What is promise but sending yourself forth to another person in a committed way? That’s it. That’s all there is to it. “I promise to pick up the kids, pick up my socks, take out the trash. I promise to speak kindly, to listen without defensiveness, to stay present with you in conflict.” What do you want your relationships with other people to look like? Promise brings your vision off the drawing board and into tangible reality.
Promises are hard to keep, which is exactly why they are so powerful. You have no idea what is going to come between your made promise and your kept promise. Fulfilling your promises will expand you. You will need to become a larger version of yourself in order to be there for the other person in a meaningful way. Promises relay value. Keeping even a seemingly insignificant promise such as meeting a friend at an appointed time shows her how much you value her. And on the reverse, a broken promise (especially a pattern of broken promises) undermines trust and ultimately destroys relationship. Preserving the power of promise is imperative if we are to continue growing both as individuals, and as a society.
So how can you use that power in your own life to create dynamic relationships? I see it is a simple 3-step process:
First vision. Personal life vision is important. Without it you simply don’t have a point on the horizon toward which to travel. The same goes for holding a vision for your important relationships. Most of us don’t give much, if any, thought to what we want our relationships to be like. We are content to let them happen by default and then settle for what we get. But if we want to have a Life By Design it is important to create our relationships consciously.
When considering relationship vision it is often helpful to identify what you don’t want: abrasiveness, power struggle, shut down, controlling, make nice, consuming, right-fighting, etc. [Take a moment to right down the things you know you do not want in your relationships.] After you’ve identified what you don’t want, think in the reverse to identify what you DO want in relationship: fun? considerate? mutually dependent? honest? open? vulnerable? loving? [Take a moment to right down the things you know you do want in your relationships.] Also consider how you want to be with the other people in your life, and how you would like your friends to show up for you. [Take a minute to write those down, also.]
(It’s easy to read these questions; it takes effort to think them through, nail them down, and make them real. Coaching can definitely help to ferret out the deep truths if you’re confused.)
The most important question of all is, What are you committed to creating in your relationships – with your kids, parents, spouse/dating partner, co-workers, even the bank teller? Take a moment to identify what you are committed to creating with the people you care about. Write it down. This is your relationship vision.
Then promise. Promise is your vision declared. What will it take to create the relationships that you’ve just identified as desirable? Send those things forth, in the form of promises. “I will take you to your doctor’s appointment.” “I will tell you when you hurt my feelings rather than stay silent.” “I will fix up the basement so your mother can come live with us.” You may know in your own mind that you will be there for the other person in those ways, but if they don’t know your intention (declaring your vision) it does them little good. They can’t count on it. It must reach them for it to have meaning.
If your vision remains a secret, known only to you, you set yourself up to fail on your promises. You can change direction mid-stream if a better offer comes along. If you do, you lose the opportunity to create the relationships you desire.
Finally, commitment. When you’ve sent forth your vision in the form of a promise to the other person, you create an expectation in them that you will do as you say. The person to whom you have promised has a right to expect the fulfillment of that promise. Easy for them. Tough for you. Life happens. Consider this definition of commitment: “Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.” The daily triumph of integrity over skepticism, over circumstance, over victimhood. Commitment is the trump card; the ace in the hole that brings your vision to reality. It has the power to change the face of things.
Evaluate your stance toward commitment
In the keeping of your promises you will run into obstacles; that is a given. Your approach to those obstacles will give you, and the other person, important information about the relationship. When life challenges you do you reach deep into your soul to find the honesty, reliability, trustworthiness, or vulnerability that you promised, even when it is well beyond your comfort zone to do so? Or do you make excuses for why you cannot possibly?
Do you dismiss promises you’ve made to people and/or causes that you deem somehow less important than you? “She’s only 6. She won’t even notice.” “It’s only volunteer work. I don’t really need to show up.” Or how about, “It’s just my Ex, let her wait.” Been on the receiving end of that one? Examine your stance toward the promises you make – for the sake of your own integrity – to challenge your soul to its higher calling. Do you make your promises based on the circumstances or the perceived value of the person to whom you are promising? Or are you governed by the vision of what you want to create with the other person?
Commitment is what transforms a promise into a reality; it is the words that
Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things.
~ Shearson Lehman
How would you approach a meeting with someone who was going to give you a hundred million dollars just for showing up at a certain place at a specified time? I imagine you would take a very serious approach to making sure nothing would get in the way. You would clear your calendar, make sure your car had a full tank of gas, and maybe even a tune up. Have a friend’s car available as a backup in case your car failed in some way. Set one, two, or maybe even three alarms. Drive the route the day before to make sure you knew exactly where you were going. Leave several hours early to allow for traffic delays. Arrive with joy and genuine gratitude. What might be possible in your important relationships if you approached them with the same heart and diligence?
If you are serious about your personal work, here are a few steps to try:
1. Develop your vision for how you want to show up in your relationships
2. Send your vision forth in the form of promises to those whom you want to reach
3. Watch all the ways your immature/selfish parts try to finagle out of keeping those promises
4. Take an enthusiastic leap into the struggle of winning the argument for the sake of your vision, for the sake of the other, and for the sake of your own soul