Why Are Commitments to Myself More Difficult to Keep Than My Commitments to Others?
I wish I could say after 42 years, I’ve been able to figure out the trick to keeping commitments I’ve made to myself as easily as I make commitments to others. If I’ve promised you I’d meet a deadline, or if you need my help in developing a new project milestone schedule, you can count on me. If you are a new parent, and need some help, I’ll deliver you hot meals. If you’re about to face a really difficult conversation and want to bounce some ideas off of someone, I’ll skip lunch to make sure you have a reliable ear and feel prepared.
If, however, I’ve promised myself I’ll exercise more regularly, I’ll put it on my calendar as a safeguard, and promptly ignore it when I get that request for help from you. If I tell myself I’ll get more sleep, I’ll set up a planned bedtime, and when my husband or child needs something, I’ll help them with it at the expense of my need for sleep.
Here’s the truth: I love feeling needed. I love feeling like I’m helping other people. I loathe disappointing people. I love connecting with people, and see supporting them as a way to further develop our friendship. AND… having said that, I also recognize it is not helpful to constantly and consistently put others before myself. Future Angela needs me to honor my own promises as much as those I make to others. My future self wants health, longevity, and strong relationships just as much as a full career. My future self knows the commitments I break with myself today will not bode well for me years from now.
Here’s another truth: the majority of people are like me, and make similar choices. While I’ve known this trait of myself for years, it wasn’t until I came across some research to realize many of you make the same choices. In her recent book, The Four Tendencies, bestselling author Gretchen Rubin identifies four main personalities based upon how each of us respond to expectations. For me, I have the tendency to meet outer expectations (those others place on me) better than I meet inner expectations (those I place on myself). I’m in the same bucket as the biggest group of people, considered “Obligers” in Ms. Rubin’s research. Ms. Rubin outlines the four different tendencies, and ways to navigate through each of them, in her book and on her website. How do you respond to outer and inner expectations? What do you want to harness, and what do you want to adjust?
Keeping commitments to yourself builds character. When you keep promises to yourself, you enable success by knowing you are taking care of what you know, deep down, is truly important to you.
“To learn one must be humble. But life is the great teacher.” – James Joyce
If you are like me, one key is to put in safeguards to make sure you meet your own promises. I have accountability partners to help me keep my most important promises to myself. I’ve joined an exercise class, and if I don’t show up, people ask where I’ve been. I’ve established a partnership with a colleague, where we trade our top three plans for the week, and keep each other accountable. My husband is an excellent accountability partner, and supports me to make sure I’m giving to myself as much as I give to work, family, and friends. He knows me best, and often questions me if I’m starting to over-schedule commitments to others. Since I inherently don’t want to let others down, having accountability partners is crucial for me to establish and keep boundaries around my time, and to maintain key promises I made with myself.
While it may be tempting for me and fellow Obligers to wish we were more like “Upholders,” those incredible few who can meet both inner and outer expectations with ease, it’s also important to be appreciative for who we are fundamentally.
Self-reflection and self-awareness of our biggest pitfalls help lead to our biggest growth. What would your Future Self would appreciate about you changing today?