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Step 12 - Behave in a congruent manner

This concludes (until further notice) the series of articles based on this "12 Steps to Happiness" post. Saving the best for last, this is the one that's supposed to pull it all together. Personally, I find this one the most difficult to accomplish in everyday life.

Congruent behaviour to me means that a person lives and behaves according to their beliefs and values. To me, for example, this means that I'm most comfortable when I'm surrounded by openness and honesty. The freedom to speak my mind and go in a strop (have some bad five minutes) if I so please is important to me. At the same time, I am accepting that this is a long road - not unlike healthy eating or getting exercise - that I choose to get back on every day, one step at a time.

What's important to you? In which situations are you uncomfortable, and what can you do about it? How can you change your behaviour to feel more in tune with your self? Is your work keeping you up at night? How's your conscience doing?

Every person has a different view of reality and of what the truth is; our perceptions are all based on the filters we apply. Those filters are a consequence of our upbringing, the behaviour and relationship patterns we learned as a child, and I guess to a certain extent our genetic make-up. Add to that the different communication channels we prefer and the different emphasis we put on the various aspects of what's going on around us and boom! there's your mosaic of truths.

Since you cannot change anybody else but yourself, start by finding out who you are, what your values are, and learn to live with them (Steps 1 to 3). Make the necessary changes, if any (Steps 4 to 6) and do the best for your own prosperity and fulfilment (Steps 7 to 9). As you get more and more comfortable in your own skin (Steps 10 and 11), you will come to rely less and less on outside knowledge and things. Eventually, you will trust yourself and find your answers within, and living in congruence will come naturally.

Taking it one step further, the challenge lies in bringing all those values together so we can co-exist peacefully, i.e. while I live according to my values I don't get in the way of yours. (hmmm... where does that leave sociopaths or those who value killing and destruction? Any suggestions are welcome!)

Take care, til next time!

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Step 4 - Recognise and question behavioural patterns

Over the next few months, I'll be basing my articles on this "12 Steps to Happiness" post. After you've done the exercise of getting to know yourself as described for example in this post, which behaviours do you find yourself regretting most often? Is there something that always gets you angry, upset or sad? Do you have routines or activities that have nothing to do with religious chores or obsessive-compulsive disorders? Are there people that just seem to rub you the wrong way?

Periodically, I find it helpful to look at life, where it's at, where it appears to be going, and how it got here in the first place. Behaviours and feelings play a great part in that equation. It is generally safe to say that we base most of our early behavioural learning on imitating our parents, as they are the first role-models children have. Without questioning or looking for rhyme nor reason, many adults repeat the patterns they learned in their childhood. Children of alcoholics, aggressive, or overly protective parents often follow in those same footsteps, and become challenged in similar ways when they reach adulthood. It makes sense to them because that is what they learned and grew up with. If it was good enough for them, why shouldn't it be good enough for their own children?

Well, because times change. At one point, everybody thought the world was flat, nobody except a handful of engineers ever imagined the world wide web would be useful, let's not even get into the butter vs. margarine discussion, and plenty people thought it was alright to physically chastise kids until a couple of decades ago. What are you doing today that is based on what you learned as a child?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not telling you to throw all that out of the window and make a 180º turn, just take the time to look at what you're doing and if it's really still helpful in your endeavours. In order to do get prepared for a change, and to make peace with your learning, it is important to make yourself aware of the positive aspects that your behaviours have. How did they serve your needs? How did they help you? What did they protect you from? Are those positive reasons still valid, or could they be replaced by something a little more up-to-date? For example, if it used to be fun to date around and be single, but lately you're feeling kind of lonely, could it mean you're ready to settle down? Would it make sense to go looking for potential partners in different places?

Stop doing things the way you always do them because that's how you've always done them. It's madness to expect a different outcome if you're not changing the process.

Til next time!

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Congruence

I'd like to take this entry and talk some more about something we touched on in this post a few weeks ago.Allow me to paint you a wee picture. It's holiday season and we're looking through the window into the house at the end of the street. The whole family is there and about to sit down for a nice meal. The table-legs are aching under the weight of the splendid foods offered, there's a fire crackling in the corner and the mood is festive and happy. The young couple is a bit nervous as this is one of the first proper family encounters with the new in-laws. You see the woman take the first bite and choke - wow, she really doesn't like that food! She can hardly swallow without grimacing, poor thing... Why is nobody else screaming in horror? They all seem to be enjoying their meal!She gently taps her mouth with the napkin and sits still for a moment. The way you see it, she has two options: tell the truth and disappoint/insult/anger the cook and face a possible argument with her spouse or be sick for the next three days. What would you do?

The answer I'm going for is to tell the truth, and I don't see why that should create a problem. Yes, time and effort have been spent in order to prepare that meal, and she's the only one at the table who seems to have a problem with it while all the others are digging in and helping themselves to seconds. But there is a way to make everyone happy, and that's to behave in a congruent manner.

Congruence is a term most of us have tried to avoid since highschool geometry and algebra, but fret not - in the words of Billy Connolly: I have no intention of going there. In this case, congruence is the term for being true to yourself. I mean this not just in a fashion-sense, but rather in your dealings with yourself and in your relationships with other people. You may find it has to do with self esteem and honesty. As far as I'm concernced it's all interlinked, which means by changing one behaviour (or even just your attitude), you can change them all.

To be congruent implies that you laugh when you're happy and cry when you're sad, and what's more - you don't feel bad about it. You live according to your values and you're not afraid to admit to your fears. Being congruent also means giving unpleasant feedback, but if you find a way to communicate without putting blame on the other person, nobody's feelings will get hurt. In this case, the young woman has the option to thank the host for the wonderful meal and acknowledge the love that went into making it. She should then also be able to confess that it is not to her taste and ask if she can go fix herself a sandwich.

There's no point in being overly mortified or humble, because she should not have to apologise for her taste. She may want to acknowledge it if she thinks the situation is awkward, but I'm convinced the less of a deal one makes of it, the easier it will be for the host to gracefully accompany you to the kitchen and point you towards the pantry. After all, nobody's attacking them as a person, and if their self esteem is intact, i.e. not depending upon everybody loving their food, they will see that this is just a case of someone preferring their meals prepared in a different manner. The easiest comparison here is that not everybody loves steak, and even amongst those who love it, they don't all eat it done equally.

Over the next few weeks I'd like to talk some more about self esteem and congruent behaviour, and give you some markers what to look out for as well as some tools to work with.

Til next time!

For those of you unfamiliar with the Billy Connolly reference, you can watch the stand-up sequence here. Caution, contains explicit and strong language!

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