What a wonderful friend you are. We have chosen to put something else ahead of our commitment. That might clue you in as to whether or not you should make the promise in the first place.Am I being realistic? Keeping these things in mind can help us manage commitments more effectively, which helps us feel positive about our track record! You could practically hear her inner voice doling out the compliments. For more by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., click here. Jane is the kind of person who sees herself as a good friend, and would be outraged if I replied to her generous gesture with what I was really thinking: "I won't hold my breath.". For more science-based strategies you can use to reach your goals and get happier and healthier, check out Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals and Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. "I promise we'll give you a promotion in six months." Telling others about your intention to do something does make you more likely to actually do it, but this is only true when the actual behavior you are committing to is desirable for its own sake. And it turns out, that's where the trouble lies. I promise." Why am I making a particular commitment? "I'll be there. And since talking is usually easier than doing, why bother with the latter? Indeed, why actually follow through on the offer to watch the kids, with all the hassle that entails, when simply expressing your intention to do so feels so good in its own right? So just telling people you are going to do some lawyer stuff makes you feel almost like an actual lawyer! We might believe that we need to say "yes" to get what we want or to ensure someone will like us. How can we understand these promise-breakers like Jane, whose intentions start out both genuine and admirable, but who never seem to act on them? "Yes, honey, I'll take out the trash after dinner." In other words, when other people hear us talk about our identity-related intentions, we get a sense of completeness from just talking about it. Other activities are purely symbolic -- like self-praise ("Look at that brushwork. I am so good! Tell your neighbor that you would love to help plan the block party but are unsure if you can do it because of your busy schedule, and that you will let her know next week. Part of HuffPost Wellness. How can you stop being a promise-breaker, someone who talks plenty but rarely bothers with the walking part? When other people notice our symbols -- like an intention to do something a doctor, and artist, or a good friend would do -- it gives you the same completeness-boost you'd get from actually doing it. If you need to flag this entry as abusive. "You know what," said Jane, touching my hand and clearly filled with sympathy, "I'm going to come over sometime next week and take the kids off your hands for a few hours so you can go have some fun. Can You Sue Someone Over a Broken Promise? Recent research shows that when our identity-based intentions are noticed by other people, we are indeed less likely to translate them into action. Keeping our promises is good for others and good for us! Tiny fissures develop in our relationships marked by broken promises. Trying to figure out where you go wrong when it comes to reaching your goals? Without an audience, intentions alone won't give you the sense of identity-completeness you're looking for. What was the last promise you made to someone? If you are making more commitments than you can keep, ask yourself the following questions:What is my motivation behind the promise? You’ll experience first hand how wonderful it feels being at the receiving end of a kept promise — your own. The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly. Get the help you need from a therapist near you–a FREE service from Psychology Today. People respect honesty even when faced with an answer that might not be exactly what they want to hear.When I break a promise, do I handle it well? If instead, he vows "to spend more time with my kids, because they really need me right now," or "because I love being with them," he's made it clear to everyone, including himself, that it's not just about being a good dad -- it's about time with the kids, for its own sake. Completeness is also enhanced by an audience. But Jane wasn't offering to babysit because she wanted to spend time with my kids -- she was doing it to be a good friend. What is my intention? Well, one obvious solution is to keep your intentions to yourself. For some people, I've noticed, saying you are going to do something feels just as good as actually doing it. Not keeping a promise is the same as disrespecting yourself. In a second study, groups of second-year law students wrote about their three most important intentions with respect to becoming a lawyer (e.g., "I will read law periodicals regularly."). Recently, my friend Jane (not her real name, for reasons that will become obvious) sat with me over a long lunch, and listened patiently to tales of how my children were slowly driving me crazy. For some people, I've noticed, saying you areto do something feels just as good as actually doing it. What are you getting out of the deal? It's not that she didn't mean what she was saying, that the offer wasn't genuine. To restore our sense of completeness, we try to engage in activities or show off status symbols related to the damaged identity. Why Keeping Your Promise is Good for You Ask yourself these questions if you find that your break commitments. Most people are reasonable when it comes to a change of plans, as long as we have an explanation and are kind about it. You will get beyond the talk when you make a point of remembering why it's worth taking the trouble to walk. You see, despite my fondness for Jane, I knew there was no way in hell she was going to do anything of the kind. Life moves at the speed of light and we often have to pick and choose how we spend our time. Half of the law students then made their intentions known to the rest of the group, while the others kept them privately to themselves. I'd heard it all before. For more on emotional intelligence, click here. When we fail at some task that is relevant to our identity (e.g., a rejection from an art gallery, a bad review from an art critic), we feel a sense of incompleteness -- saddened and anxious that we aren't living up to our mental image of who and what we are supposed to be. Am I doing this for the recipient or for myself? First, going public commits you to a view of yourself that you want to try to be consistent with. In her mind, she had every intention of coming over to watch the kids. Much of the time, the actions we intend to take are desirable to us because they validate some important aspect of our identity, of how we like to think of ourselves. This should be true for (at least) two reasons. "), or dressing the part by walking around in a paint-spattered smock. Micromanipulations: A Narcissist's Method of Control, Psychology Today © 2020 Sussex Publishers, LLC, 4 Types of COVID-19 Vaccination Attitudes, Two Distinct Ways the Brain Stays Focused and Curbs Impulses. Just so we are clear, a promise, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is: "a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified; or a legally binding declaration that gives the person to whom it is made a right to expect or to claim the performance or forbearance of a specified act." Choose your words carefully when making a promise. How can we understand these promise-breakers, whose intentions start out both genuine and admirable, but who never seem to act on them? You are so generous, Jane. ©2020 Verizon Media. If I don't have the project finished by Friday, then my boss will likely think I am the kind of person who he should fire. This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Posted May 12, 2010 Jane is one of those people -- she had a visible aura of satisfaction about her after she made her offer to babysit. Just having their intentions read by the experimenter actually decreased their likelihood of acting by 30 percent! Author, "No One Understands You and What To Do About It" "Nine Things Successful People Do Differently". Don't be that person! How can we understand these promise-breakers, whose intentions start out both genuine and admirable, but who never seem to act on them? Get all the latest election results from across the country, with up-to-the-minute maps and more. Ironically, the more important the aspect of your identity is to you, the less likely you are to go through with it. When we don't keep a promise to someone, it communicates to that person that we don't value him or her. There is nothing in life that says you MUST make promises to others. Consider your schedule, and ask yourself if this is a promise you can keep. How often do you keep your promise? Sharing their intention to do lawyerly things bumped completeness scores up a full point, from an average of 3 to 4.