How often do you break your promises to yourself?
We all want to improve our lives. That means avoiding the things that harm you whilst striving towards the things that are good for you.
The problem is that we often don’t follow through, and instead get distracted or give up entirely. Sometimes, life gets in the way and you just start to slip despite your best intentions.
In these situations, you might find yourself breaking your promises to yourself. Understanding why can help you to put in place the practical steps to make sure it doesn’t happen.
In this article, you’ll find 10 ways to help make sure you never break a promise to yourself again.
Why do I break my own promises?
The short answer is because you are human.
The long answer is more complicated. It involves the psychological mix of complex emotions, thoughts, and programming that makes us who we are.
We often have opposing desires, feelings, beliefs, and ideas. These can create internal conflicts and struggles that mean clashing forces feel like they’re fighting each other inside your brain.
You say you want (or don’t want) something and promise yourself you will take appropriate action around it.
“I promise I’m going to get fit.” “I promise I’m not going to let him treat me that way any longer.” I promise I’m going to look for another job.” “I promise I’m going to work towards my goals.” “I promise I’m going to turn my life around.” “I promise I’m going to quit smoking/drinking.”
You may mean it at the moment, but we all know that change is easier said than done.
It’s not just you, it’s hard for all of us for the very reason that we human beings are so complicated.
It’s almost as though there is an internal resistance against what we say we want and making it happen. And that’s because there actually is.
Often, promises fail because:
1) We try to do too much too soon — We overload ourselves with expectations that we can’t keep up with.
2) There’s not enough reward for the promise you are trying to keep to yourself — People prefer short-term rewards. Even “bad” habits usually offer us some sort of reward. The promises we are trying to keep are usually about choosing longer-term benefits. Think of it like the carrot and the stick. The carrot (aka the reward) doesn’t feel great enough (or feels too far away) and the stick (aka the suffering) doesn’t feel bad enough.
So how can you stop breaking promises you make to yourself? Let’s look at how you can overcome these obstacles.
Keeping the promises you make to yourself: 10 steps to take
1) Don’t rely on willpower
The rookie mistake that we all fall for when it comes to keeping promises to ourselves is that we try to rely on willpower alone.
We’re filled with resolve at the moment we make that promise. Only to later chastise ourselves for giving up. But relying on your willpower to see you through is a sure-fire way to fail.
Research has highlighted that the more confident we are in our willpower, the less we can rely on it. People who tend to overestimate their own self-control are the ones who are more likely to give up.
The fact is that willpower will always falter at some stage. That means it’s an incredibly unreliable tool for keeping promises to yourself.
It depletes your energy as you attempt to struggle to apply it when you’re feeling desperate to give in. And when you do have a moment of weakness you end up feeling dragged down by guilt and shame.
If you are relying on nothing else but your willpower to make sure you keep your promises to yourself, you are setting yourself up for failure from the start.
It’s not that you are “too weak”, it’s that perfect willpower is too much to demand from anyone living in the real world.
2) Start small
The greater the demands you make of yourself, the more likely you are to give up. That doesn’t mean you can’t create big changes in life, but it does mean you need to build up to those.
Expecting dramatic change overnight is incredibly stressful. Trying to do too much at once makes you way more likely to break your promises to yourself.
Let’s say you want to improve your health. Deciding to quit smoking, lose weight, start exercising, and start eating better all at once is going to be very difficult (arguably, impossible). You’ll probably find yourself failing at one or two of them before you even get started.
Instead, start with smaller goals. Choose just one thing to focus on.
This gives you something achievable to work towards, without making you feel overwhelmed. It also gives you time to adjust if things don’t go according to plan.
3) Make the promise specific
When you make a promise to yourself, it needs to be specific. What exactly do you want to achieve? How long do you want to keep this promise? What kind of behavior do you want to change?
When you make a vague promise to yourself, there’s no clear goal to aim for. So you might end up doing nothing at all because you never know what you were supposed to be working towards.
You need to be clear on what you will and won’t do. That way you know the boundaries and rules, making it easier to stick to.
For example, maybe you want to “stop letting people walk all over you”. But what do you really mean by that? Identify the problem behaviors that make you want to create this change.
Maybe it’s that dates constantly cancel plans, your boss overloads you with work, your friend is always asking unfair favors.
Whatever it is, be clear about what needs to stop or start. What specific and practical actions are you saying yes and no to from now on? Then create small actionable (and measurable) steps that you can take.
4) Watch out for your excuses
If you pay attention, you can always tell when you are about to break a promise to yourself. There is usually a little voice in your head that starts to make excuses and argue in favor of why it’s ok to break your promise.
The theory of cognitive dissonance is an explanation for why this happens. It says that whenever we feel at odds with ourselves, — when we experience conflicting emotions, beliefs, or thoughts — we try to shift our way of thinking so that we can justify our behavior.
