You make plans to meet with a friend and then find yourself thinking, Meh, I don't really feel like it. She won't mind if I cancel at the last moment. She's your "friend," after all. So she'll forgive you. It's no big deal, right?
You sign up for a training seminar and then find yourself thinking, What a drag. I'd just rather skip it. You cancel three days before and ask for a refund. You rationalize your decision by reasoning that maybe it just wasn't "meant to be."
You promise to take your kid to the playground, but then realize, Wow it's a little chilly. Plus I've got tons of emails to answer, and he'd be just as happy watching TV.
If you can see yourself mirrored in any of those scenarios, you might be feeling a little icky right now. Not to be overly harsh, but your reaction of "ickiness" is a good thing.
Put simply, flakiness is not an OK habit to make for yourself — and it's not consequence-free, neither for yourself nor for others.
Failing to honor promises degrades relationships, creates a reputation of unreliability, sets a poor example for children (and grown-ups!), is harmful for business owners, and will most likely lead you to feel badly about yourself and your seeming inability to keep your word.
Yes, of course, we're all allowed to change our minds in life, for situations big and small alike. We may need to reschedule an appointment because a meeting at work came up, or cancel on a friend because we've had a bad day. Extenuating circumstances arise for everyone. But that's just it: situations in which you have to cancel are not, and should not be, the norm.
If you feel like you're consistently unreliable — breaking promises you've made to others, or to yourself, on a near-daily basis — it's important to understand why that's happening, so that you can start forming some new habits.
You might want to start with one question. The next time you feel tempted to "flake out" on yourself, or somebody else, ask, WHY do I want to cancel / reschedule / not go / not show up / flake out?
Then ask yourself some tough, but very necessary follow up questions. Is it because …
1. … You feel scared?
If it's three days before a professional training seminar that you willingly signed up for — and suddenly, you are filled with fearful thoughts.
- What if I'm the most underqualified person in the room?
- What if people judge me because I've gained weight this year?
- What if … what if … what if …?
In these cases, your desire to avoid is most likely motivated by fear. Specifically, you fear what other people might think.
This is totally normal, but realize what you are doing, and I guarantee you that your thoughts will change, at least somewhat. Ask yourself: Am I going to be the kind of person who lets fear drive my decisions?
No, you are not. Do what you need to do to deal with the fear — write, stomp, run, scream into a pillow, punch a punching bag, laugh, cry, whatever it takes — and show up, anyway.
2. … You feel exhausted?
If you promised you'd meet a friend for dinner at 6 pm, and it's 4 pm and you feel like you're about to fall asleep at your desk because you're genuinely exhausted, it might be tempting to cancel the whole thing.
Try not to, unless you absolutely must.
Instead, turn this moment into a self-care opportunity. Take a short nap, stretch, drink some cool water, or take a brisk walk to revive yourself.
Use this as an opportunity to own up to your choices, too. Tell your friend, "I can't wait to see you, but I'd like to do something quiet and relaxing and make this an early night. I am very tired because I haven't been taking very good care of myself. I am sorry that my tiredness is cutting into our time together. I am learning to take better care of myself." Your friend will appreciate your honesty, and you won't be left with the icky feeling that almost always arises after canceling a plan last-minute.
3. … You feel resentful?
If you agreed to volunteer at a fundraiser — when you really didn't want to — and now you're feeling bitter and resentful, it's no wonder you want to flake out.
But … don't. Show up. It's as simple as that.
Tell yourself: This is a lesson for me. Saying 'yes' when I really want to say 'no' doesn't feel good. I'm going to honor this commitment, because it's the right thing to do, but I'm also going to be more honest and mindful about my commitments in the future.
4. … You are having a legitimate change of heart?
If you said "Yes" to accepting a new job — but then learned some unappealing facts about your new employer's policies which color the opportunity in a completely new light — that's an appropriate reason to change your mind.
A legitimate change of heart is caused by the acquisition of new information — not by fear, exhaustion or resentment. If you are having a legitimate change of heart, and you want to change your original decision, that's not flaking out — that's a wise choice.
Change of hearts do happen, and when they do, it's important to honor them. But before you grab your phone and start texting your cancellation note, take a moment to check in with yourself. Make sure your desire to change course is being motivated by the right reasons.
We can all enjoy a world where people show up for themselves, and for each other. It starts by honoring your very next promise.
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