Promises. We ALL make them: from children promising to be best friends on the school playground, to government officials promising their citizens less crime and more jobs. Whether we realize it or not, we are fulfilling or breaking promises every day. Let me guess, you don’t remember making any promises lately? Well, let me remind you of just a few: you signed a contract stating that your working hours Monday-Friday starts at 9am and ends at 5pm, (days and times may vary) yet you were late to work again this week. Sorry to break it to you, but a contract is a promise you make to your employer and you just broke it, even if it was by one minute. I know, I know, you didn’t mean to. You overslept, your car broke down, there was a lot of traffic, one minute doesn’t count, excuses, excuses. Same with taking an “hour” lunch break at work. I admit, I have been guilty of promising to meet up with friends after work on Friday and then Friday comes and guess what? I don’t feel like going out anymore so I cancel on them (my apologies again if you are reading this Kara!) I felt so guilty afterwards and it has me wondering, why did I make that promise in the first place? Why is it so easy to make promises and so hard to keep them?
Promises: Easy To Make, Hard To Keep
So why do we break promises? In my situation, a group of coworkers were making plans to meet up for food and drinks after work. It sounded like fun, something to look forward to and get us through the rest of the week. Everyone else agreed that they were going and looked at me. How could I say no? Now I know what they mean by peer pressure! Friday comes along and I’m at home (after battling traffic), settled, relaxed and unwinding from a stressful day on the job. Do I really want to get up, take a shower, get dressed, put on makeup and heels then drive away from my comfortable home to the restaurant? Nope. (Feel free to judge me at this point, it can’t be worse than what I’ve told myself.)
This sums up a few of the reasons we break promises. We may feel pressured or guilted into committing to something that we either have no intentions of following through on or we try to carry out our promise but it is halfhearted and doomed to fail.
We also make promises because it feels so good in that moment. The person we made a promise to is happy, we are happy, everyone is happy. Then reality kicks in and we want to hit ourselves on the forehead for opening up our mouths in the first place. For example, has someone ever brought up the fact that they are moving and you oh so helpfully volunteer to help them pack and relocate? Or maybe someone mentions that their car broke down and you offer to come to their rescue and pick them up? It FEELS good to offer and you genuinely want to help them. Then someone invites you to someplace you really want to go on the same day as your friend’s moving day or you remember later that the person you offered a ride to lives 30 minutes away. Sounds familiar? Now what do you do? You start to mentally run through your handy list of excuses to back out and call to apologize because something came up (at least that’s what I’ve heard that some people do. I haven’t done that personally of course.)
To sum up the reasons we break promises, we either make poor decisions or we do not properly follow through on what we have agreed to do.
Keep Your Promises To Yourself!
Many people find it easier to break promises made to themselves. After all, it’s not as if “yourself” can get upset with you. If you promise yourself something and let yourself down, you can deceive yourself into thinking that it wasn’t that important anyway. However, is that the attitude we should take? Is it really better to let ourselves down rather than other people?
My viewpoint is that promises are sacred vows that denotes mutual trust and respect. You should trust and respect yourself more than anyone. It would certainly make trusting and respecting others easier to do. The promises we make to ourselves are important as they help us develop as individuals, an introspection of our hopes and goals. Examples of these are found in my previous post on resolutions found here. When we make resolutions, these are promises to ourselves to be better and improve our lives. These are definitely not the promises you want to quit.
Do you need extra motivation to keep your promises to yourself? Keep in mind the reason why you made the promise. Better yet, write down your resolution along with how you plan to achieve it and look at it as a reminder whenever you need to (daily works best.) The Time Management Ninja makes an excellent suggestion that I have found to be helpful. He encourages charting your daily actions towards your goal, and check off your list every time you accomplish your goal. Check out this FREE “Habit List” app that lets you schedule regular activities and track your progress.
The guilt we feel when we break promises, not only to ourselves but also to others can motivate us to fulfill our agreements. No one wants to see a checklist filled with ?’s and X’s.
