You probably have, because most of us do.
In our society today a promise means very little. We just don’t believe in them any more, and it’s not hard to see why. Promises are cheap.
Products we buy say they are going to do such and such, or be of a certain quality – but we know they’re likely to fall apart as soon as we get them home.
Politicians say they are going to do something – but we know they’re probably going to back out of it.
Our teachers, our priests, our parents, our partners, pretty much everyone around us seem to be breaking promises all the time. It’s little wonder we do it too.
“I promise I’ll clean my room, after…”.
It’s a very handy thing to say. Our parents get off our back – we feel good because we can keep playing – and everybody is happy.
We may have actually intended to clean our room when we said it – but as the time keeps ticking by, somehow we never quite get to doing it.
The lesson is learned though – I don’t actually have to do it, I just have to promise I’ll do it.
So now we make promises for doing homework, cleaning the car, mowing the lawn, fixing the fence, being on time etc. etc. … and slowly our promises become more and more meaningless.
The average length of a marriage these days is about 8.7 years – which I’m happy to say is actually better than it was 10 years ago.
So what’s the big deal – we all do it.
But what if we didn’t – what if a promise actually meant something?
I want you to think about the problems in your life, big and small – all the things you’re not happy about or wish were different – and I’m willing to bet that when you really break it down, really look at them, what most of them will come down to is somebody not keeping a promise!
A promise to be there, a promise to protect you, a promise to not drink anymore, or not to do drugs anymore, or not to gamble anymore, a promise to get help, a promise to change…..
Perhaps it’s a promise that you made to do something, or stop doing something…
Promises you keep have power – they really do have the power to change your life.
To many in the past ‘honor’ meant more than money, more even than life itself – because if you had a reputation you couldn’t be relied upon, or were dishonorable, you and possibly your whole family could be rejected. People would fight for it and sometimes die for it.
This idea of honor can be found throughout history in almost all cultures as one of the most valuable things a person can have, and what it all comes down to is simply keeping your word.
What it meant was that, if you made a promise, you would follow through or die trying!
This is a rare quality – but possibly one of the most powerful habits you can foster to shape your future and that of the people you care about.
Think now about how your life would be different if you just kept your word – especially your word to yourself.
Your health, your relationships, your financial situation, your well-being – chances are life could be quite different.
What if you had to keep your promises? I mean really keep them – so that if you made a promise you would have to keep it or die trying.
For a start it would probably mean being a bit careful about what you promise. You can’t just go promising 'willy nilly', because you would have to follow through.
So instead of saying “I promise I’ll wash the dishes!” you might as well be honest.
“Well… I might wash the dishes….. and I might not… let’s just see how it goes.”
Because you know that if you make a promise it’s got to happen.
For example – if you promise to mow the lawn today and later get hit by a car and end up in hospital with a broken leg – it means getting out of that hospital bed, going home and mowing the damn lawn, even if it’s 12 o'clock at night and raining!
Seems a bit extreme you say. No it isn’t!
This is what a promise really means, and I can tell you from learning the hard way, that if you can’t trust yourself to keep a promise you will never – ever – really have control of your life. But it takes practice, a lot of practice.
The best way is to start small.
In my book “The secret to creating your life” I outline an easy system you can use to instil this quality so it becomes a habit you don’t even need to think about.
When they come to you and say “I promise I’ll clean my room..” and you stop them.
To teach them not to make a promise that they don’t intend to keep.
If your child later on in life was to come to you and say “I promise I’m going to be a pilot, mum” what could possibly stop him! Talk about a force to be reckoned with.
I know that many people’s internal voices might be going a bit crazy, finding reasons why this isn’t for them. I challenge you to look at these reasons and see if they are really valid, or if it’s simply a fear of what following through might mean. We are naturally driven away from discomfort, and this is the thing about promises, they often lead us to do things that are not comfortable – but therein lies their value.
True - that in this quickly changing world that we live in we need to be flexible and adaptable. Big promises can create a trap that may not serve us later – so be careful what you promise, and if you need to break a promise – don’t do it lightly!
Negotiate with yourself or the other people that your promise affects – and try to find something of at least of equal value to replace it with.