“It sounds like the core is about honoring integrity,” I suggested. I’d just been asked for my advice about going after big dreams, and what one should do when you feel pulled in different directions.
“Integrity?” the person responded. “Interesting. I basically know what that is, but I don’t exactly know what that would look like, applied to my life in a practical way.”
“Integrity” is one of those concepts that has fallen out of vogue as a term that people use to describe their lives. People understand that it’s about backing up your words with actions, but they tend to associate it with having to do a whole lot of obligatory stuff that you really don’t want to do, purely out of social convention.
My friend was in the same situation. She needed to ditch a bad commitment, yet she owned up to the fact that she had contributed to the problem. As someone who had contributed to things going sour, she was rightly asking herself whose mess it was to clean up, and what to do next.
I offer a different definition of integrity than the staid, “Gotta do what you say you’re going to do and leave it at that” convention:
Integrity: When your words and actions match, and are aligned with your commitments, values, and life vision. –Matthew Marzel
Words and actions matching, are one thing. Aligning words and actions with your commitments (to others, to yourself, to projects) and your values (because doing anything based on someone else’s values isn’t cool) and life vision (knowing your life vision? Hugely powerful) is another.
In and Out
When I know that I am out of integrity, I feel heavy and burdened. I would rather face the places where I am out of integrity than carry that heavy and burdened feeling. Being out of integrity is like a gas leak—the life just gets sucked right out of you. Getting back into integrity becomes another great practice in stepping into your vision for yourself—with kindness towards yourself. (Because, after all, it would be out of integrity to be unkind to yourself).
The hard part is that with integrity, a first step is taking ownership. To realize that you’re out of integrity isn’t easily solved by just course-correcting—that’s likely to lead to yet another lapse of integrity, creating a cyclical problem.
This idea of taking ownership is common in 12-step circles, where the idea is that one needs to look squarely at an addiction rather than promise to never again drink or use drugs.
The same idea is at work with integrity: you’ve got to ferret out all the little places where you sell yourself short.
There’s only one caveat as you proceed: to take ownership does not mean beating yourself up or perfectionism. It’s about seeing the truth-truth of your choices. That’s it.
A few Questions to consider
Take a moment to write down some of the things that are most important in your life. You might note your family, your career, or a lifelong desire that you’ve always known you want to achieve before you die—such as writing a book or traveling the world.
Having written these things down, ask yourself these questions:
• Where am I clearly out of integrity? Where do my words and actions simply not match?
• Where do I place other things before honoring these things?
• How am I making choices in my life that keep me over-committed?
• Am I clear on my values and my vision for what I want my life to be about? If not, why not?
• If I am clear on values and vision, am I living my values and vision?
As you’re writing these responses, you’re naturally going to see places and spaces where you are out of integrity—and again, the invitation is here to take the deep, gentle, compassionate breath.
In my work, I’m always looking at how fear plays a role in the choices that we make that aren’t in service to what we truly want, and how practicing courage shifts things. In the responses you’ve just given, there are clues as to how you can start to shift fearful patterns and beliefs. Perhaps you forget a lot—this falls under the category that I call “faux-fear,” which is fear that shows up differently than the usual nervous, elevator-dropping sensation that’s so much easier to recognize.
Perhaps you overload your schedule with stuff to do, such that you never get to the real desires. Perhaps you get frustrated and disconnect from yourself and others in relationships.
Focus on this question: How is your fear expressing itself? How is it showing up? Identifying how it shows up shows you what behaviors and responses to be on the lookout for, so that you can shift it if they crop up, again.
Having done that, start reviewing what you’ve written, looking for the course-correction moves that will get you back on track with honoring you, your desires, your commitments, and your values and vision.
Why does this matter? What does it have to do with you?
We all get to choose how much we value integrity. Personally, I believe that a practice of noticing where we are out of integrity and then getting back in alignment with integrity is a huge reserve of energy. It reminds me of what is said in the book The Four Agreements: “Be impeccable with your word.”
When we respect ourselves and others enough to be in integrity, to notice when we are not in integrity and then to “clean it up,” we are being impeccable with our word. It frees up energy that might otherwise be devoted to worry about others not liking us, being “found out,” being questioned around our sense of honor and truth.
The energy that gets freed up is energy that ignites a creative spark, that lessens anxiety, and that makes us less likely to snap at the people we love.
We all like it when others are fully honest and in integrity with us. We are all disappointed when others say one thing, and do something else. So why don’t we start with being in integrity, ourselves? It’s in taking ownership of the truth of what we do, recognizing how fear plays a role, and committing to alternative actions that we can practice what we preach and look in the mirror each day, knowing that whatever else is happening, we can be proud of this: we practice integrity in our lives.
Kate Swoboda, a.k.a. Kate Courageous, is a life coach, writer and speaker who teaches people how to practice courage in their lives and livelihood. Learn more about her and how you can practice courage in your own life and business on her website , or follow Kate on Twitter or Facebook.