I’ve spent the last several days reflecting on the notion of promises to keep, because finding a focus for the year ahead is — in a way — making a promise to myself. It’s saying, “I promise to concentrate on this one thing all year.” But if there are promises I make to myself, there’s an implication other types of promises are out there, too. Like the promises we make in marriage vows. Like the promises we make to our kids to go out for ice cream if all the chores get done on time. Like the professional promises we make when we sign contracts.
The more I toss the idea around in my mind, the more I conclude that — at its most basic level — it’s always about a promise I make to myself.
The only difference is whether or not the promise I make to myself also involves another person.
When I make a promise to paint my fingernails with clear polish, that’s a promise that doesn’t affect or concern anyone else. It’s totally up to me whether or not I keep that promise.
On the other hand, if I have a daughter and I promise to paint her fingernails with clear polish every week, it’s a commitment involving two people.
But in the end, the primary promise is still one I’m making to myself.
Well, in the purest sense the promise in this situation is really me promising myself I will make time every single week to paint my daughter’s fingernails.
Here’s another example: when my husband and I got married, our vows included the bit about not committing adultery. Sure it’s about telling him I won’t commit adultery, but in making that promise to him, I’m promising myself I won’t behave in a way that would lead to adultery.
And I think that’s why it’s so important to follow through on the promises I make to myself. Each time I keep a promise to myself, I’m flexing a positive behavioral muscle and building a good habit so I can better keep the promises I make to others.
It’s also why it’s important to consciously evaluate and re-evaluate the promises and commitment we make to ourselves…but more about that next time!