We all have an inner voice. Some may call it gut instinct. Some may call it intuition. This inner voice recognizes what is best for us and is willing to speak to us if we are willing to listen.
Each of us has a different relationship to this voice. For some, it is a very close and trusting relationship. Others are hardly aware of its presence. Some people only hear their inner voice when they slow down long enough to pay attention. Others desperately want to hear it but cannot because of the constant chatter and incessant internal dialogue inside their head telling them, Do this! No, do that! Don’t do anything at all! Just do what everyone else is doing or what they tell you to do!
When we don’t listen to our inner voice, we look outside ourselves for guidance, even for our sense of self!
Think about it.
We buy things to get the approval of others. We accomplish milestones to get the respect of others. We become like gerbils on a never-ending wheel, running as fast as we can to do, have, or be all the “right” things, so others will accept us. We want to live in certain neighborhoods, drive a certain make and model of car, wear specific labels, belong to the right clubs or associations, hang around with certain people, have our children attend prestigious schools, and dine at the hottest restaurants, largely to affirm that we are “okay.” Now, I am not saying that any of those things are “wrong” or “bad,” especially if it is what you enjoy, has meaning to you, or puts a smile on your face!
Yet, trying to “keep up” automatically puts us behind because it comes from a place of lack! If you are pursuing things that the world tells you are valuable, you need to take a step back to decide if these things truly matter to you.
Anytime you are crafting your life to get the approval or validation of others, you will find yourself in trouble. It is simply unsustainable. Lily Tomlin famously said, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” It is a setup for disappointment, exhaustion, and the endless feeling that you are never quite enough. And I can promise you something: Even if you get all the things that you thought you wanted, one day, something will cause you to stop running. You will look at all the things you thought defined you and ask, “What was I running after?” “Why is my life filled with all these things that I don’t even care about?” It is a shocking and disturbing moment to discover you have spent your entire life chasing things that ultimately did not make you happy
What Does It Mean to Live a Life of Integrity?
Living a life of integrity—what I define as living in alignment with our deepest truths and grandest desires—means you step out of that mindless rat race. You stop letting others tell you what you should want.
To walk the path of integrity means that you must learn to trust that you are the one with all the answers. Instead of looking to the external world for truth, we need to make a U-turn back to ourselves, learn to go inward, and discover the voice that has been there all along. I call this the process of self-referral. It is a way of continually looking to yourself instead of the outer world for approval, answers, and guidance. Self-referral brings you back to you and empowers you. Deepak Chopra said, “It is an internal way of being that is not dependent on external circumstances.” You clear away the voices of society, friends, and family and determine what you like, what you care about, and what your priorities are in this lifetime. This allows you to access your authentic point of reference. This is your touchstone, your true essence, the part of you that knows what is best. It is the part of you not obscured by all the shoulds.
Although many spiritual teachers advocate learning to go inside, it can sometimes be tricky. Just like living inside of (ours or other people’s) outdated stories of who we are can be an Integrity Snatcher, often our authentic point of reference gets clouded and confused by the voices of others. We have spent so much time being directed from outside that sometimes even when we think we are being guided by our authentic point of reference, it is actually the voice or desire of others. We have been living in accordance with that voice for so long that we think it is our own.
I’m not saying that living a life of integrity means you shirk responsibility. Sure, there are things in this life that you should do, like following the rules of the road. You can’t avoid them. But we have lost touch with the fact that we are the co-creators of our lives. We are not helpless victims. We can check in and make sure what we are pursuing is what we truly want. And if it is not, there is always time to change lanes.
The greater the force on the other side trying to influence your decision, the more challenging it feels to make that U-turn back to yourself. But when you can stand up to a parent or boss or lover and stay firm in what you know, you become even more certain, self-reliant, and self-referred.
Integrity Insight: Are you self-referred?
Answer the following questions with yes or no:
1. Do you try to get people to perceive you in a certain way?
2. When you get an idea about how to improve some aspect of your life, are you more apt to start polling people for opinions rather than to just go with it?
3. Do you often say yes when you’d rather say no?
4. Is your home more of a reflection of your budget or of someone else’s taste rather than a reflection of your personality?
5. Does guilt often affect your decision-making process?
6. Do you tend to define yourself in context to your relationship to someone else (I am X’s wife, Y’s best friend, Z’s business partner)?
7. When it comes to making plans with your friends, is your first reaction to say, “I don’t care what we do,” or “You decide,” or “Whatever you want”?
8. Do you often avoid expressing your needs and wants to your loved ones?
9. When you’ve been working around the clock and notice you’re starting to fatigue, are you apt to keep drinking coffee instead of stopping to take a break?
10. In your family of origin, do you still tend to play the role you did when you were young because it is expected?
The more questions you answered with yes, the more you need to learn to be true to yourself!
This is what living a life of integrity is about—finally taking the time to check in with you. You are the only expert on you. Feel those emotions you’ve been suppressing and discover the voice you’ve silenced. Those emotions can guide you back into integrity, back into what you truly want.
About the Author
Kelley Kosow is a Master Integrative Coach, program and workshop leader, and CEO of The Ford Institute, a personal development organization that has helped tens of thousands worldwide. She is the author of The Integrity Advantage: Step into Your Truth, Love Your Life, and Claim Your Magnificence (Sounds True, November 2017). For more, visit kelleykosow.com or connect with her on Facebook or Instagram.