“Cross My Heart And Hope To Die”
As children, we make that solemn vow to emphasize how much we mean what we say. The significance of our obligations are now magnified as adults. When we break our oaths, we must deal with the consequences that follow our decisions. Now that you have the tips you need to maintain the promises you make to yourself, let’s apply those same principles to keeping our promises with others. There are four main categories of people that we tend to make promises with:
- Significant Other/Family– these are persons that we should honor our commitments to most, but don’t you sometimes find that it’s easier to break promises to the ones we love most? We tell ourselves that since we are close to them, they will understand if we break our word. We tend to take our loved ones for granted, knowing that they will forgive us of our mistakes. We should guard against this reasoning at all costs. Our love for them should motivate us to fulfill our vows to them, showing that we trust and respect them no matter how big or small the promise made. If we are unable to carry out what we agreed, then out of loyalty and compassion, we should let them know right away. Personally, if someone promises to bring me something as simple as a chocolate bar and then completely forgets to bring it and then dismisses my feelings of neglect, I become upset. And that’s over chocolate people! Can you imagine something more serious such as picking up your grandfather’s medication or your niece from school? Communication is important if something prevents you from following through on your arrangement. These are the closest people to you, you want to do everything possible to nurture your relationship with them, keeping it happy and healthy.
- Friendships– we should never take our friends for granted either. If we are known to others as always going back on our word then there could be two outcomes: they either stop believing us when we say we will do something or when WE need THEIR help, they won’t be there for us. In the case with my coworkers inviting me out after work, if I decide to make it a habit to let them down at the last minute, then can I be surprised if they no longer invite me out with them? Thankfully, I developed the habit of following through on my promises to them. I can happily say that the event they organized over the holiday’s (and invited me too of course) was a huge hit. We all had a great time that we still talk about even though a month has already passed. Now imagine how I would have felt if I wasn’t invited? Or if I was invited but decided not to attend? I would have really missed out on a fun occasion and had no one to blame but myself. So the lesson here is to keep our promises to our friends, no matter how painful it may be at times. We want to be integrity keepers not oath breakers. (Note: I placed my coworkers in this “friends” category, but it is quite alright if you have them in the following category.)
- Business/Secular Associates– these can include our employers, employees, coworkers, customers or even our neighbors. Whether it is on the job or in our neighborhood, we develop a reputation. Having a bad reputation around the two places you spend most of your time will negatively impact your life. If your employer cannot depend on you, you can lose your job. If we promise our customers or employees something and don’t deliver, we can lose their services and our revenue. If you volunteer to be on the neighborhood patrol watch but do not show up, your house may not receive the best protection. If you do not satisfy the commitments you made to them, they will not help you in your time of need. You spend too much time and effort building up your reputation. Don’t allow breaking promises to tarnish your good name.
- Acquaintance/Strangers– I know what you’re thinking, when do I make promises to strangers? These may be simple agreements (I doubt anyone would make a serious vow with a stranger but hey, stranger things have happened.) For example, you may pass someone asking for a sponsorship or donation for charity as you are entering the grocery store. You tell them that you will give them something on your way out. Do you? Or do you look for a different exit to avoid giving them your change? Remember, no judgment here. We are all guilty of breaking promises, big or small, however we shouldn’t allow the fact that we don’t know someone to deter us from carrying out our word.
Sounds like a lot of promises to keep doesn’t it? Sometimes we honestly feel as if we do not have the energy to complete all the tasks we have set ourselves. If we need that extra boost of energy because we truly want to accomplish our goals, instead of reaching for energy drinks or caffeine, take a look at the natural information in this FREE PDF, Essential Oils for Enhancing Energy by Carolyn Kepes, Staff Aromatherapist.
