The Promises We Break to Ourselves – And the How and Why I Quit
Updated: Jul 24, 2021
I’m fortunate enough to have some of the most selfless, reliable people in my life. I live with them. I work with them. They’re my family. They’re my friends. They’re people I know well, and people I know a little bit. They’re people on the sidewalk. People at the park. Strangers at the grocery store. And the dude next to me at the traffic light. That’s right – the world is full of people that keep promises. We show up to work. We feed the dog at night. We (generally) stop at red lights. We show up. We stay late. We RSVP “yes”, when we really want to say “no”, and then arrive with a smiling face. Take the kids out for ice cream after a long, crappy day at work, because "you promised".. and because you promised work you’d have that report done by today. We make promises to people every day. And most people I know are pretty good at keeping them.
I was raised in a house where we kept promises. If you said you were going to do something, you better do it. Be reliable. Show up. Do what you said you’d do. It’s an important principle that I certainly still believe in today. I want to be a reliable person. I want to be the person that keeps promises. I feel a lot of pride when someone tells me at work, “I appreciate you because I know if I ask you for something, you’ll make sure it gets done”. I believe it’s of the highest moral standard to keep promises. Until I started to notice an unfortunate pattern. That we (myself included) can generally keep promises to each other (even to people we don’t even like!) but we constantly break promises to ourselves.
Why is that? Why is it that when you say that “this is the year you’re going to get in shape”, statistically your resolution will fade by February? Why is it that you say you’re going to waste less time on social media, but end up looking at Facebook for 3 hours a day… again? Why is it that you decide you’re going to eat better, and then end up getting Chinese takeout and a 6-pack for the 3rd time this week on your way home from the office… and it’s only Wednesday. Why is it that we can commit to everyone else, yet we constantly drop the ball on ourselves?
My theory on this is pretty simple… we as humans, throughout history, have relied on each other for survival. We are not that big, fast, or strong compared to other predators. But we are smart. And throughout history we survived because we worked together. Being accepted and relied upon meant you had a greater chance of not getting eaten. I think it’s why today we crave such acceptance from others. It’s natural to a degree to care what others think. In modern society, not showing up probably no longer means getting eaten by prehistoric wolves, but the principle, and instinct, are the same. So we keep promises. Because the tribe is out there watching. And the tribe is holding you accountable.
THE WHAT: All of this clicked for me after reading (that’s right, you guessed it) my holy Bible, “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins, when he explains his concept of the “accountability mirror”. That tribe that is holding you accountable extends all of the way up to the promises you’ve made to other people. But all of those promises you’ve made to yourself? No one is holding you accountable but that person looking back at you in the mirror.
And that’s where we seem to falter. We let that person in the mirror down constantly… we skip the gym, we drink too much, stay up too late, skip studying and watch Netflix instead. It’s hating your job, but drinking beer instead up updating your resume. It’s staying in an unhealthy relationship even after you said you were done. For me, it was promising myself a thousand times over that I was going to stop binge eating and purging – that I was going to get healthy and recover from bulimia – only to go buy another $50 on bags of junk “food” (sometimes for the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time in a day) to continue that deadly pattern on repeat.
After reading “Can’t Hurt Me”, that concept began to click and I was able to actually step outside of myself and understand what I was doing. It brought all of those broken promises into the light. And I didn’t like it… I could now see WHAT I was doing. But it took some further exploration to figure out HOW to stop.
THE HOW: For me, I had to develop my mental toughness. I. WAS. WEAK. In many ways I still am. But I like to focus on improving. So instead of saying “oh well, no one cares” like I did previously, I now look at myself in the “accountability mirror”, call myself out on it, tell myself that’s not good enough, then make a plan to improve. For me, movement and exercise seemed to be the most accessible and measurable way to practice. It’s why I’m so passionate about working out and "training for life", as I like to say. It's why I run/bike/lift through a lot of pain every day for no specific end goal at all. It’s why I wake up at 5:15am every M-F to get to the gym before work. And then usually after work. It’s why I run half marathons on weekends… by myself, around my neighborhood, with no one watching. To some it may seem extreme. To an Olympic athlete, it's probably not. It’s all relative. But by pushing myself through struggle every single day, even when I don’t want to (which is always), I’ve consistently practiced and built mental toughness. I’m not a sponsored athlete. I’m not going to the Olympics. I don’t have 10 million Instagram followers. No one else on this planet gives a shit if I wake up at 5:15am to go work out or not… except the girl in the mirror. I made that girl in the mirror a promise, and I keep it, even when I’d give just about anything to sleep for another 2 hours... This is how I practice.
