Ben C. Fletcher D.Phil., Oxon

Do Something Different

Are You Living a Lie?

Do you say one thing but do another?

Posted Mar 01, 2012

By this I don't mean you're a Walter Mitty type, or you turn into a superhero at sundown. No, I am simply asking whether parts of your life are out of sync with each other. Whether you ever say one thing yet do the opposite. Here are a few everyday examples:

• Roger wears a safety helmet when cycling—then stops and has a cigarette.
• Craig chooses a foreign holiday but is upset when he can't get his favourite beer and there are olives in the salad.
• The obese Smith family wear the latest sports clothing but never exercise.
• Marty is obsessive about recycling but flies long-haul.
• Carol loves watching cookery programmes but lives on take-aways.
• Jim has renewed his wedding vows and is sleeping with his secretary.
• Kath tries to park as close as possible to the gym where she is going to an exercise class.
• Hayley has credit card debts and a cupboard full of dresses and shoes she's hardly ever worn.

We don't always act according to our conscious thoughts and our spoken utterances. Unconscious forces also drive our behaviour. These include our habits of thinking and behaviour; habits that come from living life on autopilot and that disconnect our actions from what we really want.

A model to explain this sees people in terms of their experiencing self and their reflecting self.

• The experiencing self is our on-line experience as it happens. It includes how we automatically perceive, feel and think at the time we are doing something. It's where our habits reside.
• The reflecting self is our concept of ourselves, our memories and the way we see, and want to see, ourselves in the past and future.

Difficulties arise when these two aspects of the self are at odds with each other. Take relationships, for example. Jack wants to be a kind and loving partner. Yet he has developed habits and reactions that mean he acts in cold or uncaring ways. Laura really wants to be fit and healthy. Yet she has work, exercise and eating habits that prevent this.

I call the gulf between the two aspects of the self, incoherence. When a person is incoherent their reflections (what they say or want) are at odds with their experiences (what they do). The way we are is determined by the interaction between the experiencing self and the reflecting self:

The experiencing self functions most of the time without effort. It is influenced heavily by automatic triggers, and the demands of gratification. These habitual automatic processes often have the upper hand in determining what we think and do at any point in time. This self uses fewer of the brain's resources.

The reflecting self remembers what we have done before and what our intentions are. It can influence what we do by exerting effort and conscious control but that is more effortful. It may contribute to our feelings at the time by automatic reactions (of guilt, for example, if we are experiencing something our reflecting self knows is bad for us).

Incoherence between the two selves is in us all to some extent. Becoming more coherent is the key to being more comfortable with yourself, getting on with others, positive behavioural change, and being successful.

How incoherent are you?
When people are incoherent there will always be some fallout or damage, either to themselves or others. The examples at the start of this blog may seem rather flippant, in reality people's incoherencies can run far deeper than just a few surface behaviours.

Aligning the experiencing (habitual) self and the reflecting (considering) selves is fundamental to understanding how we can achieve positive change. In my experience, people cannot change for the good without tackling both the experiencing and the reflecting selves. Personal development has to alter the way we experience ourselves and our world. It also has to alter our repertoire of behaviours and the way we react to things. Without both these elements changes will be neither permanent or helpful.

Doing Something Different brings about greater coherence in the individual. Small new behaviours affect both elements of the self and help to bring them into alignment. Many people go through life saying one thing and doing another. Living one life but wishing for something else. Personal coherence is the mark of someone who has all parts of their life aligned. What they do and what they say are connected. They are not held back by habits or personal limitations, and they are totally at ease with themselves and their world. Their experiencing and reflecting selves are living in harmony together. In the end, the hallmarks of the incoherent person—doing one thing and saying another—disappear.

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