How to Know If Saying No Is Wise…Or Otherwise

“Resistance obstructs movements only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a higher station morally, ethically, or spiritually. So if you’re in Calcutta working with the Mother Teresa Foundation and you’re thinking of bolting to a launch a career in telemarketing…relax. Resistance will give you a free pass.”

Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art

I recently learned about a mentorship program designed to help businesses like mine grow in new ways. Since I’ve been trying to expand more online, and since I have very little idea of what I’m doing in this arena, I was seriously considering doing the program.

At first when I learned about it, I could hardly contain my excitement. It seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

And yet as I continued to sit with the decision and consider the hefty price of participation, something began to change. Doubts began to arise: Would I like the other people in the program? Would it require more time or energy than I have available? Would it be worth the money that I put in?

In short, I got scared.

Wisdom vs Fear

I often say that you can tap into your wisdom by listening to your gut and following your intuition, both of which are expressed in your body.

And it’s true. But what I don’t always say is that sometimes your body can give you mixed signals. Sometimes an opportunity can feel good and bad at the same time.

That’s because—as Stephen Pressfield points out in his brilliant book The War of Art—when our wisdom guides us to do something that’s going to take us into a “higher station morally, ethically, or spiritually”, resistance and fear kick in. Part of us digs in its heels and says, “Oh, helllllllllll no.”

This happens to me nearly every time I consider doing something that will allow me to grow and flourish, and I’m pretty sure it’s happened to just about every person who’s ever considered doing a coaching program with me.

The danger is, blindly following our resistance is the most effective way to run smack into what we’re afraid of. If we listen to the fear and ignore what we feel called to do, we won’t do the things that will help us to succeed. We won’t sit down to create, we won’t share our work with the world, and we won’t seek the help we need to expand and grow and learn. Without these actions, we’re almost certain to fail, and thus our doubt becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So how can we tell if the negative response we feel is coming from our wisdom or fear? How do we know whether it’s best to say yes to an opportunity or politely decline?

Identifying Wisdom

The voice of wisdom feels different than the voice of fear, energetically and in the body.

Though each feels different to everyone, there are some general rules of thumb:

Wisdom tends to be quiet, relaxed, patient, energized, or grounded. Even when it’s giving us bad news or pointing out a legitimate concern, it’s not shoving images of failure in front of our faces. It’s simply saying, in a calm and neutral way, “Something about this doesn’t feel quite right for us.”

Fear, on the other hand, tends to be loud, urgent, heavy, tense, and exhausting. It’s obsessive and can’t wait to talk about what could go wrong. It tells us we have to figure this out now. It uses whatever images, ideas, and volume it can get its hands on to increase our sense of panic and unrest.

You can get a lot of clarity just by noticing the flavor of the different thoughts in your head.

Listening to Fear

Once you’ve identified your wisdom, it can give you all kinds of useful guidance. But what we sometimes forget is that the fear can too, if we only take the time to listen.

Sometimes fear is just asking for reassurance.  You can do this by asking yourself how you know your fear to be true. What evidence do you have that things will go badly? And if they do, would that really be as catastrophic as you imagine? Alternatively, what evidence can you find that things might actually go well? When have you made good on opportunities in the past or accomplished what you set out to do?

If you can’t reassure your fears, then be kind to them. Listen to them. While it’s not good to reflexively make decisions out of fear, it’s also not helpful if we force ourselves to stretch too far too fast.

In my case, my inquiry into intuition and fear led me to two realizations: first, that I absolutely wanted to commit to myself, my potential, and my intentions by investing in support that could help me to grow.

What I also realized was that this growth will necessarily challenge me, and I need to step into it slowly and gently. So I got on the phone with the woman leading the program once again to ask her some targeted questions. I found out that she’s all about being gentle and going at a pace that feels right. Learning this, my intuition confirmed that this is the right step for me to take.

I patted my fear on the head, took a big gulp, and paid my deposit.

Over to You

How do you tell the difference between wisdom and fear? How have each helped you make good decisions in the past? Please share your ideas and experience in the comments below.

Find Out What Your Intuition Is Telling You

Sometimes we need a little help to be able to hear what our inner wisdom is saying. I offer 1:1 sessions designed to help you get clear about what you’re wanting and how to find work that’s aligned with your calling. Click here to find out what else you’ll get in a Clarity Call and how to schedule yours at a time that’s convenient for you.


Photo credit: Ahmed Rebea // CC

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