I interviewed Martha Beck, Oprah’s life coach, live on stage about ten years ago in London and I was so bowled over by her, I wanted to make her my new best friend.
‘Don’t stay in a hotel, you can stay in my spare room,’ I gushed.
She must have thought I was slightly odd but I didn’t care. I have interviewed many experts over the years but Beck was so magnetic, wise and interesting, I just wanted to spend more time with her. I’m not the only one who is impressed.
Oprah has just made Martha’s new book The Way Of Integrity: Finding A Path to Your True Self, her latest book club pick.
‘For over 15 years, I have looked to Martha Beck for her wisdom, and marveled at how she helps people through crises in their lives with such grace, insight, and humour,’ Winfrey said recently. ‘As we all navigate (Covid) and this watershed moment in our collective history, The Way Of Integrity provides a roadmap on the journey to truth.’
Martha Beck, PhD, is a Harvard-trained sociologist, a world-renowned coach and New York Times bestselling author with nine non-fiction books and one novel to her name and in her latest tome, she tackles integrity, how to stop lying and ‘how to live a life free of mental suffering’.
‘Much of what plagues us — people-pleasing, staying in stale relationships, negative habits — all point to what happens when we are out of touch with what truly makes us feel whole,’ she says.
We chatted with Martha about her take on happiness and why integrity – being in harmony with ourselves – is the key to a meaningful and joyful life.
What is the connection between integrity and happiness?
Integrity is the cure for unhappiness.
It sounds so simplistic, that there’s this one thing that is the cure for all unhappiness.
But when you go deep inside yourself and you find what is truest for you, that is the source of your peace, your joy, your happiness, your direction in life.
When you move away from what you deeply know to be true and you split from your integrity — so now you’re not one thing, but two: the thing you believe and the thing you think you should do — that happiness can’t come through.
All that’s necessary to heal that is to find your own truth and begin to live in harmony with it. And all the psychological suffering goes away.
Reconnect with your truth (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)
How do you define integrity?
Integrity is about listening to our own internal signals about what truly makes us happy and to recognise what we actually yearn for versus what our culture sells us.
To be in integrity is to be intact and whole, not divided, but in modern day it’s taken on a slightly prim, judgemental nuance. When a plane is in integrity, all its millions of parts work together smoothly and cooperatively. If it loses integrity, it may stall, falter or crash. There’s no judgement here. Just physics.
How do you know when you’re out of integrity?
If you’ve ever found yourself snapping at someone you dearly love or sitting down to complete a work project only to spend five hours shopping for home tattoo kits online, it’s probably because you’re feeling internally divided!
Being out of integrity means you’re trying to act in ways that don’t feel right to you at the deepest level.
Whenever we do this, our lives become pear shaped. Emotionally, we feel grumpy, sad or numb. Physically, our immune systems and muscles weaken; we might get sick and even if we don’t, our energy flattens. Mentally, we lose focus and clarity. That’s how we feel to be out of integrity.
And that has a huge impact on our lives.
Yes! Our relationships suffer, then our careers suffer. And then sometimes we’ll start to self-medicate with a substance or an action that gives us a hit of dopamine – alcohol, sex, whatever it is. And we find ourselves lying all the time. To others and to ourselves.
To be in integrity is to be intact and whole, not divided
Doesn’t everyone lie a little?
Yes. Research has found that most people lie at least three times within the first 10 minutes of every conversation.
Lying may feel easy but research shows that for the brain and body, it’s very stressful.
We’re only one of the very few species that even try to lie. Chimpanzees do it, but not very well. But as the brain tries to deal with two realities, one sensed and one created in imagination, it’s incredibly divisive and suppressive to our psychology and to our physiology.
When people who agreed to lie a little less for a study (and they weren’t even policed on it) came back a few weeks later, and compared to another group who hadn’t stopped lying, they had fewer headaches, fewer doctor’s visits, fewer colds and they had better relationships.
It was just incredible how across the board, staying united with oneself, telling the truth, saying what you really mean and doing what you really want, was correlated with all these different measures of health and wellness.
