In this blog post I want to make a distinction about agreements. Often when I talk about making and keeping agreements, most people assume I am talking about agreements with other people. And I am. But there is another category of agreement that is equally powerful to look at and that is the agreements that you keep with yourself.
Much of what I do in my line of work is supporting people in getting what they say they want through individual coaching. We talk about where they want to go and I ask questions so they gain clarity and develop strategies. And then the moment of truth arrives when I ask them, “What will you do this week in order to get what you say you want?” And they tell me. I call these action steps “declarations,” and what this means is, “I am declaring to complete X task by Y date.” I always talk to them about the meaning of a declaration. It is a promise you are making to yourself. You make it in a way that I, your coach, can hear it so that I can ask you about it next week. This leads to a lot of growth and forward movement. That is partly because most people are far more likely to do things they feel they have promised me than that they have promised themselves. One of the objectives of coaching, though, is to get to a place where my clients realize that they are really making promises to themselves. But the problem, of course, is that many people do not hold their promises to themselves at the same level of importance as the promises they make to other people.
For whatever reason, we just don’t keep the agreements with ourselves with the same frequency we do with other people. In this post, I want to emphasize that all the same rules and concepts we’ve been talking about over these months of blog posts apply to agreements we make to ourselves. Trust is built and trust is broken by whether you keep your agreements.
So what does it mean if you build or break trust with yourself?
For example, if you want to lose weight and you say (to yourself and no one else), “I am going to exercise 3 times this week” and you follow through and do it, you are going to trust yourself more the next time you make a promise to yourself. Whether you keep agreements with yourself is similar to whether other people keep agreements with you. If someone tells you, “I will call you at 3pm to talk about the proposal,” and does not, this will erode trust with you. If it is one out of 10 times that she has broken her promise to you, may think to yourself, “I am sure something has happened. This is unlike her.” If however, she has broken 9 out of 10 of her agreements with you, then you may think, “Here we go again.” In fact if this is her track record, when she made this agreement there’s a high likelihood that what you thought is, “Yeah right.”
The same thing occurs with agreements you make with yourself. If you are at the beginning of establishing a workout routine and you say to yourself, “I am going to exercise 3 times this week,” what do you hear in your head? Do you hear, “Yeah right?” knowing that historically you don’t do what you tell yourself you will? Even if you don’t hear it loudly, most people know if they can trust themselves or not. And the reason you will or will not has to do with your history of keeping agreements with YOU.
I cannot overemphasize the effect it will have on you if you are telling yourself you will do something and then you do not do it. Particularly if you are doing this over time. At some point you will want to do something important and challenging and you will want to know that you will do it because you said you would, and for no other reason. A way to establish this kind of trust is to treat agreement-making with yourself in the same way that we have advised you to do with others: (1) Know when you are making an agreement with yourself. Distinguish between a promise (I will do this no matter what it takes) and a goal (I will do my best but I may not complete this). (2) Make sure you are aware about the time frame. A complete promise has a time element in it; otherwise, you will not know if you completed it or not. For example, there is a difference between “I am going to work out two times by the end of the week” and “I am going to start working out.” (3) If it is an agreement you are making with yourself, try calling it a “promise.” (4) Be careful what promises you make to yourself and practice keeping them – large and small, significant and insignificant. Start small and then build up to agreements that are more challenging. Keep them. Build a history so you can trust yourself when the time is right.