For months, I have wanted to create a new habit of waking up at 5:00 to meditate and write. But I haven’t been successful. Well, some days I am successful. In fact, sometimes I go for weeks being successful. But the system always fails at some point 100% of the time.
Each time that happens (sometimes daily), I criticize myself for failing. But as it turns out, I was actually setting myself up for failure.
Problem #1: I made a promise without realizing it.
My mind is awesome. As soon as I have a desire for something, my mind starts working out how to get it. Then, it settles on a plan for achieving the goal (like getting up at 5:00 am) and before I know it, I’ve made a promise.
The pattern looks like this…
Desire: I really want to write and meditate every day.
Idea: How could I make that happen?
Plan: I could get up at 5:00am.
Promise: I will get up at 5:00am.
I never intended to make a promise, but there it was. No wonder I kept feeling like I was letting myself down. When you’ve made a promise to yourself that you don’t keep, it’s a big deal. Not getting up at 5:00 am seems like something small but over time, broken promises add up to feeling like a big failure.
In my mind, there is a difference between a habit and a promise. I have a lot of good habits in my life. For example, I exercise 5 or 6 times a week. I know that I’ll find a way to squeeze that into my day, but it is NOT a promise because I also know that life happens and something will have to give. For me, that is exercise. It is negotiable. I can do that, because there is very little danger of that falling completely off of my radar. Promises, on the other hand, are not negotiable. I keep those. And when I don’t, I suffer. I feel guilty. I feel like I’ve let myself down.
It seems I need to be a little more careful about that desire-idea-plan-promise pattern.
Problem #2: I was dealing with conflicting promises.
I also have a promise to myself that I have been keeping for years. I get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep every night. It is something that I just don’t sacrifice, if I can help it. The problem is that, in order for me to keep both promises, I have to go to bed at 9:00pm. That just isn’t realistic with the schedule my family keeps. So every night when I would go to bed and calculate hours of sleep, 5:00am was off the table.
It was actually a relief to figure out that I was dealing with conflicting promises to myself. The sleep promise I’d been keeping for years was simply trumping the new one I was trying to keep. Rather than being a failure all around, I was actually being kind to myself but just unable to do both.
Conflicting promises are similar to conflicting desires or conflicting values. I’m pretty sure that’s why when I feel like it is time to lose a few pounds, I sabotage myself if I go about it by eliminating whole food groups. On the one hand, it seems logical to me to give up carbs and dairy. On the other hand, I don’t want to live without pasta and cheese unless my life depends on it. I will be much more successful having a little less of the things that bring me great joy than sacrificing them. I can point to many unsuccessful weight loss attempts that boiled down to this conflict of desires.
Just like with promises, it seems the strongest one is going to win. It turns out for me that the vast majority of the time, my desire for the brie will always win. The good news here is that I’m not a loser. I’m not weak. I’ve just put myself in a position of conflict and when push comes to shove, there is only one winner. I just have to decide which one I value the most and find another way to get the other one.
Dissecting your “failures”
I’m often surprised at how long it takes me to quit getting up and running back into the same brick wall before I stop and ask myself why I’m doing it. But I’m always pleased and a little fascinated with what I come up with. Here’s what I’ve learned and the advice I would like to pass on…
- Know what promises you are making to yourself.
- Make sure your promises do not conflict with each other.
- Keep the promises you make to yourself 100% of the time.
Cheers to you for the promises you keep to yourself and the learning that comes from the ones you don’t!