One of the most common complaints I hear day in and day out, whether it’s from a couple in relationship counseling or someone looking for a new job or to choose a new career path, relates to the failure of others to keep their commitments. “He promised to spend less time working at home, but nothing’s changed”; “she told me she’d call me back by the end of the week, but it’s been three weeks and I still haven’t heard from her’.
I also often encounter clients’ failure to keep commitments to me in my role as life consultant, psychotherapist, career counselor, or life coach: clients commit to completing homework assignments, exercising, journaling - but a week later claim that they “didn’t have time” to, or they “got too busy” (more on this in a minute).
Keeping your word, the vehicle by which commitments are made, is of critical importance in your intrapersonal, interpersonal, and professional life. The degree to which you keep your commitments is a strong indicator of the peace and smoothness you will encounter in your life, for several reasons:
Reduced guilt – Although many broken commitments occur so unconsciously that we’re not even aware of them, to the degree that we are aware we can feel the unpleasantly gnawing guilt that comes with having done something we know is wrong.
Personal pride - The flip side of the guilt coin. Knowing that you are consistently a person of your word leads to increased self-esteem.
Less conflict - A failure to keep a commitment (particularly if this is a frequent pattern) disrupts the plans of others and can lead to anger, resentment and hostility.
Closeness to others - Someone who is consistently reliable and whose word can be trusted is someone people are more willing to open up to.
Reputation – Becoming known as someone who is less-than-fully reliable can negatively impact both yoursocial and professional life.
Watch what you’re committing to carefully. Lots of us hate to disappoint others, and so we agree to things we know or suspect we won’t be able to fulfill so as to avoid having to say “no”. If you know you can’t or don’t want to agree to a request, do your best to acknowledge that to the other person. Don’t give yourself an easy out by believing that you failed to keep a commitment because something else got in the way, or you ran out of time, or you got too busy. The truth is that a failure to keep a commitment is simply a matter of placing that commitment lower on your scale of priorities than something else. If you make “keeping commitments” a cornerstone of your personal philosophy, and place appropriate importance on it, you’ll only miss the mark in the case of an unanticipated development.
Commitments can, and should, be reviewed as often as necessary to ensure that they can be met. Unexpected developments can certainly cause us to reorder priorities. As long as you’re clear with yourself and others as to why the reordering occurred, you’ll be acting with appropriate integrity - one of the most important elements of character.