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How to Stop Saying Yes to Everything- Clear Agreements

How to stop saying yes when you want to say no


Life’s magical moments can happen where you least expect them. If you told me I would experience one of the most important moments of my life inside a random, tiny Pilates studio in Amsterdam… yeah, I’d need you to back up a few steps. 

But it DID indeed happen. Taking refuge from the bitter cold outside, I learned an invaluable concept that impacted me to my core- both literally and figuratively. 

Looking at me when I was a 25-year-old, you’d think I was a model of health. But at the time I couldn’t even walk down the street holding a single piece of paper in my hand without intense back pain and fatigue. 

Two years into this really bad pain, my husband and I moved to Amsterdam. It was a particularly cold, difficult winter. 

One day, frustrated with how my body had deteriorated- the same body I was naturally active in, that I used to express myself – I decided to step into the small Pilates studio across from my apartment and attempt to connect back to the body I dearly missed. 

My Pilates instructor (the original Bowflex model Eric Sutter!!! You remember those commercials…) taught me how to feel my own body again. There were so many parts of my body I had not been aware of, and there were so many parts I had learned to ignore. 

I started going every single time they had a lesson, and I gradually got a sense of where my core and center were.

That is when my life changed.

Here’s what I discovered…

Integrity is a commonly used Pilates term meaning your body is aligned. Your ribs and the muscles around your ribs are tightly knit around your spine, holding your whole entire body tall, long and in place. As I became more centered and strong in my integrity in Pilates, I became more centered and strong in my integrity in my own life. 

This was when I woke up to the idea that integrity involves holding yourself together and staying tall and aligned internally. It wasn’t about stretching, loosening up, or bending over backward. 

I needed to stay in my center and stop leaning and stretching out into all these directions that weren’t natural or fulfilling to me.  

I had been contorting myself into the shape I thought the world wanted me to be. Every time I said yes when I didn’t mean it, where my mind, body, and soul were not in agreement, it had begun impacting my mind, soul, and body. I was in a lot of physical and emotional pain because I was not paying attention to my own needs, my body’s signals, my deepest desires, and my actual essence. I was trying to override my true feelings and Zone of Genius, squishing it down, and not allowing myself to accept who I really am and what I really want.

When you say yes when actually you really want to say no, how do you feel? I’m willing to bet you experience some level of agitation or self-betrayal. We have all experienced this. When you keep doing it and make it a pattern of integrity breaches, you can start to experience different ways of being in Drama. You start to have Below-the-Line feelings like resentment, irritation, and victimhood. Long-term side effects of a lack of integrity can include burnout, stress, overwhelm, chronic illness, insomnia, escapist behavior, and more. When you’re chronically out of integrity, you can get so detached that you don’t even have a clear view of what you want or what you stand for. That is a pretty good sign you’ve been out of integrity for a long time.

It’s okay, welcome to the human race. I am not in judgment of it and you don’t have to be either. Know you’re on a journey and sometimes things are in your blind spot and sometimes they’re in your awareness.

My invitation to you today is to step with me as your guide into a space of greater awareness. In awareness, you will find ease. 

An incredible way to work towards integrity is to follow the wisdom of your Whole Body Yes.

What is a Whole Body Yes?

Whole Body Yes means you have a yes coming from your body, heart, and mind. All three. Your gut says yes, your emotions say yes, and your logic says yes.  

When you don’t have a yes in every one of those places together, it means you have a no. With this framework, the bottom line is a lack of an aligned 3 part yes means you have a no. 

A lack of integrity leads to broken commitments, falling through on plans, hard work feeling like hard work, and dragging your feet. 

Why? Because you made a commitment when you didn’t have a Whole Body Yes. You said yes when you really wanted to say no. 

You can say no. You always have a choice. You can say you’re not going to attend a meeting or event, or whatever circumstance you don’t have a Whole Body Yes to.  In fact, the best way to remain in integrity and keep your agreements is to say no more often. 

But often, you won’t have a complete, full-stop no. This is when the creative fun begins because it’s time to renegotiate. Attune to the wisdom of your Whole Body Yes. Identify which aspect(s) are saying no and what they need in order to say yes. 

Does the length of the meeting need to change? Is a different agenda better suited to what you want? Do you want to spend less time doing the activity than scheduled?

If you re-negotiate the agreement and you create one you have a Whole Body Yes to, you are naturally in integrity and naturally at ease. Your commitments will be easier to follow through on because they’re commitments you are fully committed to. 

Navigating the Needs of Others and Healthy Boundaries

Living a life of integrity doesn’t mean neglecting the needs of others. It’s about finding a balance between meeting your own needs and respecting the needs of those around you.

Healthy boundaries are one of the ground rules for maintaining integrity. It’s not about saying yes to everything you want and saying no to everyone else. It’s about understanding your limits and communicating them effectively so you can do your best work- professionally and personally. When you can discern what aligns with your Whole Body Yes, you’re better equipped to navigate relationships, commitments, responsibilities, and any new project you may wish to take on.

Setting boundaries doesn’t make you selfish; it makes you self-aware. Recognizing when to say yes and when to say no is an art that can transform your relationships and, ultimately, reduce the likelihood of burnout. Remember: don’t judge yourself for what you prioritize or let go of, there are no “right things” or “wrong things” to have a Whole Body Yes to.

How Living a Life of Integrity Reduces Burnout         

Let’s pull all of these concepts together. Every action has a reaction. Integrity, Whole Body Yes, clear agreements, and ease are a package deal.

You know being in integrity is a way to experience your life as a whole being who is fully alive. You trust this is of service to yourself and all things.  

When you are in integrity you keep your agreements and those agreements are clear. When you have a Whole Body Yes to an agreement, it is easy, fun and life-giving to keep those agreements, so you’re way less likely to break the agreement.

Making clear agreements with integrity naturally fights burnout! You are not burning yourself out with the drag and friction of fighting life, including the life within you. You’re not swimming upstream anymore when you don’t want to. You may still be working hard, but it’s not hard. You may still be putting in a lot of effort and energy into keeping our agreements, but it’s not friction. There’s something easy about exerting the effort, it feels alive, sexy and whole. 

When you stop saying yes when you actually want to say no, you stop creating agreements that are easy to break. You stop stretching into unnatural shapes that are counter to your natural way of being and Genius. You can access greater possibilities in integrity when you’re more centered in your true essence and your Zone of Genius. 

Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

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