About only two-three hundred years ago a man’s word was his bond and a handshake was enough to close a deal. Now contracts are valid only if written on paper in the presence of lawyers and it is enough to have a plausible excuse to break a promise.
How often do we tell someone “I’ll call you”, “I really want to watch this movie. I’ll clean up as soon as the commercials are on”, “I will definitely get back in shape before the summer”?
I admit that I am guilty of making such promises and then fulfilling them partially or having to go back on my word and explain why I could not do it.
There are hundreds of reasons why we do not stick to our word: circumstances change, something more urgent comes up, time passes and we forget what we have promised and to whom, or we realize that we made a foolish pledge without thinking it through. The human mind can reach extraordinary levels when it comes to making up self-justifications. But all the excuses in the world still cannot stifle the nagging sensation that we have done something wrong.
If you, just like me, would like to learn how to follow through with your promises 100% of the time, here are 7 Great Tips that will help you to become a man/woman of your word, gain other people’s trust easily, reinforce your self-confidence, eliminate guilty pangs and even reduce conflicts with your family members and your co-workers.
1. Be honest with yourself. However good the intention, before making a promise to anyone (even to yourself), ask yourself if you will be able fulfill it. Do you really have the opportunity, time and desire to stick to your word? Are you sure you are not going to let yourself or another person down? No one is forcing you to give the pledges or make any commitments. Therefore, whenever you have the impulse to make a rushed, far-fetched promise, put a piece of chocolate in your mouth and chew it slowly until the promise-itch passes.
2. Ask yourself if you mean it. An interesting study conducted in Switzerland by Thomas Baumgartner and Urs Fischbacher showed that it is possible to detect whether a person is about to break a promise the second the person voices it. It means that on some level we already know if we will do something or not. They also noticed increased brain activity when participants were giving false promises, which may mean that it is psychologically more comfortable to stick to your promises than to break them.
So my question is why promise something that we do not want to do, knowing that we are not going to do and in addition to all this having to deal with the negative consequences. Isn’t it easier to say “I’m sorry. I wish I could, but I don’t want to” right away?
3. Analyze your motivation behind the promise. Why are you making a particular commitment in the first place? Do you really want to help? Do you feel that you need to say “yes”, because you do not want to disappoint the person who is asking you for a favor? Do you just say “yes”, because you want to end a conversation or because you do not feel like explaining why you do not want to do it? Is there some type of reward/punishment involved? If you are making a promise for the wrong reasons, the chances are that you will not follow through with it.
4. Start taking your promises seriously. A promise to anyone else (or to yourself for that matter) is not just another task on your to-do list that you can put off for later. It is an inner contract that you make with yourself. And breaking this contract wears away trust and hurts your self-image, not to mention that it communicates to other people that we do not value them enough. Take your commitments seriously even if they are insignificant like taking out the trash after dinner or reading your kids a bed time story! When you say you will do something – do it, especially if it is easy. Or… That’s right, stuff your mouth with lots of chocolate, before you say something that you will regret later.
5. Turn a promise into a written contract. For some reason written contracts have much more “validity” than spoken words. Maybe because breaking a signed contract is often associated with very negative consequences like fines or problems with the law. On the other hand, when you do not follow through with your personal promises there will not be anyone shouting down the phone or pressing charges against you.
To start taking your words seriously and sticking to your commitments try a business-like approach – sign a contract with yourself. I mean it! You can go as far as typing an agreement, defining the terms and conditions and putting your signature at the bottom. It really works (especially if you put it somewhere you can see it).
6. If You Cannot Do It When You Said, Do It Later. In case something prevents you from keeping your word, look for the first opportunity to fulfill what you have promised. It is better to get it done later than do not do it at all. Just, , do not blow it the second time around. 🙂
7. Do not make any promises. Friedrich Nietzsche has once mentioned that “One must have a good memory to be able to keep the promises that one makes.” If one of the greatest philosophers of the 19th century doubted his ability to remember the promises he made, you and I, definitely have a problem. However, there is one simple, but sure-fire way to stick to your promises 100% of the times – do not give any. After all, it is always better to say, “I’ll see if I can do it” than having to explain why you have messed up.
What do you think?