Behaviors That Keep Us from Keeping Our Word

This is an excerpt from Conscious Men, written by John Gray and Arjuna Ardagh. 

Here are some of the parts of every man to be mindful of that can get in the way of the hero’s journey to learning to trust yourself more in keeping your word.

Rigid Rodney

If you were raised in a way that you were told to keep your word always, no matter what, you may have developed habits of rigidity where following through without sensitivity to the environment can make you less trustworthy instead of more. You might have been shamed, humiliated, criticized, or even physically punished for not following through. A man who has been put through harsh overtraining in this way keeps his word out of fear of punishment rather than integrity. Then he stays the course no matter what, even when it is no longer serving anyone. A good antidote to this kind of conditioning is to regularly review your commitments and to make sure that they are still in everyone’s best interest and then, if necessary, to revise them.

Flowing Philip

Some men either live in reaction to that kind of very disciplined conditioning, or they were never held accountable to follow through on anything. Either way, too much attention to what feels good in this moment will not only cause other people to trust your word less, but it will also diminish your trust in yourself. When a man sees himself as untrustworthy and weak and lacks confidence on following through with things, it erodes his feeling of worthiness and of being whole and complete.

This is very much like eating ice cream or cake,  which initially tastes good. If you keep eating sugary things day after day, you will not feel good in the long run. On the other hand, if you make a sacrifice, abstain from ice cream, and choose instead to eat vegetables and salad and nourishing food, it may not give you so much immediate pleasure, but after a week or two, you will feel much healthier. That is very similar to how you make decisions to keep your word each day. If you make decisions based on immediate pleasure or avoiding discomfort, it is like the initial rush of ice cream. But there is not much sustained benefit in this. When you do things because you said you would do them, it may feel uncomfortable or seem like a sacrifice in the short term, but it will lead to a much greater sense of sustained wellbeing in the long term.

Over-Promising Oliver

It is important to find a level of commitment to goals that you can realistically achieve within the time you set. Trying to make a commitment to change everything all at once can weaken you rather than help you grow. In this way, New Year’s resolutions often cause a man to trust himself less because most people do not follow through with them. It is better to make small doable commitments each day and then to keep them, no matter what. People who have trouble paying their bills often tend to talk about “financial independence” and making millions of dollars through ambitious schemes. People who pay their bills on time usually just think about the next step. Start with small manageable goals, keep your word with those, and you overcome your resistance to following through that increases your personal power and confidence.

Stressed-Out Steve

When you feel overwhelmed, upset, overtired, or angry, these are the times that you are most likely to want to break your commitments and change the plan. But that is the worst time to make decisions. If you make decisions at this time, they are likely to be least aligned with your long-term vision, and following them will lead to a spiral of feeling weak, not following through, and therefore feeling weaker. And down it goes. When you feel emotionally imbalanced, it is better to make no decisions, but instead do a rigorous workout, or meditate, or just wait until you have had a good night’s sleep.

Excuses Eduardo

Sometimes it will happen that you break your word. We are all human despite our best intentions. If you break your word, there is no need to offer a long explanation of why. It really does not help anybody. If you are late, and you were caught in a terrible traffic jam, and your phone had run out of juice, and… and… and, the only important information needed is that you were late. Offering an elaborate story for why you did not do what you said you would do identifies you as a victim of circumstance. You have to hypnotize yourself with your own stories before you can sell them to other people. So you convince yourself that you live a life out of your own control.

We have both noticed that women hate men for giving excuses. Men often assume that if they offer a good enough reason, that should be fine for her. She is much more interested that you understand the effect that it had on her, that you recognize the impact of your actions, and that you do not consider breaking your word to be normal behavior. Offering an excuse gives a woman the idea that it could easily happen again. When you have broken your word, there is no simple pill and no perfect thing to say. You will need to ride it out. But there are a lot of things that can make it worse, and making excuses is at the very top of the list.

If you break your word, be careful about focusing on the other person’s upset feelings. “I’m really sorry I was late; there was a traffic jam, I’m really sorry that now you are emotionally upset and reactive.” That is a way of pathologizing the other person. You might as well say, “I’m so sorry that you overreacted. I’m so sorry that you are neurotic and insecure.”

Unfocused Frederick

Often, we feel like our attention is being pulled in so many directions at the same time that it can feel like it is being pulled apart. That is why it is important to choose the time of the day when you feel most quiet, focused, and clear and write your list of commitments in that state. Then just keep to it, and slowly cross items off one by one, throughout the day. If you notice yourself losing focus, it is a good idea to have some tricks up your sleeve to clear your head again. Exercising, drinking water, getting fresh air, or scanning the body will all help you return to the state where you know what to do.


From Conscious Men by John Gray and Arjuna Ardagh. You can order a paperback copy or Kindle edition on Amazon here.

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