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🤝 Letter 109: How can I keep promises to myself?

8 min

Five ways to hold a promise and a backpacking update

If you are new here or missed last week's edition, you can catch up on the past letters here. If you are reading this for the first time, I’d love you to sign up below to join the other learn-it-alls:

Aloha fellow learn-it-all!

Greetings from somewhere near a volcano in Hilo, Big Island on Hawai'i 🌺

As I write this I am terrified to get on the plane to begin this five-day backpacking trip tomorrow. I keep questioning why the heck I am doing this? I'm so scared.

Technically I'm a human, which is an animal, which means I was built to survive out in the wilderness. But, I've never done this before. I loved reading Cheryl Strayed and Bill Bryson's travels in the woods, but I never thought I would do anything like this myself.
I'm so glad I'm going with a group. But this trip is also a silent meditation retreat, so I'm leaving my phone and watch behind. Whenever I leave the house I usually have these on my body. Now I'm going to a foreign place, and the unknown is scary.

I know people say go ‘seek discomfort’, but I very much appreciate plumbing, my dry bed, and being away from bugs. I appreciate the earth as well but currently, I’m debating whether I need pepper spray or not if I encounter a vicious wild boar or mountain goat. I hate packing. What do I actually need? I want to bring everything but I know my back will regret that.

This quote has been keeping me saner:

“Breathe. Take care. Stand still for a minute. What you are looking for might just be looking for you too.” - Cleo Wade

The leader of the group Michael told the group that by creating this space away and focusing on the here and now so much else can surface when open to it.

This is leaps outside of what I consider familiar to me. There's no going back.

With this email reaching your inbox, I’ll have been off the grid since Sunday. Be expecting more updates on this after I return.

Now, let’s dive into letter 109 from a learn-it-all. Enjoy!

❓ Question to think about

How can I keep promises to myself?

🖊 Writing

I have a promise on my website screenshotted below that I will write these letters weekly.

I broke that promise two weeks ago. I could brush it over and ignore it, but I want to talk about the promises we make to ourselves.

It's really easy to make excuses.

As I listed last week, I had family obligations, work, travel jet lag, sleep deprivation, and a gazillion other things like getting a cavity filled that took priority instead of writing.

Heck, one of my favorite musicians Mike Posner got bit by a rattlesnake during his walk across America. It was like a 'get out of jail free' card he drew while playing monopoly. No one expected him to keep going. He didn’t even want to keep going. For Pete’s sake, he almost died. But then after recovering he still went back to the same spot and finished off with swimming in the Pacific Ocean. He shared in the podcast I list below how “my reasons are just excuses wearing fancy clothes”.

Integrity is important to Mike to stay true to himself. I am always asking myself:

How can I take the new data I now know and adapt what my past self wanted to achieve?

I don’t want to stick to a plan and blindly ignore all the reasons coming my way to change. Mike chose to recalibrate after his injury and still complete it after observing how he felt. He still had to keep going. He wrote one of my favorite albums that is 52 minutes long about his journey:

How can we promise to keep promises to ourselves? Here are some ideas:

Physically write out the promise on a notecard.

Whether I make it private or public, doesn’t matter. While stored away as a thought in my noggin, the promise stays on a loop where it can’t actually be edited or made real. It feels like a dream. There’s an opportunity to critique the abstractness once it’s out of my head and in the physical world.

  1. Create a contract.
    In this interview with Tim Ferriss (at min 46), Hugh Jackman speaks about the contract he made with himself after graduating from university with a journalism degree. He wrote down to commit to his acting for five years, seven days a week. For me, I wrote one for at least two years to commit to exploring how creativity plays into my life. The timeline is an expiration date that acts as a forcing function to proactively review the promise. My promise will likely get an extension.
  2. Turn the want into a need.
    I know I want to eat fresh foods, exercise and have a close relationship with my mom. In a perfect world, this means eating spinach, jogging, and picking up the phone to call. In reality, I’ve fallen back on my needs instead. This looks like daily bananas, walks, and text messages. These needs are non-negotiable for me in my life. Yes, I eat a lot of bananas, but not as many as Jesse Itzler.

