Developing authenticityBy Kate James | Apr 16, 12 08:33 AM
Authentic people are willing to accept their imperfections
I hadn’t given a lot of thought to what it meant to live an authentic life until participating in a speaking workshop run by Robert Rabbin several years ago. It wasn’t that I didn’t value authenticity and the other words that go hand-in-hand with it — like integrity and honesty.
I genuinely believed I was living my life in alignment with my personal values and with these principles. Until Robert opened the door on what it really means to be living authentically.
Developing authenticity is firstly about truly knowing yourself. What values do you want to live by? What do you believe in? What do you think? What do you feel? What do you hope for? What are your strengths? Which parts of yourself are you not so willing to face up to? And where don't you take responsibility for living your life in alignment with these things — and for communicating your wants and needs to the people around you?
As well as knowing themselves well, authentic people are willing to accept their imperfections; they understand that to create deep, meaningful connections with the people around them, they need to be open about their feelings. Which doesn’t mean sharing all your secrets with the entire world. Nor does it mean being ‘honest’ where it’s not called for. It’s about finding a delicate balance.
When I first learned of these principles they felt somewhat intangible to me. What did any of this mean in terms of how I lived my life or how I communicated with the people around me? I had to find ways to bring the ideas into a real life setting.
For me, the starting place was to look at the situations that left me feeling drained or depleted (a sure sign that I wasn’t being authentic). I tend to try and please people so one of my ways of not being completely true to myself was saying yes to everything. Occasionally, I’d feel resentful - but the reality was the problem belonged to me. I needed to learn to say no and to bear the (usually misguided) discomfort of letting someone down so I'd feel that I was living a life more aligned with my values.
Ten principles of authenticity (and real-life examples of how you can express yourself authentically):
- Use mindfulness techniques to bring yourself fully into the present moment. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, listen carefully and continue to develop your self-awareness.
- Know who you are - your values, strengths and beliefs - and be willing to stand by those even if they are controversial. e.g. 'I believe in gay marriage'.
- State your preferences honestly. The best way to do this is to keep it short (ten words or less). If you’re like me and have trouble saying no, have a few phrases prepared ahead of time such as "Unfortunately, I can’t make it" without going into long-winded explanations.
- Assume full responsibility for your own happiness and wellbeing. Get away from a "victim’ mentality and give up any phrases such as 'It’s not fair".
- Be assertive — but not aggressive; avoid becoming emotional, e.g., "Excuse me, but I was in this line.”
- Respect other people’s opinions, particularly those that differ from yours and remember to listen carefully. e.g. "I think I understand what you are saying and I respect your opinion, but I don’t agree".
- Understand when it’s appropriate to be honest and when it’s appropriate to be considerate ("It sounds as though you love that dress" is honest and authentic; saying "That dress looks terrible on you" — however true — is hurtful and unnecessary).
- Keep away from personal attacks - authenticity isn’t about being right. Nor is it about making someone else wrong.
- Be willing to be vulnerable, e.g. "That comment was unkind".
- Be willing to apologise if you have hurt someone, e.g.. "I’m sorry - I know that I hurt you".
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Kate James is the director of The Change Project, an online resource centre creating positive change in people's lives.