I attended my sister’s high school graduation recently. Before her big day, though, I was wondering what advice I’d give to a graduating class if I was asked to give a speech. I scribbled some ideas, but my list was long, boring, and predictable. (Commencement speeches are harder than I thought!)
The most popular commencement speeches are given by super successful/famous people like Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, Oprah, Jim Carrey, and so on. These speeches usually say inspirational stuff like:
“Find your passion”,
“Follow your dreams”,
“Do what you love.”
I love those speeches, but I’m tired of them. The advice is great but unusable. If people knew what they loved they’d be doing it instead of listening to speeches!
I was about to give up on my speech writing idea, but after taking my sister’s picture something clicked.
The “follow your dreams” message is great. But there’s something else we need to do first. My advice is not as deep. Most people avoid simple advice because it’s — simple. Advice doesn’t have to be complicated like calculus to work.
So what’s my advice?
Keep your promises. That’s it. Everybody can go home now.
Well, let me explain a little more…
One of my new favorite books is The Power of Habits by Charles Duhigg. (This guy can turn the most boring subjects into incredible stories.) Duhigg breaks down why we do what we do in life and business. And how to change it.
He shows that it’s easier to REPLACE a habit with a new one then it is to break a bad one. He also shares a step-by-step framework on how to do it.
Duhigg explains that nearly 40% of the things we do are based on habits and not actual decision-making.
40% is a lot!
“Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”
Almost everything that we do is based on the accumulation of habits. For example:
- What we eat
- How we exercise
- Where we sit in a class
- How we work
The list is endless…
This good and bad. It’s terrible because we can easily fall into routines that are hurting us without even knowing it because we do it on autopilot. According to Duhigg, our brains don’t recognize habits as good or bad.
Instead, our brain sees behaviors that have become easier for us to repeat (autopilot) so it requires less energy.
On the flip side, this also means we can develop positive life improving routines like saving more money, exercising more often, eating healthier, etc… The right habits put us on an automatic path to self-improvement.
Keeping your promises, in my humble opinion, is a fundamental habit. Just think of all the times you’ve heard people say:
- “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
- “I plan to …”
- “Someday I’ll…”
- “One day, I’m going to…”
- “I’ll start my diet on Monday.”
- “I’m going to write my book” (I’m working on it!)
Unfortunately, the day never comes …
People who accomplish the things they say are a rare species. They’re nearly extinct like Chia pets. They’re the minority but they’re disproportionately represented among high achievers.
Promise-keepers don’t accept, use, or give excuses. People who take action are the only ones who get things done, because they EXECUTE.
Think of a heart surgeon.
They don’t have time for games or excuses. They either get it done or they don’t. There’s no gray area in heart surgery. There’s no “I tried my best, but…”
But you don’t have to be a surgeon.
And don’t think that keeping your promises on the small stuff doesn’t matter. That’s exactly where you develop this powerful habit. Practice on the small stuff, so when the big stuff shows up, you’re ready to crush it.
Why is this so important?
Aside from the awesomeness of being a person of action, promise-keepers keep commitments they make to themselves. One day you’re going to listen to a commencement speech, get really inspired, and promise yourself that you’re going to find your passion, follow your dreams, and do what you love.
But then something called life will get in your way. Like Mike Tyson said,
“Everybody has plan until they get punched in the face.”
When the punch comes, and it will, it’s the people who do what they say that will stick with it. The real genius of peeps like Oprah, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, and Jim Carrey was in their ability to keep the promises they made to themselves.