Most of the time I consider myself to be a very trustworthy and honest person. I do what I say I will do and typically say what I do without hesitation. But a new book I just finished has me digging a bit deeper around issues of honesty, trust and self-awareness. According to author Kelley Kosow, every one of us holds our own key to The Integrity Advantage. All we have to do is get naked, drop the BS, and embrace the wholeness that comes from living true to ourselves.
That sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, a big problem is that most of the time when we think about trust and honesty we focus on other people—not ourselves. The nightly news is filled with examples of others who lie and cheat, and that keeps our attention fixated on them instead of the little (or sometimes big!) white lies we tell ourselves. As long as we keep pointing fingers at other people who we believe are doing something wrong, we avoid taking a hard look at where our own actions might be out of alignment. Ultimately as Kosow says, “The reason we don’t trust others is because, deep down, we don’t trust ourselves.”
I don’t think the majority of us intend to out-and-out lie about anything—especially to ourselves. But what happens is that we frequently “step over our truth” as Kosow calls it. She believes that any time we allow our attachment to a checklist, our desire to be loved, or our fear of change to hold us back or keep us from living our deepest hopes, then we are stepping over our truth. And that includes any time we bite our own tongue. According to Kosow, “The Integrity Advantage is about starting to live life on your own terms. It’s about facing the fear, shame and false beliefs that caused you to get into those situations in the first place and then starting to live your life according to you and from the inside out—because you are the only expert on you.”
Kosow offers a very personal story about how she lived without integrity for much of her early adult life. In a quest to have the “perfect life” that she envisioned for herself, she put on a “happy” face and stepped over her truth on a regular basis. Even when she knew better, she married a man that she knew deep down she didn’t love—all because they “looked” really good together, and it should have been a good match. It took her three children and thirteen years of denial before she was willing to accept and own her lack of integrity. She also reveals how her continual overeating was a way to self-medicate the pain of an unwillingness to tell the truth to herself about all sorts of issues.
What finally helped her get honest? It would be nice to think there was one easy and clear step to putting an end to self-deceit, but from what I can tell it appears to be a “process” of more and more self-awareness through time. Gradually Kosow’s unhappiness led her to begin analyzing all the ways she was self-sabotaging. As expected, throughout her book Kosow shares practices that worked for her and the other people she coaches. Here are a few ideas I thought were most helpful:
- At its core, the integrity that Kosow calls for is more about becoming whole than it is about honesty. Learning to trust ourselves and listening to that still small voice within (rather than being guided by other people or society) is essential. The more guided we are by that voice within, the more we automatically speak the truth to ourselves and others.
- Kosow believes we all have an internal GPS. She calls that GPS an “Integrity Alignment Monitor” or the “I AM.” This I AM shows us how to live in alignment with what we know deep down is right for us. On the flip side, it steers us away from living a conflicted, disjointed and insecure life.
- It is beneficial to recognize and understand our “shadow side.” Our shadow sides are those parts of ourselves that we disown. Kosow says, “…the shadow represents parts of ourselves that we want to reject. Fearing that others will find out that at our core we possess ‘negative’ qualities, we whittle away at those parts and create facades and personas to prove we are not the things we dislike.”
- As “meaning making machines” we are all continually writing a story about our life and experience. We just frequently forget that we are the ones fabricating the story, and that if something isn’t working for us, we can rewrite it. That includes even the most complicated story we have ever created about why we can’t be true to ourselves.
- One of the worst stories we can tell ourselves centers around ideas of shame. If we tell the story that we are fundamentally flawed, need fixing, must hide and dull down our desires, then we will never allow ourselves to live whole and completely ourselves.
- Fear is another story that paralyzes and separates us from our true self. Any story of fear that we repeatedly tell ourselves keeps us frozen in states of inaction and unhappiness.
- One of the worst and most limiting stories we can tell ourselves is that we are a victim. Instead, as Kosow says, “…when we vow to live a life of integrity, we commit to live a life of radical responsibility. We acknowledge that our life is in our hands.”
- Kosow is an advocate of the idea that there are no accidents—only gifts to greater awareness. She says, “Our outer world holds up a mirror, and an invitation to look within. It gives us an opportunity to see how we need to change and grow. As we shift our inner world, the outer world will follow.”
- In order to be completely honest with ourselves, we need to “get naked.” No, that doesn’t mean we need to remove our clothes, only our DENIAL. She says that DENIAL stands for
- Living the Integrity Advantage requires that we let go of the BS we’ve used on ourselves and others. Anytime we are wearing a perfectly packaged persona we are not being true to ourselves. Anytime we drown ourselves in work, activities, technology, stuff, other people’s needs, social media, food, alcohol, television, etc. we are using them as distractions that keep us unconscious, preoccupied and out of integrity.
- Other forms of BS we use are equally disempowering. Kosow says, “We need to recognize that underneath all the trying, excuses, justifications, rationalizations, and self-sabotaging behaviors lie an army of limiting beliefs, fears, laziness, self-doubt, and insecurities that undermine our resolve and keep us stuck and out of integrity.”
- The first step in living the Integrity Advantage is accepting the truth of what is happening right now and our place in it all.
- Remembering that integrity is about wholeness, we must learn to “use it all and claim our completeness.” As Kosow says, “To release yourself from the prison of the past and the paralysis of pessimism, you need to find the gift of the situation, circumstance or quality that you are beating yourself up for.” If we can arrive at a place where we see our circumstances as gifts and that “everything is happening for the evolution of your soul” then we use it for our edification and growth.
- “Remember, life is not happening to you, it is happening for you.”
Like most books I read, I didn’t agree with everything that Kelley Kosow teaches. But the process of exploring The Integrity Advantage did make me take a look at parts of my life where I have avoided 100% honesty—with myself and others. No matter how trustworthy we think we are, I think we all carry around certain stories that limit us, hold us back, disconnect us from others, trigger our fears, cause us to doubt ourselves, or wake us up in the middle of the night. Perhaps what those issues are isn’t as important as the awareness that we have them, a willingness to see them in a new light, and a desire to take action to move closer to integrity.
I also agree, as Kosow says, “…integrity is inside of each of us. It is not something that we have to do but who we are. And most importantly it is not a destination but a way of life!” Surely, the SMART approach is to remember that the path to a happy and meaningful life is living daily within our own integrity.
Your turn! What do you think? Are you always completely honest with others or yourself? If yes, what advice would you offer the rest of us?