Yesterday, I was talking about when a promise is a promise, and concluded that a promise is always a promise. As I was reflecting more about this, I realized I left one important stone unturned. What about promises I make to myself?
A clear example of promises made to myself are New Years resolutions. I get all fired up at the end of the year about all that I’m going to change in the new year. A popular resolution is losing weight or getting in better physical condition. January is a boom time for gyms. During the first week of January, people charge into the gym, sign up for a membership and buy some new gym clothes. As the weeks of the new year go by, gym attendance drops rapidly.
Other popular resolutions are about money. Maybe, I want to spend less so I can save. I could also want to change my income by getting a new job or cut my debts by paying off my credit cards. Whatever the resolution, I find that by sometime in February, the enthusiasm of the resolution has waned and I’m slowly moving back into my old patterns.
So why do I do such a poor job of keeping promises to myself? The only way to answer the question truthfully is to tell you about my experiences. For starters, I seem to have a selective case of amnesia about certain categories of personal promises. For instance, when it comes to things like food, I am clear about what’s good for me and not. I promise to only eat food that good for me and then the little voice says things like, “You’ve done so well lately, what’s a little bowl of ice cream?” or “Surely one piece of candy can’t be bad for you.”. What creates this amnesia? It’s my lack of awareness of the automatic nature of how I choose the food I eat. All diet programs that last beyond the initial program phase help the dieter become aware of what they are eating before it goes in their mouth, and whether it’s good for them or not.
The second reason, it seems hard to keep promises to myself is that I don’t see myself so clearly. When I make a promise to you and don’t do it, I have to face you. So to not have you think poorly of me, I’m more likely to do what I promise to you than myself.
This is connected to the third reason I don’t do as well keeping promises to myself as to others, which is that I have a very active rationalizer. I can make up a good story about why something I promised myself isn’t really that important. Since I don’t have to tell that story to anyone but myself, I don’t get a lot of push back.
The irony of all this is that the most important person for me to keep my promise to is myself. If I don’t start with me, how can I know I’ll be reliable with you? Today is another day, and I can start anew. I write everyday. This writing includes some things I don’t publish. In this writing, I check where I’m in integrity and where I’m not. Through this practice of self-reflection, I find that I’m becoming more reliable to myself.
What do you do that helps you be more reliable to the person you see in the mirror?