What effect does breaking promises to ourselves have? How does keeping promises to ourselves make us stronger? Let’s find out!
Although I have a movement disorder, I believe that part of my healing process will require the re-wiring of my brain through the formation of good habits and the removal (albeit forcibly) of bad ones. My disease is a neurological one. Now, I know that thoughts form emotions, which manifest themselves in actions/behaviour and then results. If I’m physically disabled/challenged, I should try my best not to be mentally/emotionally disabled as well. Shouldn’t I?
It’s easy for us to understand broken connections between ourselves and others – we have a sense that our survival is dependent on it. But, what about a broken connection between our daily selves and our souls or spirit? What happens when we become disconnected from ourselves?
I certainly know I’m guilty of not honouring commitments to myself. And I’m sure I’m not alone as I see the effects of it all around me.
So, let’s talk about it.
When I was diagnosed with my movement disorder (ARCA1 – Autosomal Recessive Cerebellar Ataxia type 1), I had some time to reflect on my life thus far. My eyes were opened and I saw my life for what it was – and what it wasn’t.
I realized that I wasn’t living to up to my own expectations. I was pretty angry and very depressed. Although my movement disorder is neurological in origin, looking back, this must have also been a major contributing factor.
I also stumbled upon this gem: we’re all destined for greatness – marked for glory if you will (that’s when I came up with my domain name – BAZINGA!)
As we grow older – and no doubt become cynical and jaded via our experiences, we lose that innate sense of purpose and drive. My mission is to help others rediscover that missing element. But enough about that. Back to the topic at hand…
Challenging The Status Quo
Of course, as with anything worth doing, keeping promises to ourselves won’t be easy at first.
Keeping promises builds integrity and that is a powerful weapon. We must take responsibility for our own actions. Like Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben says – with great power comes great responsibility. However, understand that the world we live in is rife with pitfalls and obstacles determined to rob us of that power:
- We live in an age of distraction. There are so many things vying for our attention that it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important.
- We live in a noisy world. We get bombarded with messages telling us who we should want to be, what we should want to have and who we should want to know that it’s easy to forget who we are meant to be.
- We have too much choice. Having excessive options leads to the inability to make meaningful decisions. That means an inability to keep promises.
What’s In A Self-Promise?
A self-promise is an agreement we make with ourselves that we’re going to do something.
Keeping promises to ourselves builds integrity which leads to confidence, allowing us to commit to bigger goals thereby leading to fulfilled dreams.
Integrity is like a hug you give to yourself. No matter how small the promise, following through lets us know that we can trust ourselves.
Rob White of Huffington Post says: “When you can rely on your word, you tap into your natural talent for correcting anything that prevents a clear line of communication between your intention and your action. That is precisely the talent that makes it easy to break the back of excuse-making and procrastination.”
Conversely, when we break our own promises to ourselves, we become cranky, anxious, annoyed, depressed, for no good reason.
A question arises then: Why do we fail to keep promises to ourselves, but succeed in keeping promises to others? Part of it could be that we’re social creatures. And indeed we are meant for meaningful connection with other humans. However, in our efforts to belong, we may sacrifice time and energy that would be better spent on ourselves.
Some Science-y Facts
I wasn’t able to find a scientific study that specifically talked about the results of breaking or keeping self-promises.
There was a study done in 2009, however, which examined the effects of broken promises on our neurology. It basically concluded that when somebody breaks a promise to us, it activates portions of our prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and amygdala. These activations help us to store information about whether an individual is honest or dishonest, to allow us to know in future if we should trust them.
Using this information, we can make a logical leap to conclude that breaking promises to ourselves results in similar brain changes. I can imagine that this has profound effects after years and years of the same behaviour.
If you had a friend who kept breaking promises to you, how would you view that person? When they said they would change, would you believe them? How long would you tolerate their behaviour? Now imagine that friend is yourself.
Tactics For Change
If we are to change, there are some questions to ask:
- How many times do you ‘let yourself off the hook’?
- When you realize you’ve broken your commitments, what do you say to yourself? What do you think about yourself?
- What would make it possible for you to keep your self-promises more frequently?
1. Define your promise
Just like when you create a goal, use the SMART methodology. Having said that, it may not be necessary to go through all this – depending on the size of the promise.
- Specific – What, why, how type questions. Let’s say your promise is to do more standard push-ups because you want to have a better-looking upper body.
- Measurable – If your promise is to be able to do more push-ups, how many should that be? 50?
- Attainable/Achievable – Is this promise you are making practical for you? If your goal is 50, how many push-ups can you do now? Have you done a push-up?
- Results-focused – What will you gain by keeping this promise? What value do you hope to see? Maybe you’re planning to go on vacation in August and you’re hoping this will help you look better when you hit the beach.
- Time-bound – When will you fulfil this promise? Let’s say you promise yourself to be able to do 50 standard push-ups by the end of July.
2. Make a Plan
Fail to plan and plan to fail. Again, this depends on the magnitude of your promise. If you are promising to say hi to everyone you see this week, you probably don’t need to make a plan. Something like promising to write a book by the end of the year might require one.
3. Record Your Promise
You can write your promises on note cards like Alex Sheen suggests. You can write them in a journal or agenda. Or you can type them. It depends on you and how you work best.
4. Just Say No
Stuff will come up inevitably. Just remember that you have the power to say no. If you have promised yourself to work an hour a night on your book and friends call you up to go out, you know what to say. I’ve discovered that when trying to keep your self-promises, you’ll often have to say no to yourself. If your task is to write a blog post, you have to say no to Facebook until your task is done. Likewise, if you’re on a diet, there’s a lot you’ll have to say no to.
5. Make Promises You’ll Keep
Sometimes we can make promises we’re never going to act on. I’m certainly guilty of that. But it helps define why you want to commit to something. Maybe there is no meaningful reason or benefit.
I sincerely hope that this way of thinking helps you. I know it has helped me greatly. I feel much more at peace and free to do the things I know I should be doing.
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