Living Well

April 8, 2010

Keeping Promises

How good is your word?  When you say, “I promise I will do this or that” does the person receiving your words walk away in confidence that what you offered will be done?  Could that individual go about their usual business without giving even another thought to the conversation they had with you because they know the promise you made will be fulfilled?

It is easy to make promises, because we view them today as a description of intention, with an unspoken caveat that depending on the circumstances, our pledge may or may not be fulfilled.  Promises, however, are pledges of assurance that we will or will not act as we have stated.

Promises are a gift that we give people about our actions and intensions in the future.  Critical to this whole issue is that when we give a promise, we also give the receiver every reason to expect that the intent of our promise will be carried out.  Our stating we promise to do something is thus a guarantee.

It is easy to make promises, but much harder to keep them.  Promises we make to others is about our character, about who we really are; a description of our reliability and dependability in a given circumstance.  As Aeschylus, the ancient Greek dramatist observed, “It is not the oath that makes us believe the person, but the person the oath.”  It is not then our words, but our actions.  It should be remembered that a single promise unfulfilled does not discredit us as an unreliable person.  But if we are prone to not keeping our promises, people will over time stop believing in us and may even withdraw from us because we are not reliable or dependable when it counts.

We not only make promises to others, but we also make promises to ourselves.  David Allen, guru of time management, believes we create internal stress, self doubt, lower self esteem, and a sense of incompleteness when we break promises we have made to ourselves.  He calls this string of broken promises and the induced stress that comes with it “The Gnawing Sense of Anxiety.”  And the promises don’t have to be big ones.  They just have to be made and consistently broken.  Take the example, “I will lose 25 pounds of body weight in the coming six months.”  Now, to do this a man needs to eat only about 2,100 calories a day over six months instead of eating 3,000 or more daily and increasing one’s physical activity.  But it is easy to break the promise and commitment.  It simply goes like this.

You eat well for three or four days and then you “slip up.”  So, you chastise yourself and promise not to do it again.  This works for another 24 hours, but then that late night bowl of ice cream looks too good, you just don’t have any willpower, and there go 600 calories.  The result: agony about the eating of the ice cream and another pledge.  You know the cycle.  If you have ever tried losing weight you know the drill.  And so it goes.  Over time then, you stop making the promise because “I am just worthless and cannot control myself.” Again, many have been there and know the kind of self talk, self ridicule, and self loathing that creeps in.

So how to succeed?  It goes back to my last blog posting; if you make a promise, are you willing to be disciplined enough to fight through it or find those who will help you in the instance so that you might persevere and gain your goals.  Are you, as Muhammad Ali observed, willing to suffer a little now for a life of success and happiness?  Are you willing to expend the needed energy to keep the promises you make?  It isn’t easy, by any means, but it can be done when we are willing to put in the time, effort, and keeping the promises we make to others and ourselves.

 Blessings, grace and peace in this most difficult, but beautiful discipline of keeping one’s promises.

David Neidert


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