I say a lot of things I don’t actually do. I don’t intend to lie, or even drop the ball. It is just that I don’t seem to be able to execute consistently what I envision in the future. The gap between what we say and what we do can be hard to acknowledge. In fact, I used to really beat myself up for this, but as it turns out, I am not alone in this gap between what I espouse and what I actually produce. Even Paul in Romans points to this gap:
“For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” (Rom. 7:15)
Not living according to our aspirational values is part of the human condition, but not all of us address this dissidence in a way that results in reducing the gap.
How to create alignment between aspirations and actions
So how can we connect the dots between our aspirations and our actions? Here’s a few ideas:
- Fix it. Can you correct the inconsistency now, or is it too late? If there is still a chance to ‘do the right thing’, then do so immediately. As you do, pay special attention to what is the most difficult about it. That will provide insight to the inner struggle you have to resolve.
- Inspect your values. Are your espoused values really what you want? If so, then dig deep and do more of that. What was most difficult about doing the right thing in the first place? Work with a friend or mentor to talk through that challenge.
- Communicate carefully. Once you are more clear about your actual values and beliefs, not just aspirations, get very good at communicating precisely what you value and where you are on that journey. Open acknowledgment of the struggle creates credibility with others and an environment where people may feel safe to be more transparent themselves.
- Stop assuming the worst. We often jump right to a character flaw in another person. “He must have lied during the interview.” “I guess he doesn’t really care as much as he said.” Give others a break and assume they had the best of intentions and just have a gap between what they espoused and what they produced. It’s okay for you, right? Then make it okay for them too.
- Remember your purpose. As a leader/mentor/supervisor, your primary job is to develop the people around you. Getting the work at hand done is important, but should be secondary to building the capacity of the people who do the work. We all need people in our lives to help us identify these disconnects — take the time to have the conversation. “Angela, I know you value treating others with respect, and yesterday you interrupted Hope several times. Help me understand what was going on there.”
- Be precise. Be very careful to describe the problem you are trying to solve. There are usually two problems and people often get them mixed up. One is the specific behavior that created the concern (the immediate problem). The other is the gap between espoused and produced beliefs (the more important problem). Separate the conversation to ensure you are only working one problem at a time. Why Angela was acting outside of her values in that moment and apologizing to Hope are two different things and should be treated separately.
I want to encourage you to review the last week. Is there any situation where your behavior did not match your espoused beliefs? Go address it in your own heart and then with the other person immediately. Have you judged someone too harshly? Go apologize and reengage them to give the benefit of the doubt.
What are some other systems you’ve developed to create alignment between your aspirations and actions?