How To Keep Your Promises to Yourself
Are you frustrated because your diet always seems to be starting ‘tomorrow’? Or you start, but you can only hang in there for a few days?
Maybe you resolve every morning that you will NOT eat the chips in front of the TV tonight…. but then when 9pm comes, there you are crunching away.
In my work with helping women release menopausal weight, I’ve noticed that so many of them encounter this particular obstacle. It’s one that I’ve struggled with myself in many areas of my life. I’ve conquered it when it comes to food and weight loss…. but it rears its ugly head in other areas of my life.
I hear it so often, in some form or another: I just can’t keep my promises to myself!
In the case of my clients it’s often around their promises to stop eating certain foods, or to start eating others, or to initiate a yoga practice or other exercise or movement program.
We all do this. We get so clear and firm with themselves on the behaviors we want to change….
And then something happens.
We let ourselves down.
And then we get down on ourselves. We say such mean things about our self control, our will power, our prospects for the future.
We call ourselves names that we wouldn’t dream of EVER calling another person.
But, even worse—we give up. We conclude that it’s just not possible to follow through. We’ve blown it anyway, so just screw it. Where’s that ice cream anyway?
It’s like that inner rebel or saboteur just takes the reins and runs the show. All of our lofty intentions dissolve into dust.
It’s so weird, isn’t it? This constant reneging on our promises to ourselves, when we bend over backwards to keep our commitments to others!
WTF is going on??
As I’ve observed this phenomenon with my weight loss clients…. and noticed how much this promise-breaking still happens to me in other areas of my life… I came up with a little brain hack.
I invite you to try it out with me if you struggle with breaking your own promises to yourself!
Why a brain hack?
Because that’s what’s needed to circumvent the giant neural pathway that takes you back down the road of personal promise breaking.
Your Brain and Your Promise
Here’s the thing. There’s a part of the human brain that is leftover from prehistoric times. It is literally wired for the times when we were still living in caves and gathering and hunting our food.
Let’s call this our lower brain.
This part of your brain is responsible for many helpful things. But, it’s also distinctly unhelpful when it comes to making positive change in your life, including weight loss.
And that’s because of something we coaches call the Motivational Triad.
This part of your brain has three top priorities: Seek Pleasure, Avoid Pain, and Stay Safe.
This means trouble when you want to do something different than your normal habits. When you try to do it, that part of your brain literally freaks out. Because changing things up could have meant death back in the cave man days. It was decidedly not safe!
Plus, change can feel a bit painful. Especially if it’s part of a weight loss effort and includes limiting a food that tastes good.
And avoiding pain is where its at as far as that part of your brain is concerned. Making a change in your life, no matter how small, takes more energy because you need to create new neural pathways.
And, to make it all worse, often the behaviors we seek to change (eating certain foods, over-consuming social media, etc) give us a little hit of dopamine – the neurotransmitter of pleasure.
So… basically all three elements of the motivational triad are being challenged when you try to follow through on those promises to yourself.
Before you’ve even realized it that lower brain has convinced you to break your promise and go back to the ease and pleasure.
It’s okay though… all is not lost. I’ll bet you HAVE made intentional changes in the past and stuck with it.
We luckily have the ‘higher’ part of our brain known as the prefrontal cortex. That’s the part that envisions, plans, and sets goals.
Although these two can sometimes seem to be in a pitched battle, there are ways to give the prefrontal a bit of a boost.
I came up with this hack to sort of lull the lower brain a bit, and to begin to build the neural pathway of following through – without dealing with quite so much freak out.
Try This Brain Hack To Start Keeping Those Promises
You can try this out right away – it’s so easy! Start today.
You’re going to get out a notebook or a piece of paper make a list of five things you promise yourself you’ll do TOMORROW. But here’s the trick…. These aren’t aspirational things that you wish you would do but rarely actually do.
No, you’re going to make a promise to yourself to do five things that are EASY, that you already usually do.
At least four of these things should be items that are part of your regular routine. Like have a cup of tea upon awakening. Feed the dog. Check email. Take a shower.
Whatever it is that you know you’ll usually do. Really anything that is part of your normal life.
