I’d promised my five-year-old daughter that I’d go to the store, grab some nail polish, and do her nails. We had a busy weekend, a great weekend, filled with a bunch of activities. I woke up Monday morning to drop her off at school.
“Daddy! You forgot to get the nail polish.” She was hurt, almost as if none of the amazing things we did that weekend counted at all. Not because she needed the nail polish so bad, but because I told her I was going to do something and I didn’t do it.
This little interaction with deep and profound undertones led to me making sure I’d never promise her something and fail to deliver on it, ever again. Keeping your word is paramount to having good relationships with other people.
Every time you break a promise or don’t keep your word, you lose integrity in the eyes of other people. Without your reputation, without your integrity, you’re finished.
Have you ever thought about how damaging this can be when you fail to keep your promises to yourself? We see these sorts of promises a bit different because there’s no one else on the other end of the promise.
While we don’t want to break the promises we make to ourselves, we might not look at it through the lens of integrity. But, over time, if you fail to keep the promises you make to yourself, you can set your life in a direction that’s hard to come back from.
I’ve developed a heightened awareness of the consequences of making or breaking the promises you keep to yourself. Even some of the seemingly tiny or innocuous ones.
I define promise as anything you told yourself you were going to do, big or small. You don’t literally tell yourself “I promise” like you would to someone else, but you treat these phrases like promises, even if subconsciously.
Take a look at some examples:
Using those five phrases as a jumping-off point, you can imagine the many, many, many promises you make yourself over a lifetime. As you make those promises, you build momentum. As you break those promises, you lead yourself to the path of inertia, one of the main negative consequences of continued broken promises.
Let’s take a look at how people end up at the point of inertia, totally stuck.
You’re not going to be perfect. But a continuing series of broken promises causes you to see yourself the same way you’d see someone who continued to break the promises they made to you.
Have you ever been in a relationship — friend, romantic, business, doesn’t matter — that eroded due to a series of broken promises? At first, you let a few slip by. But, eventually, you reach a point where you can no longer trust that person, period.
And even if that person suddenly turned things around and started to be one hundred percent honest with you, it wouldn’t matter because they lost all of their credibility.
Think about this same scenario, but played out in your relationship with yourself. You break your promises so many times you can start to doubt yourself. Even if your intentions to change are good and pure, it can be difficult to change because you lost credibility with yourself.
Using the example above to paint the picture again. When you experience someone who continues to do things that betray your trust, you start to look at them as an untrustworthy person. Behaviors become character traits.
You do the same thing over time with yourself. You start to interpret your behaviors as character traits. Yes, you can always change your behaviors, always, but the process becomes more difficult as you start to build an identity around those behaviors.
Take it from someone who’s been there. I was the person who could always start projects, but never finish them. That image cemented itself in the people who’ve known me for years — like my mom who still sorta views my six-figure writing business as a hobby that I’ll eventually quit. It almost cemented my view of myself. I was on the ropes. That’s how powerful identity can be.
I teetered on the brink of inertia. Usually, when we’re younger, we’re full of ideas and promises. But, we start to break those promises and find ourselves settled in the same spot. Eventually, most people get on one path permanently – the path of inertia.
Once you reach the stage of inertia, you’re stuck. You’ve broken so many promises to yourself that you no longer even try to make them anymore.
You don’t set resolutions to go to the gym because you know you’re not going to go. You know you’re not going to go because you’ve set and failed the same resolution a decade in a row.
That business? You know you won’t start it. You told yourself you were going to start it years back and that your entry-level position at that job was temporary. But, you kept moving up the ladder at work, got comfortable, and ultimately gave up on your real dreams.
We live in a society filled with inertia. Look around. Would you describe the majority of people in society as movers and shakers or would you describe them as totally stuck? Exactly.
The more stuck you are, the harder it is to get unstuck. The stuckness compounds in a negative way. And most people look up at the ‘debt’ they’d have to make up for to start building momentum and they just say “forget it.”
