New Year resolutions are notorious and yet a New Year gives us the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate our lives, assess what we want and what we would like to do better. So rather than abandoning the practice of making resolutions how can we give ourselves a better chance of keeping them?

Let’s get to grip with what it means to make and keep a promise.

Stephen M.R. Covey in his book The Speed of Trust, identifies two characteristics of trustworthiness: character and competence. If we focus on the aspect of character, Covey proposes that this is also composed of two aspects: integrity and intent. Again let’s just focus on one aspect, that of integrity.

In brief, Covey’s understanding of integrity is that there is little or no gap between your intent and your behaviour. Simply, you walk your talk, that is, you do what you say you will do.

This is about speaking to the better part that’s in all of us. That part that chooses something good and desires to commit to making sure we see it through.

This is what Cooper and Sawaf in Executive EQ say, “Conscience is an inner voice aligned with the compass to our destiny. It calls upon the best of who we are, hidden or lost though that may seem at times … One simple effective way to educate or strengthen our conscience is to make and keep promises; to say what you will commit to and commit to what you say. And then follow through — courageously, and with accountability.”

Covey differentiates between a commitment and a goal. A goal is something we aim towards and hope to achieve. A commitment is a promise to actually do something. Therefore, a commitment is not something you make lightly or impulsively.

These commitments, or promises apply to the ones you make to yourself as much as those you make to others. The reason for this is you matter too. It counts whether you honour yourself or not. The other is that you build your commitment muscle by starting with yourself, not by putting yourself last.

So here’s a plan to making promises that you intend to keep:

  • Start small. That is, don’t over commit. Promise what you can, not what you can’t.
  • Tell someone else what you are committing to.
  • Be gentle with yourself if you fall down. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?”
  • Start again.

Develop a circle of key people to whom you are accountable. These could be friends, family and preferably also a mentor or guide. They could well include the people to whom you have to deliver the results.

Every now and then, step back and do an internal check. Ask these questions of yourself.

Am I

  • going through the motions
  • off track
  • doing my best?

Making promises is a good thing. In this way you demonstrate trustworthiness and integrity. You learn the strength and courage to persevere when it is hard. These build in you a character of which you can be proud. Ultimately, this is your gift to the world.