The “Show Me” Commandment
ACT on your beliefs! This one is simple. Even the original language of the 3rd Commandment is basically saying, “If you believe in Me, show Me that you believe in Me by worshipping Me on the Sabbath.” Words and beliefs mean little unless you follow them up with actions.
Being an “armchair activist” is not good enough. Talking the talk, without walking the walk will bring you no joy, and it will ultimately make you feel worse about yourself. You will feel worse because you aren’t acting in accordance with your beliefs. “I ‘liked’ the Facebook page for the Wildlife Foundation!” Congratulations- you have accomplished nothing. Saying things means very little. Saying things like, “I am totally going to start working out tomorrow,” and “I am quitting smoking” does nothing for you. Exercising and quitting smoking actually do things for you. Talking about doing things does nothing. Trust me, I wish it did. I wish I could talk about how well I am going to eat and how much I am going to exercise in order for me to reach my goal weight. I wished it worked that way- but it doesn’t. Wishing and hoping for things doesn’t get things done- doing things gets things done. And doing takes ACTION!
If I want to believe that you are a good parent, then you need to do good parent-like things. This may include actions such as: buying them books and toys, giving hugs and kisses, and providing emotional support and praise. If you believe that you are a good parent, and you do all those things, it confirms your belief that you are a good parent. This belief that you are a good parent, supported by your observable actions of what makes a good parent good, makes you feel good about myself, and so you continue to do good parent-like things to further reinforce the belief that you are a good parent, and thus the cycle continues. In this example, “Being a good parent” has become part of your identity, and as such it is something that has become integrated into how you see yourself.
Erik Erikson, a forefather of Developmental Psychology, would call these individuals “identity achieved.” Individuals who are “identity achieved” have “explored their options and developed a coherent sense of identity and are more socially mature and motivated to achieve than their peers. (Wenar & Kerig, 2006.)
Problems (depression/disappointment/shame/anxiety), or general stress arises when we behave in ways that are incongruent to our chosen identity. Ever done something that you feel guilty about? Here’s why: you knowingly violated your own code of integrity. You disregarded your own, self-made code of ethics and beliefs. For example, if I see myself as a good parent, only to scream at the kids an hour later for something minor, then my ACTIONS have put into question my “good parent” identity. If I see myself as an environmentalist and as someone who cares for the environment, but then I litter, then my actions are incongruent with my beliefs again.
Who Are You?
“So how can I believe something about myself when I behave in ways that are opposite to my beliefs about myself? It doesn’t make sense!” Most humans do not like things that do not make sense, and we also do not like our identity to be questioned. For if we are not who we think we are…then who are we? “Who am I?!” This existential question is a very uncomfortable question for people to answer. Sometimes it is uncomfortable because maybe we really are trying to be something (a good parent, an environmentalist, sober etc.) and it’s just really hard for whatever reason. In this case, people whose actions are incongruent with their beliefs will feel shame, guilt, etc. because their actions violated their own code of integrity.
Other times when people who are confronted with the “who am I” question become very angry because they don’t know who they are, or what they stand for, are totally lost, and feel embarrassed about not knowing. For these people who are not so tightly connected to their labels, when they are called out that their beliefs don’t match their actions, they will typically get more defensive and irritable. This is usually out of embarrassment because the truth is they do not know who they are, or what they believe, and they attached themselves to some identity or label because it was someone else’s idea, or because it was the popular thing to do. They did not adopt the label because they truly believed in it. Essentially these people are the sheep of the world, and they are still looking for something to believe in- something or someone to follow.
The Dangers of Not Knowing Who You Are
When a person fails to connect to an identity, developmental psychologist believe that they can become “developmentally delayed.” This essentially means that their psychological development, maturity, and or evolution is currently being halted.
