Headshot While it may not be an officially sanctioned month, I tend to think of August as Back to School (or work, etc.) Month.  As we wind down from summer and move toward fall, I think commitments, and more specifically, the dangers of over-committing are really important areas to think about and discuss. For students, there are new clubs, extra curricular activities, friend groups, AP Classes, and so much more that can pull students in so many directions. For parents, the PTA, carpools, coaching, committing to transport children to a variety of activities all come flying at us as the first day of school draws closer and closer. For individuals, lures of new job opportunities, volunteer positions, recreational activities, career enhancing or leisure classes, exercise classes, church opportunities, invitations for special events, and the list could go on and on. If we are not careful, before we know it, we can find ourselves committed to so many different activities that we may have left no room in our schedules for ourselves.

When it comes to accepting or denying requests for commitments, the only one that can decide what is enough and how much is too much is you. A desire to be helpful and agreeable can often leave one feeling overloaded, which can lead to burnout, or bitterness and regret toward the commitments that we were once eager to accept. Additionally, overcommitment can lead to paying less attention to the commitments we have and an overall decline in how well we are able to manage these commitments. In the helping profession especially, we have a desire to be helpful and assist people, but it is important to set limits and boundaries and be realistic about what we can and cannot do. We often see clients who are so overloaded with responsibilities that they repeatedly tell us that there is no time for self-care because everything else takes up all their time.

When you are asked to help with something or offered a new opportunity to commit yourself, it can be helpful to ask yourself questions like these:

  • Do I want to do this? What will I gain from doing this?
  • Do I feel pressured to accept?
  • Do I have the time and energy to do this?
  • By accepting this, will it mean taking away from something else that I am already doing? What would I be giving up?
  • If it feels like too much, is there a way to accept a lesser commitment? Or could I accept at a time when I have more availability?
  • What would happen if I said no?

The last point is particularly important. We can remind ourselves, and our clients, about the importance of being able to say “no.” Many perceive declining something as rude, or unhelpful, but in reality, accepting a commitment that you do not have time to honor, or that will affect your mental or physical well-being is not fair to you, or the person asking for help. Saying “no” is critical for setting personal boundaries and is an important skill to have. If it is difficult for you to say no, you can practice it with your therapist, or on your own and find ways to decline that feel comfortable to you.

A handy tool to use when approached with a new commitment opportunity is to use an acronym to remind yourself of considerations, maybe something like this—CAP IT (which also reminds you to set a limit for how much you commit to!):

Care for yourself and be sure you are not stretching yourself too thin
Analyze whether or not you can fit the activity in your schedule
Prioritize your commitments and accept the ones that are most important, or that don’t take away from existing commitments, or eliminate commitments that you have to fit in this new opportunity
Invent ways to say “no” that are comfortable for you and practice so that you can say “no” without feeling bad
Take time if you’re not sure if a commitment is too much. It is okay to take time to think about it before agreeing or disagreeing. Be open to negotiation for a lesser version of the task.

As fall approaches and most of us tend to ramp up our activities in a variety of areas, keep in mind the importance of being mindful of yourself, and avoid the perils of overcommitment. What do you think? Have you ever had an experience of feeling overcommitted? How did you manage it? Share in the comments below.

Liz Ott, M.S., LGMFT
Social Media Coordinator, MAD-AAMFT

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