What to do When You Break a Promise You Made to Yourself

Mar 7, 2018

Saturday I planned on running 5 miles.

Friday night, I drank two glasses of red wine with my friend Dana.

Red wine gives me a weird hangover, a sticky mix of weepy and headachy. (But it was so fun to celebrate my friend’s new job.)

I did not run on Saturday. Felt icky.

What did I do about this broken promise to myself?

First, I stewed in the draining nowhere zone of “I should run, don’t be a wimp, running will make you feel so much better.” Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. I had a hard stop to be showered and dressed for the day at 10 am.

Soon there wasn’t enough time to run and the question became: will I stew and beat myself up all day, or will I mindfully and kindly face into not running?

What do you do when you make a promise to yourself and you don’t keep it?  

We all break promises we make to ourselves.  How we handle our broken promises is what matters. It can mean the difference between beginning again on what you want to create and who you want to be or spiraling off into self-judgement and paralysis that can last for weeks or months – or even years.

“But Jen, I have so many broken promises littering my past.”

My example of one broken promise might prompt you to tell a story about how you’re particularly unredeemable because you have far more than one broken promise in your past.

First off, I have many broken promises in my past too. It’s a common pattern for me—I try to do too much, get unrealistic about what’s possible, push myself too hard and rebel with cookies or red wine 🙂 But so what? What’s important here is to not feed yourself a story about your past. Now is the moment of awakening.

How to Begin Again

Own your power and voice by greeting your current experience rather than dodging away or blaming away. Feel what you are feeling.

“I am feeling this. Wow, I intend to be gently curious as I encounter what this moment feels like.”

You can label what you’re feeling… “I feel disappointed, I feel numb, this hurts.” Breathe and witness yourself.

Without excuses, recriminations, or the woulda coulda shoulda. Greet your own choice.

This is often where we get lost. We snarl ourselves up in our mean narratives and then we start looking outside of ourselves for distractions, for someone to let us off the hook, or for someone to blame. If that happens, see those stories and greet them without inviting them to move in.

Next, take a moment to recall someone who cares about you. Get a sense of this person’s caring for you. How warm or safe or loving does this caring feel? Breathe the caring in. If the thought arises, “I don’t deserve this caring because I broke my promise”, then breathe the caring into that part of you. You do not have to force it to change but you can accept it as a gift of love because everything and everybody deserves love.

Now bring to mind some of your good qualities. Remember how patient you were in the store yesterday with the clerk-in-training, how you made your BFF laugh when she was despairing, or how fair you are with your sisters when they come to you fighting. Breathe your good qualities in.

Ask yourself: if someone I care for broke a promise to herself and felt bad about it, how would I feel about her? Not what you would say, but how you would feel. Breathe that in.

Finally, extend that same feeling toward yourself.

All of this takes about a minute or two, although you could certainly bask in the process longer.

It’s not about making yourself feel all zippity-do-da; it’s about being open-heartedly connected to reality and the tenderness of being human. It’s about greeting yourself as you are. Because there is nothing to hide from here, no reason to cloak yourself in shame.

Rather than distracting, shaming, or creating complicated inflated future plans to “make up” for your slip, which only creates more broken promises and self-blame, greet yourself with dignity and kindness.

Try it out and see how it feels.

Next week: How to Cut Down on Future Broken Promises or Yes you have to learn this stuff



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