Like most things, this is obviously a hell of a lot easier said than done… especially when keeping promises to yourself means breaking promises you made to other people… breaking promises to your “tribe”. At 24, I went through that breakup that derailed me. The relationship had morphed me into someone I didn’t know. And ultimately someone I didn’t like. And then when the relationship was over, I was left with nothing. I had no friends. I had no job. I had skewed my morals and principles. I had forgotten what I even believed. I went off the rails. I had no sense of identity. I felt like I had lost myself entirely. Part of the rebuilding was promising that if I ever started to lose my SELF in a relationship again, I would end it… and then, there's a day that comes when you’re in a relationship with a good man with a big heart that you actually love. That’s when keeping promises to yourself gets hard. Because you said it would be forever. Because you promised you’d work through things. You told them it would be ok.. and then it wasn’t. I broke promises to a man I still love because I had to keep my promise to myself first. Keeping promises to ourselves may end up being some of the hardest decisions we ever have to make, especially when it means letting someone you love down.
So why the hell do it?? Up until this point, I feel like I’ve done a good job of making this all sound really miserable with absolutely no benefit.. but I PROMISE you, it will change your life – for the better.
So here’s THE WHY: It builds confidence. I am a more confident, independent human being when I keep promises that I make to myself. Subconsciously, I think all of those broken promises weigh us down. Promising myself I’d do something and then constantly copping out maybe didn’t seem like a big deal… no one knows, right? WRONG. Because YOU know. All of those broken promises still subconsciously live within YOU. They live in your confidence and your sense of self-reliance. Those broken promises don’t just go away “because no one saw it”. They exist within you. And you carry them with you. Everywhere. By starting to keep promises, I was able to unload some of that weight, even if it meant telling other people no. It seemed selfish at first. Until I realized how much more genuine, confident, real, and present I am now at everything I DO show up for. It has made me a better employee at work. It has made me more present in the moment with friends. It has catapulted me through recovery from an eating disorder that consumed my life for 14 years. It has made me stronger, physically and mentally. It has made me more dedicated than ever to my business. It’s made me more resilient when shit hits the fan and when things go wrong. In certain moments, yes, I am selfish. But selfishness gets a negative connotation, and I don’t agree that it’s always a negative. I choose to be selfish at times so that when I do show up for others, they are getting the best, most genuine version of me. But I had to promise to show up for me first.
I challenge you to do one thing tomorrow to show up for yourself. Start small. It doesn’t need to consume your whole day. Keep in mind my miserable morning running routines began with walking my dog around the block 1 time every day before work. It took 7 minutes.
Ideas: -Commit to doing 10 sit-ups or push-ups tomorrow. Doesn’t matter if they’re pretty. Just get on the floor at some point in the day, and try to do 10. -Trying to eat better? Commit to eating at least 2 fruits tomorrow. You don’t need to give anything up or change anything else about your meals.. maybe just add an orange or banana with breakfast and an apple or pear with lunch.
-Hate your job because your company sucks? Commit 10 minutes to just read over your resume… no job searching. No resume updates. That take hours and it’s zero fun. Just start by reading your resume over. You’ll brainstorm your best updates throughout the day without even realizing it.
-Commit to making your bed in the morning. -Commit to a bedtime for tomorrow. And whatever that bedtime is, shut the TV off, put your phone down, brush your teeth, and be in bed.
These are random things, but you could really promise yourself anything. The ideas are different, but the concept is the same – just promise something TO YOURSELF and then keep it. Don’t expect perfection. But do demand progress.
Be selfish. Show up for yourself. You have to be your star witness. You have to be in your corner. First. Foremost. Forever. You have to choose yourself. Promises we make to ourselves don’t have to be promises we break to ourselves. Don't forget that in the end, YOU will always be the first member of your tribe. Your other tribe members will appreciate that best version of you that you bring to the table - I promise.
Books mentioned: "Can't Hurt Me" by David Goggins https://www.amazon.com/Cant-Hurt-Me-Master-Your/dp/1544512287/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3VX9H8VG92T0E&keywords=can%27t+hurt+me&qid=1557634102&s=books&sprefix=can%27t+hurt+me%2Caps%2C143&sr=1-1