Have you ever felt worn down by all the different commitments you have?
I remember one woman in my church coming up to me one Sunday and asking me, in jest, if I could do a Sunday school class on how to not overcommit to doing things for the church. Many people have a hard time setting boundaries with commitments.
You might feel bad if you tell someone that you can’t do something. Or maybe you think, “Well, I really could do this if I just push myself a little harder,” and so you overcommit to things, taking more and more time away from home.
One consistent thing I heard from people during the original slowdown from COVID-19 was how much they enjoyed taking a break from the go-go-go pace of life that we often have. So, if you struggle with overcommitting, here are some ways that you can begin to practice saying “no” to people.
First, and perhaps most importantly, I find that most people have a hard time saying no because they feel bad about it. Many people feel guilty because they associate saying no with letting someone down, and they often overcommit to doing things as a way to avoid feeling bad about saying no.
If this is you, then the next time someone asks you to do something, tell them that you need to think about it first. Much of our overcommitting is related to the pressure we feel to give an immediate response. If we aren’t quick on our feet, then we end up committing to do something more out of guilt or the desire to not hurt someone’s feelings than out of a true desire to help out.
Telling someone that you need time to think about it gives you time to determine if this is something you really want to do.
Second, remember that you are allowed to ask for more details about what your commitment to doing something entails. Sometimes we commit to doing things, and only once we start doing them do we realize that it’s not at all what we had envisioned it being like. Ask for more information on what your role will look like, and if the person isn’t able to give you a specific answer, then understand that there’s a chance that whatever you are committing to might not be organized.
If someone wants access to your time, they should be able to give you a clear idea of what you will be doing and what the commitment will require.
Finally, focus on how you feel while doing your commitment and not as much on how you feel before it starts.
How often have you committed to doing something (such as going to a party or social gathering) and before you get there, you almost back out because you really don’t want to go? But, when you make yourself do it, you end up having a good time and look forward to doing it again?
I recently was asked to volunteer on a Saturday, and my initial reaction was that the last thing I wanted to do was give up my morning. But, as I thought about it, I knew that I would enjoy doing it and feel better afterward, so I committed to doing it in spite of my initial feeling. Many of us feel overcommitted when we think about all the things we’ve committed to doing, but when it comes down to it, we actually really enjoy doing those things.
If this is you, then focus on reminding yourself that you’ll feel different when you actually go and do your commitment. If you find yourself miserable during the commitment, however, then maybe it’s time to reconsider how you’re spending your time.
Regardless, if you find that you’re dreading doing something, be intentional to notice if it’s beforehand — and you really actually enjoy doing it in the moment — or during the event. While sometimes it can be helpful to say no a little more, we need to be wise about how often we use it!
• Mischa McCray is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. Send questions or topics you’d like him to discuss to email@example.com.