Why We Need Mindful Congruence

“In what ways are you lying to yourself each day?” a friend asked me three years ago. I will never forget that question nor will I stop finding answers. This question came to me during a period of time when I was trying to balance a full-time job, graduate school and a long-term relationship while trying to enjoy the fun adventures Colorado has to offer. Being in the social work field and studying clinical counseling, self-care and mindfulness were hot topics discussed and practiced daily…or so I thought.

“How are you doing?”

“Good!” “Great!” “Busy!”

These answers were lies one, two and three that became all too familiar and easy in my repertoire of responses on how I was managing my commitments. Like stories with similar beginnings, the rest of mine includes a fall from grace and a humbling climb out of a hole, the depths of which I didn’t realize until it was too late.

Although school has been completed, a new job accepted and my relationship status improved, my friend’s question continues to present itself to me when I least expect it.

In research and reflection, the concept of congruence has led me to mindfully grow and develop personally and professionally as well as in regard to my relationships. Corey (2009), states:

“Congruence implies that therapists are real; that is, they are genuine, integrated, and authentic during the therapy hour. They are without a false front, their inner experience and outer expression of that experience match and they can openly express feelings, thoughts, reactions and attitudes that are present in the relationship with the client.”

Mearns and Cooper (2005) capture the quality of real presence stating, “When two people come together in a wholly genuine, open and engaged way, we can say that they are both fully present” (p. 37).

Congruence is often presented as a basic skill and concept in building relationshipswith clients in the counseling field. Like many of the values and theories of the counseling field, congruence can be applied in our daily interactions with family, friends, co-workers and the broader communities we belong to.

“I am authentic!”

“I don’t front!”

“You get what you see.”

Have you heard yourself say these statements before? I wonder, is one of those statements a way you lie to yourself each day? Matching your inner and outer experience tends to be a constant process of awareness, mindfulness and humility. As I have learned, the process is easily understood and harder to implement. Thus, I offer some steps to begin your process…

ONE: Values

Take out a blank sheet of paper, pull up a fresh note on your smartphone/tablet or head to a computer and open a fresh Excel sheet. Choose whichever media meets your aesthetic and organizational needs.

List all your values–what is important to you? Anything from education, love, family and friends to exercise, watching movies, and drinking Oreo milkshakes (one of my top 10).

Rank your values from 1 (most important) until you have ranked all your values. This step will help you establish your non-negotiables, values that are not open for discussion or modification (these could also be growing areas, but that is a topic for a different day).

Listing, ranking, and understanding your values creates a more grounded inner experience opening you up for the next stage…

TWO: Behaviors

Start a second sheet of whichever media you used and set it next to your values sheet.

Write down all the ways you live or do not live out your values. For example: If exercise and health are high values, your behavior would be walking three times a week…or maybe you don’t exercise at all.

This step is another test in being true to yourself and practicing humility because only we know if we are lying to ourselves about who, what and how we want to be and live in this world.

I find it helpful to draw lines connecting your values and behaviors so you can get a visual. Often your behaviors meet the needs of many values and vice-versa.

THREE: Move Toward Mindful Congruence

Start small. Look for behaviors that have no lines connected to your values. Ask yourself if this behavior is helping you match the inner experience with the outer. If the answer is “No,” cross it out! Behavior eliminated and one step closer to congruence.

For those of you with some reservations, I understand. In order to write this article, I went through each step myself (something I try to do each year instead of a New Year’s resolution). I asked my partner to complete the exercise with me. We went in different rooms for a short period of time and then reviewed each step with each other. Some things we already knew…others provided new insight and understanding for us as individuals and as members of our relationship.

This exercise is intended to surface deeper insights so your external self reflects the vulnerability, intimacy and connection your internal self desires. Moving toward a more congruent self allows for greater confidence when meeting new people, a better understanding of what you are looking for in a partner, career, or lifestyle and a way for you to externally see how you grow and develop with each passing experience.

Three simple steps, two pieces of paper and one hour is all it takes to become a more mindful, congruent person for yourself, family, friends and community.

Easy, right?!?

Trick question?

Only you know the truthful answer.