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Brad Anastasia – Author of Finding Your Way to Happy

Life is full of choices. Bring a compass.

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Chapter 2: Be congruent

You don’t have to be cool, rich, or attractive to obtain success in life. A much more relevant determinant is how congruentyou are. In order to become more congruent, strive to meet the following three conditions:

  • Comfortable in your own skin
  • Beliefs, words, and actions in harmony
  • Purpose in everything you do

When you are able to achieve this level of congruence, the world is yours for the taking.

COMFORTABLE IN YOUR OWN SKIN

People who are comfortable in their own skin are easy to spot. They are noticeably at ease in voice, body language, and appearance at all times, and don’t feel the need to go out of their way to impress anybody. Essentially what they are sub-communicating is: what you see is what you get. When someone is unafraid to be real about who they are, imperfections and all, we are drawn to them because we know we aren’t perfect either. Contrast that to people who aren’t comfortable in their own skin. They usually appear self-conscious, and always seem to be trying a little too hard to fit in. They are easy to spot as well, but for different reasons (a fake laugh, awkward body language, an ill-suited outfit). It’s hard to blame people for acting this way because it’s natural to want to be universally liked. However, that’s a completely unrealistic expectation if you want to be your true self. I don’t care if you are the nicest, sweetest, most conforming person in the world; there will still be people who won’t care for you for whatever particular reason. The sooner you can accept that, the sooner you can stop worrying about what others think, and get on with being comfortable being who you are.  

BELIEFS, WORDS, AND ACTIONS IN HARMONY

Achieving the level of congruence where your beliefs, words, and actions are in harmony with each other is no simple task. Recent hypocritical acts by some of our so-called role models demonstrate this repeatedly. Whether it’s athletes who advocate good sportsmanship while finding ways to cheat, or priests who claim to be “men of God” while committing atrocious acts, hypocritical people are found in all walks of life and incite a great deal of anger in those who once looked up to them. So what does thinking, saying, and doing in harmony actually look like? Picture someone like Mahatma Gandhi. He had an interminable desire to do good in the world, and lived his life in a way that was fully congruent with that goal. His thoughts were constantly focused on how he might help others, and anyone who listened to him speak noticed the genuine passion in his voice for what he was trying to achieve. As history has documented, he acted on his congruent beliefs and words by using his strongest efforts to make the world a better place. Gandhi’s life is a great example of what can be achieved if you are fully congruent in what you believe, say, and do. There was no magic secret. He was just a fully congruent person who had an amazing dedication to his life’s work. Even if leading a nation of a billion-plus people is not one of your life goals, reaching this level of congruence is something anyone can achieve and use to their advantage. Maybe you have more modest desires like becoming successful at your job, finding a life partner, or becoming a better person. It really doesn’t matter what your objective is, as long as your desire is genuine. Once you can take that initial desire and assimilate it fully it into your thoughts, words, and actions (essentially, your entire being), the sky is the limit.

PURPOSE IN EVERYTHING YOU DO

By “purpose,” I mean anything done with the intention of contributing to your happiness or personal growth. Things done with a purpose are congruent with who you are, what you believe in, and what you’d like to attain in life. Before making any significant decisions, you should always ask yourself whether the action you plan on taking has a clear purpose. It doesn’t matter if you are contemplating getting married or having kids, it’s never a rhetorical question to ask. If the action you plan on taking isn’t going to improve your well-being, or bring you closer to a life goal, then what’s the purpose of doing it at all? A real consequence of doing things without purpose is opportunity cost. Opportunity cost can be defined as: missing out on a potential life-improving opportunity as a result of being preoccupied with something else. Many of the choices we make with regard to relationships, jobs, and how we spend our free time, can result in an opportunity cost of some kind. The best way to minimize these costs is to never settle for less than what you deserve, and to only do things that serve a real purpose. Finding a true love in your life is no exception. I used to tease my friends when they would go on dates with someone they knew they weren’t that into. I would tell them, “The potential love of your life is waiting for you tonight at Starbucks, the movies, or a bar, and you’re blowing it by going on a date with someone you’re not even interested in!” It was obviously all in jest, but there was also a large degree of truth to what I was saying. The point is that you shouldn’t spend even a second of your life carrying out purposeless acts that come with high opportunity costs.

EMBRACE YOURSELF, AND CONGRUENCE WILL FOLLOW

Reaching a higher level of congruence starts with taking an honest inventory of who you are, what you value, and what you’d like to attain in your life. If meeting your soul mate is an important life goal, don’t spend your time in relationships that you know have no potential. If you want to have meaning in your work, don’t accept a job that conflicts with your personal values. If you want to have genuine friendships, be genuine and allow others to love and respect you for who you are, not for some phony social façade. Remember: the goal is not to be universally liked or to meet someone else’s definition of success. The goal is to be true to yourself. A lot of times our unhappiness can be traced back to the fact that we aren’t being true to ourselves in some way. Despite our outward behavior, we have a persistent little voice in the back of our heads that says, “This isn’t who you are!” When I look back on my younger years, it’s easy to pinpoint how incongruent I was. I spent so much of my time staying out late drinking, acting like a tough guy, dating girls I had no serious interest in, and working at meaningless jobs I absolutely despised. These are all things I did against my true character in order to fit in or meet someone else’s idea of success, and it made me miserable. Now I know better. Now I can say with pride that I’m a morning person, I don’t like to drink, I’m empathetic to others’ feelings, and I want to make a positive difference in this world through meaningful work. It feels so good to acknowledge these things about myself and not to have to fake anything. In no way am I claiming that I’ve reached full congruence, because I haven’t. Every day I discover something new about myself, and it’s a constant learning curve. But with more congruence comes greater assurance that this is who I truly am, and that this is how I should be living my life.

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Lesson: To be congruent means that everything you do in life serves a real purpose given who you are, what you value, and what you’d like to attain. More than anything, reaching a high level of congruence is achieved by being true to yourself, not by conforming to someone else’s definition of success or likability.

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