How to Live a Congruent Life

For years I groped about, trying to put into words the unrest I felt in some of my interactions with people, and even in areas of my life.

Naïvely, I thought that it was simply the function of being young and trying to figure myself and the world out. As I grew older, and dare I say wiser, I realized that it wasn’t simply the youth factor. Well into my 30s, I experienced a similar nagging sensation.

After making many decisions in my 40s that were me-focused (quitting my job, resetting my business, indulging in a year of no, etc.), I’ve had a few eureka moments. One explained this phenomenon; I realized that elusive feeling that plagued me was the cognitive dissonance and it’s characteristic of many people’s lives. 

What the what? You may be wondering.

According to my small research sample, it’s true. Most live in a state of incongruence, without alignment between what they believe and think and how they live and make their behavioral choices.

Some examples of this are benign. For instance, I believe cakes and pies aren’t the best for me. I think a better choice would be fruit or maybe nuts. Yet, I reach over and slice slither after slither of red velvet. 😜I think everyone has had this experience at one time or another. (Who doesn’t love red velvet cake???)

However, when the stakes are higher, like in an intimate relationship or in the workplace, the disconnect between beliefs and actions can be costly.

My personal commitment to authentic living keeps this common dynamic at bay. Here are a few strategies that I’ve applied to avoid the psychological discomfort caused by misaligned values and actions.

KNOW FOR NO

There’ve been times when I felt uncomfortable about a “yes” decision that I’ve made. When I was younger I’d push passed it and keep it moving. Only to find that something in the process of execution wasn’t right or I’d lose out on valuable time for other areas of my life. 

As I’ve matured, I realize that it’s critical to have peace in your life journey, particularly with yourself. I spend time evaluating my decisions, ideally before they’re made. I review what I value in the situation and what is my priority. Then once I know those two things, I can say, “No.” Without guilt nor explanation, just no. It is indeed a complete sentence. When you know what you value and are clear on your priority, ‘no’ is easy.

COMMIT TO CHANGE

Habits and behaviors are hard to change. But its degree of difficulty cannot be the compass for your decision making if it’s alignment you seek. If your actions are out of alignment with your beliefs and values then a commitment to change is necessary. I cannot value my friendships yet not make time to connect with my friends regularly. Sure, my life is busy and my schedule is congested. However, I’ve made a commitment to do a few things each month to connect with my friends. I write short letters and send them in the mail. (Yes…snail mail works!) I use Marco Polo to exchange video messages. I remember birthdays and anniversaries (as best that I can) and acknowledge them. And I keep a list of friends that I pray for regularly. You would be surprised how intimacy with others develops as you pray for them.

I don’t always get it right. A few hiccups in my family life can shift my focus in this area. But I have safeguards in place to remind me. You may also need some support to follow through on this strategy effectively. Ask a friend or loved one to hold you accountable for any change that you’d like to make to bring your beliefs and actions into congruence.

ADJUST

Sometimes, what we believe must be reassessed and adjusted as we grow and learn. Maya Angelou instructed, Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

There are beliefs that I’ve had that became dislodged once I learned more about the topic. I used to believe that milk did the body good. I saw it proclaimed on 80s television commercials throughout my childhood. So, it had to be true, right? 😉When I learned the negative effects of dairy on the body and subsequently experienced them, I began to adjust my ideas about milk’s value. Now, I make different choices for my family (action) based upon my new understanding (belief).

Living a life of congruence requires regular tweaking of one’s actions to align them with one’s beliefs. Take some time to evaluate your own beliefs and values. Ask yourself,

What makes me happy?

What don’t I prefer?

What makes me feel satisfied and fulfilled?

When have I felt this way and what was I doing then?

What am I proud of?

It is through reflective questions like these (and others) that my true values emerge and I can then align my actions and behavior accordingly.

I am keenly aware that my busy life filled with running a household and a business could easily be derailed without regularly scheduled times of introspection. As we launch into the final quarter of the year, it’s the perfect time to begin to reflect on how I’ve been living and to make decisions to pursue even more congruence in the coming year. Won’t you join me? Think of how at peace your life would be.

Until next time…

XO,

R

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
— Maya Angelou