What an inspiring and motivational blog post so far, right?
If you want to change your life you need to thoroughly understand this process and what it does to you. Rose-colored glasses aren’t going to snap you out of a fog created by broken promises. Until you see reality, and your life, for the way it really is, you’re not going to change.
So, step one, before we move on to the stage where you fix things, understand where you’re at in this cycle, and be honest with yourself about it.
Ok, so you know what you need to do. You need to stop breaking the promises you make to yourself, start keeping them, start keeping them consistently, and transform your entire life. Easy enough right?
Look, before we get into the nitty-gritty here, you have to understand that changing your life is going to be a process, a long-term process, just like breaking your trust in yourself was.
From ages 18-25, I ruined my life and broke pretty much every promise I made to myself. From ages 25-31, I turned my life around in a major way.
I didn’t suddenly wake up and commit to a six-year self-improvement journey. The process emerged overtime after making a promise to myself and keeping it over and over again.
First promise? I woke up one day and decided I wasn’t going to be a loser for that day. I actually told myself “I’m done living like this.” And, I just meant it that time.
So how do you get to the point where you make a promise, mean it, and keep it?
The past can be useful if you don’t add too much context to it, which is really hard to do. If you’re able to be as objective as possible with the past, you can make better decisions in the future.
Most of us look at the past and just beat ourselves up about it. This does nothing more than re-affirm our identity as someone who doesn’t follow through with their goals.
Instead, try to break down the real reasons why you’ve been breaking said promises:
All of this can be summed up in simply admitting to yourself that you’ve been messing up. Stop trying to hide from that fact. You need to look at your life objectively, honestly, and seriously before you’re able to make a change.
I could’ve looked at the mistakes and failed promises I made in the past and interpreted them as signs that I was destined to continue the rest of my life as a loser. Instead, I looked at those behaviors as signs that something needed to change as soon as possible.
A subtle tweak in the way you look at things can change the way you live moving forward. You want to try to make your brain work in your favor. Your experience of reality is just an interpretation of reality. You can change that interpretation, even look backward.
A few re-frames I like are:
Overall, you want to come to the ultimate lesson that your past doesn’t predict your future. You’ll believe in that statement more over time as you make the right actions, but you need those seeds of a belief to get started.
Today is today. It’s an opportunity to either do not or do the things you told yourself you were going to do. If you failed to keep a promise to yourself yesterday, it has nothing to do with today. You have to do what you can do with today. If you succeed at that, maybe you can do it tomorrow.
But there has to be some origin point where you let go. What’s done is done. You can’t change the past. You don’t have to let all of those past letdowns define who you are. I’m not saying it’s easy to just forget about those times. And you probably won’t ever fully forget. But you can start over.
I’ve done it. I barely remember what it was like to be the ‘old me’ because I started over, and I started on this path.
I didn’t magically go from someone who started and never finished to someone who’s accomplished many of his major life goals and dreams overnight. I rebuilt my identity and gained more confidence by beginning to keep my promises.
First, I didn’t start out with these huge and monumental goals. I started by simply making a repeated series of daily commitments to improve my life. In the beginning, a successful day might have meant I read ten pages of a book.
Then, after I’d spent a few months having pretty good days — performing well at work, reading, staying active, etc — I started to believe that my life was seriously going to change for the better. And, just like that, when I had positive momentum in my life, an opportunity fell into my lap. Those things tend to happen when you build momentum.
Thanks to a friend asking, I started writing. Again, didn’t make some huge promise that I was going to become a writer. Nope, I just wrote the first blog post that he asked me to write. Promise kept to both him and myself. I repeated this over and over again. I told myself I’d write that day and then I did it.
Before I moved on to monumental changes in my life, I made a bunch of tiny promises that I kept:
I just used 2500 words to break down and process you intuitively understand. But, it’s something you need to think about and act on if you want your life to change.
You can start today by simply being serious about whatever you promised yourself to do today. Start there and see what happens.