When To Say Yes: An Introvert’s Guide to Avoiding Overwhelm

» Posted by on Dec 16, 2012 | 12 comments

When To Say Yes: An Introvert’s Guide to Avoiding Overwhelm

This month I’m honoured to have Beth Buelow as my special guest on the blog. Beth is the author of a book I came across after I did my last blog post on introverts, I nodded all the way through thinking she had written it about me!  She also has a new book coming out soon for introverted entrepreneurs – all the details are below. I hope you’ll enjoy Beth’s wisdom as much as I did, maybe it will have you nodding as well.


“I’m so tired.”

In recent conversations with clients and friends, the inevitable response to a friendly “how are you?” is a heavy-hearted “I’m so tired.”

I get it. I’ve said it myself countless times. It feels like life is constantly throwing more at us: more people, more ideas, more things to count, remember, fix or fuss over.

In my case, it makes for one tired introvert.

Being an introvert is about where we gain and drain energy. We gain energy from solitude, quiet and reflection, and we drain energy in overstimulating, highly interactive environments. Introverts certainly can be social; we simply need to have a healthy dose of alone time before or after an event (preferably, before and after!). It’s in solitude and calm that we recharge our batteries and gear up for the situations that require us to project our energy outward.

So what’s an introvert to do when the batteries are losing their charge?

A coaching client brought this topic to her session the other day. She stated she was tired, then ticked off all of the items on her to-do list. Normally when someone does this, there’s an “I have to…” that either literally proceeds the list or is implied. But my client did something that was miraculous; she said at the end of her litany, “I decided to do this.”

And that, my friends, is a huge piece of the puzzle. It’s not enough to simply respond to overwhelm with “I need more alone time” (and then not take it because of feelings of guilt, inconveniencing others, being overcommitted, etc). Alone time is certainly important. And being a choice is even more so.

Our coaching session pivoted around a critical question: how do you know when to say “yes” to requests to do or be this or that? We acknowledged that saying “yes” meant an expenditure of precious energy was going to be required. It became obvious that being thoughtful and intentional about those “yes” choices wasn’t as easy as it sounds. After all, if we have even an ounce of people-pleaser or overachiever/type A personality in us, we’re going to say “yes” first and ask questions later.

For introverts, this can be a sticky wicket. If we’re going to fit into what’s been called “the extrovert ideal,” we often feel like we constantly have to be putting ourselves out there. So we do. We say “yes.” And even as “yes” is coming out of our mouths, we’re thinking of ways we can get out of whatever it is.

Here’s what my client and I landed on: it’s important to consider, in advance of being put on the spot, what deserves a “yes” answer. I was reminded of the Rotary Four-Way Test. When a Rotarian is confronted with a decision or ethical dilemma, there is a series of questions to ask that help focus the answer in core values. It’s almost like a litmus test for the truth. 

So we came up with four questions that reflected what was most important to her when making a decision about adding yet another item to the to-do list:

  • Will it be fun?
  • Will it involve people I like and enjoy?
  • Will there be an element of accountability?
  • Will it be worthwhile?

The meaning of first two points are obvious. If she’s going to be social and extend herself, she wants to have fun and enjoy the people she’s with. This makes it easier to say “no” to chaperoning a field trip at her daughter’s school, when she knows she’ll be paired up with a well-meaning but insufferable parent.

The second two points warranted deeper thought. We needed to explore what was meant by “accountability” and “worthwhile.” In order to honor her need for accountability, she felt it was important that there be deadlines, a set timetable, and/or people who would be counting on her. 

The most revealing discussion was around the definition of “worthwhile.” Isn’t that what so many of our choices come down to? “Is it worth it?” Yet how often do we stop and reflect deeply on what that means? My client discerned that the question of worth revolved around her value of family. If she says “yes” to something, it means she’s saying “no” to something else (and vice versa), and that “something else” is almost always family time. It doesn’t mean that activities that cut into family time always get turned down. It means that if she chooses to say yes, that she’s doing so with full knowledge of the trade-off, costs and benefits.

Let’s circle back to the defining characteristic of the introvert: we gain energy from solitude and drain energy from social interaction. Alone time is key to our well-being. What my client learned, and what I’ve been learning myself, is that it’s essential to know in advance how I’m going to decide what gets a “yes” and what gets a “no”.  

Consider this question yourself during this, perhaps the busiest and potentially most stressful time of the year for introverts (heck, probably for everyone!): how do I know what deserves a “yes”? If I say “yes,” what am I saying “no” to? How can I make sure that my “yes” answers energize me, rather than suck the lifeblood out of me?

For the introvert, our mental health will always depend on quality over quantity. Choose thoughtfully and wisely.


Beth Buelow is a coach, speaker and author of “Insight: Reflections on the Gifts of Being an Introvert.” You can learn more at www.TheIntrovertEntrepreneur.com and www.tiny.cc/insightbookonamazon. Her next book, “The Introvert Entrepreneur: Building Your Business from the Inside Out,” provides a framework for creating a sustainable business model that leverages introvert strengths. An announcement regarding its release will happen in mid-2013. To receive updates, sign up for Beth’s e-mail list at www.TheIntrovertEntrepreneur.com.


