Being your authentic self can feel risky now in our screen-obsessed world. We’re just trying to fit in, be liked, and be accepted by other human beings. And as a result, the image we present (on our social media profiles and IRL) have become mere presentations of who we think we should be and not reflections of who we really are.
So how do we take off the mask we’ve been wearing and start to live a life of authenticity?
How To Develop Authenticity
Being authentic means that you act in ways that show your true self and how you feel. Rather than showing people only a particular side of yourself, you express your whole self genuinely. That means to succeed in being authentic, you first have to know who your true self actually is. And this requires self-awareness, mindfulness, and self-acceptance.
Why Authenticity Matters
After spending the last year researching and writing my new book, Outsmart Your Smartphone: Conscious Tech Habits for Finding Happiness, Balance, and Connection IRL, I’m now convinced that it’s harder for us to be our true selves now, in the technology age. We are constantly bombarded with media that tells us who to be, what to want, and how we “should” express ourselves. All of these influences slow chip away at our ability to be our authentic selves.
But by being someone you are not, you are telling yourself that who you really are isn’t okay. So hiding or suppressing who you really are can end up leaving you feeling lonely, disconnected from others, or even worthless. (check out this well-being quiz to get sense for how these things may be affecting you.)
How We Lost Our Authenticity
We are constantly balancing inner and outer aspects of ourselves in order to better fit in, to become more successful, or to find love. We are driven to find “our place” in society, and we want to be respected for who we truly are and what we have to contribute. Many of us are propelled even further, desiring to know and live our purpose, to find deeper meaning in our lives, and to feel the fulfillment that comes with becoming a more authentic person.
But at the same time, we live in a society that values superficiality, that strives for perfection, and defines success as by the dollars in our bank account and not by how well we live our values every day. So how are we to be authentic in spite of the messages that try to convince us to be someone else?
Why Overcoming Inauthenticity Is So Hard
We were molded as children by our parents, teachers, religions, peers, and society to “fit in”. As a result we developed beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that keep us acting in the ways we were taught to act—not in the ways that make us feel like our authentic selves.
This version of ourselves can be thought of as the “Adaptive Self”—the self that prioritizes fitting in, getting along, and generally doing what we’re told. This self is not without value and purpose—it helps us be functioning members of society. But if we’re feeling inauthentic, the Adaptive Self is running your life.
To reclaim your authenticity, you need to discover you “Authentic Self”—the self that prioritizes living according to your values, pursuing your purpose, and fighting for the causes you care about. For most of us, our Authentic Self is buried deep in our unconscious, where it remains hard to identify and let out.
How to Develop Authenticity
Here are some tips to help you find and express your authentic self.
1. Observe yourself objectively to develop authenticity
Learn to observe yourself like a fly on the wall. Watch yourself as you live in the present moment, observing how your “Adaptive Self” behaves, what it believes, how it reacts under pressure, and how it responds to challenges. Practice noticing which of these responses feel authentic, and which ones feel inauthentic. By identifying which responses are adaptive vs authentic, you can begin to notice the falseness and begin to see the glimmers of truth underneath.
2. Examine family belief systems to develop authenticity
Most people were raised in some sort of “family-style” environment during their earliest, most vulnerable years. Think back to episodes in your childhood, episodes that led you to stop being your authentic self and instead adopt some other way of existing in this world. By examining where our behaviors come from, we can learn a lot about our authentic selves.
3. Open a dialogue between the Adaptive Self and the Authentic Self
Invite the two aspects of yourself—the Adaptive Self and the Authentic Self—to have a discussion as part of a meditation or thought exercise. Respectfully introduce both: thank the Adaptive Self for helping you function through some difficult and confusing times, and thank the Authentic Self for helping you feel whole, real, and self-confident.
Now invite each part of yourself to share. Ask a question, mentally, while urging each side to express itself fully, and then listen patiently to the responses. Encourage dialogue so that you may comprehend both points of view.
Try to be open to what both sides have to say, as they may reveal things you’re not expecting. For example, the Authentic Self may be afraid of rejection and therefore afraid to come forward. Or your Adaptive Self may be care-taking, trying to protect you from feeling hurt in the ways you’ve been hurt in the past.
These parts of ourselves are running our lives this way for a reason. In this exercise, try to figure out what those reasons are. This may help you understand why you act the way you do, so you can decide if you truly want to act differently.
4. Identify discrepancies to develop authenticity
Try to become aware of discrepancies between your actions and your beliefs. If you catch yourself making a racist, sexist, or otherwise hurtful remark, ask yourself whether you really believe the words you speak. Are you just saying these things because someone else taught you to?
Remember, the Adaptive Self just wants to fit in. So it can often act in ways that are inconsistent with our authentic selves. This is normal. But if we want to be more authentic, we have to notice the address the discrepancies between our beliefs and our actions.
If you acknowledge what is true for you now, then you can better live your life according to the needs of your Authentic Self. But that kind of authenticity requires self-awareness and self-honesty.
5. Examine your doubts to develop authenticity
When exploring your Authentic Self, you may feel unsure of how to go about it. You may question whether it’s even possible to change what feels so deeply ingrained within you or is invisible to you. So keep an eye out for feelings of doubt.
Doubts can be like breadcrumbs that lead you to your Authentic Self. If you doubt something—a thought, behavior, emotion, experience—reflect for a moment to find whatever is underneath. Is your Authentic Self trying to tell to to “stop it!”?