Stones pyramid on sand symbolizing zen, harmony, balance. The Importance of Being Congruent

I am venturing off the regular topic of nutrition and natural products to discuss something that has really been on my mind lately. Have you ever known a person who was great at giving good advice, but never seemed to follow that advice themselves? I think we all have and to a degree most of us probably do the same. On the flip side, do you know anyone that really “walks the talk?” Again, I think we all do. How much respect do you hold for that character trait? For me, whether you agree with their values or not, someone who is congruent in what they believe and what they express through their behavior is to be respected and admired.

Here is what is triggering delving into this topic of congruency today. Next week, my close friend and colleague, Joe Pizzorno, N.D., is going to receive The Leadership Award at the Integrative Healthcare Symposium. The Leadership Award recognizes a pioneer whose contributions have shaped integrative healthcare and paved the way for other practitioners. I can think of no person more deserving than Dr. Pizzorno. If you are not familiar with Joe, he is one of the founders of Bastyr University and the main reason that I chose to go there in 1978 – WOW, that is 40 years ago!!

Dr. Pizzorno has many other impressive accomplishments and contributions to natural medicine (including being my co-author of A Textbook of Natural Medicine and three other books), but that is not why I am going to use him as an example in this article. Here is what I want to explain about Joe. He is perhaps the most congruent person that I know. He does more than walk the talk, he embodies it and lives it.

Why Congruency Matters

Being congruent is all about being honest with yourself and committing to doing exactly what you tell others to do as well as acting in a manner consistent with your values. Now, I don’t want to come off as judgmental here, but I have often wondered how doctors, including N.D.s, could be taken seriously in talking health if they themselves were not following what they preached. I always find it difficult to follow the advice of someone who can’t do it themselves. For me, I find it a bit hypocritical and not credible if they can’t follow their own advice. I believe in practicing what you preach.

Another perspective that I have is knowing what to do and not doing it is just not good for a person’s self-esteem and confidence. In contrast, if you are congruent it breeds confidence and self-esteem. Joe and I have had a deep personal and professional relationship for nearly 40 years and we share many similar values and goals. Yes, he has amazed me with his vision, commitment, and achievements, but what has really amazed me even more is that I can’t think of a single instance where he has not done exactly what he said he was going to or acted in a manner than was not congruent with his values. That is what you want in a leader, friend, etc. Here is what that has done for him:

  • At nearly 70 years of age, he is vibrantly healthy with tremendous physical and mental energy.
  • He is passionate, happy, and effectively deals with stress and “life.”
  • He has accomplished great things, but still thirsts for giving more.
  • He is well-recognized, appreciated, and beloved for not only for what he has done, but also for who he is.
  • He has great relationships and earned the respect of many people.

Now, there are a lot of other factors that contribute to Joe’s success in life, but I think being congruent is a big part of it. My observation in looking at colleagues that are not as congruent is that they are also not as healthy or happy. So, I naturally look at congruency as being another key facet of living life fully.

How to Be More Congruent

Here are three things that I think are critical to being congruent:

  • Know What Makes You Tick. Our values are the rules and standards that guide our life. They reflect what is important to us. 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? After you really think or maybe even write down the things that really make you tick, the next question is do your actions and behavior match these values? If they do not, then you have a conflict and are incongruous. For example, let’s say health is a major value for you, yet you smoke a pack of cigarettes every day. That is a major conflict. But, we can use these incongruities as leverage to make necessary changes to align our values. For example, here is how I helped one of my patients quit smoking. One of his core values was being a great father. I emphatically pointed out that if he truly loved his kids that smoking was in direct conflict with that value. Why? The statistics on smoking and early death due to heart disease or cancer is pretty clear. If you love your kids, why would you want them to experience the early death of their father. More likely your incongruity will be subtle, but identifying your values and incongruous behavior is important in righting the ship.
  • Set Daily Goals. Clearly stating and restating your goals is very important in maintaining our commitment and keeping us focused in going in the right direction. There are different types of goals, but what I have found most useful is focusing on the tasks at hand. Or, what do I need to do today to achieve my long-term goal? For example, let’s say you have a health goal – maybe weight loss – the question to answer is “What do I need to do today to achieve my goal?” It then becomes a bit of a daily check list. Personally, I have gotten out of this habit a bit, but I have found it so helpful to go through the process of setting daily goals. Give it a try.
  • Be Mindful. It seems that the term mindfulness is being thrown around a lot these days, but what does it really mean? Mindfulness is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of what is going on at the present moment. It is achieved by simply becoming aware of your breath, slowing things down a bit, and processing what is going on for you. Here is my take on how that can help to be congruent. It really comes into play in becoming more impeccable with your word as well as your actions. If you are aware of what you are doing and saying are you really going to be acting in a hypocritical or incongruent manner? Hopefully not, but if you are please realize that if health and happiness are some of your values, you have a major conflict.

Final Comment

It is fitting that Dr. Pizzorno be recognized for his leadership, because my feelings are that the most effective leader or teacher is one who has high values and the congruency in their words and behavior to reflect those values. For me, I am inspired by these sorts of people and strive to be one myself. I encourage you to do the same.

Lastly, this newsletter is different than many that I have written, I am curious if you like it. And, of course, as always please feel free to forward this message to family and friends. Please feel free to comment here.

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