Imagine this. You’ve decided that this is the year to make your relationship the best it can be. You schedule special, weekly date nights with your S.O. (which yes, includes a plan for mind-blowing sex). And then, lo and behold … you do it! Now ask yourself this—what do you feel? Are you terribly disappointed in yourself? Likely not. Instead, you’re likely feeling pretty damn proud.
Now, listen to three variations on a theme:
“We haven’t had a date night in months. We really need to start doing that again.”
“I’ll talk to him about the date night next week when I’m less busy and have more time to think about it.”
“Starting February 1st, I promise to organize a date night for us once a week. I will plan out which evenings at the beginning of each week. If I miss my goal by Sunday evening, I have to give up coffee the following week.”
Whoa, hold on!
Can you hear the huge difference in that last statement? Yup, that’s a promise, with a consequence, and it works miraculously! Most people are very receptive to the possibility that they can make any dream come true (a better marriage, improved health, etc.) by getting clear and making the right promises … until the part about giving up your morning cup of coffee for a whole week.
Who would willingly want to do that?!
Even the most committed, inspired people occasionally bristle against this aspect of HG coaching when they first sign up. The notion of “punishing” yourself seems counterintuitive to the ultimate goal of self-love and contentment, doesn’t it?
I often hear: “Do I have to make a consequence? Can’t I get the same result if I back each promise with a specific reward?”
No, and here’s why.
There is much literature on the psychology of loss aversion that explains why people are more motivated by negative versus positive reward systems, but you don’t need to be a neuroscientist to understand it. Simply put, rewards get boring. If you win something every time you keep your promise, those little rewards lose their value, and you lose your motivation.
Truth is, we humans truly know how to live without things, especially things we’ve survived this far without. You know, that pony, that iPhone500+, that vacation, that new pair of boots, etc. But take something away that we love or that we’re addicted to (coffee, iPhone 8, wine, Amazon Prime?), well then, we’d just about do anything to avoid that!
And that’s the point.
At the heart of the matter, the promise IS the reward.
When you promise to eat vegetables, drink water, skip soda, get out of bed without hitting snooze, pay undivided attention to your spouse or kids, send out five resumes, or call your mother, your actions start aligning with your ideals. When you keep those promises, you are rewarded in so many ways: you feel better physically, you make progress on your long term goals, you get positive responses from people and your environment, and you feel great about yourself. Trust yourself to get to that place! You do not need an artificial reward, your benefits and your integrity are the natural reward.
But isn’t there a better alternative to punishing yourself?
Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that consequences are not the same as punishments. Punishments (as retribution for an offense) lie in the realm of morality – good and bad, right and wrong. But when you break your word to yourself, you’re not necessarily doing anything wrong. You just chose what you chose! You are always just choosing, and that is what we try to show you. We try to help you understand how the mind works so you can make it work for you and your dreams.
Your mind, after all, more times than not, does not have your happiness in mind. It’s job is to keep you safe (physically and emotionally), and keep you accurate about your beliefs — good and bad.
Creating artificial self-imposed consequences makes it way easier for you to choose what’s best for you. And they don’t have to be as unpleasant as biting into a raw onion. They can be funny and creative! It’s up to you to determine which consequences will be annoying enough to keep you paying attention. For example, if I am at all rude with my co-workers, I have to write a poem and send it to them. Usually my justification for being rude is because I’m busy and “can’t be bothered” with niceties. Having to slow down and write a poem puts me in my place and restores the relationship.
It’s always a work in progress.
Figuring out the right promises and consequences that will lead you to your particular dreams at your pace is both an art and a science. When I help clients implement this system in their lives, we first start small with simple promises. “I promise to always leave my keys in this dish” or “I promise to take a vitamin daily” are easy examples. Once those become second nature, we make an intermediate list, and keep building. Things that were once hard will become second nature. Bigger promises will require bigger consequences. Circumstances will arise that require revisiting your list, tweaking, adjusting, paying attention to the process. But you get to feel proud, confident and happy along the way! And you get your dreams. Sounds like a sweet deal, doesn’t it?
A promise you keep to yourself is an incredible, magical thing.
It’s more than just an intention, or even a plan. Promises help you to get clear on what you really want and specific about how you will get it. Like a roadmap of your truest intentions, you can rely on your promises to point you in whatever direction you consciously picked, no matter what temptations or distractions arise.
Promises are where our dreams take form and come to life, and your commitment to them is what builds personal integrity, true self-worth, and ultimate happiness. @HGLifeCoaching (Click to Tweet!)
P.S. If you’re in need of a reality check take the Current Reality Quiz! It’s a quick, easy, and fun way to self-assess and get a better idea of which areas of your life to take on.
Laurie Gerber is a Senior Coach and Co-President of Handel Group® Life Coaching. For over 15 years, Laurie has led international events and private coaching courses. She has appeared on MTV’s True Life, A&E’s The Marriage Test, Dr. Phil and TODAY.
Image courtesy of Matthew Henry.