Saying Yes & Staying Sane: How to Avoid the Trap of Overcommitment

The Kitchen Table

Confession: I’m an over-committer. If a request comes my way—especially something related to my work, or to helping someone else—I really squint at my calendar to see if I can squeeze it in. I like to feel needed, and asking someone like me to do something is like offering candy to a kid when his mom’s out of the room. I’m itching to say yes.

What I’ve discovered is that this need to be needed can be detrimental to living a healthy and productive life. At best, it’s naive—and at worst, it’s people-pleasing. And that’s not how I want to live.

If you struggle with saying yes too often, you are so not alone. So many of us have to consciously fight the urge to say yes to all the things. I see this a lot in the entrepreneur/remote worker space, with so many people vying for our attention and asking for our yes. We are constantly bombarded with messages that if we just do this one thing—sign up this course, click on this link, respond to this email, attend that conference—we’ll be set. But it can show up in our personal lives as well—in the form of being asked for favors, to volunteer for things, to attend social engagements, etc.

Protect Your Yes

Here’s the thing I have to consistently remind myself when I’m tempted to commit to all the things: My “yes” is precious. And so is yours. We must treat it like the finite resource that it is. If you say yes to every opportunity, social outing, group, project or request that comes your way, you will seriously struggle to keep your head above water. And the joy that should accompany those opportunities will probably be diminished by the sense of overwhelm you’ll have if you’re stretched too thin.

The ever-wise Lysa Terkeurst puts it this way in her book The Best Yes: “Whenever you say yes to something, there is less of you for something else. Make sure your yes is worth the less.” (Emphasis mine.)

Is Your Yes Worth the Less?

What would it look like if we really did that—if we recognized that our commitments and our yeses are always tradeoffs? We can’t make more hours in a day, so adding a new commitment must require taking away from something else.

When I think of it that way, it gives me pause. Instead of immediately pouncing on every opportunity, or RSVPing to every event, I wait. I consult my calendar. I weigh the pros and cons. Then I consider what areas will have to take a cut if I take on something new. Only then do I decide whether the yes is worth the less.

5 Reasons You Might Think You Should Say Yes, But You Should Really Say No

The following are NOT good enough reasons to give away your yes:

  1. You feel guilty. Ah, good ol’ guilt, there you are again. Please, please do not say yes out of guilt. This is a sure-fire way to descend into the pit of people-pleasing and quickly overwhelm yourself with obligations that don’t serve you at all. Come to terms with the fact that you simply can’t please everyone. And be assured that those who truly care about you do not want you to commit purely out of obligation.
  2. You think it won’t take that long. Most of the time, we underestimate how much time it takes us to do something. If you really want to get an idea for how long a certain project takes you, time tracking it is a good idea. That way, you can accurately estimate what you’ll be in for the next time you commit to a similar project. Otherwise, I think a good rule of thumb is to double the time you think it’s going to take you. When you look at the commitment that way, is it still worth the investment?
  3. You’re not that busy, so why not? Not being “that busy” is still not a strong enough reason to say yes. Sure, you might not be that busy yet—but if the event is weeks away, your calendar could fill up significantly before then. Don’t say yes to things just to fill up your calendar. That’s a quick way to become bogged down with commitments you don’t really care about and feel overwhelmed.
  4. Other people you know are saying yes. The internet and social media have made fear of missing out a way-too-common phenomenon. Being pummeled with photos every time your friends do something without you can lead you to want to say yes to every get-together, to avoid feeling like you missed out. It’s important to recognize FOMO for what it is—insecurity based on a limited perception of reality. Instead of giving in to that insecurity, be confident in your decision to choose joy on your own terms. Say yes only because it is the right choice, not because you’re worried about not being in the event photo.
  5. Saying no is uncomfortable. One of Dr. Brene Brown’s mantras is “Choose discomfort over resentment.” It’s no easy thing, but it’s well worth it to protect your time and your peace. The up-front cost of an uncomfortable “no” is far better than the enduring resentment of a “yes” you never really wanted to give.

How to Say “No” Well

Saying no is hard at first. But it gets easier the more you do it. Just keep in mind the reason you are protecting your time and declining an opportunity. Be thoughtful in your response and don’t overthink it. Try something like: “Thank you so much for thinking of me, but I won’t be able to attend this time. I hope it’s a wonderful time.”

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