One of the pitfalls of the modern age is our habit of overcommitting ourselves. This is where we oblige ourselves to do more than we’re capable of. We might promise out too much of our bandwidth, stuff our schedule, and say yes to responsibilities and commitments without considering the impact of doing so. Essentially, we tell people what we think they want to hear and pay for it later. Overcommitting, in fact, leads to anxiety, overwhelm, passive-aggressive behaviour, flaking out and backtracking, self-criticism, resentment, and burnout, to name a few.
While our overcommitting ways have much to do with our fear of saying no and not considering and respecting ourselves, we often think of overcommitment in terms of work and taking on too much. Another facet of overcommitment, though, is making ourselves do things, including overextending ourselves, due to fear of missing out or of being perceived as antisocial.
Examples of this type of overcommitting include:
- Knowing that we need to have a dating hiatus but fearing looking like we’re not making enough effort. Or we fear that our prince/princess will ride off into the sunset with someone else because we’re not on the apps to catch ’em and keep ’em.
- Putting our needs and personal projects on the back burner out of fear of being antisocial. And then overbooking ourselves and being too tired to do anything for ourselves anyway.
- Fearing that we’re not being sociable enough to meet prospective romantic partners. And then clinging to unsuitable relationships to justify the effort of this forced socialising but also so as not to look antisocial due to being single. And round and round we go.
Using our fear of missing out or fear of being antisocial to guide our actions and choices makes it tricky to create healthy boundaries that lessen our overcommitting. We also don’t get to recalibrate and learn from where we overcommit because we’re in a cycle of fear. As a result, we keep saying yes for the same wrong reasons and recreating the problem of how lousy we feel or how much we struggle with our commitments and schedule.
Anxiety is at the heart of overcommitting.
We worry that saying no or being honest about who we are and our needs will alienate us from others. We are afraid of being judged. It’s like, if we don’t try to be everywhere and do everything, we might be out of a job/relationship. Or we think we’ll miss out on something that someone else will get, even if we don’t want it. We fear that if we say no to meeting our friends because, for instance, we’re overtired, we’ll miss out on The Best Night Out There Will Ever Be or that they’ll become bosom buddies behind our back.
There’s this rather pervasive notion in society that not going out, whether it’s out of necessity or simply not wanting to makes us antisocial. Why else would we not only be scared of sometimes saying no to socialising but of saying no to, for example, drinking alcohol or doing drugs?
Apparently, needing time to decompress, not wanting to go out, or just quite simply not having the bandwidth –emotional, mental, physical, financial–makes us an unsociable person who doesn’t want the company of others. Not true. It’s also this continued shaming of introverted aspects of ourselves and believing that extroversion is the Norm or ‘better’. Also not true.
Apparently, we make everyone else feel awkward if we don’t at least have one drink or we don’t partake in the recreational drug fest. What do you mean you’re not drinking? Are you sick? Are you pregnant? Well, it’s gonna be a bit awkward if we’re all off our faces and you’re not…
So how do we break the cycle of overcommitting ourselves without turning into someone we’re not or without letting people down?
There’s often, a misguided sense of nobility and conscientiousness when it comes to overcommitting. It’s as if being willing to take on far more than you can handle and to exploit yourself or be exploited to the point of burnout is a badge of honour. It isn’t.
Overcommitting isn’t who we are, it’s a series of habits. If anything, it’s the result of being inauthentic. Being more mindful of what we commit to will result in us being more, not less, of who we really are.
Breaking the cycle of overcommitting also means allowing ourselves to be a grown-up and recognise that it’s okay to disappoint people. It is. Disappointment is a part of life, of having healthy boundaries, and it lets us and others know what’s possible. No one has a right to have every expectation met. It’s at the point where we’re willing to disappoint others and our ego and the fantasy version of ourselves when we free ourselves of toxic patterns.
This sense that overcommitting is an inherent sign of our goodness, work ethic and sociability creates a rod for our backs. It makes it difficult to create healthy boundaries and know and respect our limits because these appear to be the opposite of the identity we’re trying to cultivate.
In reality, overcommitment is a sign that we do not know our responsibilities or bandwidth. By overcommitting we’re essentially saying that we’re not aware of or caring about our needs. We’re not listening to our bodies, to our lives, and so we don’t know our limits. We’re also saying that we don’t trust the people around us to be okay with the most honest version of ourselves.
Connect with the fear of missing out and of being antisocial.
Write down what antisocial means to you. So when you think of that term, who and what springs to mind? What do you think you’re going to miss out on? Challenge these ideas by acknowledging what you’re doing but also what’s true and right for you. For instance, does ‘antisocial’ mean sometimes not being able to go out? Does it mean wanting to have time to yourself or being tired? Um, no. Connect with what you’re doing. e.g. Choosing not to go to something because you simply don’t want to or because you have something else going on. Valuing having time to yourself. Opting not to attend an event or do something because going ahead would add more problems, not make your life easier. These are all common sense, personal, valid reasons for saying no.
By also being honest about what you’re afraid of missing out on, you can make a conscious choice. For example, I realised that I always tried to meet up with a particular group of people because there was anxiety lurking in the background that they might talk about me if I wasn’t there. Acknowledging this anxiety helped me to get honest about my relationships with these people. If I can’t meet up for positive, genuine reasons, I’m not going. Going based on anxiety just creates a vicious cycle.
Something has to go. When you try to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing. And you often feel like nothing too.
People who say yes to everything due to fear of missing out or being perceived negatively significantly compromise their well-being, professional and personal relationships, and aspirations and ambitions.
As a recovering pleaser and perfectionist myself, I can assure you that overcommitting isn’t noble or healthy. Your life will increasingly wake you up to this through strained relationships or genuine missed opportunities that occurred while you went after things that did not matter.
Sometimes I’m antisocial by some people’s standards because I go out but don’t drink. Or I only have a couple of drinks or know when I’m tired and go home at that point. To be clear, I don’t think I’m antisocial or missing out on anything. In those instances, I’ve shown up in the way that works best for me. I’m the steward of my bandwidth and needs so it’s my job to listen to myself.
Take the time to understand your bandwidth, including your energy levels, instead of disrespecting it. Your relationships will benefit profoundly, as will your self-esteem. You will feel like someone you can rely on.
Be aware of your shoulds.
e.g. I should go out more.
These are your made-up rules, so you can change them. It’s your life, your values. When you do things from a place of genuinely wanting to and with respect for who you are, you stop forcing yourself to do things from a place of fear and shame.
Introversion and extraversion have little to do with being shy or social and everything to do with where you lose and gain energy. Very few people are purely one or the other, and we tend to lean towards one. If you lose energy by not having enough downtime, it’s because you ignore your very real need for rebooting. If you lose energy by being on your own, then you know that you gain energy from being in social situations. In fact, feeling drained or in need of rest from socialising isn’t a mark of being antisocial. These are, in fact, signs that you’ve maxed out your bandwidth. Work with, not against you.
If you’re overcommitting, you are not keeping your integrity because you are afraid to take care of your needs through being yourself and being honest with loved ones for fear of being judged. This is isolating, not connecting.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You don’t have to accept every invitation. Decide on your priorities and how you want to feel and use this information to gauge what you say yes or no to. In the end, cutting back on overcommitting leads to healthier and more intimate relationships with loved ones and ourselves.