It makes sense.
It does! The more deceitful we get, the more we feel forced into actions that uphold our stories.
We can’t talk freely, can’t do things that would break the narrative, can’t relax. We begin to lose emotional connection with the people we’ve lied to.
Our lives become increasingly cold, lonely, and numb. We may end up feeling completely frozen, able to see the world but not touch or feel it.
Do more of what you love, less of what you don’t (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)
What about white lies?
Almost everyone in the world tells white lies. Interestingly, men tend to tell white lies that make them look more impressive, while women tend to tell lies to make other people feel better. White lies can be considered part of kindness.
But I think it’s more interesting to learn to be kind without lying. I challenge the readers in my book to do a three day no lie challenge. And what you will find if you try the challenge is that there are things you can say that are both true and kind.
Or just try asking a question versus expressing your opinion and letting others explore their own answers. Most people don’t want to hear your opinion anyway.
Isn’t the truth brutal sometimes?
I don’t think the truth is brutal. The truth liberates.
It’s untruths that create suffering. If it feels brutal, it’s not the most truthful. It’s not integrity. There’s always a way to live your integrity, and also live in compassion, because at the core, we are compassionate beings.
The truth liberates. It’s untruths that create suffering
So how do we stop lying, tell the truth and get ourselves back on track?
Slowly! Contemplating integrity as a way of life involves a major identity shift.
Even if we deeply feel that this transition will bring us happiness, health and purpose, it can be too huge to contemplate.
Psychologists who study change tell us that paradoxically, positive transformation happens more quickly when we do it in small steps than heroic leaps.
Every day you make thousands of tiny decisions about what to do with your time. Every single choice is a chance to turn toward the life you really want.
Repeatedly putting a little less time into what you don’t love, and a little more into what you do love, is your next step on the way to integrity.
Imagine you’re flying a plane on a 10,000-mile journey. If you change course by one degree to the right every half an hour or so you’ll never notice a drastic change, but you’ll end up in a completely different place than if you maintained your initial trajectory. I advise people to steer their lives with a series of one-degree turns.
Ditch dishonesty (Picture: Getty / metro.co.uk)
What does that mean in practice?
Start by noticing the amount of time you’re spending with specific people or activities and see if matches the amount of time you really want to spend with them.
Shift your schedule by a few minutes each day, spending a little less time doing things that don’t appeal to you and a little more doing what you love.
How do we know we are in integrity?
You find yourself listening to your ‘inner teacher’. Your body knows the truth about the right path for you. Your body will show you when you’re in integrity. There’s a relaxation response – a literally, involuntary release of muscle tension.
When we surrender to the truth, even difficult truth, our bodies may go almost limp and we begin breathing more deeply.
When our minds recognise the truth, it’s like a cartoon light bulb going on in our heads, a riddle being solved.
To our heart, the ring of truth feels like a flower opening up. In total integrity, we’re completely available to all emotion: overwhelming love, deep grief, terrible anger, sharp fear. But around and beyond mere emotion, we feel a sense of freedom, a vast openness that includes all aspects of our experience.
Seven ways to work towards integrity
- Notice the symptoms of being out of integrity – a touch of irritation here, a wave of fatigue there. Immediately address any level of suffering in yourself and ask – where am I out of integrity?
- Connect frequently with wise teachers who you resonate with. Read their books, watch them online, connect with them in real life.
- Practice connecting with your own sense of truth, your ‘inner teacher’, every day. Notice the thoughts that give you that ring of alignment and those that make you feel fragmented or off-centre.
- Notice when loud ‘cultural voices’ push you in contradictory directions – and remember to leave them all behind and check in with your sense of truth whenever you feel confused.
- Refuse to lie – and remember that there are times when silence is a lie. Say what you really mean when it feels right, even though others might not approve.
- Be transparent: hide less of yourself. You will gather a community of like minds
- Forgive yourself for violating your integrity when you didn’t know better. Let go of your mistakes. Remember and value everything you’ve done that aligns with your sense of truth.
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