  1. I must get folks to understand this about me. “we gain energy from solitude and drain energy from social interaction. ” thank you. :D

    • Arwen, you’re welcome! It’s a simple truth that can be extremely powerful. I hope this post, and Leanne’s previous post (http://claimyourtreasure.com/how-to-be-an-introvert/) gives you some language to support sharing this info with others.

    • Arwen, yes it makes it so clear and simple when framed like that doesn’t it!

  2. The real trick sometimes is resisting the pressure. And the pressure can get annoyingly intense.

    I drive a Miniature Horse. Last year, I agreed to be in a publicity event for a local charity that involved horsemen, a group of cattle and horse-drawn vehicles driven in a procession around a local mall. A friend called me and said she was going to participate. She never showed up. (Slight drizzle and a bit chilly.)

    I turned out to be the only horse drawn vehicle. The whole thing was over in twenty minutes. The charity promised they’d send me a picture of myself and my horse; they never did. I even called their PR person, he promised again he’d email me a pic, it never happened.

    A week back, they called again. They didn’t even ask if I wanted to do it, they simply told me when they needed me there.

    I said, “No.”

    What? Why not?

    “You may not know this, but I have to groom my horse the night before. That takes about an hour. It takes another hour to load her, my cart and my equipment in my truck and trailer. Another hour to drive down to your location. Another two hours to drive home, unload and clean and put everything away when I get home. All this for twenty minutes of driving, on a Sunday, BEFORE THE MALL OPENS, so there’s not even anyone to see us.”

    “But…..it’s for a charity!”

    The assumption that no one gets to refuse is something I’ve run into before and really don’t like. So I just said, “Sorry, no.” and hung up.

    I try to do my part for charities, but sometimes they really lay on the guilt if you simply don’t want to do it. Sad.

    Other than lying–”I’ll be in El Paso that day”–anyone know how to get out of these things?

    • What a story! Your response to the repeat “request” should have given them the hint that while it’s for charity, there still ought to be an aspect of the arrangement that will benefit you as well (That may not be a popular sentiment. There’s a prevailing assumption that we will give our time, money or talent with no expectations or return… and most times, that is perfectly OK. And, I’ve found that charities that respect those gifts recognize that some level of mutual benefit is more effective in building relationships and goodwill.)

      That may be how you approach future requests: you develop personal guidelines that spell out at least on a logistical level what you will and won’t do. For instance, you only do events that are within a 45-minute drive… that are Mon-Sat… that enable you to have a certain level of exposure… that are for causes you *really* support (I wish I could say “yes” to every charity, but I’ve decided I have core causes and support only those). That sort of thing. Then when someone asks, you have a reply based on your guidelines and be ready with a couple of other options for them (if those options involve other people, give those folks a heads up and a chance to say “no” before connecting them with the charity).

      And when you say “yes,” it’s because you really *want* to do it. No guilt. If they use guilt to manipulate you, take you for granted, or make assumptions, then is that a charity (or friend, or colleague) you want to support anyway? Just a thought :-)

    • Charities are particularly hard at work trying to push people into doing things at this time of year I’ve noticed. The guilt is hard to avoid, but you’ve done your bit (and more) and that’s what I’ve been telling myself lately too – I can say no without guilt because I have certain charities I support and I do my bit. We can’t help everyone or give more than is good for us, and I think it’s ok to be honest about that. I like Beth’s idea of having guidelines ready in advance of requests also. And I love mini ponies!

  3. Yay! This is exactly the comment I made on another post on introversion a couple of weeks back: it’s not that we introverts don’t like being with other people – it’s just that it drains us and then we need alone-time to recharge.

    I very rarely go out during the week, and I’ve put a 2-social-things-per-weekend limit on myself to avoid the energy drain I was starting to experience. Basically, I set myself a limit of doing 2 things that involve other people each weekend and no more (some weekends I just do one) They can both be on the same day (in which case I have an entire day of me-time to recuperate, or they can be on different days (in which case I have the rest of each day as me-time). But either way, that seems to be my limit right now.

    That’s forcing me to be more deliberate about what I say yes to, which feels like a very good thing!

    And I love these four questions for introverts: I may need to nab them and use them myself.



    • Tanja, that’s awesome! Sounds like you have a good system. It’s so healthy to be able to say “I am going to do two things this weekend (or week!); what will give me the most enjoyment?” I’m kinda reading in between the lines there, hoping that you’re choosing things that you enjoy whenever possible ;-) . The bottom line is that you’re honoring your need for social time that’s fueled by down time, without apologies. Brava!

    • I love the idea of setting an actual number to stick to for social events. When I worked out of the house every day I was the same as you – rarely went out during the week, being at work all day was enough. Now I work from home more I can cope with a few more social outings during the week, but I still need lots of space between them.
      I love Beth’s four questions too – feel free to pass them on!

  4. It’s such a weight off my shoulders to know that there are many people that do actually “get it.” Thanks so much, Leanne for your valuable work

    • Kylie, thanks for your comment. Yes, it’s so comforting to know we’re not alone (which I realize as I type has a touch of irony to it, since introverts actually *enjoy* being alone!! :-) ).

    • Hi Kylie, yes Beth and myself and thousands of others are right here (quietly) with you :)