If someone routinely breaks promises, they may not think it matters. But honoring commitments (or failing to do so) significantly impacts our relationships and our feelings.

While it seems a lofty concept, honoring commitments can be defined simply: You do what you say you’re going to do, and you do it when you say you will. Commitments may take many forms, ranging from life-changing (promising financial support) to trivial (assuring someone you will call them back). But the ramifications of failing to honor a commitment, no matter how small, are more serious than we think. Each incident tells the subconscious mind that you are not a trustworthy person. To the world at large, your word cannot be trusted or relied upon. 

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It does not take long before people lose respect for someone who fails to honor their commitments. Perhaps more devastating is the loss of self-respect that can take place. The good news is that the opposite is just as powerful – honoring your commitments gives meaning and weight to your words. 

If you want to operate in good faith but find yourself not honoring your commitments, these tips may help. 

Practice Saying “No”

One sure way to protect your integrity is to limit those things you commit to – in other words, learn to say no. Many people have a problem refusing a request, but then they have a more difficult challenge trying to juggle everything they have agreed to do. When we say yes to things that do not align with our priorities, we create a self-imposed situation wherein we are tempted to back out. By identifying those things you wish to participate in, you can politely turn down those requests that do not align with your priorities.  

Honoring Self-Commitments

If we don’t even honor our commitments to ourselves, we are unlikely to honor those we make to others. Start by limiting the number of things on your personal to-do list, then make sure you accomplish them. You can always add more to the list as you grow in discipline. Another great way to honor commitments is to be realistic and make promises to yourself slowly. If you wish to change your diet, don’t give up everything “bad” at once – concentrate on one thing at a time. If you want to begin exercising, start with a manageable regimen – don’t try to run 10 miles on the first day. 

Making and honoring realistic commitments to yourself teaches your brain that you can change your behavior.

Honoring Commitments to Others

Just as learning to honor commitments to yourself is imperative, keeping promises to others is necessary for good mental health and robust relationships. You may not think you break commitments often, but this happens every day in many ways.

  • You promise to run an errand for someone but then don’t do it, citing “not enough time.”
  • You say you’ll provide information or feedback by a specific date or time but fail to do so.
  • You don’t show up for a scheduled appointment, whether with a dentist or hairstylist.

When you don’t honor your commitments to others, it won’t be long before people don’t trust what you say, lose respect for you, or consider you unreliable.

However, when you begin to honor your commitments, great and small – you develop a sense of self-control over your life. You transform yourself into the kind of person who does what you promise. You begin to feel pride and respect – a worthwhile goal for anyone. If you struggle with commitment and discipline, a certified coach may be just the solution you need. Denise Schonwald is a nationally certified mental health counselor and coach, working with clients across the United States. Click here for more information.