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3 Ways to Reduce Commitment Overload

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Some deep fixes for feeling chronically overwhelmed.

There’s one of those expressions going around, the kind printed on signs, keychains and pillows: “Let whatever you do today be enough.” I want it to be enough, but it feels like there is always three times as much to do as can possibly get done in 24 hours. Feeling chronically overwhelmed is a signal that it’s time to reduce your commitments. Other symptoms may include backing out of plans, being perpetually exhausted, or not having time to devote to self-care. For this week’s Healthy Habit, let’s look at some radical ways to climb out from under the heap of commitments.  

Go on a “Yes” fast. When it comes to requests that involve your time or energy, “No” becomes the default setting, whether it’s for a short time, for many months, or even forever. This doesn’t mean not saying yes to anything at all; it means starting with the assumption you are saying no, and then adjusting up from there, rather than squeaking, “Sure!” This is hard for a lot of reasons, but a biggie is that we’ve been taught that to “say yes” is the way we open ourselves to new experiences, happiness and joy. Consider this quote from Sir Richard Branson, for example: “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity to do something and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes. Then learn how to do it later.” Hmm. Maybe you aren’t sure you can do it and need 24 hours to think about it. Give yourself that permission.

Make a list. Leo Babauta, of the blog Zen Habits writes that we should make a list of all our commitments. This may take a little time, really get in there with all the work, side work, kids’ lessons, civic, religious, hobbies, online time, everything. As you look at this list in the cold light of day, consider what each commitment is actually adding to your life. Now, cross one off the list, he suggests. Stop doing it for at least two weeks and see how you feel. Still okay without it? Revisit your list, and cross another one off. Ultimately, your list should contain only what is “most in line with your values and priorities and goals.”  

Respect your truth. When accepting a new commitment, set parameters. “Yes, I can watch Chloe. Friday night works best,” helps avoid a babysitting session you can’t actually squeeze in on a Tuesday. Or, “I can bring a salad for 8 people,” lets your brother-in-law know he is going to need to ask one more additional person for a side dish. And as you reduce old commitments, don’t lie, overly explain or allow for guilty feelings. Be clear and kind with other people, and respect your own truth. As personal finance coach Nathan Morris says, “Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.”


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a wellness writer based in Savannah. She's been a contributor to Spirituality & Health for many years, and she loves sharing ways to build a healthy, mindful, and sustainable lifestyle. 


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Healthy HabitsCommitmentSimplify

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