33 Ways To Be Your Authentic Self (And Live More Happily)
Illustration by Mr Simon Landrein
“There is so much pressure to be what others require us to be,” says Prof Stephen Joseph, coaching and counselling psychologist and author of Authentic: How To Be Yourself And Why It Matters. “Under such pressure, it makes sense to put on a mask.”
But the advantages to becoming more authentic are enormous and many-faceted. “You’ll experience more joy and passion because you’re able to pursue what you really want to,” says Ms Kathy Caprino, career coach and host of the Finding Brave podcast. “And you’ll experience a deeper, stronger connection with others, because you’ll finally be able to relate from the heart, with truth and compassion, rather than pretend you are something you’re not.”
Time then to take off the mask we’ve been wearing and start to live a life of authenticity.
Do it for your work
Tap into your true self and you’ll enjoy your job more. That’s the conclusion of a study carried out by Dutch psychologists from Utrecht University in 2014 and published in the Journal Of Happiness Studies. The research scored workers authenticity and found that it was positively related to reported job satisfaction.
Understand the drive
“The world has become driven by consumer culture, which is a barrier to living authentically,” says Prof Joseph. We feel pressured to have more, to show progress through possessions, to see more value in material good than honest, life-affirming relationships. “If we desire greater authenticity it means finding freedom to live our lives in ways that fulfil our needs better and help us reconnect to ourselves, others and to our sense of purpose.”
Fakery = fear
“The impulse to pretend to be someone we’re not comes down to a basic fear of being rejected, humiliated or punished if we reveal who we really are,” says Caprino. “We’re afraid of what may happen if we’re ‘found out’ regarding what we really think and believe, which ‘side’ we want to take on a key issue and the life we want to lead.”
Write the real you
“Write a journal 10 minutes a day,” suggests Mr John Siddique, counsellor and author. “Mark your everyday experiences and how you've reacted. What did you do or say that didn’t reflect your true self? What steps will I make tomorrow that will reflect what I really what and who I really am?”
Take your time
That same Journal Of Happiness study found that, while 72 per cent of people said they are authentic at work, it takes an average of two to three months for us to show our true selves to our colleagues. Of this group, 60 per cent were authentic by the three-month mark, and 22 per cent by nine months. When this occurs bosses also record higher rates of performance and staff retention according to a report produced by academics at Harvard Business School and the University of North Carolina. When employees are empowered to express their authentic and best selves, they’re less anxious and less likely to suffer from exhaustion.
Talk to your inner child
“Familial, generational and societal conditioning is applied to us at an early age,” says Siddique. “We spend our life defending and representing that. It influences your models of relationships, your models of love, your political take on things; all of which might not actually be yours.” Be prepared to dig deep and unearth some pain in pursuit of your true self – by examining our early life we can break old patterns.
Question that inner child
“Who did you crave love from most as a child, and who did you have to be to get it?” says Caprino. “When I first answered that question for myself, I was totally stunned. I suddenly realised that I felt I needed to be ‘brilliant’ for my father (who was himself brilliant) and ‘obedient’ for my mother, to be fully accepted. You [act] in ways that you hope will generate the most love, acceptance and respect.”
“Conditioning means we find ourselves staying in agreement or laughing along with things we don’t really feel comfortable with, or know that we would not like those people we love and respect to see us doing,” says Siddique. Become aware of discrepancies between your actions and your beliefs. If you catch yourself making statements that you don’t really adhere to, ask yourself whether you believe the words you speak?
Review where you can’t be real…
“In what situations, with which people, at what times do you feel you have to be false and not share your real truth, in your life, career or business,” asks Caprino. “And assess what you get out of engaging in this behaviour? What specifically prevents you from rising up and speaking up openly and honestly about what you feel and think, and sharing more of who you are?”
… And explore your core
In an essay for Greater Good Magazine, Ms Patricia Hewlin, tutor with the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, says that as you evaluate your core values, you should ask these questions: What are my negotiables and non-negotiables? Are there specific causes or virtues that you really value?
Then update your status
Don’t be fooled by Fakebook
“On social media, we’re all very influenced by what others appear to be doing that’s ‘better’ than how we think we’re faring,” says Caprino. “What most people forget is that what we see on other people’s social media accounts is highly varnished. If we feel we have to continually hide or alter who we really are, and suppress what we believe, it’s a recipe for illness, depression and failure.”
Establish your boundaries
When our boundaries aren’t in place, it can be easy to lapse away from our authentic selves. “While it can involve some frank conversations, putting these boundaries in place is an important part of authentic living,” says Siddique. Set these with partners, friends, family and colleagues by ring-fencing your time, energy, emotions, ethics, personal space and standards.
See for yourself
“The key is always to be open to learning about yourself,” suggests Prof Joseph. “Take everything as an opportunity to learn, be open about who you are to yourself, don’t lie to yourself, but face your strengths and weaknesses equally.”
Ease off the “truth serum”
“We lose ourselves through booze more than discovering our authentic selves,” says a counsellor for Tree House Recovery. At the more serious end of the scale, those with physical addictions to alcohol are constantly weaving a complex web of lies. “They are not being anything approaching themselves,” explains Mr Edmund Tirbutt, co-author of Beat The Booze. “Even those with only psychological addictions are constantly trying to kid everyone around them that alcohol is not presenting a problem.”
