Do you know this feeling? A friend, family member or colleague asks you for a favor or help and without even thinking about it you say yes. Five minutes later you get an unsettling feeling in your stomach and you regret it.
Truth be told, you have enough on your plate as it is, right? Who doesn’t? We all have obligations and commitments at work, with our families and with our friends that more than fill our waking time. So why do we add more and more?
Yes, we want to be a good friend. We like to be helpful. We can’t let our family down. Therefore, we give up the time that we so desperately need to recharge our own battery, sleep a couple of hours more, or work on something that is important to us or our business. As a result, we feel stressed and overwhelmed – we over-committed. We oblige to do more than we are capable of (Oxford Dictionary, paraphrased).
In an article of Psychology Today over-committing is described as the “consequence of poor limit setting”. It particularly mentions women who “…are socialized to be helpful, accommodating, and polite in groups. If they can help out, they are taught that they should, even if it pulls them away from something they’re already doing or something they really wanted to do.” If they don’t, they are considered heartless and selfish.
Let’s turn that around for a second. What would change if we looked at it as an investment? I got this idea from a Harvard Business Review article that mentioned a book titled “How to Invest Your Time Like Money”. I thought this is a fabulous title because time, like money, is a precious commodity.
With this in mind, how can you avoid over-committing yourself?
I found the best way is to train yourself to take a moment and engage your brain before saying yes. Don’t be offended, but that is exactly what we don’t do. Most of the time internalized patterns rule our response. Engaging the brain sounds simple, doesn’t it? But the devil lies in the detail, because as we all know, old habits die hard.
I made it a rule to defer my answer to a later time, especially when it is a bigger time commitment. It is easy to say, “I’ll get back to you later, I have to check my calendar or with my spouse, children […]”, fill in the blank. It’ll break your ‘yes-pattern’ and allows you to ask some simple questions to help you make the right choice.
- Is this really one of my priorities?
- If I say yes to this commitment, what do I have to kick off my list? What do I have to give up for it? (I wrote a blog about this late last year.)
- Will it be a “hell yes” or at least a resounding yes?
- Do I have the time and energy to do it?
If you find out that it is not what you should say ‘yes’ to, there is always a gracious way to say no. Or you may be able offer a different solution?
Now you may come back and say, hold on for a sec. If a friend is in need or a family member needs a hand I can’t say no. I absolutely agree, there are situations when you feel obliged to help, no matter what. But, be honest with yourself, that is only a fraction of the many times you are asked, right?
Remember: “When you give a knee-jerk ‘yes’, all the time you’re valuing the time and happiness of others over your own. Ultimately, it’s the recipe for resentment, exhaustion, and burnout.” (paraphrased: Dr. Frank Lipman, Be Well Blog) And that doesn’t help anybody, least of all you.
Take good care of yourself and say ‘no’ more often.