Finding Your Authentic Self

by Meghan Erkkinen November 24, 2014

What does it mean to be authentic? The word has been thrown around over the last few years by self-help gurus and therapists as a universal goal. So what is authenticity? Can developing our authentic selves actually make us healthier?

Very simply, authenticity means being true to one’s self. A person who is authentic approaches life—for example, social interactions and big decisions—with sincerity and truth. The idea seems easy enough, but in today’s world, where we’re asked to summarize our thoughts in 140 characters and ourselves in a single profile page, it can be difficult to achieve. Our fast-paced world can also get in the way. How can we be true to ourselves if we don’t have the time to reflect on who we really are?

Authenticity is something that takes practice, courage, and commitment. Taking the road less traveled is easier said than done, and learning to speak your mind isn’t a switch we flip in an instant. We’re conditioned to fit in, to go with the flow. To do otherwise doesn’t necessarily come naturally.

How Does it Help?

The research on authenticity is still very young. Scientists have conceptualized authenticity, but very little research exists to demonstrate definitively how it can benefit someone.

Early research shows that people who are more authentic also use more effective coping strategies in times of stress, have more satisfying relationships, enjoy greater self-worth and confidence, and are better at following through on goals.

Brené Brown, author of the best-selling book Daring Greatly, researches shame, vulnerability, and fear. She found that being vulnerable—that is, admitting our flaws and rejecting the need to be perfect—allows us to let go of stress and build trust and connection with others. When we show the world our whole selves, warts and all, we’re being authentic.

How Do I Achieve Authenticity?

We don’t become authentic overnight. Because we are ever evolving, the task of being true to ourselves is a lifelong, ever-changing mission. Achieving authenticity is a two-part assignment. First, we must better understand ourselves. Then, we must act in accordance with who we are.

To improve your understanding of who you are, try out one or more of these simple exercises:

  • Write in a journal. Discuss your day, your thoughts, or your memories. If a blank page seems intimidating, get a guided journal that asks questions or has you list things about yourself.
  • Consider this question: If you had no barriers—no lack of time or money, no obligations—what would you do?
  • Spend time each day with yourself. Turn off or put away your phone and sit or take a walk. Feel comfortable with solitude and take the time to learn about yourself.
  • Start a gratitude journal. Once a week, make a list of the things in which you’re thankful. This practice will help you understand what’s really important to you.

To practice being true to yourself, start small. Try one or more of these simple exercises to begin.

  • Think about a big goal, even if it seems unattainable. Do one thing every day toward that goal – no matter how tiny that thing seems. Send out a resume to your dream employer or add $5 to your travel fund.
  • The next time someone asks you about yourself or your goals, tell the unfiltered truth, without thinking about how the other person might react.
  • When you’re sad, mad, or anxious, allow yourself to feel the emotion instead of immediately pushing it aside. If you think it might help, reach out to someone and tell that person how you’re feeling.

Of course, authenticity has limits. We can’t all quit our jobs to pursue our dream career, and in many situations, revealing our whole selves or the unfiltered truth is inappropriate. But at its heart, authenticity is an internal state. It’s about finding who we are and accepting ourselves. Even small practices in authenticity can help us increase our confidence, reduce our stress, and step closer to our goals.

"We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be." – May Sarton, Poet

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