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Few days ago I promised myself that:

  1. I will be dedicated to my study for a long time.
  2. I will never watch any movie, never waste time on internet or x-box, etc. (sometimes I wish to break my x-box but don't know why I don't anyway!)
  3. Never waste time with stupid friends.
  4. Keep my all focus on study.

Then after 8 to 10 days these promises broke and for approximately two days I watched movies, played on the x-box, not focusing on studies.

Then again I promise myself I will follow my rule.

Then my life was running properly and I studied hard for 8 to 10 day and after that I broke my promises again. And this process cycles again and again. This happened to me 100 times!

Now situation is that when I try to any promise to myself my heart starts laughing at me. (Hope you understand the whole situation).

I just want to keep my focus on study for a complete semester. So please give me some advice on how I can keep self promises unbreakable for long time and stay motivated to study. You can insult me but say something which will be rooted deep in my mind.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

I used to have the same problem, you generally break your promise to do something because it's either boring or not very rewarding. So, if you continue doing the thing, in the end it gets you stressed and you want to go back to your comforts again. Here are some things that helped me stay in focus.

step 1-

You need to find the right reason, like, why am I studying? of course the obvious answer is "duh! exams?!", but it needs to be something that's more meaningful to you; like for me it was because I was not good at anything, so I wanted to be the best I could in studying. You'll have your own reason too- Find it

step 2-

Allocate a specific time to study every day. If you're planning 6 to 8 pm, then just cancel every activity you have on your schedule and hit the books. If two hours don't suffice then go for 4 or five hours, generally that's the amount of time you need for college level (more than sufficient if you want a good score), but just don't overdo it. Doing this everyday will bring a sense of routine in you and it will make you focus and with practice- you won't think of anything else other than studying during that time, so it's imperative that you study everyday at that particular time (just keep the book open at least :P).

This step is kinda hard (It's hard because you're changing something in your lifestyle, and your body resists change- ever heard of inertia?, but once you get it rolling, it gets easy) when it gets too hard, just remember the reason (step 1?) why you're doing it and keep practicing. Practice makes perfect so- Practice it

step 3-

You're a human being, so it's natural to waste time on things you like- healthy even. Friends can be a pain sometimes, so just draw a line, let him/her know their limits and tell them off if they invade your private time (like if they call you during your study time or if you feel like calling them, then just say a plain "NO" in either case. Better just to switch off your phone. You can catch up with them after your study time). Things like movies, games etc seem like traitors only when they prevent you from doing your work. So if you have a chapter to finish in four days for example, allocate what you will study on each day and leave a few hours for entertainment on each day, so, you know that everything's going according to plan and if all goes well you'd have completed the chapter by the fourth day. This way your work gets done and you get to have a good time too! So basically, step 3 eases the difficulty of step 2!!

In short, it's all about balance, time management and introspection- balance- balance between things you do purely for fun (TV, sports, hanging out etc) and those that you do for a living (that's usually boring because it involves studying if you're a student or a job if you're working) time management- manage your time so you can have that balance on each day introspection- to know yourself, what are you inside. Meditation usually helps for this. The awesome thing about introspection is, it helps you control your emotions and not the other way round.

So, live life, be philosophical, if this were your last day in the world, would it help if you think about yesterday and all you did was studying!! :D

Hope this helped, good luck!

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Try to make your promises more realistic. Saying you will NEVER waste time isn't going to happen. Instead give yourself a time budget for fun things. Like you will limit yourself to one movie a week. You will limit your internet time to X per day. Etc.

You can also come up with a way to reward yourself. For example, you can watch a movie after you study for X hours in a week.

Your story sounds a bit like people who diet poorly. They do something intense that can't be maintained, fall off the wagon and binge eat and then promise to fix that. Cycling over and over. You are studying a lot, unable to keep it up, wasting a ton of time and repeating. The above suggestions help with this because it doesn't bottle up. It also lets you adjust to a missed goal in a smaller way rather than losing days of effort.

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I agree with both Jeanne Boyarsky's answer and matthewp's answer but I would just like to add the following:

  1. Make your promises more precise. For example you say "I will dedicate to my study for a long time" which is rather vague. How much is a long time? It will work better if you quantify it and say for example "At college I will visit all lectures for course X and at home I will study for 3 hours, 5 days a week every week."

  2. Write your promises down if you haven't done so. It's more easy to stick to your promises if you've written them down and can re-read them daily.

  3. If you want to do things that require willpower then it's much better to change only one thing at a time. This is because willpower is a limited resource and over the course of a day you'll run out of willpower if you need it for keeping multiple promises (see also the book "Willpower" by Baumeister and Tierney for more details on how this works). If you run out of willpower you'll most likely fail at all your promises. Try to change one thing at a time and stick with it until it has become a habit and doesn't require willpower anymore.

So bottom line; make one realistic and precise promise at a time. Reward yourself every day you succeed. Wait until you've changed your first promise into a habit (say about 1 month) and then you can start with a second promise, etc.

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For me it's always been about figuring out how to replace the things I am taking out of my life....not just taking things out.

For instance, "Never waste time with stupid friends" - anytime this seems like it might happen, have a plan for what you'll "call another friend", or study, or something/anything. It's hard to just stop doing something without a substitution.

Also, track what you want to do with your time on a to-do list or via some other means - when your emotions start to control your decisions you can come back to your plan (to-do list) and just start checking things off that you want to be doing.

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One quibble about THelper's answer. Check out Dweck's rebuttal to Baumeister on willpower:

Other than that there's great advice in the other answers. But for the very specific question you're asking, I'm pretty sure a commitment device is the right answer. Here's a list of all the commitment device tools I know of:

Disclosure: I'm a cofounder of one of them!

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Thanks for sharing that interesting NY article! – THelper Oct 30 '13 at 20:08

To keep the promise to yourself over a long period of time, you have to accept that some setbacks are inevitable. The important thing is to curtail the extent of the setback, i.e limiting it to a day/two instead of allowing it to escalate over a week.

Each setback is not an indicator of failure. Suggestions are:

  1. Set goals at the least possible level that are feasible. Small changes are easier to implement than big ones (creature of habit)
  2. Make a very specific daily list of things to be completed. I have personally found the Pomodoro Technique useful in this regard
  3. Accept deviation/setback and limit its magnitude
  4. Periodically review progress, if substantive deviations are noted- go back to 1
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Sorry for my english, but here is what I can say about promises:

1. Promises "size" has to correspond to your self-confidence. Start from small promises (like - next three days I will brush my teeth every evening), than succeeding go to more serious promises. It is important to always be able to do what you have promised yourself.

2. Promises has to be flexible enough. Because the main guy here is you, not your promise. The promise is for you, not you for the promise. After a while you can understand the task better and wish to do a little bit different thing. It is important to have flexibility to do this thing. Because you never know what is better for you in advance. For example, promise yourself reconsider the promise formulation every month.

3. Make the promise positively formulated. Otherwise you will simply will thing about what you want to avoid, and it will attract you in one or another way.

4. Formulate explicitly - why you want to do this, what you gain when you do it, what you lose if you break the promise.

5. Keep thinking about the promise reasons during whole period of the promise, dig deeper, understand your reasons better.

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