Lately I’ve felt like I’m in a wind tunnel—with demands coming from all directions. People rush by at a frantic pace, driven by excessive commitments with barely enough room to breathe.  Many of my coworkers are among the walking wounded, suffering from chronic headaches,  back and shoulder pain, insomnia, digestive disorders and a host of other stress-related illnesses. Cramming their schedules with one commitment after another, they deny themselves adequate sleep, nutritious food, exercise, and contemplative time--literally making themselves sick. 

Research has shown that living this way is dangerous, hazardous to our health—shutting down our immune and digestive systems, leading to chronic unresolved inflammation, coronary disease, obesity, type-2 diabetes, and other major health risks. To regain our balance, to say “Yes” to life, we must say “No” to the insanity of over commitment.

Why is it so hard to say “No”? 

  • Some people are afraid that saying “No” will hurt people’s feelings and they'll be rejected.
  • Others don’t believe they “deserve” the time and space they need to be healthy.
  • And some people don’t know how.

Yet “Yes” and “No” are vital to the rhythm of life—like yin and yang, breathing out and breathing in. By saying “No” to some things we can say “Yes” to our highest priorities—and a top priority is our own health and well being.

If you’ve been racing around with a schedule crammed with over commitment, take a lesson from Henry David Thoreau—“Our life is frittered away by detail. . . .Simplify, simplify.” (Thoreau, 2004, p.73). Pare down your commitments to free up room to breathe.

If you’ve been over committing because you’re afraid of hurting people’s feelings or don’t know how to say “No,” practice. Start developing this skill. You can be diplomatic, saying “Thank you for thinking of me” or “I’d love to”—“but I have to say ‘No.’”

Don’t go into a long list of excuses. Keep it simple. Say “that won’t work for me.” or “I’ve got too much on my plate.” You don’t have to explain. One wise friend of mine simply says, “I have a long-term commitment that I cannot break.”

—and that commitment might just be to yourself.


Thoreau, H. D. (2004) Walden. New York, NY: Signet. Originally published 1854.

Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book, about living with greater power and purpose, is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.

Follow Diane on Twitter: Diane Dreher (@dianedreher) on Twitter

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