My 2021 integrity report

Posted February 12, 2022 · 7 min read

One of the bloggers I like to read, James Clear, has published integrity reports on his blog to keep himself accountable to living in accordance with his personal values. After reading his reports, I decided it was something I'd like to commit to as well... so here's my first ever integrity report, for 2021!

These are the core questions that guide the report, which I've taken from James Clear and modified slightly:

  1. What are the core values that drive my life?
  2. How am I living with integrity right now?
  3. How can I set a higher standard in the future?

1. What are the core values that drive my life?

How I created my values list

Earlier in the year, I was feeling overwhelmed — it seemed like there were so many choices I had to make, but I didn't have a good way of distinguishing between my options.

I realized that I had never sat down and defined what was most important to me, so I was having trouble weighing one opportunity against another. If part of me wanted to stay home and work on a project, and another part wanted to go out for dinner with a friend, I didn't have a clear sense of which choice was the "right" one for me.

In light of this problem, I decided to make my own "core values" list — I found an article that suggested how to do it, including a list of values to start with, and followed the steps. Eventually, I had a list of 5 core value categories, each comprised of 3 values, with questions that reflected each of them and a summary value statement.

My core values in 2021

This is the list I came up with:

  1. Growth — Development, Introspection, and Self-Respect

    To create and honour myself through challenges and introspection.

    • Am I becoming better by developing my mind and challenging myself?
    • Am I reflecting on my life and experiences?
    • Am I spending time with, listening to, taking care of, and respecting myself?
  2. Community — Respect, Connection, and Contribution

    To respect others, enjoy meaningful relationships, and contribute to my communities.

    • Am I treating everyone I encounter with respect?
    • Am I spending quality time with and energy on the people I care about most?
    • Am I contributing meaningfully to my communities?
  3. Learning — Experience, Coherency, and Openness

    To constantly learn, re-evaluate, and wonder.

    • Am I learning and experiencing new things?
    • Am I testing what I know to maintain a coherent worldview?
    • Am I cultivating an open mind and a spirit of humility and wonder towards the world?
  4. Integrity — Dependability, Trustworthiness, and Authenticity

    To honour my commitments, keep my word, and engage authentically with the world.

    • Am I honouring my commitments to myself and others?
    • Am I keeping my word?
    • Am I engaging with the world in a way true to who I am?
  5. Joy — Gratitude, Happiness, and Presence

    To cherish and savour the experience of living.

    • Am I practicing gratitude for my blessings and challenges?
    • Am I treasuring the life I have?
    • Am I living in each moment and approaching my life with intention and presence?

2. How am I living with integrity right now?

Reflecting on the year, there were five key decisions I made to live in more accordance with my values: approaching my time intentionally, doing things that scared me, being honest, creating more, and learning to stay the course.

Guarding my personal time more carefully

Associated values: introspection, dependability, trustworthiness, and presence

I've always had the mindset that if I planned well enough, I would have time to do everything I wanted to do. Sometimes this has served me well, but this year I started to feel overextended and drained due to over-committing. Occasionally I would book myself too tightly and then fail to be fully present because I was worried about what I was scheduled to do next. Once I realized this, I was much more intentional about blocking out time in the week entirely for me — if possible, I tried to avoid making any commitments on Sundays.

Scheduling in time for myself honoured my need for reflection and solitude. It prevented me from feeling resentful towards other people, because I no longer felt as though I was sacrificing what I needed for what they asked of me. It helped me to be dependable, since I had the capacity to follow through on what I had promised. And it meant that I could joyfully inhabit each moment of my life, rather than worrying about or anticipating what's next.

Stepping outside of my comfort zone

Associated values: development, openness, experience, and happiness

You can't grow if you're always comfortable. I like being comfortable, so this can be a hard pill to swallow, but I've almost never regretted doing something that I was initially apprehensive about. I try to tell myself that if it's absolutely terrifying, it's probably worth doing.

Some of the things from this year that I was nervous about ("nervous" here meaning I had an accelerated heart rate or an extremely strong desire to not do it at all) but did anyways:

  • Conducted my very first informational interview
  • Initiated a conversation with my manager about my performance at work
  • Learned to bike on the hazardous streets of Toronto
  • Attended my first ever meetup event
  • Participated in (and completed) a sprint triathlon
  • Resolved an interpersonal conflict that I had been avoiding
  • Drove a tractor
  • Tried bouldering (I dislike jumping down from heights)

It's good for me to remind myself that I haven't already experienced everything worth doing, and that my own assessment of how new things will go is often very different from how they actually turn out.

