July 21, 2014

To Thine Own Self Be True

This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man. -Hamlet

I recently had an article published at Switch&Shift.com called A Case For Keeping Commitments.  (You can read it here if you missed it)  http://wp.me/p25GBV-3i5

I noticed almost immediately after submitting it that I'd left out one very important aspect of keeping commitments - the commitments we make to ourselves.

It might not seem that keeping commitments to ourselves is such a big deal. After all no one else is disappointed and there are no negative consequences to face up to. We don't have to worry about "losing face" in front of others and so forth. While it may be true that others may never be the wiser, it is completely false that there are no negative consequences. I'd even go as far as to say that the consequences are much more serious long term. 

When we make and keep commitments to others we are sending the message "you matter." "I value you.' When we break commitments, the opposite messages are being sent. What does it do to us then when we tell ourselves "you don't matter and I don't value you?" What are the consequences? I can only speak from my own experience, but I hope in sharing you'll be motivated to examine the consequences in your own life and weigh them carefully.

When I break commitments to myself, I "feel" the "I don't value you" loud and clear. I find that it makes it hard to take myself seriously. I also notice that I make less and less commitments to myself because I don't trust myself to follow through and not to disappoint myself.

I've always believed that we can draw a straight line between our values, how well we live them and our self esteem. When we are living in accordance with what we value, our self esteem is high. We feel authentic - genuine. Our confidence is high and we feel adequate. When those two things get misaligned, our self esteem drops. We begin to feel like a fraud. 

We may want to believe we can leave all of that at home, but we're only fooling ourselves. Our self esteem follows us out the door and into the world wherever we go. When we want to do something grand, it reminds us that we have failed ourselves before. The chatter in our heads doesn't want us to forget that we've fallen short in the past, and questions why we think this time will be any different. Dialog is added to the endless stream of doubt that can plague us on our best days and cripple us on our worst.

There is a price to be paid for not keeping the commitments we make to ourselves and it's an unreasonably high one. While we may not lose face to those around us, they no longer get the best "us". They get the broken down version laced with fear, self doubt, and apprehension. 

How then can we make sure that we don't find ourselves in this downward spiral? One good way is to under promise and over deliver. Make smaller commitments and start slowly to rebuild trust. Another way may be to examine our habits.

I recently read an article that made a very convincing argument for the power of habits. It put forth the notion that we, as creatures of habit, can change our lives simply by changing our habits. It went on to say that we can succeed at anything that we're willing to build supportive habits around. 

One compelling idea is that it's easier to build habits around identity than any other method. It goes like this: We begin by saying "I'm the kind of person who _______________ (fill in the blank.) For instance, I'm the kind of person who values getting plenty of rest." We then go on to "prove" this to ourselves by getting adequate sleep. Each time we are successful, we build trust in our ability to do it again until it's become a hard habit, or a natural part of our routine much like brushing our teeth before going to bed.

Once anything becomes a "hard habit" it ceases to take up mental energy. We don't have to "decide" each time we're confronted with any given situation how we are going to respond. We automatically respond by being consistent with our "identity."

I'm sure there are a lot of other strategies that might also help. It's important to find one that works well for us. It doesn't have to be complicated, just effective.

Building a new identity - "I'm the type of person who always keeps the commitments I make to myself" or incorporating other strategies will take effort and it may not be easy, but how easy is it to face the one person we do lose face with when we fail to keep commitments to ourselves - the one that looks back at us every morning from the mirror and knows.

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