“Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your pet parrot to the town gossip.” Will Rogers
How often do we succumb to the pressure to portray ourselves in a way that is not authentic? How often do we choose to dress or act in a certain way, attend certain events, or engage with certain people solely to avoid feeling separated or different from those around us? How often do we behave in ways we know we shouldn’t because we fear how other people will respond if we do what we believe to be right?
These fears are normal and natural. However, giving in to these fears can have horrible consequences for ourselves, our kids, and our relationships with others.
First, when we say one thing and do another, other people notice. They recognize our hypocrisy and lose both respect and trust. People admire individuals whose actions match their words, who live the way they advise others to live. This goes for friends, colleagues, children, and subordinates at work. Regardless of the nature of your relationship with someone, that relationship will deteriorate every time you behave in ways you’ve explicitly criticized and strengthen every time your behaviors align with ones you’ve publicly endorsed.
Second, when we say one thing and do another, we notice. When our behaviors don’t align with what we think we should do, we experience an uncomfortable feeling called cognitive dissonance that can only be resolved in one of two ways: 1) Changing our ideas about how we ought to behave or 2) Justifying how we did behave.
Self-justification is something that comes all too naturally to us and often occurs without our even being aware of it. We snap at someone and justify it by saying we are just tired or hungry. We’re late to an event and justify it by emphasizing how busy we are. We give a bad presentation at work and justify it by blaming the boss for not giving us the time, resources, guidance, etc., that we needed to be successful.
This justification reduces cognitive dissonance but does nothing to help us improve as individuals. In our minds, we have nothing to improve because outside circumstances beyond our control were responsible for why we did not act the way we believe we should.
Today, consider three of your most deeply held values/morals. Maybe timeliness, patience, commitment, persistence, compassion, or hard work. Whatever your values/morals, pay special attention to how the words and actions you choose today align with those values/morals. Chances are, some of your actions and words will align, and some won’t. Either way, tune into the feelings you have in those moments and how you handled those feelings. For example, if compassion was a value you chose and you demonstrated compassion by giving a homeless person some money, how did you feel? Alternatively, if compassion was a value you chose but you passed a homeless person on the street without even a glance in their direction, how did you feel? Finally, what was the story you told yourself about your behavior? Did you justify behavior that was not aligned with your values?
The more we behave as we believe in our core that we ought to, the stronger our relationships will be, the more personal growth and development become possible, and the more peace and overall well-being we’ll experience.