If you're frustrated at yet another broken promise to yourself, perhaps you need to examine why you're making promises you don't keep.

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Promises, promises

I’ve noticed with my clients that when someone continually breaks a promise to themselves to do something, they probably didn’t really want to do it in the first place. Often, the promise relates to something they feel they should do—lose 10 pounds, volunteer at the local shelter, learn another language. In each case there is a critical ingredient lacking—leverage.

What do I mean by leverage?

Think of a time when you did keep a promise to yourself that was inconvenient and difficult. What was the downside of not keeping it? If you’ve got a demanding job outside the home, chances are the cost of not fulfilling your professional commitments seems high—missing a meeting or dealing with an angry boss. Miss a project deadline and you’ll deal with an angry client. On the other hand, not spending “more” time with the kids doesn’t necessarily have an immediate penalty. Ditto for the painting class—nobody from the local art school is calling and berating you for not showing up, are they? Without the threat of some negative consequence lurking around the corner, it can be tough to find the initiative to do some of the things we think we should do. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Set goals without guilt

When we make a list of the optional things we think we should do, we often try to convince ourselves that we really can do it all. Problem is, we can’t. And when we don’t get it all done, we wallow in guilt. Why not save ourselves a little time and a lot of misery by making a realistic and accurate list in the first place?

Be honest about the facts or “what’s so” of your life

If you are already on the go 24/7 with family and work commitments, you have to be prepared to make a major change in order to add something new to your life. So how important is this new something, really? If you’re going to add an activity or commitment, the time has got to come from somewhere. Before making another promise to yourself—the most important person in the world—figure out where you’re going to get the time and what you will have to give up.

Lose the lurkers

Once you’ve decided what stays and what goes on the to-do list, you’re ready for the key to future success—don’t make yourself a promise you don’t passionately want to keep. Don’t put something on your to-do list just to have it sit there—I call those things the lurkers. They lurk there, making us feel guilty, until we resign ourselves to the fact that we’re never really going to do them. Why not save yourself a little guilt and just not put it on the list? And watch out for shoulds—they usually means that someone else has put an item on your list and you’re not really interested.

Keep in mind that we tell the world how we like to be treated by the way we treat ourselves. If we’re OK breaking promises to ourselves, won’t other people think it’s OK to break promises to us? Once you’ve put your integrity highest on your list of priorities, you’ll send out a more positive message about your own self-worth.

Karen Wright is a professional coach specializing in life balance and improved workplace culture.