Not following through with commitments/promises permeates into all domains of one’s life. While it is very true that there is increasing pressure for an “always connected” availability brought forth by the 24/7 nature of our globalized, technologically-driven world that defines the 21st century that we live in (I am no stranger to this phenomenon, and I am very much a victim of the “instant gratification” that it engenders), I nonetheless firmly believe that we all have a responsibility to carry out in what we have engaged ourselves to do.
I recently read several lines that have remained with me, and I find the excerpt to be a very good prompt on the subject of establishing a system for routines (in this case of achieving pledges):
“The accumulation of decisions you make about where you focus your time and effort is what determines who you ultimately become. Excellence is not a single act, it is a habit. I dont [sic] think most people really understand this.”
Moreover, psychological research supports the above statement. According to a study entitled “Habit and Intention in Everyday Life: The Multiple Processes by Which Past Behavior Predicts Future Behavior,” the following was determined:
“Frequency of past behavior then reflects habit strength and has a direct effect on future performance. (…) Past behavior emerged as an important predictor of future behavior in the studies in our review. (…) Frequent performance of the desired behavior in [stable supporting environments] is especially likely to yield new habits that can themselves proceed relatively automatically.”
Hence I believe it is necessary to adopt, internalize, and systematically apply the act of following through with others in order to cultivate a strong basis for behavior firmly pointed towards action and decisively away from apathy.
Mean what you say, and say what you mean. Too many of us shy from obligation, from fulfilling what we said we were going to do. We simply say something aloud as if to validate in our minds something that we aren’t to complete and/or placate any undesired feelings from our ultimate inaction and ensuing disappointment from others. It may also be that we reason to ourselves that using such language is an effective way of interacting via the superficial manner of “small talk,” and that therefore such discourse is not so binding nor literal in its implications. That’s not acceptable if demanding anything else from others. How can you expect anything else from others when those same people are essentially reciprocating this prosaic performance that you yourself demonstrate in not following through? I venture to say that you resolutely cannot expect anything from people beyond what you exhibit to others.
It could be said that this skin-deep mode of intercommunication may somehow be suitable for some who are accustomed to letdowns and impasses. Are we thus to decipher messages between the myriad of false promises and real intentions? This would seem to only complicate interactions and quite frankly cause more harm than good for all those involved.
I believe it is vital to consider the other person’s perspective when making promises (number three in Six Habits of Highly Empathic People, “try another person’s life”) by reminding ourselves of when we have found ourselves unpleasantly on the other side of the “commitment table” in a variety of situations, such as in job hunting, dating, reserving appointments, etc.
Further, this “following through” concept extends to all areas of our lives, and is particularly demonstrative in contexts of interpersonal communication. Choosing to be unresponsive for precise reasons is comprehensible, such as in the face of threats and other grave unpleasantries. And naturally unforeseen events arise, things happen, and schedules do change — that is the nature of life. I would quite firmly maintain though that if the other party is respectful, determined, and genuinely anticipating some form of communication, then one should always defer to the rule of common courtesy, however brief any reply may be (thinking again of the other person’s perspective as mentioned above).
That is a major theme I would underscore: Practice common courtesy with others whenever possible. We can all benefit from treating others with decency and reserving our promises for what we actually think we are able to do rather than going through the motions of dialogue for appearances’ sake or whatever other justification (or denial of recognizing this behavior for that matter).
In the aspect of personal life and communication: not replying to the counter-party in messages (text message, email, etc.) often is due to our own preoccupations, reluctance to be placed outside our own limits of comfort, absent-mindedness, indifference, or simple laziness, amongst many other factors (some of which may be valid). We may indeed find ourselves over-taxed in our “bandwidth” (capacity-constrained so to speak), due to the ever-increasing obligations to which we find ourselves bound. This can be legitimate, and is indicative of many globalized executives. Yet, I would propose ensuring that we are not beholden to obligations that we knew we could not deliver beforehand. Acting in this way, we become victims of circumstance or consciously choose to not put forth any effort, which serves to undermine the efficacy of habit-forming (reference to citation & psychological study mentioned earlier).
In professional settings, an employee committing to numerous objectives to thereafter not honor such guarantees would likely encounter many difficulties after not too long. Similarly, being unresponsive reflects very poorly not only on yourself, but also on your organization, especially when interacting with external stakeholders (job candidates included).
I would argue to avoid promising to others what we knowingly are unable to achieve. It is inexcusable, rude, and in many instances insulting as such actions indicate a lack of concern for others. Surely this self-centered modus operandi serves us very well for our own selfish interests, but the unintended and real effects are an unfortunate disservice to others around us as well as to ourselves.
Your “word” — loosely defined as the ability to keep promises — is your honor. Many would conclude that one’s word is all people have in this world when stripped away of all material possessions, job titles, wealth, and status. In effect, and as the expression states: your reputation precedes you. Building trust is done incrementally through an established track record of excellence, whereas destroying trust can be done in one fell swoop (all at once).
Why not set out to do what you told someone, and why not be more mindful of what we say to one another? Words carry much more significance than we may think or like to admit. Dismissing the relationship between what we express in commitments and our resultant activities (or lack thereof) risks diluting the meaningfulness of speech & language, the mediums through which we reach out to and derive meaning from the world. Such conduct “cheapens” the value of our words.
I’ll depart on this note: if one is doubtful of the power of words, it is worth remembering that there are countless quotes in history from notable men and women that have immortalized their authors. These quotes have been instrumental in constituting mankind’s defining moments.
How would you like to be remembered?