If you know you’re super rebellious about doing the things you say you’ll do, be sure that all five things on your list are easy and no-brainers.
And then then the next day you actually do them.
Make sure you check them off the list. And give yourself a little private High Five and a celebratory thumbs up.
This begins to train your brain that you DO follow through on what you say you’re going to do.
Now you make new list of five things you will do the next day. If you think you’re up for it, sneak in just ONE thing that you’d like to do a bit differently. Maybe eating a salad for lunch, or 10 minutes of stretching, a dance break. Whatever thing you’ve wanted to do but don’t always do.
And then then next day you do them. All five. And, again, you give yourself a little mental High Five for following through.
You are going to continue this practice for at least seven days. But keep at least 3-4 of the items as the easy to follow-through ones.
Ideally you find a bit of quiet time to make this list, preferably when you’re feeling strong and connected. I like mornings before all the chaos of daily life hits. But any time you’re connected to that YOU who wants to make some of these habit changes.
But – don’t worry. Even if no quiet time is available, make the list and do this. It will still work.
I know, I know. It seems silly. Why write down what you already know you’re going to do?
The point of this is that when you make the plan, you are using the part of your brain that wants those things you long for. That prefrontal cortex.
That’s the part that sees you 20 pounds lighter and wearing two sizes smaller pants. Or the part that sees you completing that project you’ve been thinking about for the last two years, or the one that is regularly doing those online yoga classes.
After a week or two of practicing this hack, you’ll be ready to add in some more things that you want to do or not do.
Watch Out for the Trap!
If you’re anything like me, you get all inspired sometimes and make all of these resolutions or promises about how you’re going to eat or exercise, or speak calmly even when angry, or write every day, or whatever.
You’re in such an inspired space about it all you pile on ALL the things.
I’ve realized that I’m expecting myself to instantly turn into Super Sarah when I do that. I’m going to accomplish ALL the items on my to-do list because I’ll NEVER let myself get distracted by email or messages. I’ll turn all that off and focus focus focus all day long.
But it’s too far a leap to go from Distracted Sarah to Super Sarah. So I need to move in smaller steps. Start teaching my brain that I DO follow through.
That’s why it’s important to take a FULL week of writing down mostly things you know you’ll follow through on. Maybe even two. And to do that mini private celebration, and acknowledge you DID keep those promises.
You’ll need that new neural pathway to lean into.
Because once you start adding in those aspirational items. The ones you envision and think you want…. well, that motivational triad inevitably kicks in when it’s time to actually do it.
Your lower brain will perceive the new way of doing things as not safe, not to mention downright uncomfortable.
It comes up with all sorts of reasons why today is not the day to change up the habit and the routine. It will slyly remind you of the phone call that needs to be made right when you resolved to do some yoga. Or it will point out that you’re a bit under the weather so you should wait.
And there you are, back to talking about it without ever actually doing anything.
So be onto that lower brain! It doesn’t have to run the show unless you let it.
There’s a second hack as you progress along with this.
When you add something new and then you don’t do it…. You don’t berate yourself!! You don’t shake your head in disgust and give up.
Because it’s not like you’ve done anything wrong. This is totally normal behavior. Why? Because you have a human brain.
You also don’t just give yourself a pass without any consideration.
Instead you want to gently and compassionately question what was going on in your mind when you made the choice to do something different than what was on that list. What thoughts and feelings were present?
Hacks like this are the way we gently start to rewire those neural pathways that are keeping us so stubbornly stuck in certain behaviors. And let’s face it – at our age those pathways have had a lot of time to get bigger and bigger! So, be patient with yourself.
Are you ready to join me in this little experiment? I’d love to know how it goes!
If you think you need a bit of support during that Stage Two of the process, I’ve got some options for you. Beating yourself up will NEVER get you closer to following through on your promises and achieving your dream body, or other goals.
If you’d like some free one on one support, here is where you can schedule your personal body breakthrough call. In this free mini session we’ll uncover 3 ways you may be sabotaging your own progress, in weight loss or anything else, and at least one thing you can do right away to turn that around.