To Build Self-Esteem: Keep Your Promises To Yourself



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Food is my drug of choice. It so easily could be smoking or alcohol. That my addiction is food probably has something to do with growing up in a super skinny family.

As recently as last month I couldn't admit to myself how out of control my eating was. I'd eat a good breakfast, a decent lunch and then have two servings of everything for dinner and snack through the evening until bedtime. After the satisfying rush of calories was over I'd feel out of kilter with my own conscience, wobbly like when the spin cycle goes off balance in the washer.

It's taken a long time to accept that I was powerless over food. As long as I was under it's influence I kept myself in the shadow of the life I could have. The light bulb went on when I was listening to Bob Greene's podcast with Oprah. [To find it, go to the iTunes Store, podcasts, and search 'Oprah health Greene'. The download is free.]  I like Bob Greene because he's the only person I know who can tell Oprah she's wrong to her face. Also he talks a lot of sense.

He says in this podcast that when we put ourselves off ("Oh, I'll exercise tomorrow, there's no time now.") we break promises to ourselves, something we would never do if the promise were to someone else. Every time that happens we disrespect and dishonor ourselves, undermining our self-worth. 

I made a promise last year to journal the food I ate on the Fresh Start page of this blog. I've failed miserably to keep that promise and that has hurt. Following my own advise I want to get beyond the 'failure', learn from it and make a new promise, one I can keep. Here's how:

  • Make just one promise to myself a day. Just one. I adapted this concept from Leo Babauta's The Power of Less. Give yourself time to decide what it will be either the night before, as you prepare for bed, or in the morning before starting your day. It can be the same one every day or a different one. Write it down. I decided mine would be to get up earlier every day. I know, it has nothing to do with food. It does have to do with finding time for myself. The extra 90 minutes I give myself by getting up at 5:30 instead of 7:00 has proven to be a generous gift, better than food.
  • Make the promise achievable. In a college industrial psychology class I studied an experiment done to discover what made high achievers tick. A bunch of people were given bean bags and a target. The subjects were told they could set up the distance however they wanted, knowing they would get points for hitting the target and additional points for distance. The highest achievers chose to place the target at a middle distance just a little outside their comfort zone. Journaling everyday just wasn't achievable. Getting up earlier I can do, even if there are days when it's hard.
  • If I keep my promise, I try to take it in and let the feeling nurture my soul. The thing I have to do is resist minimizing the achievement ("Oh, it's no big deal") and instead give credit where it's due, ("Awesome!").
  • If I was unable to keep my promise I reflect on that but without judgment.  Does the promise need tweaking? Sometimes we set ourselves up by promising too much.
  • The trick is not to get angry at ourselves if we don't make it. Today I got up at 6:30AM and ate peanut M&Ms at the movies. It's tempting to say, "Bad girl!" But I remember 6:30 is still earlier than 7, I got my exercise in, didn't rush to get to the office and had a good day over all.
  • If keeping your promises to yourself continues to be a problem share your promise with some one else or consider joining a fellowship. The support of people who understand and identify with your struggle helps to hold yourself accountable. AA, NA, Over-eaters Anonymous, Weight Watchers all use the power of fellowship to help thousands overcome their addictions.
  • Remember the wisdom of one day at a time. I may not be able to promise I will get up early or exercise or eat well for the rest of my life. I can promise I will do what I can today.

One comment


  • SD

    Dr Aletta,
    I have two daily changes I am trying to make.
    First – no more than one can of pop a day. (Some days it works and some it doesn’t but I think I am cutting down.)
    Second – Lifting weights. I have added that to my aerobic workout and I have found in the past week since I started that I enjoy lifting. I forgot how good it felt. So even on those days when I don’t want to do aerobic I can go and lift weights instead.
    I may have been burned out with the aerobic and the weights are a pleasant alternative.
    I will try to remember to not get angry if I decide not to work out on a certain day or drink a lot of pop. That is the hard part.

    2009/04/18

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