“We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what he cannot” Abraham Lincoln
Remember the last time you made yourself a promise you didn’t keep? How did that feel? Did it niggle at you? Did it sap your energy? Leave you feeling depleted? Here are 8 reasons why you should lie up to the promises you make.
1. Unfulfilled promises leave open loops
When you make a promise to yourself and you don’t keep it, a part of you is painfully aware that it’s unfulfilled. It registers as an open loop in the back of your mind. And that part niggles at you. On a deep subsonscious level it eats away at you. Dealing with feelings saps your energy.
Why? Because promises made to yourself come with a certain emotional attachement. An attachement which leads to unpleasant consequences when unfulfilled. You feel discomfort, guilt, a sense of uneasiness. And these feelings make it less likely that you’ll keep your next promise. This leads to a vicious cycle of broken promises. And we all know how much that affects your ability to suceed.
The solution? Don’t make commitments to yourself that you’re not sure you will be able to fulfill. Be selective about promises you make. Only make promises that you know you can follow through on.
2. Fulfilled promises are great for motivation and success
Broken promises can lead to a vicious cycle of failure. But the reverse is also true. A fulfilled promise builds a sense of self efficacy which is one of the greatest motivators. Think back to a time you made a promise you would get something done by a certain date and you followed through on it.Advertising
How’d it feel? Pretty good I bet. It works both ways. When you make a commitment to yourself and fulfill that commitment, it builds a sense of self-esteem. A sense of self efficacy. So how do you use this information to increase your chances of succcess?
The next time you make a committment, set aside time for completing the task in your calendar. This will force you to be realistic about what you can achieve in light of all your other committments. This is a very effective way to be realistic about what you can take on. Stick to this one rule and you’ll go a long way towards building a virtuous cycle that feeds success.
3. Broken promises impact you as much as the person you make the promise to.
We’re are social creatures. When you make a commitment to someone and don’t keep it, there’s a distinct feeling of having let that person down. You know the feeling I’m talking about. It’s like there’s this pact you made with that person which you broke. Not cool.
A trail of unfulfiled promises to others leaves you feeling as disappointed in yourself as it does the other person. Break a promise to someone else and you’ll be left with this lingering feeling of dissatisfaction. You may not realise it consciously but on some level you’ll question your own integrity. It’ll impact your self belief and your chances of long term success.
Just being aware of this fact is enough stop you from making a promise to someone that you aren’t likely to keep. You’ll sleep better and feel lighter.
4. Living up to every single promise builds trust in yourself
When someone breaks a promise to you how does that impact your level of trust in them? You trust them less right? The same goes for promises you make yourself. When you don’t fulfill those promises, you lose faith in yourself and your ability to succeed at achieving your goals.Advertising
So, how do you keep every single promise you make yourself? Use a minimalistic approach to promises. Treat them like sliver bullets. Say a thousand nos for every yes. If I’m starting to sound a bit repetitive then that’s good. It means you’ve been paying attention. I don’t think the point about being selective when making committments can be emphasised enough.
Choose your committments carefully. This will determine how you’re going to spend your time. Commit to fewer things that you know you can accomplish and that will have maximum impact. This will help you build faith in your own abilities like nothing else!
5. Living up to every promise teaches you to apply the Pareto principle
Ever heard of the Pareto principle? The Pareto principle states that approximately 20% of the reference yields 80% of the results. It makes sense to focus on that 20%. And the best way to focus only on the 20% is saying no to everything else that you believe doesn’t fall into that 20%. You could even take this one step further and apply the Pareto principle to the 20% implying that 4% of your efforts will yield 64% of your results.
The best way to do get good at applying the Pareto principle is through practice. A good way to do this to keep a daily journal. At the end of each day think back to the things you focused on and which of those things delivered the biggest results. Get clear on what’s working for you and make a conscious committment to focus on those things the next day. This ritual works well when done at the end of each month too.
6. Keeping your promises helps you to find a peaceful balance
Staying committed to delivering on your promises imposes certain discipline in your life. It helps you to embrace minimalism and when it comes to activities that you take on. Hopefully this will extend to a minimalistic attitude when it comes to possessions too.
Here’s the plain truth: the less stuff (read “noise”) you have whirling around in your head, the more peaceful and balanced you’re going to feel. Try it. Try focusing on only one thing at a time. Refuse to give into the urge to multitask which is not only unproductive but overwhelming.Advertising
Try getting rid of all those clothes you haven’t used in a year. Or try throwing away some of that junk that’s been collecting in your garage. Do this for a week and I can assure you that you’ll be feeling a lot lighter at the end of it.
7. Fulfilling promises keeps you on track to achieve your life goals.
It’s easy to keep a promise when you’re feeling motivated. But keeping a promise when you don’t feel like it? That’s a lot harder. So why do it? Because your feelings are as stable as a leaf in a thunderstorm! Don’t get me wrong. Feelings are important and they definitely shouldn’t be ignored. But that doesen’t mean you react to them everytime they pop up.
Feelings are transient. Being reactive to your feelings (as opposed to watching them mindfully), doesn’t serve you or your long term success. Using a mindful approach where you watch your feelings without reacting to them, makes you far more likely to keep your promises regardless of how you feel. And that’s where the power is!
When you keep promises to yourself no matter what, you’re playing to the orchestra of life. You’re working within the parameters of a disciplined routine – much like each musical instrument must play in tune for the orchestra to work. Every instrument must fulfil its purpose.
So the next time you feel the urge to run from a committment you’ve made, think to yourself that this is just a feeling. You don’t have to react to your urge to run from the task. Instead accept that you have the urge to run and go ahead and complete the task anyway. I guarantee you’ll feel better after you’ve completed it.
8. A string of unfulfilled promises can damage your self-esteem
Unfulfilled promises create an emotional reaction of shame and embarrassment of disappointment. Do this over and over again, and you’ll put your self-esteem on the line.Advertising
The solution? You guessed it! Be selective about promises you make so you can live up to your word. Use your word to generate trust in other’s and in yourself. I’m not saying it’s always easy. Fulfilling promises can sometimes be very challenging but that’s what builds your sense of integrity and your self-esteem.
Your word is your legacy. Ultimately when you’ve done your dash on planet earth, and you’re approaching the end of your life, what do you think is going to matter most? Your bank account? Your possessions? Or the relationships you’ve built and the impact you’ve had on the world?
Money and possessions make life a lot more comfortable. But in the final reckoning, the quality of the relationships we’ve cultivated and the difference we’ve made to the world are going to matter most. What’s it going to be for you?
Featured photo credit: Christian Ditaputratama via flic.kr
Last Updated on July 17, 2019
The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)
What happens in our heads when we set goals?
Apparently a lot more than you’d think.
Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.
According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.
Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.
Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.
Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams
The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.
Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.
So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.
Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.
One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.
Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.
Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.
The Neurology of Ownership
Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.
In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs!
But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.
This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).
Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.
The Upshot for Goal-Setters
So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?
On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.
It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.
On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!
But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!
More About Goals Setting
- How to Set Goals and Achieve Them Successfully
- How to Set SMART Goal to Make Lasting Changes in Life
- How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever
Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com
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