When I boozed a lot, I bought a micro-cassette recorder to keep track of all my ideas. I was certain alcohol was the lubricant that unlocked my genius. While drunk, I spoke poetry, I ejaculated ideas of earth-shattering import, I was an uncaged, intellectual giant. And while I couldn’t stay drunk all the time (try as I did) I could record the profusion of profundity my debauches unleashed.
I would listen to the recordings the next day, eager to convert my ideas into gold. What I invariably heard was horseshit, unless you consider protracted, vowel-heavy emanations the hallmark of genius. “I aaaaaaaaaamm gooooooaannnn staaaaaaann, aaaaaahhh….”
Meaningless speech is by no means the sole domain of 2AM drunken ramblings:
- “I’ll call you.”
- “Maybe see you there tonight.”
- “I’m going to cut out sugar this month.”
- “For sure, let’s start a _____ group/business/team.”
- “Blah, blah, fuckity, blah.”
We say things all the time that we either don’t think through, don’t mean or are irresolute about. We make plans, conjure up big ideas and declare that we will make them happen—“for sure”—only to forget these things or “change our minds” when we see what it takes to carry them out.
Breaking our word is made easier by peers who let us off the hook because they don’t want to get called out on their broken word.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call last night,” we might say.
“Oh, that’s cool. Don’t sweat it,” they say, knowing that their excusal is a coupon for their own future transgressions.
What happens over time is that every promise unkept, appointment missed, agreement broken and project abandoned creates a karmic residue. It’s not only that others learn not to believe what we say. We don’t believe what we say. We don’t trust ourselves. The connection between what we say and do is weakened. Depending on how far we let it slide, our word can mean nothing, little or, as is the case for majority of people, it’s like a lottery that pays out every now and again.
This whole “be your word” thing is dicey in some circles. Many think, “Don’t be such a hard-ass. Take it easy. They’re just words.”
I would love to take it easy. I would love it if all the things I said but did not follow through with had no impact on me and didn’t diminish people’s estimation of me. But my experience is unequivocal: when I break my word it diminishes my power to make things happen.
If you’re finding it tough to keep you word, or you feel like you can’t get shit moving in your life, here are a few suggestions:
- Keep track of what you say. Whether it’s a planner, notebook or phone, have someplace where you keep track of what you say you’ll do (this includes old stuff). Let your unkept words burn a hole in your head until you follow through with and complete them.
- Honor your word, even when you don’t keep it. There are times when you are compelled to break your word for whatever reason—sickness, injury, death, some unmissable opportunity arises. If that’s the case, honor your word and do your best to clean it up. If it’s a broken appointment, reschedule. If it’s a project or goal you set out to do by a certain time, renegotiate the time. This caveat can be abused. We can become known as a cleanup crew for broken words. Honoring your word in the face of a broken one is plan B. It’s easier to stick with plan A wherever possible and keep your word.
- Shut up. Really, stop talking shit. Stop saying things you don’t mean or have no intention of following through with. It’s better to not make an appointment than make one and miss it. I heard somewhere, “A good man does what he says. A wise man doesn’t say much.”