In essence, you can feel the internal conflict and so you start to make excuses in preparation.
Mindfulness of when this happens is going to be very useful. But it’s not always easy to see your blindspots.
So before you start, write down all the likely excuses you may find for breaking your promise to yourself. Create a list of everything you can think of.
And then answer those excuses. Find a counter excuse. Pick holes in your excuses. Call yourself out on the BS.
Being mindful of the mental roadblock you are likely to encounter along the way can help you to see your excuses and push past them when they arise.
5) Empower yourself
It goes so much deeper than making a promise and keeping it.
Procrastination, overwhelm, backtracking. They all arise because of psychological factors bubbling away below the surface. Our silent beliefs about ourselves, our fears, our insecurities, etc.
You need to address the root causes if you are really serious about keeping your promises to yourself.
The most effective way is to tap into your personal power.
You see, we all have an incredible amount of power and potential within us, but most of us never tap into it. We become bogged down in self-doubt and limiting beliefs. We stop doing what brings us true happiness.
I learned this from the shaman Rudá Iandê. He’s helped thousands of people align work, family, spirituality, and love so they can unlock the door to their personal power.
He has a unique approach that combines traditional ancient shamanic techniques with a modern-day twist. It’s an approach that uses nothing but your own inner strength – no gimmicks or fake claims of empowerment.
Because true empowerment needs to come from within.
In his excellent free video, Rudá explains how you can create the life you’ve always dreamed of and increase attraction in your partners, and it’s easier than you might think.
So if you’re tired of living in frustration, dreaming but never achieving, and of living in self-doubt, you need to check out his life-changing advice.
6) Reward yourself for keeping your promises
What happens when you make a promise to yourself? Pretty soon a conflict erupts within your mind.
I mentioned earlier that one of the key sticking points for why you break your promises to yourself comes down to the fact that humans are wired to prioritize instant gratification over long-term goals.
Research shows how one part of your brain is linked to your emotions, another to logical reasoning.
That internal battle arises because your emotions want an immediate reward. But that logical part of your mind is trying to get you to do what’s best for you in the long run.
Hence why when you break up with your ex, you want to talk to them or get them back just to stop the pain. Even when you might know deep down you should be letting them go.
The more you can associate the promise you are making to yourself with positive emotions, the more it will help.
Research has shown that if you don’t see or feel the instant reward for your effort, you are more likely to quit.
When you stick to a new habit or promise to yourself, when you take a step towards whatever you are trying to achieve, pat yourself on the back.
Treat yourself in some way, do something fun as a reward, and be sure to give yourself plenty of positive affirmation.
The more incentives you can create the better. Research shows it can really improve your chances.
One study found that when people were given access to a good audiobook when they went to the gym, they were 51% more likely to say they enjoyed exercise.
So make your promise as instantly pleasurable to yourself as you can.
7) Create accountability
We feel bad about it, but other than that, often there doesn’t seem much consequence for breaking a promise to yourself.
If you have someone who holds you accountable, it creates a sense of obligation. They force you to live up to your word.
If you find yourself wanting to break a promise to yourself, ask someone else to hold you accountable.
You could even set up a system where you write down everything you promised to do every day. Then you can share this list with someone you trust who will hold you accountable.
It forces you to keep track of all your promises and makes it harder to break them.
8) Create an environment for success
You know what they say, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
It’s no different when it comes to creating a successful environment for yourself. If you want to succeed at anything, you must first create the right conditions for success.
What tools or resources do you need to help you keep your promise?
What support systems do you need in place? For example, who or what will you turn to when you start to struggle.
What do you need to remove from your environment? For example, you wouldn’t want to start a diet with a cupboard full of chocolate and potato chips.
9) Seek out motivation and inspiration
We all need a pep talk.
Read books, listen to motivational talks, put positive sticky notes on your bathroom mirror, pin pictures on your fridge, look up powerful quotes, listen to uplifting music.
Remind yourself of your “why” every day. Write out exactly why you are doing what you are doing and all the benefits it will bring to your life.
Find inspiration and motivation wherever you can. Look for signs of hope and positivity.
It may seem small, but every little helps when it comes to keeping you in the right frame of mind.
10) Forgive yourself
Ultimately, slip-ups are completely natural and normal when we are trying to create change.
The moment you start to beat yourself up, you’re just stripping away your motivation.
When you fall, get back up and try again. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about not giving up. Change takes time.
You may have heard that it takes 21 days to create a new habit. But this myth seems to be a vast underestimation. Research points to it taking a lot longer. Closer to 10 weeks is more realistic. And depending on the nature of the changes you want to make, it could be much longer.
Being kind to yourself when things don’t go to plan is essential in cultivating the tenacity and determination to keep going.
So above all else, know that you break promises to yourself because it is hard. Be compassionate towards the journey as you create positive change in your life.