Why don’t we do what we say we’re going to do?

Have you ever had the experience of someone telling you they will do something and then not doing it?

Or even worse, they say they’re going to do something, don’t do it, and then don’t even acknowledge their lack of execution of the thing, simply going along as though they never indicated they would do it?

How did you feel when that happened?

What insecurity results from the sense that one cannot trust another person to be good to their word?

We are all guilty of behaving in this way at one time or another. Some of us perhaps more than we care to reflect upon.

And what happens to us when we are the offender? It creates cognitive dissonance, which is painful.

I’m sure most of us like to think that we have integrity and are good to our word, yet do we look at how often we actually are?

Do we keep track?

Do we ask for feedback from those around us?

Not me. Not enough. Not yet. I admit it.

What would the world look like if we were able to trust one another? I mean, not talking about strangers here, but the people in our world. Our family, friends, colleagues. What if we knew that they would do what they said they would do? (Or if something prevented them, that they would acknowledge it and seek a different solution.)

What if we behaved this way for them?

Trust helps us to build a strong social fabric, and to feel secure. If we cannot count on others to do what they say they are going to do, we may feel insecure and believe that we have to take control in order to be safe. Or worse, we could fall into depression and not care about what we do or don’t do. Insecurity drives people to do damaging things, and to behave hurtfully to others.

I think sometimes we might talk just to fill up space, because silence makes us uncomfortable. And talking about what we’re going to do makes us feel good about ourselves, even if we’re not truly committed to whatever we are saying. Perhaps we think others will forget. (And perhaps they do, who really knows when anyone is truly paying attention?)

Yet I think about a sales-script challenge that a business coach of mine invited his group to participate in, and he named the challenge “Truly Committed.” That was brilliant. He was asking us to make a commitment, to take a stand.

How often do we make a conscious decision to COMMIT to anything?

What is the challenge of commitment?

I’ve come up with six reasons so far, for why we don’t do the things we say we’re going to do:

  • We weren’t really committed to doing the thing to begin with, we were just brainstorming, musing, or talking to fill up the space in a conversation.
  • Saying we would do a thing gave us a temporarily good feeling, because we wanted to feel like we were the person who would do the thing that we committed to.
  • We didn’t spend time on the front end to consider what obstacles might stand in the way of us completing the thing we said we would do.
  • We don’t have a framework for recording our commitments (and we forgot or got distracted.)
  • We don’t have a framework for executing on our commitments (like time-blocking.)
  • We haven’t considered how our lack of follow-through will affect our relationships.

I have been guilty of every one of these myself.

On the bright side, looking at the list gives us some keys to how we can behave differently.

We can do the opposite.


  • Be clear in our language to specify whether we are brainstorming or committing.
  • Pause before speaking and remind ourselves that we will feel worse when/if we do not follow through on what we say. And weigh our commitment level.
  • Proactively consider what might get in the way of us doing the thing.
  • Create a system or framework for recording our commitments to others.
  • Create a system for blocking time in our calendar to complete the things to which we have committed.
  • Spend some time thinking about how we feel when others don’t follow-through, and look at the fact that our friends, colleagues and loved-ones probably feel that way too, when we do it to them.

What changes would occur in our lives if we were to begin operating in this way?

When I look at the above list, I see pro-activity as a theme.

I see thinking before speaking, thinking before acting. Planning. Creating systems.

Acting in this way will require us to slow down.

And it’s worth it.

PS – if you’d like to dig into this topic a little more, check out the very inspiring Because I Said I Would movement.

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