I used to joke privately whenever I made a big purchase or went out to dinner for the fifth time in a week. I would say: “I am leaving this to the least reliable person I know to pay the bill, my future self”. Then I would force down the rising tide of panic at the thought of my credit card balance as I handed it over for yet another meal or toy I didn’t really need. This tendency to relegate important tasks to the future extended to other parts of my life. This caused many people to eventually question my reliability, and that is a place you never want to find yourself.
I couldn’t really grasp the nature of this problem at the time. Only in recent years have I become aware that my future self was an entirely fictional personification of my worst traits. I projected my laziness, ennui, and avoidance into this entity that I was casually joking about. The result? I would take no action at worst, or limited action at best. The problem wasn’t my future self, it was my attitude in the current moment. This attitude, projected into my future state caused feelings of helplessness.
In this post, I will make two points out of this brief glimpse into a personal challenge. First, how to avoid relegating important decisions and actions to the future, and second, how to rebuild when you feel that your reliability is in a fragile state. Why is this important? Because reliability lays the foundation for trust and without it, your relationships, personal, social, and business, will falter and ultimately fail.
Let’s start with clearing up a misconception about the future self. If you follow the reasoning of many philosophers and let’s face it, many entrepreneurs, the idea of the future self is discarded in favor of the ever-present moment. Therefore, it is impossible to relegate anything to the future self since it doesn’t actually exist. Any action you take can only ever be taken in the present moment, no matter when that present moment happens. So the quick and dirty answer is that reliability happens in the moment, not in the future.
Now we can tackle the question of your reliability in the present moment. Answer the following questions as honestly as you can and pay attention to how the answers make you feel. There is no grading or reliability scale for this.
- In the last six months have you been able to accomplish more than half of the personal goals you set out for yourself?
- In the last six months have you delivered your work projects promptly and kept management updated on delays?
- Think of the last promise you made to a family member, your spouse, girlfriend, or your children. Or maybe your promise was to a friend or one of your social groups. Did you fulfill the promise quickly without any unnecessary delay?
The point of these questions is to look at each facet of your life: personal, professional, and social. When you make a promise, whether to yourself or another, you are making a contract that is paid through your reliability. The caveat, these questions only make sense if the promises you’re making are ones you have full intention of completing. The promises you make to shut someone up, or to make yourself feel better only serve to undermine and destroy your reliability.
Now let’s get the obvious point out of the way. If you’ve been able to accomplish at least half of your personal goals, maintained your productivity and regular delivery of work projects, and keep up your promises to friends and family, then you’re all set. You are highly reliable and you have my well-deserved envy. CONGRATULATIONS!
So what happens if, like me, you find yourself feeling like you could do better? Well, the first step is to stop feeling sorry for yourself and acknowledge the fault. Next, you start working on your reliability.
- Recall a promise made in each of the areas listed above, write them down if you have to.
- Ask for clarification if you are unsure.
- See the promise through to completion.
Your goal here is to stop the tendency to relegate promises and activities to your future self. If it can be done now, then do it. If you need to wait, then take an action against it now, even if you’re just setting a reminder on your phone. Both follow-through and delivery are paramount in taking your reliability up a notch. When you deliver on your promise, be sure to include the phrase: “Thank you for your patience”. This shows that you are still in control.
So what happens if you find yourself in a position where you are no longer trusted or seen as reliable? Well, from there you need to climb your way out of the hole your actions have created. This is a lot more difficult since you are starting from a position of negative trust. You had a trusting relationship, or perhaps one of neutral trust, and let it fall to pieces through neglect and broken promises.
Your first step is to seek forgiveness. This is the most critical step as it shows others that you’re aware of your shortcomings and willing to work on them. This is also the most painful of the steps. You will stand before those whose trust you betrayed and ask them for another chance, and there’s the possibility that you won’t get it.
Your next step is to forgive yourself. Yes, it may seem strange and a bit new age to state this, but the fact is you can’t move ahead if you’re thinking about the mistakes you’ve made in the past. It is also highly likely that the previous step has brought to your attention a number of betrayals you never knew about or had forgotten. You need to accept these as past faults and forgive yourself before you can move on. This must be done even if the betrayed has not forgiven you.
Next is action. It’s not enough to seek forgiveness, you must act on that forgiveness or you may forever destroy the relationship you’re seeking to save. Look for those opportunities to improve on your reliability and exploit them to the fullest. Make promises then act on them immediately.
Finally, track your progress. You can use a journal to jot down the promises you’ve made and how you intend to honor them. I also suggest that at least once a month you follow up with those to whom you’ve made promises to see how you are doing and how you can make further improvements.
Now, normally writers, bloggers, or other authors won’t go into this next part since it’s quite a bit more negative and destructive. Perhaps your reliability is so shot to hell that it’s no longer worth trying to revive it. Perhaps the forgiveness you were seeking was withheld or the cost in action is too high to pay. In extreme cases it may be more beneficial for all involved, including you, to leave it all behind. Break your connections, burn what’s left of the bridge, and move on to the next chapter of your life. This path may find you in another job, another town or state, or possibly in another country altogether. From there you can start from scratch and build the reliability and trust that you know you’re capable of.
So where’s our bottom line? Your future self is lie and your reliability depends on your understanding. Since we don’t exist in any moment other than the present then relegating action to a future version of ourselves is pointless and ultimately destructive to our relationships. To this point, if you want to improve your reliability and the trust others place in you it is important to act on promises quickly and frequently. If, however, you find yourself bereft of trust from others, then it’s time to either put significant effort into repair, or turn and walk away. There only wrong action is inaction.