OverloadedHigh achievers commit. They volunteer for projects. They take over work from struggling team members. As parents they take over and solve problems for their children. As loving partners, they do more than their fair share at home. They do so much that they are superheroes! Then they commit again… and again, until they often become completely over-committed.

There is a significant downside to being over-committed. They often don’t fulfill all their commitments despite working themselves to the bone. They feel guilty about letting people down and breaking their promises. Their emotional and physical well-being and also domestic relationships suffer. Burnout is always close.

Why do people over-commit?

I come across this frequently when coaching middle managers and senior executives. It seems to come from one or more of three areas:

·         Having been socialized to be a “people-pleaser”, or a “rescuer”, wanting to be nice and accepted.

·         Feeling if you say no, or don’t solve other people’s problems, they may think you can’t do whatever it is or don’t care.

·         The dark side of deep engagement and caring which leads to feeling compelled to take on more and more.

Does this sound familiar? If so, here are two actions that help my coaching clients:

Two actions to stop over-committing
1.       Self-observation

Catch yourself when you are just about to make a commitment. Don’t react immediately. Pause and breathe. Only make the commitment after considering the following:

·         What am I feeling when I hear the request?

Try to get in touch with what you are feeling and where you are feeling it in your body. What does it feel like? Why are you feeling that?

·         Am I the right person and am I clear about what this entails?

If your team member says: “I don’t think I will be able to meet the deadline”, it could be that doing it yourself is the quickest way of solving the issue, but it also may have various negative consequences for you later on.

Your boss may request: “Please will you do this tender urgently”.  Or even: “Someone should do this tender”. In these cases, you don’t know what you will be getting yourself into if you commit to do it.

Before committing, be sure you are the right person and you know what it entails to be successful.

·         Is making this commitment in line with my priorities and goals in life?

Time is not expandable. Committing to something more when you have a full schedule means you have to say no to something else. What will you drop?

Using the example of the boss’s request to do the tender, if it means you have to work through the night, evaluate that against your priority of spending quality time with the family and your promise to take the kids to a movie tonight. You can’t do both.

·         Is there another way of dealing with the situation rather than making a commitment?

It’s exhausting trying to be a Superhero in every area of your life! Perhaps you could say: “I understand how important the tender is for business. I have promised to take the kids to a movie tonight, and after having worked most of last weekend, it will be really difficult for me to do that. Is there another way we can get the tender done?”

2.       Practice

At the end of the day, review the commitments you made. Ask yourself:

·         What patterns have I noticed?

·         What have I learned from this analysis?

·         What will I do I do differently tomorrow?

People who over-commit inevitably do so for the very best reasons. The positive side is they usually get lots done. Unfortunately, this almost always comes with a cost to them as individuals. If you feel you over-commit to the point that the personal cost is too high, try this Self-observation and Practice to stop over-committing. Let me know what works for you!


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