A reflection of integrity

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

When you look into the mirror, who do you see? I don’t mean the color of your eyes, how pointy your chin is, or how amazing your hair is looking today. I mean the deep down you, who you are on the inside,  the who of your who. The real you. Can you see this person in your reflection, or is he or she hidden, masked, or adulterated in a way that the real you is not recognizable?

In other words, is the life you’re living matching up with who you are on the inside, resulting in living a life of integrity?

For many of us, our naked soul is a little too uncomfortable to gaze upon for very long, so after a quick glance, we look away. Others of us are afraid to look at all for the pain the reflection may reveal. If only we could all could learn to live out who we truly are, accepting the things we can’t change, and making shifts on the things we can, so that who we see (and who others see) is an accurate representation of the life we’re living. That, I propose, is living a life of integrity.

Defining Integrity

Integrity is often described as doing the right thing, especially when no one is watching, or living in a way that’s trustworthy and honest, or having strong moral principles. I’d like to offer another aspect of integrity: Living in a way that aligns with who we truly are, so that our reflection, both in our eyes and in others’, and the life we live, is a match.

At one point or another we all have experienced flow — that place of oneness, where we’re completely absorbed in what we’re doing, where the time seems to fly by. Years ago, my middle daughter would come home from school, pick up her guitar, and hours later (though it only seemed moments for her), would look up with surprise at how much time had passed. It’s a good feeling to be in flow. However, often we find ourselves in relationships, jobs, and ways of living that don’t align with who we are. You know when things are off. You find yourself filled with dread, discouragement, and feel disillusioned. You wonder how you ended up here, and wonder, “Is this really all life has to offer?” You feel stuck, and can’t see a way out.

Learning to live our lives in conjunction with who we are takes courage, vulnerability, and insight. It takes emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of how we’re feeling, and how others are feeling, in the moment, then manage our behavior and relationships appropriately. To accurately reflect who we are, living in integrity, we need to know ourselves and understand the emotions we are feeling.

Knowing Yourself

Self-awareness is the first quadrant of emotional intelligence. If I were to ask you to tell me about who you are, how would you answer? Would you start by describing the work you do?  Or maybe that you’re a parent, or ‘married to…”? Or would the question throw you off completely and leave you without words? Try to look beyond the roles you perform. Make a list of qualities about yourself, ones that you feel define you well. Try journaling and see how easily the words flow. Now share this list with someone who knows you well. Do they agree? Would they describe you the same way? What descriptors would they add? Close friends can help alert us to any blind spots we may have in our self-awareness.

Emotions Check

How are you feeling, right now, in this moment? Can you put words to it? Too many times we’ve been told to leave our emotions at the door, however our emotions can serve as dear friends who are willing to offer understanding into what is going on in our world. Learning to tune in to our emotions can help us better know ourselves and better know how to reflect who we really are. Emotions provide us with valuable insights into the triggers that cause us to act the way we do. A good practice is to check in, on the hour each hour, by quickly jotting down how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. At the end of the day, look back on these emotions you felt and notice if they affected your behavior, and if so, how. Keeping track of how you’re feeling can help you begin to recognize your triggers which result in behavior that doesn’t benefit you. Once you know your triggers, you can begin to choose how you want to respond vs. letting your behavior come under a hijack of your emotions.

Values Check

What is important to you? Make a list of the first things that come to mind. It may be job, family, spirituality, beauty, friends, success, money, health, just to name a few. There are no wrong answers. If you’re not sure, try putting it this way: What things make your heart sing? What things cause you to feel strong positive emotions, and which things  make you smile and leave you with lasting joy? What activities create a sense of flow for you?

Time Check

How are you spending your time, and does it match up with who you are? Take a look at last week’s calendar. What did you spend most of your time doing? For most of us it’s work, because that’s how we sustain our lifestyles of choice. But how are you spending your time outside of work? Our calendars are a great record of how we are prioritizing our lives and what we are placing emphasis on. Do you like what you see? If not, what shifts could you  make to spend more time doing the things you value? Even small shifts in our schedules can bring about a better sense of aligning our daily actions with our values.

People Check

Now take a look at who you spend your time with. It may be your colleagues, your family, and friends. Maybe a few strangers here and there. Are you happy with whom you’re spending your time? Are you spending enough time with those you love most? If not, what shifts can you make to allow that to happen? Try listing out the people you value most, and note how much time you’ve spent with them in the last month. If you’re not satisfied with how much time is spent with those closest to you, what can you do to remedy that?

Regarding Shame

One hurdle to accurately reflecting who we truly are is that 5-letter curse word, shame. It’s defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” [https://www.google.com/search?q=definition+shame&oq=definition+shame&aqs=chrome..69i57j35i39l2j0j69i60l2.2538j0j9&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8]. Some of us have made choices we’re not proud of in our past, and allow them to define who we are. We forget that our choices are not who we are — they’re what we’ve done. You can be a very good person and have made some poor choices in your past. The key is to separate out your actions from your being, and to realize that you have a choice going forward to decide upon better actions, behaviors, and paths.

Learning to let go of the past and forgive yourself can take some hard work. Finding a social + emotional intelligence coach or a counselor may be a great place to start in working through some of the past. Once you feel you’ve made amends with yourself, (and possibly those who you may have hurt in the process), you can then decide to step into a new direction.

Living in Alignment

Now that you know yourself a little better, here are some questions to ask yourself to see if your actions are lining up with your character. If you answer yes to any of these, it may be time to make some shifts.

  • Do you feel the need to hide any of the choices you are making? Which ones? From whom do you need to hide? Why?
  • Are you afraid others will find out something you’re currently engaged in? What consequences do you fear?
  • Would you be proud to tell others about the choices you’re making?  Why or why not?

As we see ourselves more deeply and clearly, by tuning into our emotions, living out our values, using our time well, and spending time with those we love, and learning to let go of shame along the way, we can begin to look in the mirror and see the person we want to see — the one we truly are. Learning to reflect this person in our day-to-day actions can enable us to begin to live the life we want to live…a life of integrity.

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