Why is keeping promises to ourselves so important? While I originally wanted to talk about physical health this week, this topic seems more relevant based on current events. In our last adventure of a Nerds Guide to Self Help we took a look at why community is so important and why nurturing existing and building new ones matters. Curious? Read my post on Community. If you’re new to this blog, welcome! I invite you to check out how this all started in my very first post. If you’re returning, as always, thank you for being an avid reader of my site.
Heroic Promises to Ourselves
Eric the wizard moves slowly down the musty corridor, the stone walls on all sides creating a claustrophobic effect on the adventuring party. They quickly come to a split in the dungeon hallway. Two options are presented: they can continue to go straight or take a hard right. It’s a big decision because one leads them closer to their goal and the other leads them farther away. Gorn the dwarf and the others look over to Eric to make the right decision. Eric has a nose for direction and his heart immediately says take the right, but he hesitates. A wizard’s brain is a complicated maze of intelligence that even he has a hard time understanding. Eric has had this problem many times in the past when working under the tutelage of Rendar the Great.
Rendar would constantly challenge the young apprentice to understand the difference between when logic is needed and when gut instinct is required. Eric always had difficulty trusting in his instincts. He specifically remembers the incident in which he knew the incantation for the spell of Mage Hand, but doubted himself last minute causing a fire to suddenly consume Rendar’s favorite cat, Azrael. The wisened wizard flew into a fit of fury and sent Eric away, vowing to never accept another apprentice under his roof again.
At the time, Eric thought his future as a wizard was over. Luckily, Rendar was soft for kittens and when the young apprentice showed up on his doorstep a week later with a wide-eyed calico, the past mistake was forgiven, but never forgotten. Eric continued to struggle believing in his skills, even when Rendar praised him for his ingenuity and creative instinct. This uncertainty in himself led to more trouble than he could remember. He was always promising himself to never distrust his abilities, but integrity was stretched thin for the young wizard.
The Right Decision?
“We should continue straight”, the young wizard announced with an uncertain tone. “Are you sure?” questioned the Elvish ranger behind him. “Of course”, swallowed Eric as he forced one foot in front of the other. The party continued forward, the air growing more stale with every step. The stone walls slowly gave way to ancient intricate carvings embossed on each side from top to bottom revealing depictions of century old battles against hideous beasts. As Eric studied the carvings trying to catalog their details a chittering sound echoed further in front of them. The party readied themselves, Eric casting his light incantation onto the end of his wand once more.
From the shadows multiple faces were revealed. Greenish, blue skin, like a bloated toads, covered marred faces and stringy jet black hair grew from heads. Some were missing pieces of their pointy ears, while others had heavy piercings made of bone and rusty iron. Blackened sharp teeth slick with saliva parted for bone white tongues. One of the creatures gave a strained cry as rusty swords and daggers were drawn just before the charge.
Why Keeping Promises to Ourselves is Important
Eric the wizard has a problem that Eric the blogger has. In fact, it’s a direct reflection. He’s bad about breaking promises to himself and not believing in his own abilities. In roleplaying games, it’s okay to be a little shy about your abilities in improv or rulebook knowledge, but in real life it can be damaging and self sabotaging. I’ve struggled for years with my own promise keeping, many times setting a new goal for myself and falling short, only to excuse that by blaming it on external factors. We spoke of the dangers of this in my post about the dreaded Pit of Excuses.
It’s funny how we often can keep true to our promises to others, but fall short when making them to ourselves. Do we not hold ourselves up to the same standard as our friends and family? This was often true in my case. I can’t tell you how many times I made a promise I didn’t keep to myself. It’s absolutely bonkers to think of the numbers. If you look at yourself as a trusted friend and think about keeping promises to yourself and how many times you broke them, you’d probably not be surprised if that friend (yourself) was no longer a friend. Would an actual friend want to continue being around you if you broke promises to them on a consistent basis? No. Then why is keeping promises to ourselves so hard?
Humans studies have shown, many through psychoanalytic therapy, that when we make a promise we typically have a real desire to fulfill that promise. We see the situation and take it at face value. Eric the wizard promises he’ll never doubt himself again, which seems like a simple promise in a moment of failure, especially when a mentors cat is on fire. Yet, the problem of keeping those promises often comes from deeper issues within us. Eric may say he promises to never doubt himself ever again, but he’s not acknowledging his fear of failure, his anger at himself, his uncertainty about the future. There are so many deeper factors that come into play, which we often ignore because in the moment, it feels right to make that promise.
