Posted by Margie Warrell
It’s what we look for in our leaders. What we hope for in our politicians. What we expect from our spouse and what we struggle with throughout our life. Integrity.
What does it mean to you? Have you thought about it? I know when I speak to different people everyone has their own idea of what it means. . . from being honest in your business dealings to not cheating on your tax return (or your spouse!). But integrity goes way beyond being a good law-abiding citizen. At its core, integrity is about having alignment between what you know is the right thing to do and what you are doing; between who you aspire to be, and who you are being. I’m all about people thinking big in life. However, unless your actions are backed by a solid foundation of integrity, they will fail to produce the results you really want. Of course being the infallible human beings that we are, we often slip up. We tell a lie or fail to tell the truth, we make a mistake and try to cover it up, we treat someone poorly, we stay silent when we see someone else treated poorly. . . ahh, if only it were easy to always live with integrity. Needless to say, I’m not here to make you feel bad about those times you sell out or be dishonest (with yourself or others). Rather I just want to challenge you to address any areas of your life in which integrity might be. . . well. . .compromised. It could be:
- Speaking up about an issue that has upset you because you know you owe it to yourself and to the person to get the issue off your chest and on the table
- Giving someone the constructive feedback they need to improve their performance, even though it makes you uncomfortable to do so
- Saying no to a commitment that is keeping you from spending the time with your family that you value so highly
- Sorting out your finances which you have neglected for a long time and creating a plan to pay back money you owe to others
- Cutting back on the amount of paper products you use or getting a filter on your water tap rather than consuming so many plastic bottles of water because you know it’s damaging to the environment
- Apologizing to someone to whom, intentionally or not, you caused hurt or simply taking responsibility for something you did (or failed to do!)
- Deciding you are no longer going to speak badly about people because you just don’t want to be someone who does that
Are you ready to give up the payoffs?
The hardest part of restoring (and keeping) integrity is letting go of the payoff you’ve been getting from behaving that way in the first place. Such payoffs include (but are far from limited to):
- An absence of confrontation or avoidance of some unpleasant consequence
- Convenience or financial gain
- Feeling victimized or just having an excuse to avoid change
- Ego gratification, social kudos or professional recognition
No one enjoys admitting they’ve been selling out, deceitful or cutting corners which is why living with integrity (and restoring it) requires ongoing self reflection, brutal honesty, humility and (last but not least) courage. So, I guess you might be wondering, why should I bother?
Not living with integrity costs you
During my teens I used to justify shoplifting things like lipstick with excuses like, “I’m poor and they won’t notice one lipstick,” and, “I know lots of people do this so why shouldn’t I?” Over time I came to realize it wasn’t about whether I would get caught or not, nor whether the store could afford it, it was simply that it was wrong and despite all my justifications, deep down I knew my biggest act of deceit was with myself. By failing to act with integrity I was holding myself back and undermining my own sense of self-worth. Intuitively I just knew that unless I cleaned up my act, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the success and contentment in life I wanted and would be plagued by shame and guilt.
Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true” for a reason. Psychologists have coined the term “cognitive dissonance” to describe the inner conflict that results when there is discord between our behavior and beliefs. In order to quiet the dogfight going on in their heads most people come up with all sorts of justifications for their actions: “everyone else is doing it,” “If I didn’t, someone else would,” “People take advantage of me so why shouldn’t I do it back?” and the list goes on. Despite their many reasons (aka excuses) they are still left with an unpleasant gnawing that eats away at their self-esteem and peace of mind. When the gnawing grows too intense, people come up with all sorts of creative ways to numb the pain and distract themselves from their unease. But still. . . it persists.
Restoring your sense of integrity will require giving up some of the payoffs you’ve become attached to. There’s no other way around it. Sorry. But the good news is that as you begin to clean up your act you will feel a whole new level of energy, self-worth and personal power.
So, what is stopping you from feeling 100% good about how you are operating in the world? Perhaps you’ve already have had a flash in your mind about an area of your life in which you don’t feel ‘right,’ where there’s an inconsistency between who you want to be and who you are being. If this is the case, then just know that you had that flash for a reason. It jumped in to your mind because, at your core level of being, you yearn to feel whole. Heed that voice! My book, Find Your Courage, has a great exercise called the Personal Integrity Audit. Integrity is about doing what’s right, not what’s convenient and yes, sometimes integrity compels you to go out on a limb. . . but hey, that’s where the best fruit are! Until next time, honor yourself by doing what you know is right. . . however inconvenient.