Being honest with myself and others

Associated values: self-respect, authenticity, trustworthiness, and respect

Vulnerability has a risk — you open yourself up to either greater acceptance or greater rejection.

I felt that in the past few years I had sacrificed honesty to keep myself safe from judgment. As a result, I felt further away from people I cared about, and then feared damaging our relationship even more, which became an unhealthy cycle.

I don't know how else to express it: trying to shield myself from any kind of critique or disapproval had a corrosive effect on my psychological wellbeing. It turned my personality into a pretense and every interaction into an act. This year, I finally decided to just be honest and let the chips fall where they may — not because it seemed like a good thing to do, but because it seemed like the only thing I could do.

When I closed myself off, people couldn't reject me... but they couldn't accept me either.

Writing blog posts, journal entries, and book reviews

Associated values: introspection, development, and contribution

Creating something (a blog post, a journal entry, a book review) is a way of turning an internal experience (learning, experiencing, reading) into an external one (sharing, reflecting, writing). My goals for this were twofold:

First, I find that the best tools for thinking are a pen or a walk, so writing more was a way of prioritizing introspection and thoughtfulness. Trying to articulate a thought using words has always made me understand it more deeply and discover new things in the process.

Second, because I value reading so much, I wanted to do my part in contributing to the body of knowledge we all share. I've gained so much insight from books, articles, and posts that I felt compelled to do what I can to provide value to other people as well. Starting my blog again and catching up on my backlog of Goodreads reviews were both ways that I tried to contribute more this year.

Learning to maintain and stay the course

Associated values: connection, dependability, and gratitude

As I wrote about in my yearly review, I felt like I spent a lot of energy this year trying to "stick with" projects, friendships, and habits. I have a tendency to jump to new things, whether it's a newfound friend or a cool project idea. Staying the course was all about prioritizing the people I care about more, respecting myself by maintaining healthy habits, and being grateful for and finding joy in what I already have.

3. How can I set a higher standard in the future?

My first five decisions were a step in the right direction, but I definitely want to continue to think of ways that I can live in accordance with my values. For 2022, I want to continue with what I've already done, but shift my focus to five new practices:

Amending my values list to include a drive for accomplishment (authenticity): as I've been considering my values, I realized that my desire to accomplish something important is missing from the list. I suspect I left it out because it seemed like a "bad" value to have, but the point here is not to list what I wish I wanted, but to be honest about what truly resonates with me. Including it will make "living by value" more authentic in my life.

Being more intentional about learning and my intellectual development and rigor (coherency and openness): I feel dissatisfied by my current lack of intellectual rigor, and it's something I actively want to improve. A Farnam Street article that I really like features a quote from Charlie Munger:

I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don't know the other side's argument better than they do.

— Charlie Munger

I think this would be an illuminating exercise — to try to work through my strongest beliefs and interrogate their counterarguments in good faith. Without a strong intellectual foundation, there's only so much I can learn and understand.

Actually keeping a gratitude journal (gratitude): keeping a gratitude journal is always on that reoccurring listicle of "9 things you should do before 9 A.M." which is irksome but probably 100% correct. So far in 2022, I have not been very consistent with this, but I still have time to turn myself around!

Contribute more to my communities (contribution): part of maturity means doing things for other people, not just for yourself. I feel as though I'm in pretty good order, and it's time for me to spend more effort being a helpful friend, neighbour, and citizen. Increasing my charitable giving is a big part of this, but I'd also like to find some kind of volunteer opportunity that I could commit to.

Be better about being dependable and trustworthy (integrity): this is the most important of all of my practices for 2022. To me, this is all about "being impeccable with [my] word" and aligning intention with action. I want to say what I mean and to consistently follow through on the promises I make, starting with those I make to myself.

A final note

Making this list has been a helpful tool for me as I try to live each day in accordance with my core values. Evaluating choices becomes much simpler when I have a clear way of assessing just how important it is to me, and if my assessment feels off it's an opportunity to dig deeper into my own priorities.

As with many things, it's easier said than done — but saying it is a good start.


Julia Cooke © 2023