Making New Year’s resolutions before the year begins is extremely common. Still, it is important because it defines your intentions to better your life. Unfortunately the breaking of these resolutions, or forgetting them by March also happens frequently. Resolutions that are flippant or imagined in a “what might be nice” spirit are rarely followed through with. Resolutions need to have a component that keeps you engaged with your goal, adding a promise can do that. Make a promise to yourself instead of just a resolution and you are more likely to accomplish your goals for the New Year.
What exactly is a promise?
A promise represents a commitment to follow through with a specific action. Promises hold more weight than resolutions alone because they challenge your integrity and commitment. If you break a promise made to someone else, what does that say about you? Broken promises are linked in our minds to dishonesty and a lack of integrity. The same should apply if you break a promise to yourself. Because promises are held to a higher standard in our minds, we are more likely to uphold them.
Why promises are powerful:
There is power within a promise because you are committing to yourself on a course of action. This is a big deal. Individuals do not intentionally make promises that cannot be kept. Making a promise to yourself means that you have weighed the options, considered what you want, and decided that your goal is a worthwhile venture. Furthermore, feeling strongly enough to make a promise correlates with motivation. If you are motivated enough, you are willing to make a promise to yourself. Motivation and commitment are extremely important elements to achieving any goal.
Part of achieving goals is having a clear vision of what you want and moving away from what you do not want. (See this article for more about that.) So making a promise can energize you by making what you desire clearer and by adding something to void, breaking the promise.
Of course making a promise should not be done lightly. If you break it it does not feel good. Still if you really want your goals a sincere and well-considered promise can set the stage for success.
Also there is a process, or stages to go through before you can or should make a solid promise to yourself. So if you have a goal, consider where you are in these steps to see if you are really ready.
The process before the promise:
To provide an example of the process, we’re going to talk about an individual who wants to lose weight.
Possibility: At this point you have identified something you want to change. You are considering the possibilities of change, your options and the potential outcomes. This is the first step in making a promise to yourself. You’re beginning to consider a goal and imagine the possibilities.
For example, you recognize that you’re overweight. You can imagine the implications of setting weight loss as a goal. You recognize that losing weight would be better for your health but you cannot seem to give up those Reese’s cups. You’re considering the possibilities of change and the costs/benefits to you.
Proposal: After weighing your options and considering the outcomes you have begun to come up with proposals for change. You have some ideas about what you will need to do to achieve your goal but are not entirely positive about how to proceed. You’re considering options and proposing strategies to yourself about making a change.
If you’re thinking about losing weight, for example, you consider stopping the Reese’s cups. Or you consider continuing with the Reese’s cups but exercising 1 hour every day.
Proof: So now you’ve got some ideas about tackling your goals but you need to prove to yourself that this is really what you want to do. You may be wondering if it is really worth the effort to pursue your goal. Essentially, you have to convince yourself, or prove to yourself that this will be a worthwhile venture. There is some soul searching to be done prior to committing yourself to a promise.
For someone who wants to lose weight, they start to consider if being healthier is really worth losing those Reese’s cups. They think about their willingness to exercise and stick with the plan for longer term health. If the decision is these goals are worth it, and you have considered the pros and cons, there you have your proof.
Authenticity: Authenticity is another important aspect in promise making and goal achievement. A goal that is inconsistent with who you are is destined for failure. Goals need to be set on what we fundamentally want to achieve, otherwise the entire effort will be a challenge against ourselves. Being authentic is important to developing goals and making self-promises.
Promise: If you have proven to yourself that this is what you want to achieve and committed to this goal, you are ready to make a promise to yourself to achieve it. You are ready to commit yourself to the process and set of steps that will be necessary to achieve your goal.
The promise is best focused on the process or the specific steps you will take, as opposed to the outcome you want, even though the outcome you want is clearly in your mind’s eye.
An individual who wants to lose weight makes a promise to eat less, exercise more, or follow some program for three months. This is a more effective promise than “I will lose 20 pounds in 3 months.” Yes, you want to lose 20 pounds and you more likely will if you keep your promise to the process! A promise, like a goal, should be specific and time limited. It can then be evaluated and set again.
Planning: Once you have made the promise to yourself you then need to make plans to achieve your goals and keep your promise. You likely already have a plan by this stage, but now is the time to refine your plan. You need to prepare yourself for the future and take the steps needed to achieve your goal. A promise to yourself is empty if you don’t plan for the appropriate actions to achieve it.
As per the previous example, a weight loss plan would need preparation for meals, an exercise plan or another specified plan to ensure the individual is making strides towards the completion of their goal.
You have set the foundation
Taking the steps to make a promise to yourself is setting the foundation for future goal attainment. You are clear about your aspirations and desires. You are committing to yourself, and holding yourself accountable for your future actions. Don’t make the promise until you are ready. But when you are ready this promise is very powerful.
A promise to yourself is an affirmative to ensure that you stick to your goal and work towards building your future. Make a promise to yourself and fulfill the “promise” you know you possess. You are worth becoming a better you in 2015!
~Rich Liotta, Ph.D.