THE BLOG
08/30/2010 07:17 am ET | Updated Mar 20, 2015

How to Rebuild Your Integrity

My post last week on the value of your word prompted some very thoughtful comments to the post along with several very insightful email messages. If you have been following this series of articles on integrity and impeccability then you will have noted that many people share my concern for the apparently slippery slope we find ourselves sliding down these days.

Ariam dropped me a note, asking for thoughts on how to improve her internal scorecard:

After reading your article, I felt it. I mean, I really felt that my "scorekeeper" had kept a track of all my "broken promises" and how it has been feeding my perception of self in a negative light. I would love to read more about this matter and how to work around it. What are the babysteps you have to take to believe in your words again?

Thank you
--
Ariam

Slaxx, one of our Huff Post community moderators, posted this straight forward comment, laden with perfectly sound advice:

so...you're talking about flakes? i love the ones that actually make the offer but then never follow through or find some excuse to get out of it. you didn't have to offer, you know? the problem is that people like to be polite, or say things that simply sound good, even if they don't mean them. the point of communication is not to just sound good! there's no point in even communicating with people who have no integrity because you simply cannot believe anything they say and they can't be held to their word.

...if i have no desire to do something, i say so. if i am unsure of whether i'll be able to make it, i say so. if i say i am going to do something, then i view it as a commitment and definitely do, regardless of whether or not i feel like doing it when the moment actually arises.

Building on Ariam's question, and the sound advice from Slaxx, permit me to explore this question a bit more. Giving and keeping your word may at first appear to be something that occurs solely between you and another person. These are the obvious agreements that people make and break with some regularity.

Do you know anyone who is one of those habitual "make and break" types? These are the folks who commit to the meeting, dinner, calling you, etc. and just never seem to get around to following though. I'm sure you know someone in this camp. Do you still consider these folks to be friends? In all likelihood, you probably do. However, are these people your closest friends? Are these the folks you could count on for help when the situation really matters?

For most of us, the answer is "probably not." We still like them, we still trust them, we just don't think of them as dependable.

So with whom do you make all of your agreements? Yourself, of course. In fact, you probably make more agreements or commitments with yourself than with all others combined. So, if you have friends out there in the real world you can't count on due to their lack of follow through, then what's different about the commitments you make to yourself and don't keep?

Not much, I would argue. If you tell yourself you're going to the gym to exercise tonight, and then blow it off because you don't feel up to it, you have just made and broken a commitment. And someone is keeping score.

If you tell yourself that you're going to call Mom and don't call, you have just made and broken a commitment. And someone is keeping score.

If you tell yourself you're going to go for the salad over the potato chips at lunch, and crunch away on the chips anyway, you have just made and broken a commitment. And someone is keeping score.

Obviously, the person keeping score is you. Stay with me on this one: if you have a friend you can't count on because of the string of broken commitments, what happens when the string of broken commitments is with you, by you?

Consider the possibility that for every commitment you make and break, the internal scorekeeper lowers the level of self-image, self-respect and self-confidence you hold toward your own self. It's probably obvious that you won't go crashing to the depths of self-despair with one bag of chips, one missed call, or one blown exercise session.

However, these things have a way of mounting up. If you could use more self-confidence, self-respect and self-image, then I suggest you pay heed to the advice from Slaxx.

Here's an experiment you can try for a week. Just one week. If you like the results, you can go for a second week. And so on. For the balance of this week, try this one and notice what your experience has been as you get to the end of the week:

1 If you give your word to someone, keep it at all costs, other than life and limb.

(If I tell you that I will call you at 9:00 a.m, I will call you at 9:00 a.m. However, if the office catches fire at .8:50 a.m., I'm not going to stick around just so I can keep the commitment. Common sense does have a role here -- however, for this week, only real emergencies are allowed to break the commitment. Otherwise, keep it no matter what -- even if you get a "better offer.")

2 If someone asks for a commitment, and you don't really want to commit or aren't sure, don't commit.

(You can always say something like: "I'm working on my ability to make and keep commitments. Right now, I'm not really sure that I can keep this one -- if you can work with 'maybe,' that's the best I can give right now.")

As simplistic as these two suggestions might seem, just give them a go for one week. You may be surprised at the lessons that show up. You are likely to start building back some of that lost respect and confidence simply by doing what you said you would do. You may also be surprised to learn how many times you find yourself agreeing to something simply because you wanted to appease someone else or to gain their approval. Keep these commitments anyway! You will not only build your sense of self but also start to fine tune which agreements you really do want to make in the first place.

The more comfortable you become with giving your word and following through, the more discerning you will become about when to give it in the first place.

In addition to the general meaning of holding to high moral values, integrity also includes the quality of completeness, of being undivided. Being complete within oneself is a critical component of integrity and it's hard to be complete or undivided when the internal scorekeeper knows that you don't mean what you say when it comes to making commitments.

As you build a track record of making and keeping commitments, you will build a more substantial base of personal integrity from which to live your life. Even if no one else notices, you will! And my experience suggests others will notice as well.

There's lots to this area and I'd love to know if you think this is worth exploring in future posts. So, tell me, what do you think?

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.

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If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

You can buy Workarounds That Work here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.