a firehose, I think of something that takes several firefighters to control. The torrent of water shooting out of the hose is unbelievable. And it takes a team to turn the water on and off. The power of that firehose is immense…too much for one person to handle.
Instead, I imagine my options as a common garden hose. When I turn on a garden hose, I see a small stream, much more manageable. I can control it with ease and turn it on or off at will with the twist of the spigot.
For me, this image means I am responsible for what information I allow to be PUSHED at me. By limiting what I allow into my frame of reference (email, snail mail box, grocery cart, and even into home), I can more successfully turn down the pressure to a more manageable flow.
When I think about limiting what I allow to be pushed at me, I include all six of my senses:
- Feeling (internal – different from touch)
I choose to slow down. I stop saying “yes” to everything. I take time to think about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Rather than trying to squish it all in and figure out how to do more, more, more better, I consider what might happen if I instead focused simply on doing less, well.
When I feel overwhelmed, I ask myself: what can I stop doing? I take a very conscious look at what I’m trying to jam into my schedule. I reconsider all the emails in my inbox and use the delete key with glee. I throw away and recycle papers and magazines. I cancel appointments. I drink more water. I take naps.
Gentle reader, consider how you can turn off the firehose. Yes, right now.
Take a few deep breaths. Check in with yourself. Keep breathing until the crazy-person feeling subsides.
Instead, ask yourself:
- What matters to me?
- What are my priorities?
- Who are my priorities?
- Am I acting and living my priorities?
And then ask, “Am I embodying/creating/manifesting/leading my life with these priorities?”
It is really important that you are very clear on what you want and what is good for you, what feeds you, what you give your attention to.
Think of it this way: what is your true heart’s desire? How can you create that in your life?
Remember, nothing will change until you decide to change it. The power and choice are yours.
If you’re tired of feeling overwhelmed, stop. Figure out how not to be overwhelmed. If your life is chaotic, stop (even for just a few minutes). Figure out how not be chaotic. And if you’re stressed out, by all means, stop for an hour or two. Take some deep breaths. Figure out how to eliminate what (or whom) is causing your stress.
Ways to act with discernment
In order to begin acting with discernment, it’s important to simply stop and pay attention to what is causing your overwhelm. Once you’ve pinpointed the problem area(s), you can move on to solutions:
- I am not living like this anymore.
- I am not working like this anymore.
- This relationship is not working anymore.
- These clothes aren’t working anymore.
- This house/neighborhood/city aren’t working for me anymore.
- Enough is enough.
- Fill in the blank: I’m done with____________________.
“NO is a complete sentence.” Anne Lamott
The most beneficial practice I have learned is to say “No,” or at least, “not right now.” Other graceful language includes, “I’ll get back to you on this. I want some time to consider this. Let me sit with it for 24 hours and I’ll be back in touch with my answer.”
If it isn’t a clear YES, it’s a NO.
- No, not now.
- No, not today.
- No, never.
- No, thank you.
Using the word NO powerfully, strategically, deliberately, purposefully – this will revolutionize your life!
And do not apologize for your NO. Said succinctly, and with grace, a NO said with conviction is all the explanation necessary.
Self-Awareness – when to say NO
- Tension between what you feel is right (in your gut) and what someone is pressuring you to do.
- Conflict between internal conviction and external action.
- Saying YES when you mean NO, but doing it only to avoid conflict or friction.
- Feeling too scared to turn down a request from colleague, boss, friend, neighbor, etc. because they “might” be disappointed or mad?
Try five seconds of discomfort now instead of five days/weeks/month of resentment later.
Finally, go for long-term respect over short-term popularity.
If you cannot say no or if you cannot let go of something, consider that there may be a little bit of inner work you must do first. There are reasons you’re resistant to letting go of a toxic relationship; reasons you cannot seem to ever get organized; even reasons why you’ve decided it is okay for you to hate your schedule and still keep up the breakneck pace anyway.
Once you can do the inner work, you can allow yourself the option of choosing something different, more fulfilling, and perhaps even – gasp! – something more FUN!
Making the choice to do less can be magical. This is you paying attention to how you are using your time and choosing something bigger, better, different…or choosing to do nothing at all (this is called RESTING, by the way). And after you rest, you are more able to be discerning, to say NO to what doesn’t serve you, and to have the energy to say YES to those things that are in alignment with your desires and priorities.
Ways to make some room
When you find yourself overwhelmed, overworked, and neglecting your self-care, here are some thoughts to ponder:
- Am I doing what I am doing out of fear (of being alone, failing, being misunderstood, or feeling unloved)?
- Am I feeling unworthy?
- Am I afraid they won’t like me if I say no?
- Am I taking this client because I desperately need the money?
- Am I afraid if I say no, I will never have this (opportunity/chance/thing) again?
- Am I doing it out of a need for security, approval, or certainty?
- Do I need to keep these belongings because I might need them at some point later?
- If I give these away, will the people who gave (or gifted) them to me not like me anymore?
- I do not know why I cannot get rid of it so I will keep it just in case.
- If I give the thing away and the person finds out, will it upset them and/or hurt their feelings?
- Maybe I should keep it for an emergency?
- Will I need it later?
- If I’ve always had it, should I keep it?
- If I’ve always done it this way, shouldn’t I keep doing it this way?
The Ultimate Question: What is the best and highest use of my time?
In the moment, stop and ask: is this the very best use of my time, energy, and attention right now?
Gentle reader, believe me when I say the act of being discerning (choosing wisely and exercising the power of NO) actually helps you make some room. And in making room, you find energy, attention, answers, creativity, and more.
Are you with me?
Have you missed any chapters?
Also, stay tuned for Chapter Seven (Be Bold. Be Brave. Take action – even if you’re scared shitless) next week!
[All content and photos are (c) 2016 Angela Mattson Stegall and Nelson Stegall for the book, Make Some Room: Powerful Life Lessons Inspired by an Epic 16-day Colorado River Rafting Trip Through Grand Canyon.The book will be available mid-June through Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats.]