For years after college, I struggled with negative moods due to uncertainty on where my life was headed. I started questioning whether I was living my best life. What were my values and was I living in alignment with them? Not knowing the answers and still struggling, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, on top of my discontent. Once your body is hit with a debilitating illness, there’s no choice but to address the underlying issues.
Once symptoms were under control, I was able to truly investigate how I was living my life. I looked at each area (physical, social, professional, financial, etc.) and addressed many issues that I had been neglecting. I re-discovered my values, many of which existed when I was a child; I just lost sight of them. I chose to live my life according to those values and slowly, my illness subsided, stress was reduced and a weight was lifted. I came to believe the possibility that living inauthentically played some part in my illness. For me, living a more authentic life lead to greater health, presence, joy, and gratitude.
So, what is authenticity? Authenticity is the feeling that you are living according to your true self and in alignment with your values and identity; you are not trying to be someone you’re not for the sake of others around you. Brene Brown, psychologist and researcher, has defined authenticity as, “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are, by cultivating the ability to be imperfect, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, and setting boundaries.”
Psychologists and researchers suggest authenticity plays an important role in well-being, and being inauthentic can negatively affect mental health. Many studies have shown that people living more authentic lives report more positive emotions, greater happiness, and higher self-esteem. They also report lower stress, anxiety, and depression.
Authentic behavior also leads to better relationships. Fear of rejection can cause people to avoid expressing who they really are, therefore hindering the development of meaningful relationships. Brown states, “In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.” In her research, Brown found that those who felt most connected to others and satisfied in their relationships were able to stay true to themselves. “As a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they are.”
How can you cultivate more authenticity in your daily life?
Identify and prioritize your values. If you need help, try this Values Assessment worksheet.
Health became my number one priority, so I focused on nutrition, exercise and stress reduction. It became important for me to find ways to be more peaceful and content, so I had the capacity to be at my best not only for me but for others. It’s important to identify what takes precedence for you, so it can help guide your daily actions.
Build self-awareness by observing yourself.
With your values in mind, pay attention to how everyday situations make you feel. I began to look at how I treated my body: what food made me feel sluggish or energetic, how lack of exercise affected my energy. I discovered through trial and error I felt my best with a combination of yoga, running, and high-energy foods, while avoiding that which zapped my energy.
Practice values-based mindfulness moment to moment.
Mindfulness is key in making any positive change. When we slow down to take a moment to breathe, we can tune in more directly to how we feel, physically and emotionally. Our bodies provide valuable feedback and can help you determine if the present moment is aligned with your values.
Let your values and intuition, your inner compass, guide your decisions, actions, and interactions with others.
When we get in the practice of being mindful, it becomes easier to notice when something isn’t right or when we’re making the best decision for ourselves. I started to shift my old, negative habits, by creating new ones that aligned with my goal of living a healthier life.
Speak your truth, without fear. Ask for what you want or need, and maintain your boundaries.
Saying “no” can be difficult if you’re in the habit of people-pleasing. But what if your saying “yes” goes against your values? How do you feel in that moment? Sometimes the situation calls for your authentic self to show up and create those boundaries based on what you need to stay true to yourself.
Brown suggests re-framing what vulnerability means. Rather than perceiving vulnerability as weakness, embrace it as a brave and courageous act. Finally admitting I was neglecting certain areas of my life gave me the opportunity to ask what I truly want for myself. Who do I want to be and how do I want to show up for others? Being vulnerable was the catalyst for significant change.
When I decided to prioritize my health, compassion for myself, and loving-kindness for others, my well-being improved. I learned how to be present and joyful in everyday moments, by being authentic and true to myself.
Cultivating authenticity has the potential to enhance well-being and happiness. I hope these tips can help you on your journey to living your truth.