The Power of a Promise
By Maggie Salo, Director of Change Management, Algonquin Power & Utilities
Can a promise really make an impact on changing our behaviors, our actions and our habits? The answer is YES!
A promise absolutely can and will change our behaviors, our actions and our habits if we approach the change correctly. Let me share with you an approach that works for me and for the people whom I coach.
Think about the times that you say something like “tomorrow, I’m going to eat really well” or “tomorrow, I’m going to get my rest”, and somehow when tomorrow comes, you’re not able to do those things that you know will make a huge difference for you and your life.
Why is it so hard to make these changes?
To begin, the part of our brain that governs behaviour is called the reptilian brain. This reptilian brain is a very old brain which keeps doing what it has always done. We’re stuck in auto pilot doing the same thing, over and over.
You may have heard that it takes 21 days to break a habit. And, studies tell us that the first three days are the toughest. But, if you can get through the first three days, you can get through the 21 days and totally change your habit. But, how do you get through those first three days?
Well, a very powerful way is by making a promise to another person who will hold you to it. And, I will explain the importance of choosing the right person now. When you make a promise to someone else, your focus and energy completely change. You know that you’ve told someone else and now, you are going to work hard to make sure that whatever you promised happens. Then, you do the promised activity and the next day you make the promise again and you do the promised activity and suddenly after the third day, it’s just what your reptilian brain knows to do and that new habit becomes easier.
That’s right – I said easier. It’s incredible.
Let’s talk about what’s important about making promises.
First: you need to figure out what it is that you need to do, the behaviour, action or habit that you need to change. For most of us, that is the easy part because we all know what we need to change.
Second: you need to identify what to promise. This step is critical and where a lot of people stumble. In my experience of coaching clients, typically, they want to promise “the world”. They want to promise that “they’ll work out every day this week and eat perfectly”. Large, over-ambitious promises are a prescription for failure. We must make small changes and experience the wins. As a coach, I only accept promises that I feel are doable and realistic. Small promises build on each other and that is a key point.
As an example, you could promise to work out for 15 minutes on the first day. That’s enough of a promise. Then on the second day, you can think about your next promise. It might be to work out again two days later. And then again on the third day you make the promise, but only after you’ve had the prior successes. It is in the building on your prior successes that you have your achievement.
Third: and very important is thinking about who you promise to. Always promise to the people who will not let you off the hook. You need to find the person who is going to hold you accountable. The person who you will care enough about telling them that you made the promise.
It’s interesting that I’ve found my children to be great to promise to. I want to be a role model for them, I want them to know that I’ll keep my word and they are great cheerleaders rooting for me. I made promises to my children from the time they were 7 and for many years. It’s very important to be completely honest about your promises, otherwise this won’t work for you at all. Don’t judge yourself if you don’t keep a promise. It might have been too big or unrealistic. Small, realistic steps are critical.
I’ve witnessed people going from feeling stuck to completely turning things around with just one promise. Yes, it can be that easy!
How often do you do this? As often as you need to. When I’m in a rut, when I’m feeling stuck, when I want to move something forward, I always pull up a promise, because I know I’m going to be true to my word and it’s going to guide me forward to putting a whole new behaviour into place.
To summarize, we all can change our behaviours which are, in fact, our habits. First, determine what habit you want to change, establish any time lines and build in the benefit. Here is a formula that works for me:
I want to verb “something”, when?, so that state the benefit.
For example: I want to get up 15 minutes earlier tomorrow so that I can walk on the treadmill to increase my stamina.
Once you have created your statement, in a simple format, tell it to the person whose opinion you respect and who will hold you accountable. When you complete your promise, repeat the process two more times.
Try it. I promise you that it will work!
Maggie Salo is the Director of Change Management for Algonquin Power & Utilities. She led the implementation of Ceridian Dayforce for Algonquin Power & Utilities and Liberty Utilities in 2014. Maggie has 22 years of experience in Human Resources and is a Certified Integral Coach with New Ventures West. Connect with her on Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/maggiesalo