In Search of a Harmonious Self

I’ve been working my way through Benjamin Hardy’s 30 Behaviours to Make You Unstoppable in 2019, and am half way through #12 which is about reducing your avoidance behaviours. Hardy gives two main reasons for avoidance and in the last post I looked at self-efficacy as a possible explanation of why I had been avoiding writing the post itself. Today I look at congruence, the other reason he cites. So, what the feck is it?

I am going to simplify because it turns out there’s far too much to all of this for a blog post, it would take a good year of research and another several years to write up. It’s probably a Phd and/or a book, and someone else has most likely done a much better job than I ever could. But with the help of Carl Rogers I should at least be able to give some indication of what Hardy means, and whether it could provide the answer to my problem.

It would appear that what Hardy means by ‘unstoppable’ is what Rogers called ‘self-actualized.’ Rogers argues that:

‘The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism’

(Rogers, 1951, p. 487). 

By which, I think, he means (once our basic needs are met) we are driven to meet what Maslow called our ‘growth’ needs. I’m not going to go any further with this, I just wanted to give a little context to tease out Hardy’s standpoint, but here’s a handy diagram:

Image from Simple Psychology

Hardy and Rogers both argue that in order to be in a state to meet your growth needs you need to be congruent.

What is congruence?

Congruence is when a person’s ideal self (the person they’d like to be) matches their self-image (the person they think they are). So, if you’d like to be Lauren Bacall but see yourself as closer to Miss Piggy you’re incongruent, and likely to be miserable and unable to grow.*

Is lack of congruence the reason I was avoiding writing the blog post?

In order to answer this I need to examine my ideal-self and my self-image, find out if there’s a disconnect, and if this disconnect could be the problem. 

The person I’d like to be is: flexible (able to respond positively to the points of view of others; able to tolerate interruptions; able to change my mind…); honest; capable of learning (mastering new tasks, solving complex problems, understanding other value systems and perspectives…); nice to be around; ethical; helpful; caring; listening; attractive and stylish (more Lauren Bacall than Miss Piggy).

I see myself as all of these things, most of the time, though I do fear I’m becoming more Miss Piggy than Lauren Bacall. By ‘most of the time’ I mean there are occasions when I catch myself being less of one of them than I’d like to be. I have, for example, found it difficult to respond positively to Brexit supporters a lot of the time. But looking at my list of ideal traits I think the reason I avoided writing the blog post is that I got bogged down in so many theories – from Freud to Nietzsche to Maslow to Rogers – that I felt myself incapable of learning enough to write a post that, a) made sense and, b) wasn’t so simplified it became untrue. In the end I had to convince myself that what I could say would be good enough if I was honest about my shortcomings, and provided links to better explanations. This gave me the courage to come out from under the bed and have a go.

But how can knowing this help me become unstoppable? 

It could make me lower my standards. It could make me avoid trying to do difficult things. Neither of which would be good. But it could make me stop and take note of the elements of a task and assess the time it’s likely to take to master before jumping in. Which would be good. I do think I have a tendency to say yes to things before thinking about what that entails, not because I believe I can do anything but because I’m afraid of disappointing people. Actually this reminds me of another ideal-self characteristic: free-spirited artist. The big cleavage between my ideal-self and my self-image may be right here. I’m far too much of a ‘pleaser’ which leads to a skewed notion of responsibility. I know I’m not responsible for the happiness of everyone in the whole world, but I really don’t want to contribute to anyone’s unhappiness, regardless of whether I’ve met them or even know they exist.

Thus, as I had set up this series of blog posts based on Hardy’s theory, it felt like I’d made a promise. Having made that promise I felt unable to break it. So when I got to this ‘behaviour’ (#12) and found myself getting ever deeper into the theory of self-actualization, I realised I’d never be able to write about it in a meaningful way so just stopped. Then I realised I had stopped, kicked myself for it, tried to force myself to keep that promise, and failed.

I know I have now written something (thanks to being able to convince myself I could do a good enough job of it), but it is rather feeble. I’m not even sure it makes internal sense, let alone sense of Hardy’s idea, but I am not going to shy away from keeping the promise to publish. I am, however, going to free myself from the self imposed responsibility to keep on with Hardy in such a rigid way.

But, just to recap, by looking at congruence I have found a place where my ideal-self and my actual-self diverge. I’d like to be a free spirited artist who earns a living from her practice, but a skewed sense of responsibility means I often agree to do things for other people that end up limiting both my sense of freedom, and my ability to focus on my art to the degree I feel I need to. And this is probably why I put so much effort into avoiding writing this post: it was too difficult a task in the limited time I set myself, but I felt I’d made a promise that must be kept at all costs so couldn’t just give up. Maybe now I know I’ll be able to work out some kind of strategy to, if not heal the rift, at least transcend it.

Julia Santacruz Herrera in Paris

Next week I’ll take a break from this series, not least because I’ve been doing this in an attempt to reach my life goal of earning a living from my practice and next Monday I begin a big new (paid!) project. I’m not sure if this is a direct result of, a) all this self analysis, b) attempting to navigate the art-world using Jeff Goins’s twelve step plan, c) merely keeping at it or, d) some combination of all three. Whatever it is, I’m both excited and terrified by this new stage. I’ve discovered by writing this post that I am more than capable of agreeing to do things I shouldn’t, so now I’m worried that this is going to be an example of that. What have I said yes to? I’ll let you know.

*I do realise I’m being flippant here, and there are all number of ways a person can be incongruent that are considerably more serious and damaging.

Header image: Ice Blue: Terry Frost, 1972

3 thoughts on “In Search of a Harmonious Self

  1. Oh, I am definitely incongruent!!! Thank you for showing me this! Now I’ll chew this over.
    Congrats on the new project – I’m looking forward to reading more about it.

    Liked by 1 person

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