“Youths who are confused and uncertain about their identity and are making no progress towards establishing one are termed “identity diffuse,” and tend to be socially isolated, unmotivated and attracted to substance abuse (Wenar & Kerig, 2006.)” Developmental psychologist also identity a similar group of people as “Identity Foreclosed.” These individuals have declared a loyal identity to something that they have not really explored thoroughly, and also have not explored other options either. Outside of not knowing who they are or what they want, individuals here are also at a greater risk of becoming victims to things like cults or other extremist type organizations. “Research shows that foreclosed individuals are rigid and authoritarian in their attitudes” (Wenar & Kerig, 2006.) Being a rigid thinker with an authoritarian attitude is a sad existence, and an unhappy one to boot. Because their identities are so poorly constructed, sadly they need to be rigid and unbending in order to keep their identities from falling apart. Their identities are so fragile and poorly put together, that they always need to be on the defensive in order for their sense of self to not be shattered by the recognition that they have no idea who they are. The world is a scary enough place full of unknowns and mysteries. Now imagine how much scarier the world is when they wake up to discover that they not only know nothing about the world, but they also know nothing about themselves. When individuals here even get a sliver of awareness that they are wrong in some way, defensives go up, and they find a way to dismiss or invalidate the contradicting evidence. This action is both self-protecting as well as self-sabotaging at the same time.
(Footnote: Just to be thorough, developmental psychologists also have a term for people who have not made an identity but are actively engaging in exploring who they are- it is called Moratorium, and these people may have some anxiety about their situation but otherwise are in a good place with high-levels of self-esteem.)
During sessions I always encourage my clients to get to know themselves! You have a lifetime to do it, and don’t let that opportunity get away from you. You take yourself everywhere you go, and it will be the only thing you get to take with you into death. Getting to know yourself will be one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself. I highly recommend this endeavor. Don’t be afraid of who is waiting for you at the end of this journey. Whoever he or she is, is already alive and well living in secrecy inside your heart. Open your heart, and love and accept and embrace yourself. Get to know the inner you, and you will get to know you.
Whatever you believe in, whatever you say you love, follow it up with actions! Good intentions are “nice” but “nice” doesn’t put food on the table or provide protection from the elements or enemies. “Nice” is never good enough for the long-term. Here are some examples that highlight how “nice” intentions are never good enough:
- “I totally meant to recycle that, but I didn’t see a recycle bin anywhere and I didn’t just want to carry it around with me all day, so I just threw it out in a regular trashcan.”
- “I am totally opposed to eating veal. But it was all they had on the menu so I ate it.”
- “I really was planning on getting sober today but then my boss yelled at me so I ended up drinking again after work.
Intentions are a nice start, but they are worthless in the Life Satisfaction and Love Department. If you say you love someone or something, show them the sacrifice. Love is sacrifice. If you can’t sacrifice your own wants and desires for someone, then you don’t love them. Period. You don’t. No matter how much you think you love your wife, family, blah blah blah, at the end of the day your ACTIONS speak to what really matters to you.
The Secret Coping Skill: Act on Your Beliefs
So if you hold onto that grimy empty plastic bottle until you find a recycle bin- Bravo. That small sacrifice demonstrates your true beliefs on things like the environment or the community. If you are really opposed to the abusive treatment of calves, don’t eat veal- make that small sacrifice. I have been told that veal is “amazing,” but to stand by my own personal beliefs about the treatment of calves, I choose to make the small sacrifice of not eating something “amazing” in order to demonstrate me beliefs. I live in America. A country with literally hundreds of eating options. I am not going to starve from this “sacrifice.”
And if you are an alcoholic who says that you really love your family, you will get sober and you will make all the sacrifices requested of you until you reach that goal- or you will die trying- because that is sacrifice. That is love. Love requires sacrifice, and the ability to sacrifice takes love. And “sacrifice” is an action word.
One thing I often say in my individual session is this: “Those who refuse to sacrifice anything will inevitably lose everything.” No matter what you want in life, no matter what goals you have for yourself. It is going to require some amount of sacrifice on your part. Whether the sacrifice will be your time, money, food preferences, energy, vulnerability, honesty etc. The universe is not just going to hand out lollipops for free. If you want to get something, you are going to have to sacrifice something for it. Your body likes balance, your check-book likes balance, and the universe likes balance as well.
