Recently an acquaintance’s husband of 30 years dumped her while they were traveling in Europe. They had mutual work commitments to complete together, but he just left her high and dry.
How do people do this? How do they ignore the impact of reneging on a promise and then act like nothing happened?
I’ve been thinking a lot about commitment, as you can tell. Commitment is a choice to move forward without giving yourself a way out. It’s getting off the fence and moving through any fear, trusting that you will be supported. It’s taking a huge breath and jumping away from energy-sapping indecision, lethargy, excuses, resistance or apathy. Commitment is frigging huge!
I have another friend who regularly breaks our scheduled dates to get together with no forewarning, no apology, not even an acknowledgement. And, yet, I reschedule with her all the time. In fact, now that I think about it, she ignores our commitment more often than she honors it. What’s up with that?
More importantly, why do I keep making plans with her?
In case you haven’t guessed, the “friend” is me and the commitment is to sit my butt in the chair and write. More often than not, I break this agreement with myself – with no acknowledgement.
I’ve been thinking: What impact does this constant commitment-breaking have on me? Huge, science says.
First of all, my brain knows the moment I make the commitment that I might not keep it and registers an emotional conflict, which suppresses the production of feel-good dopamine.
Next, my brain registers the stress I feel when contemplating breaking my commitment to myself.
Finally, when I fail to keep my promise, my brain reacts as if I’d lied or been deceitful, triggering guilt and fear. To combat these feelings, my brain reinforces the reasons for breaking my commitment and activates reward areas. In other words, to combat the negative feelings, my brain rewards itself for the unproductive behavior!
So consistently making and breaking promises to myself has a cumulative effect that spirals downward.
Furthermore, not keeping promises – to myself or to anyone – can have a major impact on my self-esteem. When I break promises to myself, sometimes I berate myself: Why can’t I keep a simple commitment? Sometimes, I feel that my writing isn’t important enough. Silly, right? Why would I make a date with a “friend” I didn’t feel was worthy of my time and energy?
Mostly, though, I just ignore the fact that I don’t want to write. If I had a friend I kept standing up, eventually she’d ask me what’s up. So, now when I break commitments to myself, I ask, “Hey, Kelly, what’s up?” Instead of putting my energy into trying to keep a promise that I really don’t want to keep, and then beating myself up for not performing, I put my energy into recognizing and removing the blocks.
As the blocks dissolve, one-by-one, and I become more self-aware of my own fears, I find that keeping my writing commitments becomes like brushing my teeth – just something I do every day to keep myself healthy.
Here’s my five-step process after I break a promise to myself:
- Acknowledge that I broke a commitment to myself and forgive myself for it. If I just brush it off, then my brain merely reinforces the idea that I am not writing.
- Contemplate the impact that letting myself down has on me. Acknowledge that my confidence plummets and that I fear that I might continue to break my promises.
- Acknowledge the impact my dropping the ball has on others. Did I let down my writing group by not having a piece to share? Was I late for an editor? Did I disappoint my accountability partner? Forgive myself.
- Be more mindful when creating a new promise. Scale back the old one, or make a different promise. Instead of recommitting to writing for an hour each day, I’ll commit to write for 20 minutes. Or commit to doing an hour of editing. Anything that shifts my brain away from preparing to fail again and into a mode of preparing for success helps.
- Remove any blocks to fulfilling this commitment to myself – physical and emotional blocks. If I promise myself I’ll write for 20 minutes every day, but never set aside the specific time, I’m setting myself up for failure. If I have some deeper emotional reasons that keep me from writing, those need to banished.
As a writing coach, I can help you uncover your hidden fears and fulfill your dreams. Let me know: My in-box is always open at Kelly@JumpStartMyBook.org!
What do you do to keep writing dates with yourself? Share your tips in the comments.
Kelly Hayes-Raitt admits she sleeps around. Usually with animals.
More on that in a moment…
Her passion is helping writers get their books jumpstarted. Her coaching clients call her “inspiring,” and students in her workshops rave about her unique teaching techniques. Learn more about working one-on-one with Kelly at www.JumpStartMyBook.org.
Or join her in Cape Town, South Africa, February 1 – 10, 2020, for a magical writing retreat to jumpstart your book! www.JumpStartMybook.org/writers-retreat/
OK, the sleeping around thing? She’s a full-time housesitter and has been traveling the world for the past decade. She’s learned a thing or two about housesitting and shares her knowledge and experience in her popular book How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva available in soft cover or Kindle at Amazon or ebook on her web site www.HouseSitDiva.com.
Before nomading, Kelly reported live from Iraq during the early weeks of the U.S.-led invasion. Her journalism has won several literary awards and has been widely published in anthologies. The girl’s got stories.