Dangerous Promises and How to Break Them

When I was was growing up, I was taught that a person’s word is their bond, and that “a promise made is a debt unpaid”. These are true and noble thoughts. And sometimes they are dead wrong.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is break your promise.

Steve was in over his head and he knew it. We were meeting at a local coffee shop. He was describing the massive load of stress he had been living under.

“I just have too much to do, and not enough time to do it,” he told me. He seemed near tears.

I asked him what his commitments were, and as he listed them off (there were many), I could understand why he was stressed. Just listening to him was wearing me down!

Finally, when he had finished, he sat looking at me expectantly. He was waiting for an answer to his problem.

“Let me ask you a question, Steve,” I said. “Do each of these commitments feel like a promise you made?”

He nodded.

“Well, there’s no way you’re going to be able to keep all these promises.”

He did not look encouraged.

“So the question is not which commitments are you going to break? Because you are going to break some. The real question is rather which ones can you break honorably?”

I then proceeded to tell Steve what I’m about to tell you. Now, in this case, I'm talking about commitments made in a business context. But this all applies to your personal life and commitments too.

There are 3 good reasons to free yourself from commitments you've made. Each of the following 3 reasons can make the commitment dangerous to your physical, financial, mental, and spiritual well-being.

And there's at least one good reason to believe it’s okay to break your promise – if you do it properly.

3 Reasons to Break Promises

  1. The promise requires more of you than you are willing to give. Sometimes people downplay the scope of the project they invite you into. Only after you've made the commitment to work with them do they reveal the full extent of the project. Whether intentional or unintentional, it doesn't matter. Their project has grown much larger and more complex than you're willing to commit to. 

  2. The promise requires more of you than you are able to give. In these cases, unforeseen circumstances or requirements emerge as the project or commitment unfolds. This takes the project beyond your level of expertise or ability. Or it requires more time and resources than you're able to commit. Also, sometimes we optimistically take on more than we're able to handle. 

  3. The promise requires something of you that you should not give. As a project develops, a client may ask you to do something that is unethical or even immoral. The client may or may not understand what they are asking you to do. You may feel a strong pull to compromise your values to serve your client. Don't do it!

What Does the Bible Say?

At times, our mouth writes a check that our hands can’t (or shouldn’t) cash. Wise King Solomon provided a good reason for freeing yourself from such a commitment:

My son, if you become surety for your friend,
If you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger,
You are snared by the words of your mouth;
You are taken by the words of your mouth.

So do this, my son, and deliver yourself;
For you have come into the hand of your friend:
Go and humble yourself;
Plead with your friend.
Give no sleep to your eyes,
Nor slumber to your eyelids.
Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,
And like a bird from the hand of the fowler. 
 Proverbs 6:1-5
Those are the 3 good reasons to free yourself from dangerous commitments, and there's st least one good Biblical reason to believe it’s okay to do so. Keep in mind that you want to free yourself from such a commitment in the most honorable way possible.

Consider your current commitments. To what extent does one or more of them warrant breaking? When have you broken such a promise in the past?

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at RayEdwards.com.