Do you have a commitment addiction?

You're spreading yourself too thin, and it's going to backfire

Attention, driven, successful professionals! I'm calling you out on your commitment problem. That's right, you.

Before you look behind you thinking that I must be talking to someone else, consider whether you ever:

  • Have consecutive days of solid meetings and therefore couldn't get any work done
  • Reschedule a lunch date with a friend or coffee with a networking contact because you're "buried"
  • Delay planning a vacation because "it isn't a good time at work?"
  • Apologize to your kid giving the reason that you "had to work"
  • Feel guilty if you leave the office before 6PM

If you have done any or some of these things, you may be like many of us for whom our  professional obligations are ruling our lives. This is true whether we work in a corporation or in our own small business. No matter the environment, we professionals over-commit and over-schedule ourselves at work, leaving everything else to fall into place around it — if there's room.

We do this with alarming regularity, even when we claim we know better. What's worse is that we don't even realize what's happening when we're doing it. It's kind of like those times we don't realize how many M&M's from the office candy jar we shove into our mouths over the course of a day.

When we do this, we're unaware and unconscious of what we're really doing. We may be driven to do it by a short term jolt of satisfaction, or it may be the result of sheer momentum. Just like the satisfying crunchy, chocolatey goodness of those M&M's keeps us reaching for more, accepting invitations and opportunities to be involved keeps us feeling needed and valued. Both are compulsive and seemingly uncontrollable.

Meetings, commitments and obligations make us feel we're "on board" and "plugged in." When we commit to something, we get a rush of validation that we are significant. It makes us feel essential.

We assume, too, that when we say "yes" to things, we're demonstrating that we're interested and engaged. We are convinced that committing to things is critical to maintaining or building our reputations among our peers, clients or bosses.

And that's how it happens.  Before we know it, the commitments and obligations have piled up. Every nook and cranny of the calendar gets jammed up and the tightness of things starts spilling over into the rest of our lives. But we still don't recognize what's happening.

The compulsion rages on. Even when we sense that we're losing touch with our families, other relationships, activities and interests, we don't respond by cutting back our commitments to make space for those things. We ADD them on top of everything else.

We think we're doing what we're supposed to do to be successful at work, contribute at home and be engaged in the community. But in our unconscious, compulsive cycle of over-committing, we undermine our best and highest intentions.

Here's the real problem, though. By spreading ourselves so thin that we have nothing left to commit to ourselves, we are suffocating the core element, the very foundation of our capacity to meet the commitments we make to others. Not making or keep commitments to ourselves both puts at risk our ability to truly meet our commitments to others and makes us dependent on commitments we make externally to be the source of our success and fulfillment.

But yet we persist, numbly, like how we go back again & again to the M&M jar unaware of how many we've eaten. We burn out, disengage and fester with resentment for those very things we claim to be committed to.

It's time to get a handle on this problem.

Start by scheduling and keeping commitments to yourself first and foremost. Protect them with the same intensity and concern that you do for those you make with and to others. This small—albeit difficult—change will make you more whole, complete and conscious as you enter into and carry out commitments to others. By not sacrificing yourself, you'll be able to be more, give more and achieve more. You'll be less worried, less annoyed, less resentful and less depleted.

Now that sounds like success to me!

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