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The Psychology of Broken Promises: Understanding Self-Accountability

Have you ever told yourself you were going to do something and then didn’t follow through? If you’re being honest, you’d likely say, “Yes.” It’s a common human experience, but one that can create significant barriers to trust. When we break promises, whether to ourselves or others, it damages our accountability. This blog post explores the reasons behind this behavior and offers insights into how we can improve our self-accountability.

The Impact of Broken Promises

Breaking a promise might seem inconsequential, especially if it’s just to ourselves. However, these broken commitments can accumulate, leading to a diminished sense of self-trust. When we can’t rely on ourselves to do what we say we will, it erodes our self-confidence and can impact our relationships with others.

Why We Break Promises

There are several psychological factors at play when we break promises:

  • Procrastination: Often, we might delay tasks, thinking we’ll be better prepared or more motivated later. This can lead to a cycle of postponement and eventual non-completion.
  • Fear of Failure: Sometimes, the fear of not meeting expectations can paralyze us into inaction. We might avoid following through on a commitment due to the anxiety of potential failure.
  • Overcommitment: In our eagerness to please or achieve, we might take on more than we can handle, making it impossible to keep all our promises.
  • Lack of Motivation: Without a strong emotional or rational incentive, we might not feel compelled to complete a task, especially if it’s challenging or tedious.
  • Forgetfulness: Simply put, we might forget about a commitment, particularly if it’s not recorded or if we have too many things on our plate.

Building Self-Accountability

Improving self-accountability is key to avoiding the pitfalls of broken promises. Here are some strategies to help maintain your commitments:

  • Set Realistic Goals: Ensure that what you’re promising is achievable. Break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps.
  • Keep a Promise Journal: Write down your commitments. This not only serves as a reminder but also as a physical representation of your accountability.
  • Understand Your ‘Why’: Knowing the reasons behind your commitments can bolster your motivation to see them through.
  • Create a Support System: Share your goals with friends or family who can offer encouragement and hold you accountable.
  • Forgive Yourself: If you do break a promise, understand that it’s part of being human. Learn from the experience and move forward with renewed commitment.

The Role of Self-Compassion in Maintaining Promises

Self-compassion is an essential component of self-accountability. It involves treating oneself with kindness and understanding when we fail to keep promises. Instead of harsh self-criticism, which can lead to a negative spiral, self-compassion encourages us to acknowledge our mistakes and use them as learning opportunities.

Strategies for Cultivating Self-Compassion

  • Mindfulness: Be present with your feelings without judgment. Recognize when you’re being too hard on yourself and pause to reassess.
  • Common Humanity: Understand that everyone makes mistakes and breaks promises. You’re not alone in this struggle.
  • Self-Kindness: Speak to yourself as you would to a friend. Offer words of encouragement and support to yourself.

The Science Behind Habit Formation and Keeping Promises

Habit formation plays a crucial role in maintaining our promises. When we establish a habit, it becomes part of our routine, reducing the mental effort required to keep a promise.

How to Develop Habits That Support Your Promises

  • Start Small: Begin with small habits that contribute to your larger goal. Consistency is more important than the size of the task.
  • Repeat: Repetition is key to habit formation. The more you perform an action, the more ingrained it becomes.
  • Cue-Routine-Reward: Identify a cue that triggers your routine and follow it with a reward to reinforce the habit.


Breaking promises to oneself is a behavior that can undermine trust and accountability. By understanding the reasons behind this behavior and implementing strategies to combat it, we can improve our reliability and strengthen our self-trust. Remember, the journey to better self-accountability is a continuous process, one that requires patience, persistence, and self-compassion.

Photo Credit: Image by pressfoto on Freepik

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