Eettickal: A promise to stop overpromising

Enya Eettickal, Staff Writer

In Dec. 2021, I thought about what I’d resolve myself to do this year. But I couldn’t shake the thought that it wouldn’t matter if I couldn’t keep up with it anyway (I have a track record of failing my resolutions pretty quickly). Regardless, I still went ahead with contemplating any major changes I wanted to make. Finally, after some serious reflection on 2021, I’ve come up with the perfect resolution—one that functions as an ideal cop-out answer, but also serves a very important function.

  My 2022 resolution is to “stop overpromising and under-delivering.” As far as I’m aware, I didn’t come up with this phrase; it’s commonly used in the business world. But I heard it for the first time from my good friend Vishu in relation to mock trial. She was using the phrase in the context of attorneys overpromising at the beginning of a trial, and then it biting them in the butt if they underdeliver throughout the proceedings. The principle is universal, however. Those dangers I risk while overpromising in the little bubble of mock trial translate substantially into the significant decisions of my day-to-day life. 

If you’ve read my writing before, you know that I think it’s integral to define terms before using them. And given how open to interpretation the terms overpromising and under-delivering are, I’d like to explain how I’ll be using them. 

When I say overpromising, I’m referring to intentionally and willingly making bold claims with high stakes. While promises are obviously made with the intention of being kept, overpromising is almost always a setup for failure. I gauge if I’m overpromising by considering if the promise I’m making is too good to be true or would be out of character or beyond expectations of me. But overpromising doesn’t have to be overly grand. Given an individual’s circumstances, agreeing to even seemingly small and simple tasks can be an instance of overpromising. This can include someone overexerting themselves to achieve the goal or taking a responsibility up alongside many other tasks. 

Under-delivering is a bit harder to pin down with a definition. I don’t think showing up five minutes late to an appointment or writing half a page shorter than what you were assigned is necessarily under-delivering. Flexibility is essential, especially since other variables may be at play. But how large should the margin of flexibility be? First, under-delivering has to be understood in the context of overpromising. I define under-delivering as doing anything that falls short of an instance of overpromising. That may seem harsh, but I think that it’s the unfortunate reality of overpromising. By actively choosing to take on a precise and highly demanding goal, you’ve limited the leeway you receive when it’s time to deliver. Any goal you fail to achieve is always going to sting, no matter how big the goal or the failure. Let’s say hypothetically, my mock trial coach asks me to come to practice two days a week, and I say that I’ll be at practice for four days; it would be very noticeable if I only went to the initial two practices they asked. It wouldn’t have been a problem if I’d just agreed to what they initially asked me to do. 

At the end of last semester, I noticed the dangers of overpromising in action. Things were getting hard to juggle between classes, research, activities and my general health. I consider myself a work-oriented individual, so the prospect of dropping one of those responsibilities terrified me. Inherently, I don’t think it was wrong for me to want to maintain the amount of work I had, given that there were other potential drawbacks to making those choices. But in an attempt to hold myself accountable and be on top of everything, I set goals with myself and others that I deemed “above adequate,” which I can now say with confidence were overpromising. 

It was a big mistake, considering that this strategy only gave me desirable results for two weeks. There was only so much sleep I could sacrifice before my health took a hit in due time. And so, the consequences of my actions caught up to me. I got sick, and suddenly all the deadlines I’d set for writing, applications, activities and my personal goals overwhelmed me. I survived the semester and luckily walked out with a decent number of my goals accomplished. However, I went into winter break needing a long-overdue recovery period. What was worse than not reaching my implausible goals was realizing that it was all avoidable. If I hadn’t tried to do more than I needed, all in an attempt to appear put together or “up to pace” with my friends and classmates (a metric that, mind you, is a construct of my own insecurities about successes), then I probably wouldn’t have suffered as much as I did through the semester. 

This article is probably less than motivational and nowhere near as entertaining as my other pieces. However, I felt compelled to write it because I have a strong feeling that it’s a relatable situation for many of us, especially here at Case Western Reserve University. I’ve seen so many of my classmates overload on credits, commit to multiple leadership positions and take on other side tasks just for the challenge. And while I admire their tenacity, I’ve seen what happens when people over-commit their time and energy to the point of not sleeping, eating and just doing anything for their own happiness or health. Overpromising is an issue that’s rampant on CWRU’s campus, and it’s not a practice that should become a habit. And while I understand that sometimes societal or familial pressures play a role in why we may overpromise, the only one who has to face the consequences of overpromising is yourself.

So what’s the solution for those who overpromise? I don’t think the goal is to stop aiming high or working hard. I understand that those who constantly strive for more will rarely switch away from that mentality (myself included). So while planning your schedule, it’s important to communicate and draw boundaries. Actively giving yourself space to breathe and time to accomplish the work you need to do is essential. Rather than committing to a hard and fast promise to yourself (or someone else), create a range of time or goals to accomplish. If I give myself three days to work on a paper and only take two, it’s not as terrible as if I tell myself I’d only take one and end up needing two. The key is that I take the same amount of time and am as productive in both situations. The main difference is how I frame my mindset towards the situation and how I present the situation to those who work with and around me.

With just a few weeks of implementation, I can proudly say that the small shift in mindset has had a big impact on my overall wellbeing and productivity. By going out of my way to avoid overpromising, I better understand my usual productivity rate, and I can better communicate with those who work with me. On top of that, I’ve learned to say no to certain opportunities since I know that it would cause all my other goals to decrease in productivity. While it’s been hard, I’ve seen the payoff already. 

Sometimes, it’s okay to not always be doing the most. In fact, it’s okay to be lazy occasionally (just like this lazy resolution). As long as you’re open and honest with yourself about what you can actually do, you’re sure to reap the benefits of all your work.