5 ways to keep the promises you make to yourself

Achieving short and long term goals doesn't need to be as impossible as it sometimes seems.

Many of us make New Year’s resolutions. Why? Is it because we know we don’t really have to keep them that we allow ourselves to make them in the first place?  Is there any difference between a New Year’s resolution and one I make today?

I was always told; “don’t make promises that you can’t keep”.  Despite this, I repeatedly make promises to myself, and then forget about them because they seem too hard, or I get distracted with other stuff, or I change my mind.

I often have a goal, or goals, that I aspire to achieve.  It might be something short term, like “I want to read a new book”.  It might be long term, like “I want to start a business”.  Some people seem to be able to work on their goals with a laser like focus.  They are regarded as ambitious and driven.  Others, me included, seem to struggle to reach the simplest of goals.

I recently discovered some simple tricks that have helped me set and achieve some significant goals.  Here they are.

Start from the start

I have noticed that many people tell themselves; “I’ll start on Monday”, or “I’ll start next month”. It’s as if setting a defined starting line will somehow make it permanent.  What is more useful is saying “I’ll launch my product in three months time” or “by the 1st of October, I will lose 5kg”.  Setting a defined finish line is infinitely more motivating than a defined starting line.

Think of a running race.  Sure, you need a starting line, but the position of the starting line is irrelevant.  It could be anywhere.  What is important is where the finish line is.  That’s what determines the length of the race.  Is the finish line 5km away from the starting line?  10km?

When setting a goal, start today.  Right now.  This very minute (you can always come back and finish reading this article).  Then set your finish line from here.


There’s a saying that goes something like “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time”.  Now, I’m not suggesting that I find an elephant to start snacking on in order to achieve my goals.  This saying simply implies that in order to achieve a big goal, it needs to be broken down into smaller, bite-sized chunks.

If my goal is to run a Marathon in 12 month’s time, I don’t focus solely on that big number of 42km.  I break it down into smaller numbers within shorter periods; say, increase the distance of my long training runs by 3km every month.  Going from 3km to 6km in a months time is much easier to accept.  I recommend against going too small as the numbers can then become insignificant.  You want to know that you have achieved something.

If you are starting a business, identify milestones that you need to achieve along the way to the final goal.  If weightloss is your goal, your milestones may be a few kgs every month, or one size down in clothes every 2 months.

Suddenly, the big, seemingly insurmountable goal is a series of smaller, more achievable goals.  It’s still going to be difficult, but it won’t seem impossible anymore.

Write it down, with feeling

Having a goal in mind only, is like trying to travel riding on a cloud.  Writing things down helps to reinforce the commitment.  I suggest going one step further.  Write it down several times.  Then place these notes in places I will look at directly every day.  The bathroom mirror, the fridge door, the car steering wheel.

My favourite is my phone’s lock screen image.  It has been suggested that we look at our phones, on average, 110 times per day.  That’s 110 times per day that I am going to reinforce my goal.

When writing the goal, also write the reason why you have this goal.  Remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing.  If the reason invokes an emotional response, so much the better.  Emotions are extremely powerful drivers, and when we attach those emotions to a goal, we feel much more motivated and driven to achieve the goal.

Just remember to update these notes as you reach milestones along the way.  Keep the end goal in mind, but directly focus on the next milestone.

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable

Our brains are amazing enablers.  It’s like they secretly want us to fail.  This may be because one of our deepest instincts is to survive.  To be safe and free from harm.  When we set ourselves a goal to achieve something, it’s usually something that will take us out of our comfort zone.  Away from that perceived “safety”.

Whenever I used to set myself a difficult to achieve goal, I would invariably talk myself out of it.  Often this is passed off as a lack of willpower, or laziness.  Actually, it is more commonly irrational doubt, or fear that undoes us.  “I’m not smart enough to earn a living as a consultant”.  “If I give up drinking I’ll become more boring and unsocial”.  “I can’t even do one pushup.  I am never going to get fit”

When we set a goal, we already know it’s going to be difficult.  Accept it from the beginning.  Be comfortable with that fact.  I use that discomfort as a trigger and tell myself “I am uncomfortable, and that means I am succeeding”.

Replace enablers with accountablers

Accountabler isn’t a real word, but it should be.  An enabler is someone who allows you to fail.  Or more accurately, helps you to fail.  An accountabler, on the other hand, is someone who doesn’t let you get away with diverting from your goals.

We all have those people around us who will talk you into skipping a workout, or going out for a drink, or eating a piece of cake.  They’re not helping.  Let’s be honest here, it’s often our closest family members or friends who are the greatest enablers.  Maybe you feel comfortable enough in telling them that.  Go ahead and tell them.  If you’re not comfortable in confronting them, at least try to limit your time with them, or bring more accountablers into your life.

You then need to find those who will become your accountablers.  Tell them what your goals are and what you need from them.  Tell them, when you come to cry on their shoulder, they should let you, and then they should ask you “so how are you going to get back on track?”  Tell them that you want their support, but also their honesty.

Support groups are good, but finding personal accountablers is much better.

One important point; share your goals with them, but not your journey.  You will each handle things differently, especially when it comes to adversity.  You will also succeed at different rates, and the last thing you want is to introduce jealousy.  That may turn an person from an accountabler into an enabler.


Setting goals is easy.  Achieving goals is not.  It’s never going to be easy, but following some simple tips like these has helped to increase my chances of success.

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