“We choose to go to the moon.”

Let’s rewind to the era when these words were uttered—nearly seven years before the first moon landing took place. 

What was JFK thinking?  

Some might have thought he was out of his mind—committing the country to an improbable and unlikely mission. At the time, achieving a moon landing seemed impossible; the U.S. lacked the necessary technology, and a significant 58% of Americans opposed the idea.

So why make such a promise?  Everyone knows we aren’t supposed to promise more than we can deliver.

From a young age, we’re indoctrinated with the idea that keeping our promises is a good thing and that breaking our promises is a bad thing. It’s even taught as a successful business strategy: under promise and over deliver.

Making promises bigger than we know how to deliver is somewhere on the scale between scary and stupid. This is, by the way, not even something we think – it’s something we “are”; it’s the paradigm, the context, in which we live. 

However consider this: only promising what we know we can deliver puts an invisible lid on our potential. When we hold promises in this default context (keeping promises = good, breaking promises = bad), we limit ourselves. We end up promising only what we’re certain we can accomplish, and we miss the fact that small promises make for small lives. 

Looking more closely at JFK’s promise to put a man on the moon (and return them safely) by the end of the decade, we can see he was not using his words as descriptors of the current reality. He was using language to create the future. 

And you can, too.

A Promise is an Anchor

Imagine a promise as an anchor—a concept perfectly illustrated by Batman:

As you can plainly see, Batman takes his Bat-a-rang, throws it way up on the building, and then uses it to pull himself (and the Boy Wonder) up the building.

This is precisely what JFK did with his word. He threw it way out into the future and, having lodged it at the end of the decade, he empowered NASA to, day by day, pull themselves toward that goal. They invented what was necessary and took actions, guided by the promise anchored in the future.

When we practice using our words to create our future, we empower ourselves to become more than whatever the current set of circumstances allow. Consider promises as anchors that pull us towards actions we might not otherwise take.

Promises Worth Making

Try this on as an operating principle for making promises:

You don’t need to make promises about anything that would happen no matter what. For example, you don’t need to promise a pen will hit the floor if you drop it – that will happen whether you promise it or not.

Only make promises about things that would simply never happen if you didn’t promise them.

Make a life out of creating big, bold-ass promises, and then honoring them like your word matters. This will give rise to a life beyond what was just going to happen anyway.

Promises, when held as something worthy of honor, influence your thoughts, feelings, actions, and outcomes. They create a bridge between your present and your future, between your potential and your reality.

When you make a promise, you are not just saying words; you are creating an anchor in the future. You can use that anchor to pull yourself towards actions you might otherwise never take.

Use Promises to Achieve Your Goals

Here are some simple ways to maximize the power of promises in achieving your goals:

  • Make clear and specific promises. The clearer and more specific your promise is, the more likely you are to follow through. For example, instead of saying “I will be more productive,” say “I will complete three tasks by noon.” Instead of saying “I will be healthier,” say “I will eat a salad for lunch and drink eight glasses of water.”
  • Write down your promises. Writing down your promises makes them more concrete and visible. It also helps you remember them and track your progress. You can write down your promises in a journal, a planner, a sticky note, or your phone – the more visible, the better.
  • Share your promises with people. This can be with a partner, a friend, a coach, or a mentor. This will increase your accountability and support. We are all far more likely to follow through on promises we make to others than we are those we make just to ourselves.
  • Review your promises regularly. Plan when you will update your promises with the people you shared with and update them on time (this is in itself a promise).
  • Separate measures from results. This is a much larger conversation, but for now, consider that a result is some fundamental change you are inspired by and are out to accomplish (“I am fit and healthy and love the way I look.”)  The measure for this is “I will lose 25 pounds in the next 90 days.” Stay present to both the result and the measure—but keep them distinct.
  • Celebrate your achievements. Reward yourself for keeping your promises and passing milestones. Don’t wait for the end. Enjoy the journey. 

By making big promises and living your life as an opportunity to fulfill them, you will reinforce your confidence, self-esteem, and self-trust – and you will accomplish things far greater than you would if you only promised what you knew you could achieve.

You might also inspire others and create a ripple effect of positive change in your world.

Great journeys, like getting to the moon, don’t start with figuring out if you already can. 

They start with a promise.