The Promises We Break

How do you feel when someone breaks a promise to you: sad, disappointed, betrayed, maybe a bit foolish if it isn’t the first time?

A promise establishes the expectation that a particular thing will happen, and when the commitment is fulfilled it builds confidence that the individual can be trusted to keep their word. Chances are you have at least a couple of people in your inner circle you trust without question because they have never failed to come through for you. Likewise, I think most of us know at least one person who forgets promises almost as soon as they are made. If the relationship is important to you, then you’ve probably been willing to chalk the behavior up to just who they are, but you know better than to entrust them with doing anything that really matters to you.

Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

Most of us take our promises pretty seriously and women, in particular, have a habit of putting the needs of others ahead of their own and feel racked with guilt if they break a commitment. So why then do you suppose we find it so easy to break the promises we make to ourselves?

The Nature of Promises

If you’re wondering, “What promises?” that is actually part of the problem. One of the main reasons that we fail to follow through on personal commitments is that we don’t really consider them to be promises, but rather intentions.

Do any of these sound familiar?

I intend to …

  • Start taking better care of myself.
  • Eat healthier and start exercising.
  • Stop bringing work home.
  • Never smoke again.
  • Commit to set aside quality “me” time.
  • Start saving a little out of each paycheck.
  • Say ‘no’ more often.

Some of us will do this again and again because we simply don’t take these breaches of trust and commitment to ourselves as seriously as we do breaking a promise to someone else since we are the only one affected.

I have never been a fan of intentions – including those so many people make at the beginning of a New Year – because they are the weakest kind of commitment. Intentions are nearly always emotion based. You become frustrated with a situation or behavior or decide you should (or should not) be doing something, and then you declare your intention to make corrections based on that emotional response. Inevitably the feelings begin to fade and you gradually ease back to where you were before you hit that emotional tipping point. You may even try to convince yourself it wasn’t that big a deal after all. Some of us will do this again and again because we simply don’t take these breaches of trust and commitment to ourselves as seriously as we do breaking a promise to someone else since we are the only one affected. But for better or worse there are always consequences for the choices we make. People with good intentions make promises. People with good character keep them.

When It Becomes a Habit

Breaking promises can become a habit just like any other behavior. You may never break a promise to another person, but if you habitually break them to yourself, then in your subconscious mind this behavior is the acceptable standard when it comes to you. In other words, you value commitments to yourself less than you value those you make to others. Each breach of trust becomes easier and that means if you ever do actually want to create meaningful change you’re going to find yourself in an uphill battle to muster the strength of will and discipline to achieve your goal.

And there’s more!

Think about how you feel when someone fails to fulfill a commitment to you. You begin to lose confidence and trust in them, right?It may not be as obvious, but the same thing happens when you break promises to yourself. Each time you break a promise to yourself it chips away at your self-esteem and confidence, gradually building self-doubt about your ability to be counted on to follow through.

Most of us take our promises seriously and feel racked with guilt if we break a commitment, so why do we find it so easy to break promises we make to ourselves?

~ Author Unknown

How to Begin Taking Your Promises Seriously

Taking promises to yourself more seriously will require that you consciously make the effort to raise your personal standard for that behavior.

Become Self-Aware

Become more aware of the commitments you make to yourself and regardless of what label you choose to use publically (intention, goal, resolution, etc.) privately think of them as what they are – promises.

Be 100% Truthful

Before you make a promise to yourself take the time to determine why this matters to you. Is it something you really want to do or feel you should do? How much effort are you willing to put into it? For example, there’s the serial entrepreneur who discovers a new business opportunity to brag about every other month or the guy or gal who declares their intention to run a marathon but never gets around to training or even running.

For some people there is such a sense of completeness that comes from just talking about their goals, they never feel the need to actually make the effort to follow through and do the work. Repeatedly making promises about things you aren’t seriously committed to, and therefore sure to fail at, is nothing short of self-sabotage.

Create a Plan of Action

It’s become something of a trend to avoid setting actual goals, which is why the notion of intentions, themes, and one-word resolutions has become so popular. Regardless of what you call it unless you put it in writing and create some sort of action plan, it is highly unlikely you are going to achieve your desired results. So, if you are serious about fulfilling the promise you’ve made to yourself, then it’s worth taking the time to determine how you’re going to follow through.

Closing Thoughts

Just as most people who break promises to others don’t do it to be mean or cruel; chances are you have all the best intentions when it comes to following through on the promises you make to yourself. Sometimes life gets in the way, or maybe you are like me and struggle with superwoman syndrome and have to constantly reign yourself back in from over-committing. Whatever your excuses have been up to now, it’s time to decide promises made to yourself are just as important as those you make to other people.

Nothing is guaranteed to boost self-esteem and confidence like making a promise to yourself and keeping it!


Marquita Herald
Marquita is a transformational author, coach, founder, and chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. Her message is that resilience isn’t an umbrella to be reserved for a rainy day and you don’t need to wait until you are facing a major life change or crisis to claim the power and authority you have to create the quality and course of your life. In every way that matters, resilient living is a lifestyle choice. Through her blog, books, courses, and coaching, she provides insights, inspiration and a wealth of personal experience as a roadmap to grow through life’s inevitable challenges. Marquita makes her home in Oregon and loves red wine, rock n' roll, hiking, road trips, peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.


  1. I like this post a lot. Maybe because I am older I don’t make promises to anyone including myself. I engage life and imagine the possibilities. That being said I still found value and int erst in your post.

    • Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, Larry. I think it’s a matter of perspective whether or not age has anything to do with making promises to one’s self. We’ve all seen stories of people who have run marathons, started businesses or gone back to school to get their degrees at 70, 80 or 90 years old. If you think about it, there are promises made to one’s self when undertaking anything challenging in life, even if it’s nothing more than the implied promise to do your best at whatever you do in life. Again, it’s all a matter of perspective. Thanks again!