Conscious Integrity: What It Is, and How to Build It

A link of chains, representing the power of conscious integrity

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I’m sure you know folks who have a strong sense of integrity. They feel sturdy, reliable, and trustworthy. They show up on time and do what they say they’ll do. They feel whole, like they know themself.

The good news is you can use practices to consciously cultivate integrity.

Integrity is all about congruency. You have a unique set of values, desires, ethics, and commitments. How well do your life and your actions reflect these parts of your being?

What Is Conscious Integrity?

In this way, conscious integrity is the link that binds your actions to your values, desires, ethics, and word. I’ll walk through each of these in a moment. But first, it’s helpful to convey that you can either be ‘in integrity’ or ‘out of integrity.’

The best way to tell if you are in or out of integrity is by feeling. If you are ‘in integrity,’ you’ll feel strong, whole, relaxed, and proud of how you’re showing up. You are acting like the person you want to be, and all parts of yourself are welcome.

If you are ‘out of integrity,’ you’ll feel weak, dismembered, shaky, and remorseful – even if all subtly. It’s as if you are acting like someone who you don’t want to be, and parts of yourself are sequestered from the whole. When you act out of integrity, it dis-integrates you.

The Four Types of Conscious Integrity

Now we can explore what it means to be in or out of integrity in these four different dimensions.

1. Your Actions Align With Your Values

We each have a different set of values. Your values are your unique blueprint of what you care about and stand for. A few of my top values are connection, exploration, honesty, and kindness. Your’s probably look different.

Your values represent the qualities of the version of yourself you hope to become. Living out your values – that is to say, being in integrity with your values – feels fulfilling because you are being who you want to be.

When you are out of conscious integrity with your values, you may feel like some part of yourself is atrophying because it is underfed. Or you may feel guilt for acting like someone you don’t want to be.

For example, imagine that one of your top values is generosity, and yet you never spend money on gifts; you donate approximately $0 per month to charities, and you are miserly and overly-protective of your time. In this case, you are not in integrity with your value of generosity.

There may be myriad reasons why you are out of integrity, ranging from complacency to fear. To practice conscious integrity is to acknowledge where you are out of integrity, and to find your way back in. I’ll explain more below. 

2. Your Actions Align With Your Desires

We all have different frameworks for interpreting desire. You may think your desires are signals from your higher self; perhaps your desires come from your inner wisdom or your eros or your intuition; maybe they are biologically based; or perhaps there is no complex story, and they’re just what you want. Regardless of where your desires come from, they ultimately lead you to what you…want.

When you are in alignment with your desires, you’ll find yourself in a life flow. Acting on your desires is a good thing because it will give you the life you want. Desire need not be selfish – your greatest desire may be to raise a child or to contribute to restoring our forests.

We get to practice acting on our desires in literally every moment. Every meal is an opportunity to consult your desires. Even now, do you want to change your posture to be slumpier or more post-like? It is endlessly valuable to pause throughout the day, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and ask yourself “what do I want right now?” and see what emerges.

When you listen to your body, it naturally attunes itself to your desires. That’s why dance and other embodiment practices can be so profound because they slip you into a state of embodied flow.

If, for example, someone asks you to dogsit for them next week, a simple tool to tell if you want to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is to see what the idea of doing it feels like in your body – ‘desire’ and ‘yes’ often feel expansive and exciting. Whereas ‘I don’t want that!’ often feels contracting and dulled.

When you are in integrity with your desire, you are taking action on the things that you want for yourself. And when you are out of integrity, you are avoiding your desires and you are instead making decisions that don’t match what you want (though maybe it’s the life your parents, spouse, or culture want for you).

Being out of integrity with desire feels diminishing, like you are hocking a green-phlegmy loogie in the palm of your hand and giving your self-worth a wet slap to the face.

Here are three common challenges that make it hard to to be in integrity with your desires:

  1. When what you want is really scary because it’s something that’s really important to you.
  2. When you have a habit of self-sabotaging and giving yourself less than what you want.
  3. If you are so out of touch with yourself, you don’t even know what your desire feels like. This one is common for people-pleasers, ‘nice-guys,’ and most females (given that our society de-prioritizes female pleasure and desire)

Most people who smoke cigarettes are out of conscious integrity with their desire. If you ask them if they want to quit they’d say yes, and yet they return to the pack every day.

I’ve only met one person – my friend Sarah, who I could accurately describe as a soft-hearted badass – who felt in integrity with her smoking. I asked her if she wanted to quit, and she replied something to the effect of: ‘Obviously not. If I wanted to stop smoking, I’d stop. I smoke because I want to. If I die early, I don’t give a fuck. At least I enjoyed my cigarettes.”

3. Your Actions Align With Your Ethics

We each have our own sense of right-and-wrong.

The more you study/think about morality and the more you mature, the more your own sense of right-and-wrong evolves. It is a dynamic entity.

However in any given moment you have the moral compass you have. And when an ethical decision presents itself to you, you can either do what you believe is right or what you believe is wrong.

To be in integrity with your ethics means that your moral actions are in alignment with what you believe to be right. Living this way has your hands feel clean and can instill a fierce and empowering sense of honor into your heart.

To be out of integrity with your ethics means that you are taking action that you believe to be wrong. Perhaps you didn’t slow down to consult your moral compass, or perhaps you caved to other pressures. Either way, this tends to come with a feeling of guilt, shame, or remorse.

People with naturally strong consciouses don’t necessarily have better ethical frameworks, but when they do what they believe is wrong, they feel immensely guilty (shout-out to all the cubscouts out there!).

If you pay attention closely, you’ll see that there are endless tests to act in accordance with your ethics. Especially if you espouse truth-telling as a moral principle, you’ll be shocked at just how difficult and nuanced it is to commit to always telling the truth.

