Ken Kaufman's picture

Integrity & Keeping Promises to Yourself

Last week one of the members of #tmfit, a group of individuals that hold each other accountable in quest of various health and fitness goals, posted an article titled: Check the Boxes. The author of this post explains how he has great ideas and sets goals for himself, but then he allows himself to be distracted by other things, ultimately keeping him from achieving his most important aspirations. He writes:

I know I can be a better rider. But to be that, I have to check all the boxes. And I don’t always do that. In fact, I usually only check the boxes that are easily checked. Riding a lot is fun. But it isn’t really training. It’s playing. Playing is easy, and although it’s often mistaken for training, it’s not the same thing. Training hurts. A lot. It’s often tedious, boring, and nothing at all like playing. But it’s the only way to get better, faster. Training is also eating right, being lean and light, and getting adequate rest. Empty box. Empty box. Empty box.

I like the analogy of boxes that need to be checked, with empty boxes representing failure to accomplish the task at hand or neglecting to push ourselves to do the hardest things. I started thinking about the empty boxes in my life. This prompted a train of thoughts about different goals I have set and various promises I have made to myself. I questioned how many boxes are unchecked, and how many excuses, distractions, and acts of laziness I have offered to myself to try and explain why some of the boxes are unchecked.
Upon inspection, some of my unchecked boxes exist because I have been more focused on keeping promises I've made to others, not the ones I've made to just myself. As humans we often value public accountability over private accountability. If I make a promise to someone else and don't keep it, I could face a loss of credibility, embarrassment, or other uncomfortable consequences. If I make a promise only to myself, that promise is easier to break, right? Without disappointing others, I only disappoint myself, and I can easily brush that aside, right? Or, if I have boxes unchecked in my life, am I lying to myself? What negative consequences would come from that? Oprah Winfrey had this to say on the subject:

Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.

I think this is the very core question of integrity...keeping the promises I make to myself (because it is the right thing to do), especially when there is no one else to hold me accountable to that promise except myself. In his article 5 Ways to Train Yourself to Be a Great Leader, Marc Sanborn says this:


Sometimes keeping promises can be challenging, if not downright painful. This commitment will develop discipline and integrity.


So, keeping promises develops integrity. We have also established that promises made privately to ourselves are harder to keep since they lack any external accountability and associated consequences for failing to keep them. I would suggest that those who possess the highest and most meaningful level of integrity are those who are honest with themselves and keep the promises they make to themselves. Public integrity may not be enough if private integrity doesn't exist.

So what does private integrity look like? This is a person who is completely honest with themselves. They do not tell themselves they will run a marathon in the summer, and then start making excuses every day they fall behind their training schedule, ultimately dropping out of the race before it even starts. However, they don't just sit on the couch and refuse to ever make promises to improve themselves. People with integrity know they need to improve and get better to add value to their professions, become more meaningful to their families, and deliver more relevant service to others.

It is possible to appear to have integrity by keeping public promises only, but lacking honesty and accountability with ourselves would be a difficult "mis-alignment" to hide from others, especially those who know us well. Lying to ourselves undermines our integrity and our ability to keep promises to others.

I have had many unchecked boxes in my life, so I'm certainly not perfect at this. Yet the point remains the same: people with the highest level of integrity are those who place the highest priority on keeping the promises they make to themselves. We should aspire to this and seek to surround ourselves with others in the same pursuit.

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