Allow for flexibility on the vehicle to the promise.

I’ve made it clear on my weekly promise that I will share a letter each week. That doesn’t include what it is on or when it is sent. I know that to keep that promise going I need variety to avoid boredom and keep it fun. If I make it too rigid, writing feels like an unrewarded chore that I’m not getting paid for. I lose motivation and want to quit. I want to minimize that friction as much as possible.

If the promise is broken, have a check-in.

Just because I broke my promise and lost some integrity, does not mean I volunteer myself to a miserable endless purgatory. Resenting myself never gets me far. It means it's time to start asking more questions again and channel skepticism. Is this promise in fact the one that is my own truth to keep? Sometimes it's too aspirational but it gave me something to react to and shift what I am shooting for.

The questions we ask ourselves shape us into the people we become.

What promises are you making to yourself? What ritual or routine can you create to show up to fulfill that promise regularly? That is how you can start to make promises to yourself.

🎧 Listening

Back in letter 88 I shared notes from the podcast episode of Your Life Is Now: Mike Posner on Walking America, Summiting Everest & Crafting Hit Music. I’m resurfacing those as they are timely on the topic of promises and integrity.

As I heard Mike reflect on his walk across America, I knew it'd be most suitable for me to walk around my neighborhood as well. I kid you not, I got chills, and goosebumps and started crying while listening to this podcast. I freaking love technology and how I can hear such intimate details about one of my favorite musical artists.

Five of my favorite quotes:

On the meta moment of mortality after being bitten by a rattlesnake in Colorado:

I'm in the back of an ambulance, it just dawned on me, this could be the end of my life... I made a decision that if indeed it is gonna be the end of my life, I'm not gonna waste it worrying about if it's the end of my life.

On integrity and commitments to yourself even when the going gets tough:

If I quit, no one will even think I'm a quitter. Like, hey, I almost died. It wasn't meant to be, whatever. But I started to realize 99 times out of 100, my reasons are just excuses wearing fancy clothes.

On what it felt like to finish the walk across America:

After walking 2,851 miles, I dove in the Pacific Ocean and I thought I'd feel accomplished. But interestingly I didn't feel accomplishment in the water. I felt possibility. It felt like the first day of my life.

On how the communities you are in normalize your behavior:

All of a sudden by making the decision, I'm thrust into this new community of walkers and runners and in this community. I'm not special at all. In fact, it's normalized and... in that community, I was probably in touch with eight people or so that were either walking or running while I was and I was the least impressive.

On quieting the mind while on another three-week retreat at a Zen Center:

That sort of feeling of peace is just there naturally, and you don't have to have your dad die or walk across America, summit Mount Everest or to be at the monastery. You just need to have a quiet mind.

🌟 Quote to inspire

“Even if you have literally zero people who read what you write today, it is still worth writing that thing today because you will produce an asset that you can use in the future in 1-on-1 conversations.” -Patrick McKenzie

📷 Photo of the Week

This shot was taken by my friend Sabrina James at Waimano Falls over a month ago. It was one of the first hikes I had done this year. It was such a surprise to find this flowing waterfall. There were several others too. Even a rope swing that I swung off of.

I hope that in Hilo this week there will be some waterfalls so that I can get a sense of cleanliness. I do enjoy my showers. Civilization and shelter have treated me so well my whole life to take them for granted.

🙏 Shoutouts

I appreciate you reading this! If ideas resonated, I’d love you to leave a comment, reply to this email, or send me a message on Twitter @JenVermet. Visit my online home if you forgot who I am. If you want to know what I'm up to right now, check my now page.

Never stop learning 😁

Mahalo 🌺


If you’re reading this because someone shared this newsletter with you, welcome! I’d love it if you subscribed:

👣 Footnotes

On analyzing the action of our past selves:

On the dread of getting a tooth decay drilled and filled by your dad:

On resetting relationships and setting boundaries:

On the difference between a goal and a promise:

On feeling like I'll mess up each time I write a check:


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