The Perils of Overcommitting

I was punching a bag at the gym recently when the gym buddy who has been coaching me a bit suggested I try some different three- and four-punch combinations. Immediately game, I went for it, struggling to get a rhythm.

Seeing this, my observant buddy offered a suggestion Every punch doesnt have to be your hardest.

Ah, but of course. Sometimes a lighter touch or reserving energy allows for trying more combos, having quicker reaction time, and being open to other opportunities.

When you focus exclusively on hitting hard, you forget everything else, writes Randy LaHaie in a self-defense article about heavy bag training. Hit properly and the power will take care of itself.

The light dawned in the moment, and not just regarding sparring with a bag. I was overcommitting.

The first time I heard the term overcommitting was in the context of athletics many years ago when I was a sports writer covering soccer. It was in reference to a defender who got beat on a move because shed overcommitted and made the wrong call. It erased her other options.

These days, though, I mostly hear about people overcommitting to work or in volunteerism and wearing themselves so thin it renders them ineffective. Relationships suffer and the juggler often sees all the balls come tumbling down at once. Or there is the extreme, persistent sense they arent giving anything proper attention.

Aside from a number of my clients, what comes to mind is an experience I had some years ago in the workplace. The leader of our team was a dynamic, forward-thinking woman who was so in demand that she wound up overcommitting. Ironically, it was completely to our detriment to have this wonderful person leading us because she cancelled meetings at the last minute and didnt follow up on tasks shed assigned us. In her effort to keep punching hard, shed peter out long before her vision had come to fruition. A frustrated team is not a productive one.

Sometimes its worth learning to say no or at least hanging back and seeing what that frees up. We all know people who overcommit because they are escaping something else in their lives. Or because it gives them a sense of worth to be needed.

But theres a tricky side to this. Its negotiating the fine line between overcommitting and not committing at all.

Lets go back to a soccer example. Did you ever watch a game that ended in penalty kicks? The most brilliant saves occur when the goaltender commits fully and strongly. If she senses the striker is going to blast the ball to her right and she commits to that by throwing her whole body behind that instinct and gets the save, its one of the most exciting things in sports.

So what is this about? Learning when to commit and when not to and getting it right the majority of the time. Thats the ideal.

A situation Ive had come up with several clients is whether to pursue additional schooling to advance an existing career path or start a whole new one. That is typically a huge commitment, not just in time and money but by ripple effect. What if this is a primary breadwinner supporting a family? What if the spouse is resentful because he also had his heart set on going back to school?

Its a big decision and almost no one wants to go in with the idea that they can start but dont have to finish. Perhaps breaking it down is helpful. Do you need to sign up for the MBA program right out of the gate (potential overcommitment) or could you dip a toe in the water by taking a couple of courses to see how you like it? If you overcommit to a career path that doesnt quite fit, then what?

Taking a few courses, on the other hand, might bring up something you wouldnt have imagined as interesting or compelling. Doing nothing but wondering or giving lip service to your desire for change, of course, is under-committing and results in settling for what is when you know you want more.

Which brings me to an expression Ive taken to lately.

When you throw your hat over the wall, youre committing to doing something, says the Urban Dictionary. The phrase is derived from what you would do before you climb over a wall -- you throw the hat over to the other side, so it doesnt fall off while you are climbing.

Life is about knowing when to throw your hat over the wall and when to just keep walking past the wall and move on to another.

I came across some video on of Mike Tyson throwing a five-punch combo with such power and speed it blew my mind. The guy can overcommit all he wants with that kind of talent. My best move, on the other hand, is to step back, look at my options, and try some combos that occasionally include some really hard punches.

The message for all of us is that the right rhythm is in there somewhere.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to