Employee resting on his desk from stress

There can be a big gap between who we are and who we think we are. I believe this is the root of overpromising. It’s incredibly stressful on two fronts: 1. From making the promise thinking that it’s possible and 2. Realizing you can’t and disappointing people.

Now, I hear you already, we all know certain characters who overpromise and get promoted…yet it is not in the overpromising that makes something an overpromise. It is in the underdelivering. The characters that overpromise – and “succeed” – in my experience have a way to spin certain results to make it sound like they are fulfilling the promise.

“I don’t think about losing, because it isn’t losing.”

-Donald Trump

This is a battle of perception and not for the faint-hearted. When it works, it works. But there is always a risk it may catch up with you or be spun in another direction by someone else looking for opportunity. And my gut says there is a certain archetype that can get away with it because of deep societal norms that are beyond me.

So for those that may be less charismatic like me, let me offer some sobriety. Perhaps the antidote for overpromising is making smarter promises. Being confident in your capabilities, but also factoring in some protective buffer.

Ultimately, this boils down to a negotiation.

There may not be money involved, but it is a negotiation for your time and resources on top of your existing responsibilities. Stretch goals are great as long as everybody understands what stretch means (i.e., the risks involved). Here are some guardrails to consider:

Double Time

I am the type of person that generally aims to please. My desire to help can cause me to sign up for things beyond my emotional capacity – which is a surefire recipe for resentment when things go wrong (see below).

The simple solution here is to always ask if you can think more before agreeing to something new. And if the answer is no, get a sense for why – there may be a good reason and that would be good to know.

Once you commit, consider how long the request would take you and then double it.

Most of the time, people respect this…after all, who knows better? But if they do push back, feel free to list out your other priorities and engage them on how important this new project is (knowing you have room to go faster if needed).

[Read more: Top 10 Ways People Say No Without Saying No]

Expect Problems

I think we can all relate to problems rearing their ugly head just when things are going good. At the same time, you can (and should be!) confident in your skills. The catch is that it’s easy to overestimate our capabilities in a work environment where everybody is proving their worth everyday.

“If something can go wrong, it will.”

-Murphy’s Law

What’s the balance? Taking this reality in stride. Expecting problems is all about managing the downside of disappointment: in yourself, the task, and others. Use this to fuel the double time (see above).

Remember Your Right

Know that you have a right to change your mind at any time. Now, of course, there will be implications. So you need to be clever and daresay political, but that does not change your right.

[Read more: Four Steps To Better Professional Boundaries]

Sure, others may be disappointed. But I’ve observed that thinking too much of what other people think is also what drives my mentees to overpromise to begin with. Consider it a point of strength to get ahead of an issue and pivot rather than to suffer the consequences of underdelivering.

Sometimes you just need to reset. And that’s okay.


The type of person that overpromises usually has great intentions. But when the other shoe drops, so does your work and related quality of life. It’s easy and sometimes safer to please. We also inadvertently sacrifice some self-esteem in the process.

Keep your eye on the prize. And make sure to have people who can remind you of the good stuff when the going gets tough.

Yogis say 50% of the practice is getting on your mat. In this case, being aware of an overpromising tendency is 50% of having a saner work life.

Let a mentor help you with the other 50%. 100%.