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Keeping Promises To Yourself

Sunday, March 28, 2010

We all know the importance of keeping promises to people. Keeping promises leads to trust which is one of the bedrocks of any good relationship, whether it be with friends, work colleagues or your partner. However there is one element of keeping promises that gets overlooked – keeping promises to yourself.


When it comes to personal productivity and just generally being able to get stuff done, committing to doing something and then actually doing it is critical. All those to-do items you casually put down on your list with no real conviction to finish off might seem harmless, but they represent broken commitments that over time wear away at your personal trust. Do it often enough and you will find you have very little conviction to actually get stuff done. You can blithely say you will do something without ever acting upon it. However, get into the habit of keeping promises to yourself and you will find it much easier to complete projects and build new habits. When you say you will do something you mean it.

  1. Make realistic promises
    Break your work down into manageable chunks. Yes, it’s this tip, again! I may be mentioning it in nearly every other post at the moment but there is a good reason for that. It actually works! It is much easier to keep your promise about doing a small task, than it is to keep your promise to finish a large project or develop an entirely new habit over several months. It’s no good trying to keep a promise to visit the gym five times a week when you are just starting out. However, making a personal agreement to go once this week, then twice next week is much easier.

  2. Don’t make promises idly
    Every time you break a promise to yourself (or to anyone else for that matter) you erode away at the trust. Even the smallest of actions can have a negative effect on that level of trust. Don’t think that a simple task on your to-do list that you keep putting off will have much effect, it’s being noted down subconsciously as yet another broken promise. If you commit to do something, whether it be to do some work on a particular day (you promise yourself you will decorate the bedroom at the weekend, for instance) or simply to respond to an email, follow through with it. If you don’t think you will actually do it don’t make that commitment.

  3. Make the promise contractual
    The problem with items on your to-do list is that they don’t emphasize the fact that they are personal promises. As the name implies they are simply tasks to do. To get round this treat it as though it was a contract. You can even go so far as to type up a sheet defining the terms of the agreement between yourself and your head and sign it at the bottom.

    Just because when you break a personal promise there is nobody shouting down the phone like they would if you broke your word with a company or your customers, doesn’t mean the consequences aren’t the same (erosion of trust, for example). So, why not be business-like with your promises? While it’s not practical to have contracts for every minor item you need to do it can be very effective for larger projects, especially with habit building. For instance, as part of an health drive I’ve avoided alcohol this week. Thanks to the contract reminding me I had until Sunday 11.59PM not to drink any, I was able to complete my goal.

    source: Organizeit

3 comments:

Two Feathers said...

This is something I hadn't really ever thought about, the concept that maybe I don't have the confidence in myself that I COULD have if I didn't have such a terrible track record for breaking my commitments to me...

I wonder if this month's project will act as a confidence builder for all of us.

Oh, and by the way, haven't missed a day yet.

Karla said...

I like the part about nobody calling to yell at you if you break your promise to yourself! How true! Although we can beat ourselves up about lots of stuff unnecessarily if we choose to. Selective self-talk? Wouldn't it be nice if we could train our brains to be tough on ourselves when it's important to be and nice when we should be?

I almost missed the sit ups yesterday as I was late so I plopped down, fully dressed in nylons and skirt and cranked them off before running out the door. Perhaps not the best set I've done since the project started, but I did it! And I'm glad!

Two Feathers said...

That's a good point, Karla... I don't have a problem beating myself up over stuff that's NOT my fault, and NOT under my control. And I'll do just about anything, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient, just to avoid making family and friends angry with me.

Why is it that other people's anger is more disturbing to me than my own? Is it because I don't really believe in mine? Or is it because I'm so consistently beating myself up that I'm just used to it and have built up a pretty strong immunity?

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