4. Your Actions Align With Your Word

We all have promises, agreements, and commitments in our life. To be in integrity is pretty simple – you only make agreements you believe you can honor, and once you make an agreement you strive to keep it. Doing so will make you a person others can trust and rely on. And how spectacular and rare it is to have collaborators who always do what they say they’ll do!

If you are out of integrity with your word, it means you are breaking a commitment, agreement, or promise you made.

Your word is sacred. It is an emblem of trust and power. The more you honor and adhere to your word, the stronger it becomes. With a strong word you can etch declarations into the fabrics of reality and trust them to actualize – just like every other time your word has come true.

Each time you give your word and then violate it, not only do others lose trust in your reliability, you also lose trust in your own word.

Conscious integrity with your word extends to yourself as well. You also have agreements, commitments, and promises with yourself. The more you keep them – and stay in integrity with your word – the more you’ll trust yourself and the more powerful your word will become. If you continually violate your word to yourself, it (and you) will become weak and floppy, and you will lose trust in yourself.

There are so many ways to practice empowering your word. First, just be very careful what you commit to. Really make sure you can hold a commitment before you make it – and once you give your word, do your best to follow through with it.

I have a practice where every time I read a book, I give myself the first 50 pages to feel it out. At page 50 I can either abort the book or commit to finishing it. If I do commit, I do my damn best to finish that book – because my word is on the line. I make it a practice of commitment, a chance to fortify my word.

And I’m not perfect – I still fail to finish about 15% of books I set out to complete. And each time that happens I have the growth opportunity to better understand why that commitment fell through.

It is very powerful to build your capacity to complete your own promises. Because perhaps you’ll want to see just how big of promises you can make yourself.

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4 Tips to Living in Conscious Integrity

Now that we know what it means to be in integrity, here are a few ways to practice.

1. Care about your integrity

This. one is kind of meta, but it’s really the most important.

I only build connections with people who care about their integrity. They don’t need to be perfect or the best at integrity, but they need to at least care about it. Otherwise, there’s not a person there I can lean on or trust.

Action Step: Journal on the following:

  • Why might I want to cultivate my integrity?
  • Why would I want to become more trustworthy?
  • How would having stronger integrity improve my relationships with others and myself?

2. Be cautious when you give your word

If someone asks you to keep something confidential, take a pause first and check in with yourself if you think you can.

If you engage in a coffee chat with an acquaintance, don’t say “I’d love to do this again” if that isn’t true for you.

Let’s say you are late for a meeting with a collaborator, and you automatically assure them “I won’t be late again.” Don’t say that unless you mean it. If you are late next week, your word will take a hit.

Action Step: Before making any commitments or agreements, pause. Get in conversation with yourself if you mean and can stand by what you’re about to say.

3. If you fall out of integrity, make repairs and be kind to yourself

You are going to fail. And that’s not even pessimistic bad news – it’s just real!

You will act in conflict with your values. You will sacrifice your desires for someone else’s. You will cower away from doing what is right. And you will falter on your agreements. Many times.

To be in conscious integrity does not mean that you will be perfect. It means that as soon as you notice that your actions are not aligning with your values, desires, ethics, and word, you acknowledge it (to yourself and to anyone else impacted), make any necessary repairs, and then you do your best next time. 

Plain and simple. Half of the game is just noticing when you’ve fallen off track, catching yourself with a loving hand, and bringing yourself back into right effort.

Action Step: If you notice you are out of integrity, do the following:

  • Acknowledge exactly where you fell out of integrity
  • Acknowledge. how it harmed you and any other people
  • Apologize to anyone you harmed
  • Contemplate why you fell out of integrity
  • Brainstorm how you can do better next time

4. Take on the “embrace imperfection” frame

While it’s important to try to stay on track, it’s equally (if not more!) important to be gentle with yourself.

Sometimes your desires will be really scary, and will ask more of you than your courage can offer. Just last week I was dancing at a club and wanted to join a dancing group next to me, but couldn’t overcome the fear and act on my desire.

Similarly, sometimes doing the right thing will ask more of you than you can give. When I hear people say homophobic comments, I try to speak up. I come across such comments more than I’d like because I play basketball and sometimes go to clubs, so I do encounter a fair amount of “Bro” energy. Sometimes I’m able to stand up and ask people to question their language; other times I can’t muster the courage in the moment.

The solution? Don’t try to be perfect!

Action Step: If you act out of integrity, first practice self-compassion. Find a kind part of yourself that can truly say “it’s okay. we’re doing our best. everything is okay.”

Then take on the frame of “embracing imperfection.” What does it feel like to hold the possibility that you can’t be in perfect alignment with your desires, values, ethics, and word all the time?

To Be In Integrity With Yourself

One last topic I’ll touch on is viewing integrity as wholeness – full self-integration. This is a different spin on integrity and touches on integrity’s etymological ancestor: ‘integer‘ (which is a ‘whole’ number. Eg 3.0 is an integer, 3.1 is not).

In this sense, to be in integrity means that all parts of you are welcome. Every aspect of your being is brought out of shame and fear and into conscious awareness. Integrated into the whole. The beautiful and the grotesque.

A person who is in conscious integrity with themself is a person who knows and welcomes everything.

Ultimately, you know someone has integrity if you feel like you can trust them. And no matter how punctual someone is, if it feels like they have a massive repressed monster inside of themself that they have been unwilling to look at, then they won’t feel trustable because they are not in integrity with themself.

The two best methods to achieve this type of conscious integrity are through:

  • Self love. Which is to bring loving acceptance to everything that comes into your awareness.
  • Shadow work. Which is to actively bring pleasure to the critters of your being hiding in the darkness.

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đź’• Mike

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