Keep the promises you make to yourself
You know that feeling when you commit to doing something for yourself, then life gets in the way and you don't do it?
As humans we tend to weigh anything we do for other people more than what we are supposed to do for ourselves.
We prioritise other people's needs over our own.
Or we are not resolute enough, and we trick ourselves into finding a way to rationalise doing (or not doing) what we know we should.
It could be starting a side hustle, getting fit, or that big dream you have. You promise yourself you'll do it, work on it. And then nothing.
“Tomorrow I'll do "
"From now on, I will "
"From now on, I will never again "
This is where I should drop a clever reference to Zeno's Conscience and his "last cigarette(s)", but I can't come up with anything...
The problem, although you might not be consciously aware of this, is the negative impact that this behaviour has on our self-esteem.
Think about it for a second: what happens when you break promises you make to other people? You lose integrity in their eyes, they stop seeing you as dependable. It impacts your reputation.
We think that because there’s no one on the other end of the promise, it's ok if we don't keep it. But there is someone: there's you. And while we might not look at the broken self-promises through the lens of integrity, over time, if you fail to keep the promises you make to yourself, your self-confidence will begin to suffer.
And you risk falling into a state of inertia, in which you keep making promises and breaking them.
You form your identity based on the relationship you have with your self.
Let me give you a personal example.
I keep starting side projects, and I never finish them – although I promise myself that I will. These tend to be small, side hustles that I hope will lead me to the path on entrepreneurship. People that know me may or may not be aware of this, but I am. And eventually this has become almost my view of myself, a part of my identity. Years ago I had tons of ideas on things I wanted to work on, lots of energy, lots of motivation. Over time I started a bunch of projects and never completed them - for one reason or another. Prioritising the needs of others was, in hindsight, the main culprit – but it doesn't matter what the reason is. Eventually I kept not reaching the goals I set for myself and I found myself in a place of inertia: always in the same spot, nothing was changing. A few months ago I started feeling stuck to the point that I was not even trying to start something. A business? Entrepreneurship? I was giving up on my dreams.
How can we fix this?
It's a process. Breaking the trust in yourself was a process, albeit a non-intentional one. It took time. The journey back will take time but you can get to a place where you make a promise, mean it, and keep it. With effort. And you should do it, for yourself.
The usual first step is admitting that you have a problem, and if you read this post to this point it's likely because it resonates with you. Great.
Say it out loud.
Done? Great. Let's move on to fixing.
The first step is for us to analyse the past. Why did this happen?
Were the promises too much for you to handle? Was the step longer than the leg?
Was there a problem with you? Was your promise aligned with your true goals and inner beliefs?
You'll need to do self reflection here, and I cannot help much with that part. Go for a long walk, immerse yourself in nature, and think. Or journal if you prefer. Do what works for you.
Then you need to reframe the past. Past mistakes do not define you, and every day is a new chance at becoming a better version of yourself.
Then start by making – and keeping – small commitments to yourself. Small promises.
The low hanging fruits.
You need promises that are easy to keep and have a high chance of success (something that does depend on you and not on external factors out of your control).
Commit to going for a 30 minute walk every day.
Or read 10 pages of a book.
Or write one blog post per week.
Then do it.
Over time start making bigger commitments.
Start the process today.
For me? I made a small commitment to write a post (like this one you are reading) on my website every week. And I made bigger commitments too, but I broke them down into small actionable steps that I know I can complete.