Have you ever met someone who, for a reason that you perhaps didn’t know, you didn’t immediately trust? Or, have you ever met someone who said one thing but then did another? If you recognise either of those situations it might be that you experienced an example of incongruence. Being congruent means to be true to yourself. It means understanding who you are and what’s important to you. Being congruent allows you to be in rapport with yourself. As NLP trainer and coach Ian McDermott says, it’s ‘being all of a piece’. In my life, I have experienced congruence and it can be a very comfortable place.
INCONGRUENCE IN PSYCHOLOGY
You might not know this but, together with my Eagle Training corporate trainer and friend Adrian Newbery, I wrote a book back in 2008. It was called Algenon’s Story – yes really! Take look here if you don’t believe me – Algenon’s Story: The Journey to Personal Excellence and Empowerment. While it never quite made it to the New York Times bestseller list we did sell a few copies – although we gave away an awful lot more than we sold!!
In the introduction to the book, I confessed that at a certain point in my life I was not what you might call a nice person; for all kinds of reasons that I won’t go into here. I was, without realising it, most definitely incongruent; not that I knew what the word even meant back then. I was known to say one thing and then do something very different. Yes, folks, I was a hypocrite!
Also, I had no idea who I really was beyond my name. Had you asked me back then what my beliefs and values were or what I stood for, I suspect I would have been unable to tell you. As I say, I had my reasons (or maybe excuses) for being like this, but it wasn’t a happy few years for me let me tell you.
BEING CONGRUENT & BEING HONEST WITH YOURSELF
The thing is that over the years I did become aware of what it meant to be incongruent and also the power of being the opposite; i.e. to be congruent. This was in no small part to studying NLP or neuro-linguistic programming.
One of my NLP trainers was Ian McDermott. Ian heads up a company called International Teaching Seminars. Ian is one of the most congruent people I have ever met. He is also incredibly abundant and has allowed me to pick his brains in order to write this blog and I am very grateful to him for sharing his ideas with me so that I can share them with you.
DEFINITION OF CONGRUENT
Ian argues that when you are congruent, what you say and what you do matches. So congruence is really about being ‘all of a piece’. Everything is working together and in sync. I have also seen congruence defined as being:
“A consistent state of behaviour, meaning there is consistency between the goals, values, and attitudes projected and the actual behaviour observed. In personality research, ideally, the way you think and feel should also be the way you behave.”
Therefore a congruent individual might be described as someone who behaves in direct accordance with their beliefs, values, purpose, mission and goals and, believe me, this was not me all those years ago!
INCONGRUENCE & INNER CONFLICT
Let me just say here that incongruence isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it is powerful information or a feeling that something is not right for you or there is potentially an inner conflict going on. For example, have you ever agreed to do something and in doing so overridden a gut feeling that something was not quite right? I know I have and lived to regret not listening to that inner voice. So, checking out those intuitions about workplaces or smooth salespeople can save a lot of heartaches.
CONGRUENCE OF SELF
Back to Ian for a moment. He argues that there is a very interesting thing that happens when you’re ‘all of a piece’ – you will also find yourself much more at peace because your behaviour is an expression of your values and what matters to you. How cool is that?
The more you do and express what matters to you most, the more your sense of self, of who you are, will grow. In his experience something else tends to happen then too; life seems to flow better and you feel more content. That doesn’t mean it’s all a breeze, but you’re stronger and more able to handle the ups and downs.
You may be asking, is congruence about being authentic? Well, yes, they are very similar! Being authentic is really important because when you aren’t being you don’t feel good. Why? Because you’re not really being yourself.
As Ian says,
“If I think about my own life, I didn’t know that I would be doing what I’m doing now. For me, the journey has been about achieving greater congruence in everything I do by moving in the direction of what feels more real and true to my values. And that journey continues. There certainly hasn’t been just one thing that’s made me feel congruent. There are many things that I have done over the years. If past experience is anything to go by there’ll be many more which I don’t even know about yet.”
LIVING A LIFE CONSISTENT WITH YOUR VALUES
So, being congruent means living your life on purpose, with a clear idea of who you are. But, of course, you first must know your purpose… You must understand what it is that you stand for.
Here’s one way of doing a congruency check. Ask yourself does it feel like you’re doing what you most want to be doing? Now, this is not always a black and white thing. It may just be a feeling that you need to get more aligned with what’s important to you. Whatever it feels like, pay attention to that feeling as it can help you get on the right track for you.
But, what if different parts of you want different things?
BEING CONGRUENT WITH YOURSELF
First, understand that these parts are all parts of you; they are just different parts of you. Every human being has this experience. Let me introduce you to your ‘Internal Team’.
As with any cohesive team the different members have different roles to play and different contributions to make. Your job is to lead by honouring all of them and learning how these different agendas can be reconciled. (NLP has a whole raft of techniques to ensure you can do this at a practical level).
As you become clearer about these different agendas consider how you can implement new things or stop doing other things in your life now, to make you feel more congruent. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s more because the more you can be who you are, the more you will feel like you have something to give. This makes you feel satisfied on the inside. And, the more satisfied you feel, the more everybody else benefits because it’s easy to be generous when you’ve got a lot to give.
Since that ‘dark time’ in my life I have come to understand what it is to be congruent and the unease that can be caused by being incongruent. I have also discovered that when you are congruent you are more confident, you have more energy, decisions are easier to make and, critically, you feel better about yourself and people are more likely to trust you and be open to your influence.
GUIDE TO BEING CONGRUENT
But wait, I hear you cry, what stops us from being congruent? Good question. I’m not sure I know exactly. It might be that it is a combination of factors, including not being sure about what we actually feel, not feeling confident enough to say it out loud, being overwhelmed by what others might want of us or think about us; especially in this era of social media.
However, I do have a suggestion about how to become more congruent. Put simply it is to find out what makes you tick. This includes exploring what your fundamental beliefs and values are. They reflect what is important to you.
So, what are the things that are most important to you? What do you respect most in others? How do your values influence your life choices? Then, after you really think or maybe even write down the things that really make you tick, ask yourself if your actions and behaviour match these values? If they do not, then you have a conflict and maybe being incongruent.
I will leave you with the thoughts of the great philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre who said, “He who is authentic (congruent) accepts the responsibility of being who they are. They acknowledge themselves as being free to be who they are”.
Being congruent is about being open and honest with yourself. It was a hard lesson for me to learn all those years ago but I can tell you that looking back it was worth it!