How We Fail at Keeping Promises to Ourselves
I’m admitting to everyone here that I’m the world’s worst at not keeping promises to myself. There I said it, well sort of-I wrote it, so that’s good enough. Actually, when making promises, writing it down can be beneficial. Why do I break promises to myself? I think for me, it comes down to shiny object syndrome. Shiny what? Shiny object syndrome is where you start something new because it intrigues and peaks your interest and you dive in head first, but soon enough see something else which draws your attention and dive for that. Before long you start to look like a dolphin in a water park.
I love new things and I’m not talking about materialistic things, but new ideas. One of my greatest strengths as an artist is conceptualization. I’m excellent at coming up with inventive new ideas, but I struggle with seeing them through when I’m the only one accountable. I know myself well enough that in order to keep the promise of working on that new idea, I have to include others, and I hardly break my promises to others. I do sometimes, everyone does, but I work extra hard to not let people down when they are counting on me. Take this blog for example. I made it a point of making my self help journey public because it helps me stay accountable.
Take my films for example. It’s extremely hard for me during the development stage. Writing is a struggle as much as it’s a labor of love. When I’m building the world that I’m looking to film, I’m often the only one holding myself accountable. Usually, while writing, I get other ideas and my shiny object syndrome kicks in and wants to work on the new idea. This doesn’t apply with just writing, but with many business ventures in my life. It’s made me a well rounded individual, but often keeps me from mastering areas and taking those skills to new heights. Eric the wizard is really good at those Mage Hands, but not as good as he could be if he’d stop looking at his book of spells dreaming of all the cool other things he could do.
Once I get past the writing stage and start bringing crew and cast onboard, I’m golden. I then have accountability partners to see me through the project. I’ll be sure to work extra hard to never let them down. The same goes for when I direct another persons project. I’m beholden to them and therefore I work harder than I do with my own stuff sometimes. Isn’t that crazy? It should be the other way around and for some it is, but it’s something I’ve always personally struggled with. Accountability is a huge thing for me, but where does that need stem from?
The Root of Accountability
Disclaimer. The following thoughts are expressly my own and are of an opinionative nature only. Wait, isn’t that this entire blog? Yeah, pretty much, so strike that last statement and replace it with the following: What I’m about to tell you is fact…in my opinion.
We spend the majority of our early life in school. It defines us in many ways because it’s such a huge part of our lives. In school, especially in the American system of education, we work towards a grade or the approval of a teacher or mentor. We have something or someone to be accountable to. We’re accountable to our teachers, to our parents, to our ability to continue to the next grade level. Then suddenly college is over and we are thrust out into the world on our own. Many people go work for companies and are given a new accountability system, whether through their bosses or co-workers.
Most artists are left to the wolves. We are thrust into the world with only ourselves in which to be accountable. This is a total blow to our systems because all we’ve ever known is having to be accountable to others. We occasionally become accountable once we’re on a project, but once that project is over, it’s only ourselves waiting in the wings. Some are lucky enough to work steadily and build new accountability buddies, but for many of us it’s not a consistent option. How do you solve this issue of keeping promises to yourself if you don’t have accountability?
Make Less Promises
When you set out a goal for yourself, you have two options:
1) You tell yourself you’re gonna do it and you strike out into the world with that intent, maybe achieving it, maybe not.
2) You tell yourself you can never achieve it and you cross it off your list and wallow in the Pit of Excuses.
What if I told you there is a third, more reasonable option?
Write down a list of your goals, a general non-specific list like the following:
- Win A Bodybuilding Tournament
- Write More
- Make Lots of Money
- Learn to Salsa Dance
Then analyze those goals and prioritize them from most important to least:
- Write More
- Make Lots of Money
- Win a Bodybuilding Tournament
- Learn to Salsa Dance
Sorry salsa dancing. Then you want to analyze those goals further and ask yourself the following, very important question; Do I have the ability to achieve that goal right now? If the answer is no, then perhaps you need to increase your skills in that area in order to achieve it and try it at a later date. I’m nowhere near in good enough condition to win a bodybuilding tournament. I would have to increase my skills as a bodybuilder significantly to get to that point. Is it doable? Of course, but it’s not something I have the ability to achieve right now in the short term and that’s what we should be focusing more on.
Now, let’s take my first example of “Write More”. It’s not very specific, but we’ll improve upon that in a minute. Is “write more” something I’m currently skilled enough to achieve? Yes. If I were to have listed “Write a bestselling novel” then I would have to step back and say that’s out of my skillset for now and work to improve my writing so I can get to that point. I can however “write more”. I can achieve this goal by making it more specific. I’m going to write for 30 minutes a day for one month. That’s an achievable goal. I can totally do that. By taking a goal and making it bitesize I can set myself up for success. If you read my second post you’ll remember that famous quote.
