Integrity – The First Habit

I, like many,  have engaged numerous times in personal development. I have had as many (if not more) failures as successes. That is, until recently…

I noticed that one particular habit was absolutely crucial to have when implementing others. A springboard of sorts, that amplified all other habits taken. This fundamental habit became clear to me when I deconstructed how my habit developing process usually took place. 

My habit changing process usually took this kind of shape

  • Something stirs me to be motivated about some particular change. Read more, eat more, eat less, be stronger, be better, etc.
  • I form an idea, or plan on how to best change my less desirable habits into better ones. Sometimes, I would write them down. 
  • I quantitatively identify the elements of the plan so there is nothing to fall through the  cracks with regard to definitions. 
  • I carry out the plan. 

Sometimes the plan would work. Mostly not however. That is until I discovered a flaw in my current set of habits that was making the process logically impossible. 

The plans were perfect. There was no logical way for the plan to fail. The problem was that they were not being carried out as specified. 

What I was saying I was going to do, and what I was actually doing – were two different things. 

Integrity – as far as personal development goes – can be described very simply as 

“Making sure that what you say is the same as what you do”. 

When communicating this definition to folks, I realized that the people who quickly identify themselves as having this trait- don’t. It is remarkably easy to catch people out! I didn’t make an effort to point out people’s obvious shortcomings – but I did take a mental note of it. 

People who admit that integrity is difficult to muster (which is hardly anyone)- are the ones who have brought the spectacle into conscious awareness, and are therefore more integrous than the people who say they are. 

The astounding thing I found when developing integrity was the sheer numbers of people who do not have it. On a good day, I would say 10% of people make sure that what they do, and what they say are the same. 

This can become quite depressing, and uncomfortable. To begin with, it is disappointing to be around so many unreliable people. This did really get me down at one time, until a mentor pointed out to me

“If you are looking for reliability when practicing integrity – find it in the fact you can rely that most people do not have it”

This sounds even more depressing, but it truly isn’t! If you don’t expect everyone to have integrity, you will not be disappointed when you do not find it – but those who do have it shine like a diamond in the rough. You will consciously remember and admire them if your ego permits you to.

It also becomes increasingly easier to forgive those without integrity for their shortcomings, when you consider what a rare trait it actually is and how much it pops up as a shortcoming of your own. 

Another thing I notice in this experiment is the level of ‘traditional’ intelligence required to have integrity. In my experience, there really was no correlation at all between integrity and intelligence. You don’t have to be clever to have integrity – just honesty, enough memory to know what you have said, and enough passion to perform the action specified. 

When it came to developing habits, I noticed this to be a huge logistical hole in any plan I may develop. I could have the most foolproof, brilliant plan to change something – but it is all for nothing if what is being said, and being done are different things. 

However, if I were to make this quality a part of myself – I estimated 80% of my failed plans would be successes – since they would actually be carried out as planned. The remainder would be failures due to poor planning. 

I figured that if I spent a majority of my effort using ‘bone crushing honesty’ in my daily life about my level of integrity it would get stronger. I understood that I wasn’t going to be perfect right away (I’m still not). It was important to identify integrity as a hierarchy rather than a ‘have it’ vs ‘have not’. I did not want to identify myself as ‘not being integrous’ much the same as someone who is quitting smoking does not want to identify themselves as a smoker. Sometimes, in some respects, I still do not have it. I forgive myself for these shortcomings, and focus on ways to develop the skill even more. 

The fantastic payoff with having stronger integrity is how little effort it becomes. I have noticed some occasions where it happens outside of my awareness, and even without any effort on my behalf. Almost as if Integrity is a magnetic field unto itself which emanates around me through conscious habit. 

When it comes to personal development the only stronger trait would be honesty – without honesty and introspection the trait is impossible to develop, or perhaps even lament on the lack of it. 

Integrity is fantastic for habit plan implementation – obviously. If you do what you say you are going to do, the only variable remaining is the plan itself. If the plan fails, you then know you can work on your planning skills – as the execution of the plan was correct.

Logically, a plan cannot be carried out as specified without integrity. The activity may yield a desirable result – but more through happenstance or dumb luck rather than good planning and execution.

My self improvement plans are now almost effortless. The first three weeks of pretty much any new habit can be quite tough, but with strong integrity the results are much more reliable. Integrity acts as a rock to lean on when the plan gets difficult, uncomfortable, or seemingly undesirable. 


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