Sacrifice in Action: Lauren
I had this lovely client once. Let’s call her Lauren. Lauren was in multiple casual relationships, had what she called an “ok” job that barely paid the bills, and she was also obese. Lauren said that she wanted to be married and have children, and get a job that paid well, and be fit. While this next part was uncomfortable for me, as her therapist, I sacrificed my comfort in an attempt to help her reach her goals. I highlighted how her actions were not in line with any of things she said she wanted or believed in. In short, I pointed out that the reason why she wasn’t getting any closer to her goals was because she was refusing to sacrifice anything for the goals she said she wanted. She said she wanted to be fit, but continued to eat unhealthy foods, and wouldn’t commit to exercising on a schedule. I pointed out that she said she wanted a committed monogamous relationship with a man who loved her, but was continuing to have sex with multiple men that she would find on “hook-up” apps. Lauren also said she wanted a better job, but didn’t want to spend the time looking for other jobs or go back to school to get the degree she needed to get the jobs that she wanted.
After a thorough analysis of her resources, we reviewed what she would feel comfortable sacrificing in order to make strides towards her goals. Lauren is now single, finishing up her first semester in college and is turning down dates with men who “just want a hook-up.” Lauren sacrificed money and time, to hopefully gain a higher paying job in the future that will pay her bills. Lauren also sacrificed the pleasures of frequent sex and attention from multiple relationships, in order to devote more time into finding and nurturing a relationship with a man who also wants a committed monogamous relationship with the prospects of children. Because of sacrifice, Lauren is now two steps closer to her relationship and career goals.
When we believe in something, sacrifice becomes easy. And when we love something, we come to a place where we don’t even see it as sacrifice anymore, it just becomes the thing that we need to do, and it also becomes the thing that we want to do. It is no longer a burden. Individuals start to see “sacrifice” as the thing that we get to do in order to achieve our goals. “Keeping Holy the Sabbath” day is asking for believers to just do the things they say they believe in. It is the “show me” commandment. If you believe in Christ, pray to Him, participate in Christian holidays, and follow His teachings. If you believe in the United States, stand up for Her values and Her way of life. Vote, participate in a march, write to your senator, fly an American flag in your yard! If you believe in Muhammad, pray to the East and follow His set of values and code of ethics. Do whatever it is you need to do to prove to yourself and the world that you mean whatever it is you say you believe in.
One of my favorite quotes from a saint is from St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach constantly, use words when necessary.” This quote is about action, and how our actions speak louder than anything we can say. When you do this, it will reinforce your belief that you are what you think you are. Acting this way will make you feel good about yourself because you would be acting congruently to your beliefs and self-image. No need to feel confused, or lost or guilty. You are who you think you are. If you like this identity you will find peace. If you don’t like it- do something about it.
Practical Ways of Applying “Act On Your Beliefs” as a Coping Skill
Acting On your Beliefs is a great way of living a meaningful life, and a life that brings us happiness. Below is a list of practical was of applying this skill to your everyday life:
- Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Even with our words, it is important to be truthful and congruent. Don’t tell someone you care about the environment when you don’t. If you do care about the environment, tell people that you care about it with pride. Be courageous enough to be honest and stand behind your beliefs.
- Follow through on Promises and Commitments. Even when it is hard or inconvenient. Be dependable to your family, friends, job and community. Get to work on time, watch your son’s basketball game, help clean up your local park. If you signed up for it. If you promises someone something, follow through.
- Evaluate and Challenge your Beliefs from time to time. As humans we do grow up and mature and evolve. Sometimes our beliefs can come with us, and sometimes we out grow them. Either one is one. Just don’t fall asleep at the wheel. This exercise can also reinforce our beliefs and our commitments to those beliefs.