ADHD and Saying No

There are a few reasons people with ADHD find themselves overcommitting. One of the biggies is because of their unique sense of time. First, there can be little awareness of how long something actually takes to do. Compounding this problem is an intense interest that was sparked by an idea that mushroomed into a hundred other associations, which are all also magnificent ideas. And now you find yourself having agreed to do way more than is humanly possible unless you literally cloned yourself.

Another reason overcommitting is disproportionately found among people with ADHD is because many are people-pleasers by nature. They really want to help but even more than that they really want you to be happy. In fact, they can act as if they can single-handedly fix your problem for you so that all that’s left to do is feel happy. It’s sweet but naive.

Then reality sets in, the reality of available time versus what can be achieved within that time. This can lead to stress or panic attacks ending in a complete meltdown; or, complete paralysis from overwhelm, which leads to complete shutdown. Either way, it isn’t pretty. And the consequences are far worse than just not getting things done. Friends and family can misunderstand. Feelings can get hurt. Doubts fuel shame and the negative self-talk only reinforces it. It’s the shame that’s so damaging.

So, why do it? Why say ‘yes’ when ‘no’ would be the better choice?

Well, for one, people with ADHD typically have what’s called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. One of my favorite ADHD specialists, Dr. William Dodson, speaks of this on his website. Basically, the threshold for disappointment is so low that it can be one of the motivating factors as to why it’s just that hard to say no. For some individuals, simply the thought of rejection or disappointing someone is physically painful.

Then, of course, is the issue of time management. As an ADHD Coach, this is a subject my clients and I tackle routinely. There are hundreds of systems out there for helping one organize, prioritize, and track their productivity, but the only sure bet is that everyone can find something that works for a while until it doesn’t. The need for novelty coupled with disdain for the mundane boringness inherent in daily life creates the perfect storm for accepting new challenges even when it’s not in your best interest to do so.

So, you can see why it happens. But what do you do about it?

Five of the best practices include:

  • Learn to say ‘maybe’ instead.
    This gives you the pause to really consider the pros and cons of the commitment.
  • Automatically say you wish you could BUT __________.
    Having a standard excuse can save hours of anguish.
  • Set a limit at the beginning of every week or month as to how many extra projects or activities you will become involved with.
    Deciding ahead of time that you will join only one organized committee as well as carpool your son and his buddies to sports practice this month will help create the boundary from which to operate.
  • Offer to do a little piece of what’s being asked of you.
    Rather than agree to do everything associated with throwing a party, offer to either chip in x amount of money or donate x amount of hours.
  • Offer to help find someone else to fill the position.
    Sometimes just offering to keep your eyes and ears open for someone else to do what’s being asked of you is enough to send the message of ‘no’ wrapped in a ‘not me’ package.

Whichever strategy you go with, remembering the downside of your overcommitting is key. Using the memory of past failures doesn’t have to beat you down. It can propel you strongly ahead to make better decisions for your future.

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