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How to make promises with yourself

4 min

I have a promise on my website screen shotted below that I will write and share my 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 by swimming in the Pacific Ocean. He shared in this podcast 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 (embedded at the bottom).

How can we promise to keep promises to ourselves?

Image by Andrew Petrov

Here are five ideas:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

This post was originally shared here on my Substack on May 12, 2022.


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