Tired of Overpromising with ADHD? Break Free with 6 Proven Steps
Updated: Oct 26
In the moment, jumping in to say "yes" feels like a beautiful opportunity. Our eyes widen, and we light up inside. We imagine feeling helpful, valued, and giving — what could be better?
Having ADHD myself, I have experienced these thoughts & feelings many times. I have impulsively pounced on opportune moments to volunteer myself without giving any thought to whether I would be able to come through.
Whether it's a promise to help a friend or family member or agreeing to take on too much responsibility at work, what begins as a positive promise can often end up in disappointment. It can cause you stress and the other person bad feelings.
"People with ADHD very much intend to do something when they say it," says Steven Safren, Ph.D., director of behavioral medicine in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. It comes from a good place, but symptoms can hinder delivery.
What Drives Us to Overpromise with ADHD?
Our ADHD brains tend to:
• Be impulsive
Our limbic system (the part of the brain responsible for our emotional responses) will often say yes without pausing long enough to check in with the brain's boss — the frontal lobe — where our executive functions exist (e.g., time management, planning, prioritizing, organization).
• People please
We may believe that others will like us more if we agree to deliver, so we volunteer to make others happy.
• Want to prove themselves
We are all too aware of our history of having mishaps and not coming through. "Sometimes we jump in to help make up for past mistakes. But that sets people up for failure", said J. Russell Ramsay, a clinical psychologist and the author of five books related to adult ADHD.
• Live in the “NOW”
Thinking about the future is not nearly as interesting! With ADHD, we struggle with estimating time, and the future can feel so far away. We tend to live in the “NOW” and push off how we will satisfy the pledge until later.
How Can We Tame Our Overpromising Muscle?
"The Power of the Pause" is proven to help!
Pausing enables us to stop to check in with the boss of our brain. We must consider our time management, planning, and prioritizing, or whether we are fully equipped to help!
Without adequately considering these pieces before we commit, our offer may not be realistic and might backfire. The consequences can be messy, and we can be very hard on ourselves in the aftermath.
Pausing, though, is very challenging for those with ADHD. Our brains crave action and forward movement and the dopamine boost we get from it. We want to move full speed ahead, but what we need most is to SLOW down.
Implementing the "Power of the Pause" is a skill that helps us put on the brakes BEFORE making a promise. Practicing these 6 steps is a proven way to tame this muscle!
Create a Pause with 6 Steps
STEP 1. Notice
Begin by paying close attention to the feelings that arise when you have the urge to commit. Notice that spark of energy and where you feel it in your body. This will be your signal to put on the brakes!
STEP 2. Breathe
Breathe in deeply for 3 seconds and then blow out, to allow oxygen to enter your frontal lobe. This will help to calm your nervous system and increase self-regulation.
STEP 3. Name it
Identify the emotion you're experiencing as you are tempted to say yes immediately. Try to give it a name, like "Excitement" or "Helping Eagerness." This will help slow down your brain's rush to commitment.
STEP 4. Sit with it
Think for a moment if you can do what you're about to say you'll do. Permit yourself to take time to map out whether it is realistic. Think of it as checking your schedule before accepting an invitation.
STEP 5. Connect to "future you"
Consider the kind of person you aspire to be. If it's someone who can be relied upon to honor their commitments, use this vision to guide your decision-making.
STEP 6. Set a limit
Saying "no" can be especially challenging for those with ADHD, but with practice, you will build this muscle. Remember that when boundaries are communicated with kindness, it not only fills us with higher energy but also earns people's respect.
"The power of the pause" is an essential tool for ADHD brains. It might be difficult at first, so remember to celebrate your progress and give yourself grace as you learn this new skill.
Eventually, it will empower you to take control of your commitments, have less stress in relationships, and show up as the person you want to be. Saying, "no" to overcommitting, means saying YES to yourself!
You got this!
P.S. To learn how coaching helps those with ADHD live to their full potential and feel more fulfilled, click here for a FREE 30-minute coaching chat with Julie.
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