Little Promises I Make To Myself

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Self Leadership
Little Promises I Make to Myself

I was going through some papers the other day and came across a scrap with some scrawled handwriting. I recognized it as my own and realized I wrote it after waking up from a dream.

I had written that Little Promises I Make to Myself would be a book title.

I had forgotten all about it until I rediscovered this scrap. I knew what the book was meant to be.

You Probably Have Little Promises You Make To Yourself Too

I don’t always make good on my little promises. Some are clearly from my childhood. Others I developed through my experience as an adult, growing up. I distinctly remember this realization in my early forties. As adults we continue to mature and adapt and change – hopefully for the better.

Here’s just one little promise I’ve picked up along the way.

Do What I Say I’m Going To Do When I Say I’m Going To Do It

Promises like this can be noble. For me, this is important so people know they can count on me. It represents consistency, which leads to credibility. Credibility leads to trust and being counted on. It’s important for me to let someone know if I cannot make good on what I told them I am going to do – whether it matters to them or not. It matters to me.

Ultimately this is where the promise to myself comes in. This consistency, credibility and ability to be trusted come into play about how I view myself. Integrity is my number one value. I can feel it in my body when I am out of integrity.

How Does It Feel When You Don’t Keep Your Promises?

What does it mean to be out of integrity? For me, it’s when I knowingly do not do what I say I’m going to do, and don’t admit it. I make flimsy excuses. I expect more from others than I expect from myself. I know I’m out of integrity when I am going off on someone else about a failure to keep this promise to me.

I jumped on someone the other day who failed to do what he said he was going to do. It’s happened so many times it’s affecting my trust in him. I was going to point that out until he got it.

He clearly thought I was a maniac. At first I judged him for not having the same value as me, and for not respecting my need that he make good on his word. That’s what got my attention. My need for it.

Let’s see. If I were clean on that one, why would I be so upset? It’s a little thing called projection. It made me think about where I might be letting myself down. Perhaps I’m letting myself down by counting on someone I know will let me down.

The Promises You Make To Yourself Are The Most Important You Make

I talk a lot about how we show up in the world. How you show up for yourself is important too. I remember reading that those who don’t trust others are the least trustworthy themselves. We get what we put out there.

What promises do you make to yourself and how are you keeping them?
Photo Credit: condesign, cc0 public domain

About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers:  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

John E. Smith  |  11 Sep 2015  |  Reply

HI, Mary – great post and way too close to home:)

The big take-away for me in your thoughts was that when we promise something to someone else, we always have a choice about how we handle not filling that promise:

1) We can frame our actions in relation to the other person – such as saying “They don’t really care if I do this now or later.” As you wisely point out, our credibility in their eyes is diminished when we do not do what we said we would do when we said we would do it.

2) We can consider ourselves as the barometers for the results from not keeping our promises – thinking in terms of our own self-credibility (If that is actually a word) and making our case based on our own sense of integrity.

Old and very useful saying: “The true test of a man’s (or woman’s) character is what he does when no one is watching.” (John Wooden) I think this applies here, because ultimately our sense of integrity comes from within. It is not something granted by others, although they will judge the quality of our integrity.

A thought about observable behavior: Everyone else can see what you do, but only you can see what is in your heart.

I am a big fan of doing the right thing at the right time … for the right reason.

Loved this post – thanks for starting my day off with some solid leadership thinking!


Mary C. Schaefer  |  11 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Thank you for weighing in, John, because I always find your thoughts of “weight” and substance.

It’s coincidental that you bring up the Wooden quote: “The true test of a man’s (or woman’s) character is what he does when no one is watching.” I run across people for whom this is a foreign concept. This makes me feel lucky I have been blessed to have been taught well, had good role models, and get to hang around people like you.

And then: “Everyone else can see what you do, but only you can see what is in your heart.” I’ve heard this put as, “We judge others on their actions, and judge ourselves on our intentions.” We never really know what others intended, which helps me be more compassionate and forgiving (when I remember…).

Have a great Friday, John.

John E. Smith  |  11 Sep 2015  |  Reply

BTW: Looking forward to the launch of the new book “Little Promises I Make to Myself” by Mary C. Schaefer. Keep us informed of the publication dates:)


Mary C. Schaefer  |  11 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Okay, John. You are calling me out on this, aren’t you? I have a draft manuscript. Just don’t know if I’m ready to be so “transparent” to the public yet. Thank you for the encouragement and the nudge.

