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Promises to Yourself: Building Better Communication Habits

Betty Lochner Blog

May your every day dawn with purpose and promise. – Mary Anne Radmacher

We all have things we wish we could do better. And, we usually know exactly what we should do. However, when it comes down to actually doing that, it is harder than it looks. Old habits kick in and we just don’t do it.

Reverting to old habits can be a big stumbling block to building and consistently using better communication skills

Here’s an example. I know I should listen more and talk less. However, when I am in a conversation and have something I want to say, I can easily forget all about what I should do and I just bust in and start talking.

Lasting change takes practice.

It takes a willingness to want to change and a commitment to practicing change to actually make a difference.

Your practice will become habit and that habit will become a part of who you are and how you communicate.

One way to build better habits through practice is an exercise called “I Promise Myself.” This exercise was inspired by Mary Anne Radmacher who wrote a beautiful book titled Promises to Myself.

Here’s how it works.

STEP 1

Take a few index cards and cut them in half.

STEP 2

Write down something on each card that you want to focus on changing or reinforcing in yourself.  It’s important to remember that you can only change you. Be careful not to include what you want other people to do – just focus on the behavior you want to change in you.

To get started, brainstorm a list of communication challenges you have.

Some of the promises I have written on cards include:

  • Listen.
  • Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Be patient.
  • Practice gratitude every chance I get.
  • Focus on relationships. Make it about them, not me.
  • Appreciate others.
  • Breathe.

You can write down anything that you wish to work on. Think about communication challenges to start with. (The exercise will work well in any area your life).

You should begin with about three to five cards. As you get the hang of it, you can add a new one to the mix (or take one away).

STEP 3

Find a small box that isn’t serving a good purpose. I found a small painted wooden box that someone brought back from a vacation that was only serving as an ornament on a bookshelf. Place the cards in that box. Put the box where you’ll see it first thing in the morning. I put mine in my bathroom.

STEP 4

Each morning pull one card and say “Today I will…” and read the card. Think about how you can focus on working on that promise all day. Carry the card with you – in your bag, your notebook, your pocket.

STEP 5

At the end of the day place the card back in the bottom of the pile. After you have finished the stack of cards, reshuffle, and start over.

This simple exercise can have a profound difference on your day and will help you make one step each day towards better communication. 

I have found that many times the exact card I need is the one that comes up that day. Here’s an example: after a long and sleepless night, I pulled up the card “Be patient”. It reminded me to keep my tired crabbiness under control and actually enjoy the day.

One of the communication challenges I have is in the area interrupting. It’s an area I struggle with doing consistently. Reading a promise card to remind me to pause before speaking, helps me change that behavior.

It’s very empowering and you learn a lot about yourself and those around you.  My most recent additions are “Eat healthy” and “Breathe“.

My husband will often be able to tell what my daily card said by the way I am acting. That’s a good thing. It reminds me that small things can make a big difference. Over time, these promises really have made me a better communicator.

What will your promise to yourself be today?


Join my free Facebook Group, Confident Communication for Women. The group is for women who want to build confidence in their communication skills. The group is all about women supporting women.

Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of two books on communication, and a newly published journal, Intentional Gratitude.

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