A Psychologist’s Guide To: Being Your Authentic Self

23 Jun ‘22
Arianna Freni
Reviewed by psychologist Emma White
Reviewed by psychologist Jasmijn Eerenberg
Being authentic helps us to be true to ourselves and trust our own choices. Authentic people don’t let themselves be influenced by others, they follow their own path and are aware of what they want or don’t want. But, as always, that’s easier said than done.

 

Why is authenticity so important? And what is the best way to fully embrace who we are to become our authentic selves? In this guide, psychologists Emma White and Jasmijn Eerenberg answer these questions and help you on your journey to living a more authentic life.

 

 

The importance of being authentic

 

‘All human beings wear a mask’ used to write Italian novelist Luigi Pirandello. If you ever had this feeling, we are here to tell you it’s more normal than you would think. Whatever the reason, sometimes it might happen that we behave in a way that doesn’t feel true to who we are. For example, instead of being yourself, you might play a role in order to fit in or to impress others.

 

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest achievement.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Living inauthentically can be caused by many reasons, among which are the desire to please, the need for confirmation, or the wish to belong to a particular group and be accepted. But is it actually enabling us to lead the life we want for ourselves? Although sometimes this might feel like the easiest way to blend in, not being true to who we are can be exhausting, and limiting, and it can prevent us from reaching our true potential.

 

What is authenticity

 

What do we exactly mean by ‘authentic life’? Well, there are almost as many definitions of authenticity as there are psychologists, philosophers and scholars.

The definition we will be using in this guide comes from psychology professor Stephen Joseph and reads:

“Knowing yourself + owning yourself + being yourself = leading an authentic life”

 

Each element in this definition has its own meaning, namely:

 

  • Knowing yourself entails being aware of your personality, values and needs. You know what you want and what you don’t want;

 

  • Owning yourself means that you can trust yourself, what your opinions are, what you think, your choices and how you behave;

 

  • Being yourself entails that you behave in accordance with your personality, values and needs. You don’t let yourself be influenced by the expectations of others.

 

Together, these elements lead to you living an authentic life, where who you are, what you stand for and how you behave are aligned.

 

Fun fact: did you know that, originally, the word ‘authenticity’ comes from the Ancient Greek word Authentikos, which means being genuine, doing something for yourself.

 

Benefits of living authentically

 

How would you feel if every day you said what you meant, remained true to yourself and behaved accordingly? ‘Fulfilled’, would be my first thought. Well, science backs me up here.

 

Many studies demonstrate that there is a great number of positive effects linked to living authentically. Let’s see some of them.

 

Happiness and satisfaction: research shows that living authentically makes us happier and more satisfied with our lives;

 

Stress: research shows that being authentic is way less stressful than trying to be someone who you are not;

 

Confidence and self-worth: When you can trust yourself to make the right decisions, this will increase trust in yourself, feelings of self-worth, optimism and satisfaction in your life. Another interesting fact? The way you treat and feel about yourself is radiated towards others, so when you trust yourself you invite others to trust you as well;

 

Intrinsic motivation: Research also shows that people who live an authentic life are more likely to show gratitude and engage in socially conscious activities such as voluntary work;

 

Increased problem-solving abilities: When you are honest with yourself and others, you have the ability and open-mindedness to quickly deal with problems instead of procrastinating or ignoring them. This means you actively take action on what you think is important and have fewer doubts.

 

These are only some of the many benefits of leading an authentic life! Sounds great, right? Yet, saying and doing are two very different things. So, how do we switch from theory to practice? How do we actually become more authentic? And what makes this hard to do and stick to?

 

 

Developing authenticity

 

An important first step to living a more authentic life is to get to know yourself better and explore what you find important in life. It’s all about becoming more aware of your personality, values and needs.

 

Ask yourself: what do I find important in my work, relationships, and free time? What are the things that really move me? What do I like and even more, what do I dislike? What am I good at? How would I ideally live my life?

 

These are big questions, we know. And it’s totally okay if you don’t have the answers yet and you don’t feel like knowing yourself in this way. It takes time and it’s a lifelong process. The things we want, our goals and desires of course change over time and different things will gain different importance over the stages of life.

 

Our goal is to help you take the first steps in the direction of leading a more authentic life. There are many exercises that can help you find a way to understand yourself better. Let’s try some of them together.

 

 

Visualisation exercise

 

Let’s imagine that it’s your 80th birthday party, all your loved ones are present and they all would love to give a speech about you. What would you want them to say in this speech?