Susan Mazza  |  11 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Very honest and insightful Mary. I wrote about integrity in our book The a Character Based Leader. Your post reminded of one of the key points – Integrity is an aspiration! We will never be perfect. And as you point out the works can be a great mirror for just how well we are living into that aspiration.

You have me thinking about what promises I a am truly making to myself. It’s clear some things will remain daydreams, at least for now. The litmus test between the two is whether or not I am honoring the promise in my actions vs wishful thinking about it.

By far the best way to keep me true however to to make a promise in the world that will pull for me to honor that promise to myself no matter what. I could do a better job of keeping promises to myself but I’ve discovered the reality for me is I will always do whatever it takes to keep a promise to someone else. When I connect the two everyone wins!

Mary C. Schaefer  |  11 Sep 2015  |  Reply

“I could do a better job of keeping promises to myself but I’ve discovered the reality for me is I will always do whatever it takes to keep a promise to someone else. When I connect the two everyone wins!” – Susan Mazza

– I will always do whatever it takes to keep a promise to someone else –

Isn’t this so true? Some of my clients worry that they aren’t being charitable enough or forgiving enough, which I encourage, but I also encourage good boundaries, and not being a doormat, which CAN be a difficult promise to keep to yourself. Many of us tend to put others first. You are making me think, Susan. If I keep my promises to myself, am I in turn doing right by others automatically? Something to ponder. Thanks for that today, Susan!

Lisa Lavergne  |  11 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Thanks Mary, a good Aha moment for me. Great reminder of how much our own actions can affect others. One area that I really seem to struggle with in seeing promises kept is the area of technology. I have dealt with countless of unmet deadlines, incomplete processes, and just general lack of concern that a deadline has come and gone, typically getting passed off to “this is just the way it is”. Now I understand why this strikes such a nerve for me. It goes back to the integrity of doing what you say you are going to do. A good time to reflect on what promises I have made to myself, or others, that I have not kept. Checking the integrity of my heart, that internal voice that keeps me moving.

This integrity concept was brought to light for me early in my parenting years. The sometimes silly things parents say out of frustration such as; “you will be grounded for life!” When we lead our children, teaching them that we do what we say, we are teaching the future generations integrity in the spoken word. We actually made my 5 year old get out of the car once, because my husband had given him the “I will stop this car and let you out” speech. Well, lets just say we no longer had car issues. (and yes he did make it to adulthood, and has become a very fine young man with high integrity)

In leadership roles, we do have to remember the power of promise kept. Not only to others, but as you reminded, to ourselves as well. Very thought provoking the idea of not trusting ourselves when we don’t keep those promises. Now is a good time to review my to do list. Thanks for sharing!

Mary C. Schaefer  |  11 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Lisa, I am glad you found the post thought-provoking. I had no idea it would have such an effect. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your story. Love the one about the car. Such moments from my childhood are etched in my memory. I’m not surprised your son grew to be a fine young man. Good job.

Thanks again for commenting,

Lombiso Ergeno  |  12 Sep 2015  |  Reply

It is great point Mary,
Keeping promises is one of good qualities of leaders. It is very important to look at ourselves before anyone else. When we think of leadership the first thing comes to our mind is people management but we should start doing that by self-leadership and keeping our own promises that no one knows except ourselves. I believe it is leadership ethics to be honest to ourselves as well as others. The holy Bible says “But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him.” (1 John 2:5) I don’t know how we often break our own words and expect others to keep theirs. For good leaders who lead by example keeping their promises to themselves is one way of being model to their followers.

Mary C. Schaefer  |  16 Sep 2015  |  Reply

“For good leaders who lead by example keeping their promises to themselves is one way of being model to their followers.”

Thank you for adding that, Lombiso.

Paul LaRue  |  13 Sep 2015  |  Reply

A terrific post Mary! You have challenged us all by challenging yourself to follow through on our internal commitments as well. Like John says, it cuts close to home, but you have provided good counsel and encouragement to us. Well done!


Mary C. Schaefer  |  13 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Thanks Paul. That means a lot coming from you.

Jesse Silva  |  15 Sep 2015  |  Reply


I know its been stated above in the comments before, but you have truly struck a common nail right on the head. I fail to follow through with promises to myself and may have even projected them from time to time. Thank you for a very touched article that I will share and return to periodically for its great value.


Mary C. Schaefer  |  15 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Thank you so much for telling me that, Jesse. I feel better when we can all share in our common humanity :)

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