Life Skill #59: Backing out of a commitment

The trip to your friend's lake house is this weekend, and you've been dreading it ever since you agreed to go two weeks prior. Not only do you have a pressing deadline at work, but you know you need the downtime at home for your health and well-being.

The thought of telling your friend you don't want to go may sound dreadful, but would doing so be less painful than making yourself miserable for an entire weekend?

Although breaking a commitment is not something to approach lightly, sometimes we have to consider it, said Eddie Miller, author of "Living Inside-Out: The Go-to Guide for the Overwhelmed, Overworked & Overcommitted" (Morgan James Publishing).

"We can't always say no because of work, families, what have you, and (when that is the case) that's OK," Miller said, but in those instances where we can, "we have to give ourselves permission to say, 'No, that doesn't work for me.'"

Miller, who studied psychology at Ottawa University in Kansas, said that too often we're afraid to hurt our friends, family and colleagues, and forget about our most important commitment, "the one to ourselves."

Here's his advice on how to back out of a commitment.

Recognize and respect your feelings. Miller said there are two aspects to consider when asking yourself how you feel about the commitment: "Does it overwhelm us to say yes right then and there? Or does it build (as it approaches)?"

Understanding your limitations, and recognizing what emotions arise — such as discomfort or anxiety caused by realizing you're overcommitted — is important and will help you decide whether to back out. These feelings also teach us not to commit to requests or invitations right away. Learn to give yourself time to decide, so you don't have to back out of anything in the first place.

"We just have to be in tune with our own emotional level," Miller said.

Be honest with others. "We are constantly trying to make everyone else happy," Miller said, "and live up to the standards that our culture imposes on us, and be things that at times we can't be.

"We have to be honest and say, 'I would love to do that, but I can't. Not because I don't want to be there, but because I have too much on my plate right now.'"

Expect fallout. Be aware that your choice may be upsetting or disappointing to someone.

"People disappoint us all of the time, and we disappoint people all of the time," Miller said.

You need to let the other party know as soon as you have made up your mind, be sensitive about how you explain yourself — and not lose sight of why you're doing so.

"When we break a commitment to someone we care about, and they don't understand, that's not our problem," Miller said. "That's their problem."

When you're on the receiving end

Sometimes you will find yourself on the other side of this issue, when people you love are breaking plans with you. Keep in mind, Miller said, that "99 percent of the time, it has nothing to do with us. We have to simply give them permission to do what they need to do."

— H.S.

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