 

Take a moment to reflect on the following questions:

 

What came to your mind? Any words or images? If you can, write those down. The answers to these questions say something about what you think is important in life.

 

“If you have an idea of what’s important to you and what your values are, you’ll be better at navigating your way through life. That ends up being pretty satisfying.” – Jasmijn Eerenberg

 

When you have a greater awareness of what you find important in life, you have taken the first important step towards being more authentic. The next thing to do is to find out how you can live according to these values.

 

Practical exercise

 

How do you ensure that the decisions that you make and the actions you take are aligned with the things that you find important?

 

Let’s try to break down ‘living authentically’ down into smaller steps. A tool to do so is the ‘three small steps method’. The focus of this exercise is on creating small, concrete, and actionable steps. Here, the three fundamental questions to ask ourselves are:

 

Lastly, it is important to reflect on how confident you feel about actually taking the above steps. Where would you score yourself on a scale from 1 to 10? And if you don’t feel that confident, what do you think you need in order to increase your confidence in taking these steps?

 

Formulating these three small and concrete actions will make it easier to move in the direction of living more authentically and can help you build the confidence to keep moving towards what you find important in life.

 

👇 More questions and exercises to get to know yourself better? Read the article How to Live Your Values (and Learn More About Yourself in the Process)

 

Losing authenticity

 

Even when we have formulated clear and concrete steps to follow the path towards living a more authentic life, it can still happen that we go off track and lose our sense of authenticity.

 

If this is the case, do not lose hope! To deal with these situations it is important to first recognise that you are feeling or behaving inauthentically and to pinpoint the reason behind it happening.

 

Often, the main cause is our internal limiting beliefs. These are beliefs or thoughts that tell us what we should or shouldn’t do. Examples of these limiting beliefs are shortage of time or money, constant comparisons to others, fear of disappointment, desire to fit in, and lack of self-confidence.

 

“If we want to live authentically, we need to be prepared to sit with feelings of discomfort for a bit, because it is only when we step out of our comfort zone, that we can challenge these beliefs and move forward on the route of authenticity.” – Emma White

 

 

Practical exercise

 

It is important to know that we all experience one or more of these limiting beliefs at some point in our lives. However, it becomes a problem for us if these get in the way of doing the things that are important to us.

 

Take a moment to reflect on your own possible limiting beliefs by answering these questions for yourself:

 

Stick with what you find important

 

There are several tips to keep in mind when we want to stay closer to our values. Below are the most important ones, according to our psychologists:

 

Build your self-trust: an exercise that enables this is called the Feedback fast. Be aware of when you feel the urge to ask for confirmation or advice from others. When this happens, try the following:

 

  • Keep track of when this happens and what happens when you stick to your gut. Doing this will help increase your trust in yourself.

 

  • Notice the motives or matters for which this happens.

 

  • Compare your present self with your younger self. Where are you now compared to one, five, or ten years ago? How have you grown?

 

Schedule regular reflection moments: take a break to reflect on how you are doing, on what is going well and what could be going better and whether you are living in accordance with what you find important.

 

How can you deal with limitations: take note of your limiting beliefs or other obstacles and reflect on how you might deal with them once they occur. This can help you to remain on the right track and feel capable to deal with them when they come up. Remember to also keep track of your successes and keep in mind the benefits of living an authentic life. The more you step out of your comfort zone, the more your confidence will grow to continue on your path.

 

Tip: In this masterclass, psychologist  Emma White and Jasmijn Eerenberg will walk you through how to lead a more authentic life.

 

Step up to your real self

 

When we lead an authentic life we feel fulfilled by our actions, choices, and connections and we bloom into the best version of ourselves. Living authentically also means accepting who we are with honesty, with all the unique facets of ourselves. It requires us to overcome our limiting beliefs and take control of our thoughts and behaviours to be more in touch with our real selves.

 

Keep in mind that knowing what is important to you and what your values are isn’t always something you can figure out from one day to another. It is a life-long process. Therefore, be patient and show yourself kindness if you don’t know what you want right away.

 

The following questions can help you to gain more insight into what is important to you. Write them down and try to answer them in as much detail as possible.

 

Take your time to find the real you at your own pace. You will discover something new with each step and you will get closer and closer to living your most authentic life.

 

Want to dive in even further? Follow our online program Living the life you want. This program is not a magic recipe for happiness, sorry to disappoint you! What we can do, however, is give you some tools for living by your values, which will help you to live a more satisfying life.