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What Broken Promises Teach Us

promises, promises | with emily

We all do it. We have the best of intentions. We make heartfelt promises. And then, we break them.

Often, it’s not intentional.

I’ll call you tomorrow. And suddenly, it’s a week later.

I’ll take a look at that report first thing. And the document remains unopened.

I’ll go to the gym today. I’ll start my blog. I’ll invite friends over for dinner this week. I’ll create that new course I’m dreaming about. I’ll start painting again. I’ll ask for that raise I deserve.

And the broken promises aren’t always about actions not taken.

Sometimes, the easiest promises to break are those that require us to STOP taking action.

I’ll stop discounting my prices. And then we hold another sale.

I’ll stop taking on any more work right now. And we send out another contract for signing.

I’ll stop working on Sundays. And we read our business emails through brunch.

I’ll stop doing revision without compensation. I’ll stop watching TV past midnight. I’ll stop spending money I don’t have. I’ll stop drinking coffee.

No matter the packaging or significance, all broken promises have two things in common:

  1. Broken promises illuminate our fears.

  2. Broken promises highlight our disconnect with ourselves.

When was the last time you broke a promise to someone else? And to yourself? The discrepancy between the two can be very revealing. Do you want to see the pattern?

Here’s an exercise for you:

Grab a piece of paper. Divide it into two columns. In the first column, list any broken promises you’ve made to yourself in the past week. In the second column, list any broken promises you’ve made to other people in your life — your boss, client, partner, co-worker, lover, parent, child, friend, newly-met acquaintance…

If you end up with nothing on your paper, you are clearly a meta-human and please share with us your superpower. Otherwise, take a deep breath and congratulate yourself on your imperfect humanity — it’s a lovely thing!

Take a look at the pattern of the two columns. Is it balanced? Do you break more promises to yourself than to others? Or vice versa?

Now, explore the WHY that motivated the breakage.

I’ll call you tomorrow. And suddenly, it’s a week later.
Perhaps I’m spinning in chaos & overwhelm. Calling you would require stopping and feeling my feelings. Screw that.
Perhaps I don’t really want to call you but I’m afraid of being thought of as a bitch so I disconnect from my true self in the moment but resist playing out the charade.

I’ll take a look at that report first thing. And the document remains unopened.
Perhaps I don’t know what the point is of my participation since my opinions won’t be considered but I feel helpless to change that perceived reality.
Perhaps I’m completely swamped but fear you’ll perceive me as weak, incompetent or slacking if I reveal the truth that my plate is full.

I’ll go to the gym today. I’ll start my blog. I’ll invite friends over for dinner this week. I’ll create that new course I’m dreaming about. I’ll start painting again. I’ll ask for that raise I deserve.
Perhaps I’m terrified of confronting the weaknesses of my body or old scripts about how I suck as a writer or truths about the quality of my friendships.
Perhaps I don’t want to discover if people really want what I have to offer or I’ll feel the overwhelming joy I get from creating art and how dramatically that contrasts with how I feel most of the time or I’ll be rejected.

To keep a promise, we need clarity on the WHY.

Why have you made the promise?

What is fueling the creation of the promise — your emotions, others’ emotions, your expectations, others’ exception, historical precedent, future goals, momentary insanity, true presence of mind?

What is fueling the completion of the promise — your emotions, others’ emotions, your expectations, others’ exception, historical precedent, future goals, momentary insanity, true presence of mind?

And what does that fuel look like? Does it have the weight of dirty petroleum — filled with “should” and “have to” and “need” and “just because”? Or does it have the lightness of solar rays — an alignment with self-confidence, generosity, purpose, vulnerability, pleasure and integrity?

To answer these questions, take a deep breath and get quiet with yourself. If you discover yourself in the midst of a proverbial oil spill, that’s a very bold sign that it may be time to change your circumstances. (p.s. I can help you with that.)

Because here’s the truth:

When you live in alignment with your true purpose and create a life that feels like play, the promises you make become more authentic and intentional.

And that makes them far easier they to keep.

Broken Promises

broken promises
wander
nighttime corridors
a pantheon of ghosts
your name on their lips
while the lucky ones
galavant through the light of day
technicolor in certainty
no loyalty wasted
on their creator

whoa
to those abandoned
children spared
best of intentions
made diaphanous with time
and overcrowding
raising frosted hackles
on the back of your neck

So, tell me, what is one solar rays-like promise to yourself that you are making and keeping today?

with pleasure,

Emily Lewis

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Mary March 26, 2015, 10:51

    Great post. It reminds me of “people-pleasing” as selfish. I say that I can do something not because I necessarily want to do it and know it’s the right thing but because I don’t want to feel uncomfortable within that moment when I have to say “no” or tell someone something I don’t think they want to hear:)

    xx Mary

    • Emily Lewis March 26, 2015, 11:10

      Oh, definitely, Mary. It’s so empowering, however, when we do own our truths and learn to say no. It shifts everything.

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