“No” as a Conscious and Creative Choice

Friday 08 September 2017 - Posted by Julia McCutchen

Returning to regular life after summer holidays and silent retreats can feel like a real shock to the system.

The spacious freedom gives way to a range of commitments that usually require an immediate shift from being to doing and it doesn’t take long for personal priorities to slide into oblivion.

It’s a transition I’ve learnt to navigate by drawing on the conscious and creative choice to say “no”!

Conscious Choices

This means that the vast majority of the commitments in my schedule now are ones that I’ve consciously chosen and am really happy to follow through on.

I ease into picking up the full load over the first few days and soon find myself in a new rhythm which increasingly includes the spacious energy I’ve enjoyed from my time out as the integration of being and doing.

But it hasn’t always been this way and I know the feeling of overwhelm from having too much going on all too well.

And it’s an on-going practice for me to remain vigilant about not initiating too many new projects simultaneously.

Clear Boundaries

Learning to say “no” consciously is not something I’ve ever been taught to do (wouldn’t it be wonderful if the education system actually included a few core life skills!).

In fact it’s taken time to cultivate the art of being clear about my capacity and my boundaries, and to find the balance between respecting my own and other people’s priorities.

Yet I’ve come to realize that when I make time and space for the “non-negotiables” in my life, my ability to be of genuine service to others is dramatically increased.

Steve Jobs wisely stated this simple truth,“it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on things that are really important.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Time and Energy

I often hear the “I don’t have time” statement from people who are in the early stages of exploring their impulse to write creatively and live consciously.

However, as the conversation unfolds, it becomes clear that in addition to the absolute commitments of everyday life all kinds of other activities are soaking up a great deal of time and energy.

Whether it’s an addiction to social media or the latest hit TV series or lengthy lunches and regular coffees with friends, there’s always a choice to be made.

Of course all of these activities are completely valid. However, there’s a balance to strike when other priorities are also on the agenda.

At the other end of the spectrum, more experienced conscious creatives need to say “no” to some ideas in order to bring others to fruition, and conscious leaders need to say “no” to all but the most resonant business opportunities.

A Skill for Life

Like everything, saying “no” as a conscious and creative choice is a skill that can be learned and practiced so that it becomes a natural and fluent aspect of everyday life.

I recommend that you start with small things that aren’t all that important and give yourself permission to be truly authentic when “no” feels like the right response to any given request or scenario.

Gradually build up to being able to claim fully your right to write, create, express yourself freely and live your life consciously based on a rhythm that respects what’s genuinely important to you as well as the others who share your world.

What (or who) do you need to say “no” to in your life right now to make time and space for your priorities alongside honouring your other commitments? Please share your comments below.


  • As I read this Julia, I thought of the need to say “no” to my conscious pattern of procrastination and write.
    Thank you.

    • Aha, yes, that’s a good pattern to be conscious of and say “no” to Roe! The more you do so, the less power it will have to keep you from your writing. Enjoy the freedom to write that will come as a result!

  • I fully agree with the need to say ‘no’, especially to the time use habits I have built up over the years. Consciously moving into a more purpose focused personal ‘pattern’ is actually very strengthening and makes me more cheerful. A writer called Rollo May said that creativity is boosted by having limits and I feel that saying ‘no’ is a very helpful limit.

    • Thank you Peter. It’s good to hear that you’ve already experienced the strenthening and beneficial effects of a purpose focused personal ‘pattern’ (or rhythm). Rollo May’s book “The Courage to Create” is a classic and you’ve quoted an excellent point that he makes so thank you for doing so. Some limitations such as working to deadlines or maximum word counts certainly do require us to draw on a deeper level of creativity and saying “no” can be a valid and helpful limit to play with creatively. Enjoy exploring that!

  • Saying “no” and saying “yes” are two sides of the same coin. Everyday I must say both, be clear when and why I’m saying yes and to what/whom. Likewise for ‘no’. Thank you, Julia, for this post. I have a love/hate relationship to my daily to do list, but your post helps me to see this little piece of paper as a tool for a more conscious life. It is my moment to rsvp to life’s invitations today-A few of which I should accept and most of which I should graciously and respectfully decline.

    • Absolutely Peter. Being clear and conscious of when “no” and “yes” are appropriate choices is a huge part of this. I’m pleased to know that this post has helped shift your view of your to do list, and in fact all the components of everyday life can become tools for a more conscious life when you’re in “clear vision” mode. I also agree that any invitation that’s declined is ideally done graciously, respectfully and consciously! Thanks for your comment.

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