There is a theme this week: I will share my 5 favorite tips for living better that have worked for me. Maybe they will contribute to you, too…
1. Be known for having integrity. The fastest and most powerful way I can think of to improve your life is to keep your word… even to yourself. This is what I call having integrity. I am fond of sharing the Landmark Education definition of integrity–Saying what you will do, then doing what you said you would do, by the time you said you would do it (but it is easier to say, “keep your word”.
If you say you are going to be somewhere at 8:00, then consider 8:01 a failure to keep your word. You have lost a bit of integrity. If you tell yourself you are going to work on losing weight, for example, consider it a matter of personal integrity to keep your word.
Each time we lose integrity, the structure that holds our character together is compromised, the same way a structure of a boat loses integrity if it springs a leak or a building loses structural integrity if a support beam is missing a rivet.
One big loss of integrity can bring the whole structure down. However, many little nicks in the integrity may not seem so damaging individually but, taken as a whole, they can weaken a structure enough to topple or sink it.
I am passionate about personal integrity because in a world that has it, everything works. Imagine a world where every meeting starts on time and the people who have integrity (you know the ones who always show up on time) are never punished for keeping their word, having to wait for the slackers with no integrity. How many conference calls start like this, already five minutes after their scheduled start time… “Okay, we’ll just give everyone a few more minutes to join and then we’ll get started…”? What is that like for the people who made kept their word and made it a priority to be where they said they would be when they said they would be there?
Imagine every person on your team being dependable. Imagine each of your friends always doing what they say they will do by the time they say something will be done. Imagine never planning ahead of time to be “fashionably” late to a social function. What if parties just started and ended on time and everyone smoothly moved on to the next thing they had planned?
How about never having to stay open for that one aloof customer that wanders in two minutes before closing, keeps you forty minutes past your shift time, and never buys a thing? In a world operating on integrity, that does not happen because everyone knows stores keep their word, opening and closing on time. All employees are home for dinner at dinner time. Customers are not disappointed when they are not let in 10, 15, or 20 minutes after closing time because it is not expected to happen in a society that honors integrity and does not reward slackerism.
Some people slip into an integrity pitfall, though. They think a good story (“I was stuck in traffic, the weather was bad, my alarm didn’t go off, my dog ate my homework…”, etc.) is a suitable replacement for integrity (“…and that’s why I was late…”). Having an excuse or a story is not the same as having integrity, and it does not work any more than a boat with a leak works.
My favorite example of integrity failing in the world is with movie theaters. When I was growing up, a movie that was listed to start at 7:00 actually used to start promptly at 7:00. However, movie theaters realized their patrons had little integrity and kept showing up late, complaining about missing the first few minutes of the shows. The theaters came up with a clever way to outsmart their interminably late customers. They added fifteen minutes of previews. This way, when they listed the movie start time as 7:00, they knew some people would still show up at 7:15 but those people would now be just in time for the movie to start (and the people with integrity would not feel so bad waiting, having something to do in the meantime).
The only problem was, customers realized there were fifteen minutes of previews added but they still did not have integrity. The actual problem was never addressed. Now, we have fifteen minutes of previews preceded by another several minutes of commercials and even more commercials or promotions after the previews. Some movies do not start for a full half hour past their scheduled start time. Ironically, people with strong integrity still will not be late to the previews and commercials and the slackers will still somehow manage to miss the first few minutes of the movies!
I should point out there are two important caveats to having integrity and ensuring you remain aligned with your values.
The first is understanding where matters do not involve a choice to have integrity, there can be no integrity. A common example is when a leader demands a goal is met or assumes agreement on a policy or practice. If your subordinate is expected to sell 1,000 widgets by tomorrow (with an implied, “or else…” from you), then the employee has no failure of integrity if they do not meet the goal. Sorry, but good leaders do not get to hide behind our demands as a proxy for leadership. Integrity is a character measure and so can only exist as a personal commitment to one’s self, not as an agreement to an ultimatum.
The same is true, for example, if a father demands his son cleans his bedroom before going out with his friends. If the son does not clean the bedroom and still goes out with his friends, the son has not lost any integrity (clearly, there is another issue here but that is not what I am addressing). The son has no choice but to acquiesce or agree to the father’s demands if the boy wishes to go out.
The second caveat is understanding “keeping your word” is distinct from “making a promise”. I never promise things. I do not believe promises are aligned with integrity because promises are tied to an external action rather than internal character structure. In other words, when you make a promise, you are usually promising to do something (“I promise we’ll go to the zoo tomorrow…”) but when you show integrity you are committing to be something (“I will take you to the zoo tomorrow”–this is not a flimsy good intention… it is stated as an undeniable fact). A promise is not powerful. Any sentence that starts, “I promise” has an implied, “as long as…”. Facts, by contrast, are stated as absolutes. There is nothing to imply on the back end.
Because promises exist in reality as external actions, I say they are subject to Newton’s Laws of Motion, one of which is, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Promises inevitably lead to broken promises.
Integrity, on the other hand, is an internal dialogue–there is no equal and opposite motion to being something. An apple sitting on a table is pushing down on the table as the table pushes back with equal force to maintain equilibrium (or else the apple would fall through the table or the table would push through the apple). However, the apple being red has no equal and opposite reaction. It simply is.
We hear the same distinction in conversation. We say, “Joe is a man of great integrity. If Joe says it, you can count on it. He always keeps his word”. No one ever says, “Dave is a man of great promising. He sure knows how to promise stuff!”
Think about that.
Today’s Lesson: Be known for your integrity. Cut the words, “I promise…” from your vocabulary (say any sentence without them and see how much more powerful it sounds). Do not let other people assume your integrity from you based on their wishes. Finally, if you say something, do it (and do it the way you said you would do it by the time you said you would do it). Or, in short… always keep your word.