I pointed out to a friend that he interrupted me nearly every time I spoke. He apologized and added, “I will never do it again.”
I believe he felt sincere when he said it, but I work in developing people and I’ve heard people say similar things too many times to expect he could do it.
More importantly, I know the difference in mental states between saying “I will never do it again,” and how you feel when you do the thing later. Psychologists call it an empathy gap and I’ve written about it.
A sincere pledge is when you say you will do something and when you say it, you mean with all your heart and mind that you will do it. Some examples of sincere pledges:
- I will go to the gym twice a week for the next year no matter what
- I will never interrupt again
- I will never drink/smoke/gamble/etc again
- I will not get angry talking to [someone who you get angry talking to]
- I will finish this project well before the deadline
- I won’t check my email first thing in the morning
- I’ll get out of bed as soon as I wake up
- I won’t get any dessert
You get the idea.
Your mind when you sincerely pledge
You know the feeling when you sincerely pledge. Like my friend, you feel confident you will stick to it. You can’t think of anything that could potentially stop you that you won’t overcome.
You are speaking from that part of you that is your basic, core self that doesn’t waver, the foundation beneath everything else, what you root your unwavering values in.
Your mind when you transgress on a sincere pledge
Let’s take one example. When you interrupt someone, you are thinking of the importance of what you have to say, overflowing with impatience, frustrated with the other person, or things like that. That “core you” that you thought rested beneath everything you did is nowhere to be found. Maybe, if you’re more self-aware than most, you might be able to search your memory and note a moment when you let go of that feeling. When you get angry at someone you sincerely pledged to yourself that you wouldn’t, for example, you might think “I said I wouldn’t get angry, but what he’s saying is so wrong I can’t let this stand. Someone has to put him in his place,” or something like that.
However it happens, that “core you” disappears, replaced by feelings of indulgence, entitlement, self-righteousness, and other feelings justifying “just this once.”
I used to say that you became a different person between making your resolution in late December and letting it go in mid-February, or between saying you wouldn’t eat dessert and indulging in the chocolate cake. I didn’t mean you literally changed bodies, but I found it a useful model.
No longer. In fact, I think that model reinforces a different model that contributes to undermining your fulfilling these pledges.
The model that the you-change-as-a-person model supports is that you have a core, basic, fundamental you that you speak from in late December and persists under everything you do at all times.
Your “core you” is feeling as fleeting as any other
That feeling of the rock-solid you at the base of it all is just that—a feeling. I know the transition from “I will not eat dessert” to “That dessert looks good but I still won’t eat it” to “I won’t stop other people at the table from ordering it” to “I’ll only have a taste” to “I’ll have just a little more” to “Mmm, this is so good… I held off for so long I deserve to enjoy it.”
The core you think is there disappears. Every emotion feels right and true when you feel it. Feeling sincere and confident is the same. It happens to everyone.
To say you don’t have a rock-solid core you isn’t a problem. You can still do anything anyone else does. They’re human too. You just have to prepare for it differently—not by relying on some iron willpower.
Preparing for how you will feel in the moment you act instead of the moment you decide, leads you to prepare what you can work on—things like your environment, beliefs, and behavior. Not putting yourself in front of a dessert (environment) works more than relying on some mythical core you. Developing communication skills works more than not developing them and planning not to lose your temper.
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