Step 4: Clean your hidden agendas with an unbroken stream of truth.Simply by stating your real agenda and admitting that it's different from the one you present to the world, you've already started getting clean. To keep the process going, consistently tell yourself the truth about your motivations and any deceptions you perpetrate. You won't change your behavior immediately, and that's fine. Just keep getting clearer inside by acknowledging where you're not being clear outside.
This means that as you wish your acquaintance a happy birthday, you remind yourself, I'm here for the cake. As you assure your boss you love your job, own the truth: This is pure b.s.—I need the paycheck. While do-si-do-ing, silently admit, I'm doing this only because I didn't have the guts to say no.
Sustained personal truth-telling will gradually cleanse your inner life. This, by the way, is what happens in good therapy: Each week a perceptive professional helps you admit to the real forces behind your actions. As you start to see your inner motivations more clearly, you begin relating differently to the world around you. This leads naturally to the next part of our cleanse.
Step 5: Allow your pure inner agenda to radiate outward.
Just as muddy motives leak, revealing impure agendas to the people we're trying to fool, a sustained clear agenda becomes ever more luminous to others. Even if you don't mean to change your behavior, your cleanse will begin shining truth on everything around you. This may disturb people whose motivations are still impure. Indeed, these people may become so alarmed that they try to pressure you back into insincerity.
In response, you can always go back to having crazy-making, murky agendas. Or you can keep cleaning up your act until folks around you either undertake their own cleanse or go away. One client told me, after an especially hidden-agenda-packed meeting, "I'm exhausted by my own hypocrisy." Once you start articulating such feelings, you'll stop doing things with impure agendas, slowly separating from people and events that are essentially environmental pollutants.
Of course, there are scenarios in which it isn't wise to take your true feelings public. But these scenarios, like Lady Macbeth, are truly insane: political dictatorships, prisons, reality shows featuring various populations of "real" housewives. People who live within such systems sustain impure agendas just to survive. As you become more honest with yourself, you'll know whether being more pure in your outward behavior is truly inadvisable or whether "I can't say what I really mean" is just another fib.
Step 6: Fill your life with clean, clear things.
I've noticed that as my clients begin speaking the truth to themselves more often, they grow increasingly accurate at spotting false agendas in others. This makes them safer in every situation.
Run frequent agenda cleanses, and you'll unconsciously steer yourself toward activities you truly love and people who truly love you. People will trust you, and you'll know whom to trust. The brain space that was tied up in conniving manipulation will be free for problem solving and creativity. Your energy will rise; your stress level will fall. You'll be happier and more at peace.
Macbeth tries to make this happen for his wife. He orders a doctor to "Cleanse....that perilous stuff which weighs upon the heart." The doctor, checking his records and noticing that psychiatry won't be invented for centuries, says, "Therein the patient must minister to himself." Agenda cleansing, you see, is an inside job. And I have nothing up my sleeve when I say I think you're just the person to do it.
Martha Beck's latest book is Finding Your Way in a Wild New World (Free Press)
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