The Power of Promises – How to Never Let Yourself Down Again

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Has someone ever really let you down?  Made a solemn promise and broken it?

career coaching, career change, new career, find work you love

Broken promises?

How did it feel?  Pretty horrible I suspect…

What about the other way around?  Have you ever broken a promise to someone else?

We typically try with all our might to stick to our word, to follow through, to do as we say we will.

Promises are serious and there are strong feelings when they are made and broken.

We place a lot of value on being honest and having personal integrity.

What about a different question – “have you ever broken a promise to yourself and let yourself down?”

I know I have, more often than I’d care to remember. I can’t count how many times I was ready to change “tomorrow”. Somehow it seems much easier to duck out on these personal promises.

The kind of promises we make include:

• “I promise to take better care of myself- I’ll get back into exercising tomorrow”
• “I promise to spend more time with my loved ones”
• “I promise to have a better balance and stop working so much”
• “I promise to start being smarter with my money after the next pay day”
• “I promise I’ll start my new job search next week”

More often than not, we don’t live up to these personal commitments – we screw ourself over.

Learning to look yourself in the eye

If you had a friend who constantly made promises and let you down, what would you think of them? What value would you place on their promises to change? How long would you tolerate their behaviour?

Sometimes we treat ourselves much worse than we treat others.

When you break promises to yourself, you send yourself a powerful message that  you are not important.  You also go against your values around being honest and acting with integrity.

It gets really hard to look yourself in the eye if you keep bombing out on commitments to yourself.

The good news is that learning to keep promises to yourself has huge value for boosting self-confidence, productivity and happiness.

Learning to be accountable means you start to trust yourself. Each and every commitment you keep to yourself builds your self-esteem and faith in your ability to deliver. You learn to consistently do what you say you will.

Developing this sense of integrity will start to radiate into your relationships with the wider world. When you trust yourself, others will trust you more. You’ll find it easier to be honest with the world and call things as you see them.

Finally, you’ll be more productive and focused as you follow through on your most important commitments.

Over to you – Making and keeping promises

If you’d like to start keeping promises to yourself, start today. I started out making one promise per day and sticking to it about a month ago. Some key lessons I’ve learned are:

1. Make promises you can keep – be realistic in your daily commitment
2. Make it your number 1 priority – don’t let anything get in the way
3. Be specific – make your promise clear – I will go for a 30 minute run today
4. Write down your promise – keep it somewhere visible at home and at work
5. Chart your success – keep track of your daily success on a star chart somewhere you see regularly
6. Reward success – how will you celebrate keeping a week of promises?

I’ve found a huge boost in my personal well-being, confidence and happiness comes from keeping personal promises – I hope you’ll find the same.

Please leave a comment and share how you keep promises to yourself.

Brilliant Ideas

Ralph J-P at Potential2Success on how to keep promises to yourself

Steven Covey on keeping promises and New Year’s Resolutions

Photo credit : (Flickr Creative Commons)

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  1. Phil
    June 7, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    What promises do you make (and break) to yourself? How do you keep promises? How important is it for you to look yourself in the eye?

  2. June 7, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    It’s funny how a lot of people have problems related to lack of self-confidence, but when in comes to making promises, they have the opposite kind: they’re over-confident in what they can do, and they promise too much. Breaking promises is usually not the result of bad intent; it is the result of this.

  3. June 7, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Hi Paul, This is an interesting post on promises. I like it and think it’s something we can all relate to. It made me think how people can genuinely want to do something good for another person, or themselves, but also tend to over extend, or not be realistic in what they are able to do.

    I used to over extend, and have since learned to really THINK before making promises. And to distinguish the difference between REALLY wanting to help someone, but also knowing it just isn’t realistic right now. Or I may need to do it in another more easeful and more realistic way. AND to realize that I am not a bad person if I cannot help someone else.

    When it comes to keeping promises to myself, I have become much more realistic in that as well. I start with what I KNOW 100% I can do and then slowly add to that, as I am able to incorporate more. That way I don’t give, don’t break my promise and am ALSO encouraged by what I HAVE done.

    Great post. (I met you on my friend Jonathan Wells last post on success.)

    .-= Robin Easton´s last blog ..Off to NY City! – Book Expo America =-.

  4. June 7, 2010 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,
    This is a great topic. It is of absolute importance that we are our word. We must keep our promises, not to please others but for our own benefit. I believe the universe is always asking us, “do you mean it?” When we back down on our promises on matters large or small we give our subconscious mind ammunition to sabotage our efforts. If I make a commitment to myself to be a best selling author and break my promise of writing everyday, the universe will certainly take note and say, “he does not really mean it.” I find it easy to be impeccable with my word with so much at stake.
    .-= rob white´s last blog ..All Forms of Life are Levels of One Consciousness =-.

  5. June 7, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Hey Phil,
    The great disciplinarian. :) I think it is important to hold ourselves accountable for the thoughts and actions we take on a daily basis. One way to access this that I have found, is to remain in the present moment as often as I can. From a place of being in the present moment, I am more consious of the thoughts that run through my mind and actions I take. Being in the moemnt and that space allows me much more freedom that needless worry of making or breaking promises to begin with. Nice topic.

  6. June 7, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Promises are serious things, be it to ourselves or to others. One of the problems is we use the word promise too lightly. Many people say they promise however have no intention of keeping it. We must be careful to be honest with ourselves and others and make sure we communicate our true intention. When we promise something it means we have made a commitment and that we intend to see that commitment through. When we are responsible and accountable we can then make promises and keep them.