Stop Breaking Promises – Other Tips For Success
You can also try other ways to help you stop breaking your promises. For example, sit down and think of the times you have broken your promises. Write out the reasons behind those failed problems. Are you noticing any trends? Maybe you only break your promises to the same person or set of people. Or maybe you break them around a certain month that has sad memories for you. Once you have pinpointed the reason WHY, you can actively work on changing who, when and how you make commitments.
Another way you can succeed in keeping your promises is to stop looking at promises as mere words. Look at them as binding contracts. These are significant agreements you are entering into with another person, do not take them lightly.
When you are specific about what you intend to do (or not do,) and have a clear completion date, it makes it easier to view your promise as a transaction that has to be attained.
Think carefully over the request someone is making to you before committing. Ask yourself pertinent questions: I want to help but do I have the time right now? Do I have anything else scheduled for the time I am being asked to assist? (Then ask for a moment to check your planner.)
Finally, ask yourself if you have the skills and resources necessary to complete the task. It does not matter how much you want to help, if you are physically unable to do what you have promised (essentially biting off more than you can chew,) the person you let down is not going to be happy. Yes, they may thank you for trying. However, they may also be annoyed that they wasted their time and effort waiting on you to do something when they could have been looking for someone else capable of performing the act.
How To Break A Promise – The Right Way
Let’s face it, we may promise someone something, have the time, resources and skills to fulfill it but… something unexpected happens. That’s just how life is. You may start off with good intentions and then Murphy’s Law drops in your path: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” What should you do when that happens so that you don’t look like a fraud?
- First, accept that we are breaking a promise. Then let the person know right away so that they can make other arrangements if they need to. Communication is key!
- Second, explain to them why you are breaking the promise. Don’t tell them you aren’t able to complete your task, tell them why you are no longer able to. My advice: if possible, talk to them personally. I once had a friend ask her friend who wasn’t my friend (got that?) to call me to cancel our dinner plans, as I was nearly at the restaurant! My first thoughts were, who is strange person calling my phone and why can’t my friend tell me herself that she was canceling on me and the most inconvenient time? Yes the strange person who I was talking to apologized on my friend’s behalf, but what good is an apology from a stranger?? My friend was the one who made the arrangements with me, she should have done the responsible thing. Long story short, she didn’t have a good excuse and that wasn’t the only time she flaked on me. Hopefully she reads this post before she loses her friendships.
- Third, apologize for breaking the promise. You would think that would be the obvious course of action but sometimes we have the habit of finding every excuse in the book instead of doing this. Do not become defensive, even if you didn’t mean to, you were still wrong. Admit it, apologize and move on. When you own up to your faults and reassure them that it won’t happen again, it makes it easier for the other person to accept your apology.
- Fourthly, try to come up with other ways to complete the task if you aren’t able to follow through with what was formally planned. For example, if you promised to pick someone up but an unexpected emergency comes up, why not ask someone else to pick that person up? Then call that person right away, explain what happened, apologize and then tell them you have made other arrangements for them. They are less likely to be upset as they know someone is on the way for them. Crisis averted and you have honored your commitment.
- Finally, if the person you break your promise to does get upset or disappointed, try to be understanding. Put yourself in their shoes and look at it from their point of view. They were expecting something and it didn’t happen. They may not be able to immediately accept this and move forward. Give them time! If necessary, apologize again. Trust me, your friendship and reputation is worth a little pride.
You Can Do It! I Promise!
It may not be easy but you can quit breaking your promises. Start with keeping the promises you make to yourself and grow from there. Whatever promises you make to others, do so with every intention of accomplishing them. You want to maintain your healthy relationships with your loved ones, friends, coworkers, bosses, neighbors and even strangers (you never know when you will see them again!)
We are not perfect, we will make mistakes but always remember to treat people the way you want to be treated. If you want people to take their promises towards you seriously, you must do the same. Do you promise to try harder to keep all of your promises? What promises do you find harder to keep? Let me know in the comments below!
Remember, quitting isn’t always a bad thing!