I’ve often had this voice that says: “You aren’t enough;” “You aren’t capable;” “You don’t follow through;” “You aren’t worthy;” “Other people do that — you aren’t like them.” Maybe you’ve never heard that voice. In fact, I hope that you never hear that voice. But I do — I call her Mildred — and she is a real piece of work. She is loud and nosy, offering her opinion on anything and everything, even when I don’t ask for it. Mildred and I have a lot of conversations and, sometimes, I listen to her. Sometimes, I tell her to shut up. The problem is, that doesn’t always cut it.
The best way to silence her is to prove her wrong.
Years ago, I ran my first marathon. Training for that marathon transformed me completely. It gave me the courage to upend the life that I was living and pursue the life that I wanted, but hadn’t thought possible. It altered my perception of who I was, what I was capable of, and what I deserved out of this one precious life. My whole mindset improved. Most importantly, the story that I told about myself changed. I began viewing myself as someone who did hard things.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to run a marathon. You’re more sane than that, I’m sure.
You see, the secret to all of those positive life changes had little to do with the marathon itself. My life changed while I was training, well before the finish line. The biggest factor in changing my view of myself, in changing my story, was that I followed through on all of the little promises I made to myself during training, it was the
Big Little Promises.*
Those little promises taught me that I could keep my word to myself. I could be accountable even when no one else was watching. And when I started keeping my word in one area of my life, it became easier to keep my word in other areas. I could trust myself. I could follow through. The more we do what we say we’re going to do, the more our confidence grows. Return the phone call, pay the bill on your desk, meet the deadline at work, wake up early so you have time to eat breakfast. These promises to ourselves are BIG little promises. The biggest, fastest, best way to change how we see ourselves and boost our confidence, to quell that little (or loud) negative voice in our heads (I’m talking about you now, Mildred), is to keep those little promises to ourselves every day.
Before I could start training, I had to find time to run to build up to the marathon distance. So I promised myself that I would get up early three times a week to get my training runs in before work. As I set my alarm, Mildred would tell me, “You aren’t athletic.” “You don’t have time.” “Other people run marathons.” “You look funny running.” “You always quit.” “You don’t like to wake up early.” “You don’t like to be [cold] [hot] [sweaty] [in public without makeup].” Did I mention that Mildred is a jerk?
After my first week of getting up early, Mildred’s voice shouting “You are lazy!” and “You don’t like getting up early” became softer. After the second and third weeks, Mildred’s shouts became a whisper. Once I’d been training for awhile, I wasn’t lazy. I was getting up early. Getting up early became easier (it never became easy). No one else told me that I looked funny running, so instead of hearing Mildred’s voice, I started hearing my own. It told me that I was improving, I was strong, I finished things. Although, Mildred was right about one thing — I still don’t like to be in public without makeup.
More promises followed. I had to promise to go to bed early so I’d have enough energy for training runs. Then I had to promise not to drink at the holiday party the night before a long run. You get the idea. But those promises were easier to keep, because I’d already become a person who did hard things or things that were originally out of my comfort zone. I had the confidence in myself to follow through.
It sounds silly, but these little promises are enormous. We tell ourselves that they’re small because we can put them off one more day, it won’t matter. The gym will wait, the salad will still be there tomorrow, the deadline can be pushed back, and it won’t matter to anyone else. We didn’t tell anyone else what we had planned on doing, so it’s not a big deal if it doesn’t happen. But that’s a lie. The promises we make to ourselves do matter. When we don’t follow through on the things that we say we are going to do—if we watch Netflix instead of making the phone call, or we write one more email instead of leaving work when we say we will—then Mildred sees her opportunity to start yapping again. She relishes it because now she has evidence to back it up. “See, I told you that you wouldn’t” becomes her mantra.
So let’s tell her to shut it. We’re not here for her jibber-jabbering. She can take that elsewhere because we can’t hear her anymore—we are too busy following through on those big little promises to ourselves.
Wishing you a few moments of clarity amidst the chaos,
What promise are you going to keep today? Tell me, I’d love to know!! Leave a comment, email me, or connect on social media.