Do you spend too much time worrying about what everyone else is thinking of you or feel like you can´t be yourself in front of others? Do you feel that you are stuck in a job or relationship where you are not happy?
This is often the feeling we get when we are not being true to ourselves and acting in ways that don´t line up with our abilities, preferences and values. We feel that something is just not right, we feel anxious and out of sync, even when things seem fine on the surface.
The truth is that we have all experienced moments of inauthenticity like the above. Just think about those situations where you don´t feel comfortable or familiar and you are concerned that the authentic you might not be good enough. So instead you show up as the person you think others would like.
What does it mean to be the authentic you?
Authenticity in existentialist philosophy is defined as “the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures”. (source: Wikipedia)
Start with self-awareness
Since you can´t be yourself without knowing a bit about yourself – your values, goals, emotions – authenticity starts with self-knowledge and self-awareness.
You can learn more about yourself by becoming observant of how different social situations affect you. Do you feel comfortable or do you find yourself fighting with strong emotions, like anger, shame or guilt?
Being aware of your own emotions and reactions is the first step towards understanding yourself. When you are authentic you recognize and accept your strengths and weaknesses, and you are accountable.
In difficult situations this self-knowledge can help you to stay connected to your authentic self and to have the choice to act from a more empowered and loving place. You can keep in line with your values and desires, instead of becoming reactive and blocking tough emotions through distracting and destructive behaviours. Ultimately when you are moving towards authenticity you will become more resilient, more purposeful and more likely to follow through with your goals.
Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.
Authenticity is about being genuine, sincere and real.
This means being comfortable being yourself, accepting yourself and not allowing yourself to be overly swayed by the opinion of others. While adapting your behaviour to your environment could be beneficial in certain situations, not following your true nature on the long run can hold you back from getting what you want in life.
There might be times when being authentic requires that you acknowledge aspects of yourself that you would prefer to hide away, or to make unpopular decisions. However, in the end it can allow you to live a life that you actually want to live.
Being authentic can liberate you from the pressures of trying to be something that you are not, or trying to be “perfect”. Life will always throw you some new challenges, which are opportunities to make mistakes and to learn. Embrace not only your abilities and talents, but also your imperfections. Dare to be vulnerable. It can build credibility, trust, intimacy and confidence, and will allow you to connect with others on a deeper level.
Authentic people freely express themselves
Often people think that being authentic means the same as being “honest” to others. But can this be applied in every situation? Would you tell a good friend that her baby is ugly? Maybe not. Being free to express yourself is not necessarily the same as always being “honest” with others. In genuine authenticity there are no rules. Each person is individual, each situation is different, and what is right for one will not necessarily be right for another.
It really points towards being honest to yourself.
The real reason that stops us from being authentic
Have you ever heard “when I have more time I will do it” or “the economy is just not great at the moment” or “when he changes his behaviour I will be happy”?
It is tempting to blame other people and external circumstances. But when you do that, you give your power away. You move from being in the driver´s seat to becoming a victim. When blame arises, it is a signal for you to delve deeper and explore the real reasons why you may not be able to take action.
Once you are ready to move away from conceptual reasons – for example paying the mortgage – towards emotional reasons – fear or financial insecurity – you are getting closer to the real reasons that drive you or hold you back.
There is usually an underlying fear behind these conceptual reasons. It can be the fear of getting hurt, being rejected, not fitting in, being unloved, being alone, being judged, being humiliated, feeling inadequate… and the list goes on. We do a lot to avoid deep emotional triggers, like guilt or shame, which can lead us to sacrifice our authenticity.
It is important however to understand that fear is not the ultimate problem either. As Susan Jeffers said in her book, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”, fear will always be present on some level as long as you continue to grow. The question is how you handle it. The more you can handle fear and fear-related emotions like guilt and shame, the more authentic you can be. Why? Because they won´t control you as much.
How can you become more authentic?
1. Get to know yourself.
As I said above it is hard to behave in an authentic way if you don’t know what your values and desires are. Do your exploration with an open mind. Often, we hold onto values that were passed down as we were growing up, but these might not line up any more with who we are today. If you remain rigid you risk trapping yourself in judgment and limitation, which can cause you to shut down your vulnerable, authentic self.
Dare to look at things from multiple perspectives, get clear on what you really care about, and authenticity will take root.
2. Learn, forgive and love.
There is an ultimate balance in life. Consider how your past experiences helped you to grow and what the learning is that you can take with you. Own your emotions and own your mistakes. Ask yourself how holding on to your pain or staying the victim might have served you. Dare to commit to move on and making a change.
We are all worthy of love and peace of mind. Be mindful of the energy behind your words when talking to yourself and others.
3. Handle fear and other difficult emotions instead of “stuffing them down”.
To be authentic you need to accept your life experiences and feel the emotions that arise. If you don´t find constructive ways to deal with a difficult emotion and repeatedly repress it, it will get “stuffed down” into your subconscious, where it will just continue to fester. It will grow stronger and stronger, and eventually it could overpower you. When you become overpowered by fear or anger and “lash out”, you can´t remain authentic to your true self.
So what is the opposite of stuffing down?
The first step is to become aware of it and hold the space. This means feeling the emotions without getting involved. You can practice this during meditation for example. Then move from blaming others towards owning the emotion and taking some sort of responsibility for it: “It is my stuff and I am able to handle it!” The final step is acceptance. Nurture it, accept that it´s part of you. Just love it! The reason why we have pain is because we reject part of us. To do this can be tough. It means we are accepting the angry bit, the “nasty” bit. When we are rejecting it we are rejecting part of ourselves. When you follow these steps you will find that the emotion will eventually dissolve.
To learn more about how to handle fear and difficult emotions read our article How to become fearless.
4. Tune in with your heart
The mind communicates through thoughts, and it can be trained, programmed and conditioned from an early age. Fear is a mind based phenomenon. The outside world controls us through our mind, and tugs on our hidden fears and insecurities.
The heart communicates through intuition, which by definition comes from within. Trust your intuition. When things just don´t feel right, it can be your instincts telling you that you are not on track, not being genuine.
5. Look after your physical body and your mental wellbeing.
Physical and mental wellbeing are interlinked, and the same way you need to train your body to stay fit, your mind also needs training, so you can put it into good use.
Eat well. What you put in your body effects your health and wellbeing. For ideas on how to do this check out our articles on nutrition (on our blog page – click on the “nutrition” category and try some of our delicious recipes (click on the category “food recipes”).
Do yoga or any other physical activities. They will not only help you to stay fit and healthy, but will also help you to get out of your head. Instead of pondering on the past or worrying about the future, you will have the opportunity to tune in with your body and what you are sensing in the present moment.”. Do something that you love, but also make sure that you give yourself enough time to relax. Read this months article on “creating your personal yoga practice”.
Practice mindfulness and meditate. It will not only help you to get to know yourself better and feel more balanced, it will also improve your relationship with others. As you are able to become more present for yourself you will automatically be able to stay more present with others.
6. Nurture genuine connections.
Surround yourself with people who share your values and build genuine connections. Make an effort to ask questions, listen and truly understand others. When you do this you can develop genuine connections with others and you are more likely to feel genuine and authentic yourself.
Remember, being the authentic you requires daily practice. When you commit to one or more of the above tips you will find that your mind’s control over you loosens a bit, there is less posturing, you can relax more and you can listen to your intuition more. Ultimately you can freely be yourself, which will bring a sense of peace and confidence into your life. Come try this for yourself in our life makeover retreats.
About the author
- Yoga teacher and loves exploring mindset in life makeover workshops.