  7. June 7, 2010 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,
    I believe when we are made at someone else for breaking promises is the exact moment we should examine breaking our own…we’re projecting our stuff.

    Another point is when we break a promise we need to be gentle with ourselves. It’s usually the time we quit instead.

    And no waiting until tomorrow…we need to catch ourselves and begin in that moment.

  8. June 8, 2010 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    I fail horribly at keeping promises to myself. I love your advice. I am going to try harder… promise. :-)
    .-= Tracy Todd´s last blog ..Marathon Of Life =-.

  9. June 8, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    I’m really interested in this idea of us breaking promises to ourselves. I think I’m guilty of that, I just haven’t realised it. I’m going to have to think more about this. Thanks for the tips on changing this behaviour.
    .-= Claire – Gratitude Connection´s last blog ..Today I’m grateful for… =-.

  10. June 8, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    Don’t think I’ve ever read a blog post on this topic. Excellent!

    I used to break promises to myself – out of fear. Then I had a biopsy about 15 years ago and told myself if it came out negative I’d do “X.” Thankfully it did. So, I did “X.”

    Now, I set intentions/promises with a “real date” and it works very well. I’ve done it with songs I want to sing. Essays I want to write. Classes I want to teach. Places I want to visit.

    Basically I retrained myself to keep promises to myself. Do I sometimes not keep them? Yes, but it’s pretty rare and often involves another person or situation I have no control over.

    Thanks for this! Enjoy today’s promise.

    Giulietta the Muse
    .-= Giulietta the Muse´s last blog ..Do you hide out from living your one and only life? =-.

  11. Phil
    June 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    @Eduard – it can be easier to overpromise, particularly to ourself. We think we can find miracle overnight solutions to all our problems and commit to a quick fix. When things don’t turn out overnight, we break our promises and slip back into old ways. Good point that we should break down our big goals into small promises we make to ourself. If you want to eat more healthily, make an overall diet plan, then make a daily promise to yourself over what you will eat and when. As Robin said, part of success does come from learning to forgive ourselves if we do slip up.

    @Robin – welcome to Less Ordinary Living – it is great to have you here. I love your approach to keeping promises. Starting out small and doable and working up. This embodies the idea that Rome isn’t built in a day. It is more important to learn to trust yourself with small promises as this sustainable principle will apply as the commitment gets bigger.

    @Rob – promises are about being authentic and sticking to our word. You are right that when we break them we send a message to ourself, other people and the universe that we didn’t really mean what we said. It can undermine our vision and ability to be successful in achieving our goals.

    @Baker – haha, yes I am a self-disciplinarian. I do believe that you have to respect yourself, trust yourself and treat yourself well before anyone else will do the same. If your word is your bond, it is really obvious in all your authentic actions.

    @Mark – Welcome. You are right, commitment is the key to promises. They are about showing that we meant what we say. Honesty and integrity are undermined when promises and commitments slip.

    @Tess – quite right. This is something to start right now. Being gentle on ourselves is important, and taking away the learning of a broken promise. However to carpe diem we better get back on that horse really quickly. Thanks for stopping by!

    @Tracy – promise to keep coming by, I love having you here. I bet you are pretty good at keeping commitments really.

    @Claire – You are welcome. The comments are right that starting out with realistic and small promises for change and improvement is a great starting point. Try looking yourself in the mirror and speaking your promises out loud each morning. Then in the evening, go back to the mirror and report on success. Smiles are a good reward for keeping promises.

    @Giulietta – Fear is a key driver for breaking promises. We can commit to a change that feels scary and we don’t believe we can complete. Then we get afraid of humiliation and failure and give up. Your intention setting is a lovely way of making promises and keeping yourself accountable. I’m sure you kick a$$ at completing them too. I will enjoy today’s promise.

  12. June 8, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I like Thomas Leonard’s quote – under promise and over deliver. I also find that people will go to greater lengths to keep a promise to others where as breaking a promise to yourself seems more acceptable. However your post has made me realise that keeping promises to yourself not only allows you to trust yourself more it also allows you to love yourself more. We can all benefit from loving ourselves more. Thank you for the insight Phil

  13. June 8, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil – I love the idea of shifting accountability to making promises to oneself. Reminds me of that song, “Promises, promises, can lead to joy!” Actually, the Broadway show “Promises, Promises” is having a revival right now, and nominated for a few Tony awards. And I do always make a promise to myself to watch the Tony awards, which are on Sunday night! But I digress. Sometimes I’m not so good at keeping promises to myself, but this week I’ve made a promise to start each day with a creative act. And so far, two days in, it’s going well. And somehow the act of creativity seems to make all the other promises easier to fulfill.
    .-= Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..Meaning Mondays: Between Gratitude and Grief Edition =-.

  14. June 8, 2010 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Vows and commitments aside, I’m pretty forgiving when others break a promise to me. I know life happens and most people attempt to make it up. With myself, I’m a little harder so I don’t make a lot of promises. When I do, it’s small and nearly impossible to break. It then motivates me to make another and if I’m on a roll, then another.

  15. June 10, 2010 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    Phil, this is the concept I used to help my husband with getting in shape. A promise to the self, the one of highest degree and one where frustration is the hardest to swallow when broken! I love holding myself accountable rather than others…..I rarely, if ever, make a promise. The phrase “I promise” hardly crosses my lips but when it does, it is sacred…I hope no one takes the words lightly, especially when they promise children something! Thanks for this reminder, Mr. Phil!!!! :)

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