person vishnuAre you always in a “busy period”? Do you run from one social event to another on weekends? Do you stay up later than you’d like to finish off an extra project that you’d promised to have done for tomorrow even though you didn’t really have time to do it in the first place?

Many of us know that feeling as your stomach sinks, your muscles tense, and your mind screams at you “just say no, just say no”. You’ve just been asked to do a “big favour” or given an “un-missable opportunity”. You know you don’t have the capacity to take it on and yet despite all of your better senses you hear ourselves say “yep, sure I can do that”. My name is Kylee and I’m a recovering ‘Yes (wo)man’.

What is over-committing?

helpOver-committing occurs when we try to fit something that we “just couldn’t say no to” into a week that is already full. There are only 168 hours in any week. No matter how much we try to change that, it’s a fact. Experts are always telling us that a healthy lifestyle is one where we have a balance of work, play and sleep within those hours.

Suddenly we have 190 hours of living to fit into 168 hours of time. The result of this is that we start to sacrifice time from other things. As much as we may like to, it is often not work time that is sacrificed but instead we get a little less sleep, a little less exercise, a little less time with friends and family. And the bottom line is that we lose our balance.

Over-committers often struggle with feeling ineffective at everything. Because they are maximising their time and energy resources they end up doing a million things not-so-well rather than doing a few things the best that they can.

The trick here is about learning to say no effectively by learning how to not say yes.

Why is saying no so hard??

The tendency to take on more than we have capacity for can happen to anyone in any circumstance. It may be saying yes to your supervisor at work, to the head of your child’s P&C, or even within your social circle. We are more at risk of saying yes when:

  • we are put on the spot and expected to answer immediately,
  • AND – the person asking is someone who we don’t want to disappoint. The thought of having this person think badly of us for some reason is a pretty awful one.

At these times, our response (i.e. saying yes) is driven by our anxiety and desire to please, rather than logical thinking. The tricky thing about anxiety-driven thinking is that in these times we jump to the worst-case scenarios rather than what is realistic.

So what can you do about it?

clear yesThe first step is about getting a bit of space to think over the request that has been made of you using your logical, rational mind rather than answering based on your anxiety. When you are put on the spot, learn how to say something like “I’d like to think about that before I give you an answer” or “I’ll need to check my diary before I give you an answer”. This will give you the chance to step away and consider the opportunity rationally.

Once you are out of the situation, take some time to carefully think over what is being asked of you, whether or not it is something you have capacity for, and what you would need to sacrifice in order to fit it in. It is a good idea at this point to remind yourself of what is important to you in this stage of your life. Does the new offer/request align with your priorities at the moment?

Next take some time to rationally consider what it is about saying no that has you so scared. Ask yourself:

  • what am I afraid will happen? E.g. my boss will be disappointed and will never give me another opportunity again (*note the worst-case scenario flavour of this assumption)
  • What is the evidence that this will happen? They do sometimes get disappointed at people.
  • What is the evidence against this happening? They often get over the disappointment pretty quickly. If they think I’m good enough to be offered this job, then they probably think highly of me and they’ll probably ask me to do something else in the future.

Ask yourself if, based on your priorities and on the evidence for and against your anxious thinking, you’d be willing to say no to the request.

learn to say noFinally take some time to formulate and rehearse a balanced answer. When you do say no, consider also emphasizing that you appreciate the offer, but that you don’t have the capacity for it at this time and that you would hate to take it on only to do the job poorly. And don’t be afraid of having some practice runs of what you might say in front of a mirror or to a loved one. Saying no is a new thing for many of us and practice makes perfect.


Article Written by –

Dr Kylee Forrest

Clinical Psychologist at Benchmark Psychology