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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Seriously Uncommit Yourself

The stress of too much to do destroys creativity

The previous post, Want More Time to Write? Uncommit Yourself!, was tongue-in-cheek because if you can laugh about yourself and your commitments, you can decide to do something positive about the serious consequences of being overcommitted.

Sometimes we truly have so much to do and so many commitments to honor, we don’t know which end is up. But sometimes the frenzy is self-induced. Feeling overwhelmed is sometimes a matter of perception – if you think you have too much to do, you don’t let yourself see options.

Overscheduling is a common form of resistance because it has such virtue appeal. “I want to write, I really do, but I can’t because I have all these other (less satisfying and less scary) things to do.” Overcommitting yourself is one way to keep yourself safe from the risk of discovering who-knows-what if you were to take time to pause, feel what you feel, think what you think, and try to communicate with others.

If you’re willing to take the risk of writing, but realize it will “have to wait” until after you’ve honored a bucket load of commitments you’ve made to family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, community groups, sports teams, book clubs, friends of friends, etc., take heart – you do have alternatives. Hopefully, the previous post’s list of “out there alternatives” opened your thinking a bit.

Now I’m the last person to seriously suggest you don’t honor your commitments. After all, honoring your commitments to Process, Self-care and Product Time are the foundation of a satisfying and effective writing habit. And I don’t really advocate lying to get out of something.

You get to say "No thanks" to other people's priorities

But let’s take a good look at many of the “commitments” you let yourself get talked into, guilted into or found out someone else had signed you up for or assumed you’d take care of. How many of those promises really reflect your priorities?

You have the right and the responsibility to commit to the people, things and actions that reflect your best self, your interests and passions, and your sense of purpose. This is your life; you only get so many days, so why would you spend any of them doing something that is not important to you or being less than the best you you can be?

You have a purpose in life. You can’t fulfill that purpose if you’re farting around doing stuff other people want you to do, especially people you’re not in significant relationships with. The world will be a better place because you honored your commitment to your writing than if you postpone writing to manage the bake sale for a softball league you didn’t really want to join anyway.

You are learning how to commit to your writing. Isn’t it time you learned how to uncommit to other things? Just remember, learning means making mistakes. You won’t uncommit perfectly at first. But keep at it, and you’ll get better at freeing yourself.

You may find you have to limit your commitments even among the people, causes and activities that you are passionate about. You can’t do everything. Fortunately, the world is filled with good, creative people, so you don’t have to do everything. (You do, however, have to trust others to do their part and let go of attempting to control every outcome.)

Be very careful where and how you commit yourself in the future. Ask yourself “Is this really is something that:

  • I want to commit to
  • Matches my passion and life purpose
  • I think needs to happen and can’t be done just as well or better by someone else
  • I really have the time and resources to honor without violating another commitment (like a commitment to my family or my writing)”?

If you cannot answer “yes” to all these questions, decline the request. If the person “inviting” you into a faux commitment refuses to take “No thanks” for an answer, run! Run as if you’re running for your life – you are!

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