“I don’t look to jump over seven-foot bars: I look around for one-foot bars that I can step over” – Warren Buffett
Therefore, when I promise myself I’m going to write for 30 minutes a day for a month, I can feel good about the possibility of achieving that. If I would have made a promise to to just “write more”, well that’s not specific enough. It’s not giving me anything to hold myself accountable. This is our goal with this exercise. We want to be specific so that it’s keeping promises to ourselves is easier.
Another option we can use for keeping our goals inline is to employ an accountability companion. The Elvish Ranger and Gorn the dwarf have been Eric the wizards accountability companions in the last two sessions. Next time you set a goal for yourself, reach out to a friend and tell them what you’re trying to do. Ask them to keep you accountable and check in with you each week as to the progress of your task.
This brings back those feelings of being in school when you’re young and you have that teacher to impress. You now have a friend you can be excited to share your progress with. There’s an even more extreme version of this accountability system. It’s called negative reinforcement. It’s giving yourself a punishment for not completing the task you set out to do. An example would be signing an agreement with your accountability companion that if you don’t complete the task you decided on, you owe them fifty dollars. This is an extreme accountability system and not for everyone, but it works for some.
If you end up using the accountability companion method you’ll start to realize how excited you will become at sharing your success with them. We love that feeling. That validation. The feeling of accomplishment. We all crave it. We all need some measure of validation for what we do. I believe as humans we thrive on it. You only have to look no further than social media for proof of this. Look at how we all share our successes. Why do we do that? It’s because we want to feel important, even if for a brief moment among our peers. We need that validation. Has a friend ever asked your opinion on something? Did you notice how they pretty much do what they originally set out to do regardless of your input? They just needed someone to validate that what they are doing is good or right.
Therefore, harness that power with this accountability companion. Even if their opinions on your projects or goals don’t line up with yours, just the act of having them check in and keeping you on track is a great tool. If you don’t feel comfortable asking anyone to hold you accountable because what you’re working on is personal then keep the majority of the details to yourself, but have your friend or family member just check in and say, “You still working on that thing?” They don’t need to know the details to keep you honest.
Stop Breaking Promises to Ourselves
Keeping promises to ourselves is extremely important because it builds confidence and integrity. Integrity is such a good personal skill, especially in the entertainment business where we often feel our choices and options are limited. As an actor, especially in the early years, you’re often desperate just to work and get experience, build up that resume. This can sometimes cause you to make clouded decisions on the types of projects you accept.
There is power in “No”. Only you know what that line is for you and I’m not just talking extreme cases where nudity or violence may be involved. You may be presented with an opportunity to work on a show but the script is terrible. Strong integrity tells you that you can do better. Weak integrity may make you believe something better will never come, that you should do anything and everything you can get your hands on.
Confidence is key. This is true in any business or just life in general. People are attracted to confidence. I’ve always had troubles with confidence in my own abilities, even when people are consistently telling me that I’m good. I still denying its validity. This is something I’m constantly working on and it’s been more difficult to get better at it because of the promises I’ve broken to myself over the years.
I’ve built up a distrust of myself. It sounds terrible and it is. I come up with something brilliant and then talk myself out of it or drop it halfway because I stop believing it can succeed. This comes down to not being specific about the goals I set for myself. Break down your goals into bite size chunks and you’ll be better equipped at keeping promises to yourself. Just remember to be kind to yourself in the process and don’t dwell on your failures. You’re not going to achieve all of your goals, which is why it’s important to prioritize.
I started therapy last year and have recently put it on pause due to the current COVID situation, but for the six months I was active, it was tremendously helpful. I’m not going to talk to you about therapy in detail because I’m still a newbie, but a good therapist can start to uncover the reasons why we may not be keeping promises for ourselves. Those deep-rooted issues that are the underlying cause of your failure often needs an outside observation to bring them into focus. Just like a friend uncovering a major Character Flaw, a therapist can see patterns you don’t even know are there and help you pinpoint where these feelings are rooted.
Therapy doesn’t have to be expensive. There are many ways to get affordable therapy and if you’re unsure of how, speak to a friend who goes to a therapist and ask for a referral. You can also find many non-profit clinics online that do income based sessions. Some are as low as five dollars a week. That’s a small price to pay for personal growth.
Reflection & Focus Continued…
Last week I challenged myself to include physical stretches and exercise to my daily routine. I set myself the goal of a ten minute stretch every morning and to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day for five out of the seven days of the week. I’m here to tell you I was only half successful. Why? Because I wasn’t specific enough.
Stretching & Exercise. Those are pretty generic words when you look at them. They can cover very broad areas in the world of physical health. I currently don’t have an exercise program that I’m pursuing. I don’t have a daily goal or long term goal. I’m not saying you have to set the goal of winning a bodybuilding tournament, but you should at least know specifically what parts of your body you’re exercising on any given day. There are tons of free programs online. Heck, you can go to YouTube and there are hundreds, if not thousands of exercise videos completely for free.
