The purpose of life is to discover your gift.
The work of life is to develop it.
The meaning of life is to give your gift away.
Why we want to be more authentic
In essence, authenticity is about being true to yourself and being more YOU. Let me explain.
Perhaps you remember the quote from Hamlet, ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’?
This is one of my all-time favourite quotations, when Polonius advises his son Laertes to live a full life and shun self-deception. It speaks to an age-old interest in what it means to be oneself, so that you can live a life that is true to that self.
This interest in a ‘true self’ dates back to the ancient Greek philosophers and in the last decade or so, has been re-examined by Positive Psychologists. The core idea is that to live a good, meaningful life, we should fulfil our unique potentials and become the best version of ourselves.
How does being authentic help us?
Research shows that when we are being authentic, we’re being ourselves and therefore we are happier. Authentic people experience more positive emotions, more motivation, meaning and purpose, have higher self-esteem, better health, as well as have better relationships and more personal growth.
In a business sense, an authentic person will speak their truth and have integrity. If you’re authentic, people will feel that you are transparent, honest and genuine. They’ll also be drawn to you as you are happier and giving off lots of positive emotions, which are contagious!
Living an authentic life is how we reach our potential and move towards lasting fulfilment.
What exactly is authenticity?
According to scholars, authenticity occurs when our behaviour is congruent with our attitudes, beliefs, values, motives and other dispositions.
For example, have you ever found yourself doing something you don’t really want to do and then, even as you’re doing it, you feel deeply uncomfortable inside? Maybe you find it hard to say no to people or you found yourself influenced into doing something by others – that discomfort tells you that you’ve made an inauthentic choice.
When we’re being authentic, there is no gap between what we feel and believe and what we then say and do. There is neither a mask nor deception, our actions are aligned with our true self and what matters to us.
Sounds great right? But the truth is, this isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s often far easier to live our lives being false to ourselves and others.
That said, as Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Coach and Authenticity expert, Stephen Joseph reveals, it’s clearly worth the effort. Joseph argues that the distress of living a life that’s not true to oneself lies at the heart of many of the problems that psychotherapists and psychologists encounter in clinics today. Research from Bronnie Ware, an Australian Palliative nurse, backs this up. She found that the most common regret of those about to die was not having had the courage to live a life true to oneself.
How can we use authenticity to improve our life
Joseph argues that there are three key components of authentic living and it’s only when these are combined that we can be authentic:
Know yourself + Own yourself + Be yourself = the Authentic Life
So here are our three powerful ways to improve your life through authenticity:
1. Know yourself
To know yourself you need to look deeply within yourself to learn more about who you are, your strengths, values, fears and aspirations. You’ll need to consider which aspects of yourself you might like to change, look at the quality of your relationships, your goals and authentic direction in life.
Authentic people know themselves and make their life reflect what matters to them. They know what their inner voice – their gut – is telling them. They know what they like, what they dislike, their strengths and their weaknesses. They know what they’re prepared to do and what they aren’t prepared to do. They are self-aware and able to be present in the now, as a well as see what is happening around them without needing to label or judge.
An inauthentic person is alienated from their true self. They fail to follow their intuition, they get confused about their emotions and make poor decisions for themselves, doing what will please others rather than what feels right for them. We can’t make good decisions that are in our best interests if we don’t know ourselves.
To know yourself better, here are some things you can ask yourself:
- What is it that you value most in life? If money or time were not an issue, how would you spend your days? If you had a great big sum of money to one charity, which one would it be and why? This should give you an insight into what matters most to you.
- When do you feel you are being true to yourself? When do you feel you can’t be real? When are you most you? When are you least you? These answers should provide you with a direction towards a more authentic life and your ideal self.
- The Magic Wand: If I were to suggest I wave a magic wand over your life and when you wake up your most positive dreams for the future have materialised, what would that look like? What would have improved? What would be your typical day? This should help you think about what your ideal life would be like.
2. Own yourself
Authentic people are the boss of themselves. They take responsibility for their own decisions and author their own lives. We are all social beings and sometimes social influence will make us conform to the group, rather than be confident of our own opinions, ideas or views and hold our ground. Authentic people reach their own judgements and own them, standing up to social pressure, rather than compromising themselves.
Living authentically means you tell the truth to yourself. Authentic people are committed to developing self-knowledge, both asking themselves the tough questions and being open to feedback and learning from others, even if revelations are painful.
Being authentic also means accepting ourselves. We all have defence mechanisms that kick in if we feel threatened, which mask authenticity. Our task is to understand them so we can learn to be authors of our own lives.
To own yourself more, here are some things you can ask yourself:
- Own and learn from mistakes: Think about a mistake that you have made in the past. What can you learn about that experience? Think about how you can put that learning into action in the future.
- Understand your defences by thinking of something that hasn’t gone well for you recently. Ask yourself what the reason was – five times – each time forcing yourself to go deeper and come up with another answer. Each steps takes you closer to the truth and further from our first reasons, which are often self-deceptive.
- Write your mission statement. Start with your values, then what your overall aim is and finally, your main objectives.
3. BE yourself
Authentic people and institutions say what they mean and mean what they say.
Authenticity is closely linked to integrity. When you think of people you admire, you’ll probably discover that their authenticity differentiates them from those you don’t admire so much.
How to be more YOU:
- What are your passions? What are your values? What are your strengths, talents and skills? How does these all feature in your life today and can you expand the amount of time in which you’re using all three in your week?
- Practice mindfulness to be able to improve self-awareness and make more deliberately aligned choices. Insert a short period of mindful breathing in your day (you can start at one minute and move up) where you just focus on your breath. If thoughts pop in (they always do) just observe them passing by and then refocus on your breath.
- Learn to be assertive. Next time you are asked to do something, give yourself time to consider it before you reply. Ask yourself what it means to you and whether it will be consistent with your values. If the answer is no, practice polite ways to decline.
- Guard your boundaries or you’ll find yourself in situations that you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself. If you don’t know them, you can’t expect other people to know them either. Think about what is ok for you in your relationships, at work and home. If you’re not sure about a request, say you need time to consider it.
Why is it so hard to be authentic?
Sometimes we might not truly know or acknowledge what we really feel or want. This is when the ‘Know yourself’ work kicks in. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable to be completely honest. We can tell ourselves we have good reason not to express our true feelings, but much of the time we may be fooling ourselves about our reasons to avoid the discomfort of an authentic life. This is the ‘Own yourself’ work.
Our lives can change for the better by striving for greater authenticity, but it’s an on-going journey.
Exercise: Are you living a life that is true to yourself?
- Do you feel free to make your own choices?
- Do you feel free to express your views and opinions?
- Do you feel you can be yourself on a day-to-day basis?
If you said no to any of these questions, you may be living a life that is less true to yourself than you would like.
You can start living more authentically right now, moment by moment and small changes will build up and create impact over time.
Working with a coach is a powerful way to explore who you are and to realise your talents, abilities, and strengths so that you can become more of what you already are. If you’d like to talk about how I can help you do that, book a free call here.
‘You don’t need to know what your longer-term goals are to begin leading a life that is true to yourself. Being true to yourself is about what you do, think and feel, right now in this moment. Then, your life unfolds day by day, you begin to see, more clearly, the road ahead open up in front of you.
It is by travelling along the right roads for you that you can lead a fulfilling, rewarding and enjoyable life.’
Source: Joseph, S.,(2016) Authentic: How to be yourself and why it matters. Piatkus.