Connect with the great outdoors
A series of studies published in the Journal Of Environmental Psychology highlight a consistent positive relation between being outdoors and vitality. Subjects who ventured to the beaches, lakes and woodlands regularly scored higher for energy, happiness and a greater sense of self-creativity.
Have an honest hobby
You can find a way to express your most authentic self while making a difference in the lives of other people by giving back. Research shows that volunteers have higher self-esteem, emotional wellbeing and resilience. Forbes magazine reports that carrying out tangible acts of selflessness on a regular basis helps override imposter syndrome. Join a GoodGym, charity trust or just do some good deeds.
“Authenticity means that you are listening because you are curious and because you care, not just because you are supposed to,” says Mr Jesse Lahey, chief engagement officer of Aspendale Communications and host of the Engaging Leader podcast. “Authentic listening is a skill that requires practice and concentration – it’s when you respond to the speaker in ways that show that you care about what is being said.”
Find your true self through others
“Support others in bad times,” says Dr Zac Seidler, clinical psychologist and men’s mental health expert with the Movember Campaign. “Research suggests that helping a mate also creates positive feelings in ourselves and gives us feelings of purpose and self-worth.”
Address your “dirty little secret”
“Face with open eyes the thing in your life or work that you feel you have to hide in order to be accepted,” suggests Caprino. “Address that in a powerful way, bring it out let it see the light of day. Deal with it with honesty and bravery.”
Source a mentor
“If you don’t feel you deserve happiness and success, get some outside mentorship and perspectives,” says Caprino. Learning to live an authentic life isn’t always straightforward, and you may need to work on other areas of your life – such as self-confidence, self-knowledge and setting goals.
Do positive challenges
“Sign-up to activities that give you purpose and meaning,” suggests Dr Seidler, clinical psychologist and men’s mental health expert at Movember. “This could be learning a new skill, taking on a challenge – and use it to spend time with people who make you feel positive.”
Earn real respect
Genuine, honest bosses who are true to their beliefs earn greater respect from their employees, found a study by Dale Carnegie Training College. In all, 84 per cent of workers valued their manager’s authenticity and “mea culpa” approach. Not a huge surprise maybe – but the same study found that only 51 per cent of bosses will admit to a mistake they’ve made.
It’s not just bosses who need to a more honest approach. Deloitte found that 61 per cent of people hide one aspect of their identity at work. “When you’re comfortable with yourself, you can be who you are everywhere,” says Caprino. “Even at critical moments of your professional life. Share your passions and interests with your colleagues. Be honest and own up to mistakes.”
Have a tough talk
Identify a critical conversation you’ve been wanting to have – but have lacked the courage to do so. “Often we have sleepless nights knowing that there’s something left unsaid in a relationship or friendship,” says Caprino. “Be true to yourself, acknowledge this elephant in the room. write down what you want to say, rehearse it with compassion and when the time is right, state the truth as you see it.”
Finesse your friendships
Start honouring the authentic, true you and sharing that more openly with the world. To begin, be careful what you let in. “Be vigilant about social media, what you watch and the people you let into your inner circle,” says Caprino. Connect only with people who respect and appreciate who you are deep down.
Be a mentor
“Caring for the wellbeing of others and adopting a nurturing approach to family, friends and those we engage with gives us a sense of meaning and purpose,” insists Ms Shelley Treacher, BACP psychotherapist and producer of the Underground Confidence podcast. “It follows that we feel more authentic, more fulfilled and more in tune with our purpose in life, when we nurture others. It may really be what we are on this planet to do.”
Buy yourself time
Learn to stall before making commitments you need to reflect upon. “In this hectic world, we are making decisions all the time,” says Siddique. Unfortunately, a lot of these decisions are made with no forethought. “So, slow down and make sure each of your decisions supports your authentic self. And don’t let anyone push you into making a consequential decision before you are ready.”
Be the better man
“To be based in your authentic self, you need to reject the competitive, alpha male bravado and instead you’re looking for equitable situations,” says Siddique. “Drop the facade and the one-upmanship and instead look him in the eye and say, ‘You know I do X. And I know you do Y – but let’s put these two things together and get a win-win.’”
See feedback as a gift
Your interactions with people will act as a mirror reflecting your blind spots. Listening to what others tell you – or how they behave in your presence – it’ll help you reflect on your authentic self. “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” adds Caprino. “Laugh about your flaws, you will stop worrying about them – embrace your vulnerability.”
Value a bit of ignorance
When put on the spot about things we think we’re expected to know we often feel compelled to offer a response. This compulsion – combined with a bit of ego – forces us to give answers. Be true to yourself and have the confidence to say the words: “I don’t know.” From such a place of equal footing, much more honest dialogue can occur.
Gauge your true feelings
“Check-in daily with how you feel,” adds Caprino. “If you feel angry, thwarted, disregarded, unseen, resentful, violated, chronically exhausted, etc, then it’s time to engage in closing your power gaps.” These gaps include not recognising your special talents, abilities, and accomplishments, communicating from fear, not strength, acquiescing instead of staying ‘stop’ to mistreatment and allowing the past to continue to shape you.”
Envision the authentic you
“If you woke up tomorrow and found the courage to be more authentic and true to who you are, what would you do differently?“ asks Caprino. “Just start being that person who is not an imposter or afraid to be yourself then watch what happens.”