When I fail to exercise every day it’s because I don’t have a clear plan for the week. I haven’t decided what I’m doing on each day. The glorious thing about the internet is that you can find a myriad of exercise plans that not only tell you what you’ll be focusing on for each day but which days to do them, which exercises, and much more. You only have to do a little searching to find what’s right for you and you don’t even have to be that specific. You can have the goal of running for 30 minutes every day. That’s specific and less likely to fail.
So, in light of my half success, I will continue with my morning routine. I have noticed at this point that even if I don’t set my alarm for 6:30AM, I’m naturally waking up at that time, so I feel like that goal is working and it’s starting to settle into my body, which is amazing! It feels great. I’m also going to continue to have my glass of water and make my bed. Remember, when making your bed, take your time with it and make sure it’s done well and done right. The mornings I’ve not gone the extra mile and really made sure the creases are smoothed out and pillows positioned correctly, I don’t feel as accomplished. Give every task your best effort no matter how small.
I’ll also be doing my 30 minute walk, which includes my ten minute meditation and morning check-in. The check-in has been so important for me, because I’m noticing patterns to my feelings and it’s giving me the opportunity to question and contemplate them. I’ll then add in my ten minute stretch before my day begins. Again, my stretching was a half success. With stretching you should be just a diligent about specificity as you would exercise. A good rule of thumb is at least make sure you’re stretching all areas of your body. You can find plenty of follow-along videos for stretching on YouTube, so there’s no excuse.
At the end of my day, I continue to wind down an hour before bedtime by removing electronics. This last week was more difficult for me and I slipped in this realm, but I kept putting myself back on the track and moving forward. Don’t let your failure keep you down. I continue to read at the end of the night and do my nightly reflection. The reflection is so important. The nights that I’ve not reflected, I’ve found my mind keeping me up way past my 10:30PM goal.
Cell Phone Challenge
Cell phones are a necessary tool for the modern world, but they can often get in the way of our daily successes. Phones are such a distraction and it’s important to curb that distraction as often as possible. It’s easy to want to pickup your phone and respond to a friend or check a quick e-mail, but that can often send you down a rabbit hole of social media browsing and funny cat video watching. When I look around me at people constantly glued to their devices, I get a chill. It’s different for me because I was born in a year where it allowed me to know life without cell phones and life with cellphones. I see the benefits of both, but I truly believe a lot of people today have an unhealthy relationship with their cell phone.
If you’re like me and know that your phone can be a distraction from your work, then this exercise may benefit you as well. The challenge is to ignore your phone for the first few hours of your day. This is non-specific, so let’s build on that. For me, I’m avoiding any phone use until after I’ve done my morning writing session. This means my alarm goes off and I don’t touch my phone for the first three hours of the morning. I further encourage myself to avoid using my phone until I’ve finished all of my work in the morning, finally allowing myself phone time once lunch rolls around.
This exercise will help you keep focused during your most productive hours. It’s been proven that most people are at our peak of productivity in the morning. So, don’t allow that cell phone to interfere with that productive power you’re trying to harness.
Give Yourself A Break
The human brain can only take in so much data in a given amount of time. You need to give yourself a break to be your most productive. The general rule is that for every hour you work, you need fifteen minutes to rest. This can be broken down further into 25 minute increments. Work hard for 25 minutes and then take a five minute break. Get up, walk around, stretch, get some water then resume. If you use the longer method, use that 15 minutes to do something you like to do. Take a walk outside, have a coffee chat with a colleague, take a quick nap.
It’s important to let your brain rest. You’ll find that your work will be of a higher quality if you take those moments of rest to shake it all out. Reward yourself for that hour of intense work and then dive back into it. Naps are great! They’ve been proven to enhance productivity across the board. Many companies are even encouraging nap times for their employees. It gives the brain some much needed recovery time and allows you to come back with fresh eyes.
Napping restores alertness and enhances performance. It can carry you those extra miles when you’d normally have that midday slump. This is especially important for those of us who work long hours or have multiple jobs. Making sure we give ourselves these breaks is critical for accomplishing the goals we set out and keeping promises to ourselves.
Once More Into the Breach
As we move forward into a new week, let us remember the importance of keeping promises to ourselves. Let us vow to treat ourselves with more respect and help to build the confidence and integrity within. Thank you for taking the time to read this posting. If you’ve enjoyed what you read I highly encourage you to like and subscribe below. If you have a friend or family member who might enjoy these reads, then feel free to share. I also welcome anyone to leave a comment below, but please make sure to keep it positive and constructive. We’re all in this together.