We at the Handel Group believe in "designing your life," and the main tools we use are promises and consequences.
From scientific research, we know that neurons that fire together, wire together. As kids, we start to make certain associations (for example: candy tastes good) and then life gets designed for us by the hard-wiring that develops after we've made certain associations a number of times. By the time we're adults, it's pretty hard to undo the wiring when we realize an association we have is not consistent with our dream. Promises and consequences begin to create new wiring, because they supersede the ingrained loop and bring conscious choice onto the scene. Before long, new associations build up and a new pattern becomes the dominant one. Thank goodness for neuroplasticity and for the scientists who help us understand the "why" behind the reasons our method works. Now lets get specific and try to break down some of your resistance to this very practical method.
We tell people to promise to do what they say they will do and then pay a consequence for every promise they don't keep. For example, I promise to be on time to dinner with my family every night or else I give $20 to my kids (ouch). I also promise to stay at a certain weight or else I lose my dessert. I promise not to blame my husband for things, to be kind to my co-workers and to exercise and do yoga a certain number of times a week. The list goes on and on because even though, technically we can't "have it all," I am still trying to do a lot of what makes me happy. And that would never work without promises and consequences.
This system of promises and consequences works miraculously for everyone who tries it, even though most people are skeptical about it when they start. Let me address some major concerns you might be having right off the bat.
1) Promises will limit my spontaneity.
First of all, your spontaneity may not be all it's cracked up to be. You may think it's the key to your creative thinking, success, even heroism, but it may not be. Until you experiment with a more plan-oriented style, you won't know where your real gifts lie, or the height of effectiveness you can reach. Besides, your "spontaneity" had you eat that donut -- remember?
Secondly, you can design freedom into your life. You will enjoy your freedom a lot more when you know that the most important things are taken care of because you made and kept your promises about them. For example, I take at least an hour off each night for just myself. I can do this with a clear conscience because I plan my workweek by the Sunday night of the upcoming week and I always spend 6-8 p.m. with my kids and 11 p.m. - 12 a.m. with my husband. See how I get to do all of it? I planned it and I promised it.
2) I don't want to make promises that I know I won't keep (or that will be hard to keep) because I will just be more disappointed when I fail.
I always laugh at this one. It's like saying I don't want to develop my personal integrity because I don't have personal integrity. It is like saying, I don't want to learn horseback riding because I don't know how to ride a horse. It's an obvious statement turned excuse that you haven't developed a skill and therefore you don't want to know how. Are you hearing the insanity yet?
It's true, where you have never made or kept a promise before is where you need it the most. Will it be easy to keep it? Maybe not, but that's the game of change. You can resist and whine about the consequence, or you can let it work on your "brat" tendencies and force you to focus on how to keep that promise. The consequence, which you should really want to avoid, shuts up your "brat" voices and gets your mind into fighting for the promise to be kept. Normally, your mind is extremely busy complaining and coming up with excuses to get out of doing that which you know you should do.
Here's my bottom line advice. Face your dreams and face your demons. Promise something you know you deeply want to do and deal with what it takes to keep the promise. You might fail, but at least you'll finally be in the right game for your life. At least, you will be telling the truth about what you want and dealing with what a brat you are being about the work and attention you need to apply to get there. And, you'll have a shot at keeping the promise (way better than if you left it to chance) and that will feel great -- I promise.
3) Consequences sound punitive; I am more inspired by rewards.
When you promise to eat vegetables, drink water, skip soda, get out of bed without hitting snooze, or to pay undivided attention to your spouse or kids, or to go on a date each week, or to send out five resumes or to call your mother, you start bringing yourself into alignment. When you keep those promises, you are rewarded. You feel better physically, you get positive responses from people and your environment and you feel great about yourself. You do not need an artificial reward. Your benefits and your integrity are the natural reward. The brat that lives in your head does not want you to keep this in mind, because then you would ignore IT.
Consequences are not punishments. You did nothing wrong, you just chose what you chose. You are always just choosing and that is what we try to show you. We try to help you understand how the mind works so you can make it work for you and your dreams. Creating artificial consequences makes it way easier for you to choose what's best for you. These can be funny and creative, but they have to be annoying enough to keep you paying attention. For example, if I am not loving with my co-workers, I have to write a poem for them. Usually my justification for being rude is I don't have time to be nice, so having to slow down and write a poem puts me in my place and restores the relationship.
We have a long list of types of consequences from which to choose, but none of them is a punishment. Promises and consequences are not in the realm of morality. They are just a tool to use in designing your life and helping you get closer to your dreams faster.
Take notice! In the back of your head, that to which you are not attending lurks. It talks to you. It eats away at your self-esteem and sense of power in your life. Whether it is calling your mother, seeing the doctor, being on time, doing your work well, offering an apology you owe or taking care of your body with the right foods and exercise, it all adds up and it all weighs on you until you address it. Developing personal integrity means living up to your own ideals in all these areas and making and keeping promises is the way to do it.
Figuring out the right promises for you that will lead you to your particular dreams at your pace and figuring out the right consequences that are annoying but not impossible (ones that will stick in your mind and push you) is an art and a science. It is very helpful to be guided through the process of designing your "starter" promises and consequences. Once those become second nature, you can make an intermediate list. By the time you become advanced, you will have a list of maintenance promises and consequences for which you are pretty much known. After that, you will add new ones from time to time based on new areas of life you've taken on. Yes, there are challenges the whole way, but throughout the process you get to feel proud, confident and happy. Sound promising?
P.S. Want to find out more about creating your own "promises and consequences"? Try a Taste of Life Coaching our free monthly teleseminar.