I recall a conversation I had with my dad during my teen years. I shared that I had an idea of myself—who I wanted to present to the world, who I wanted to spend my life being—but this version of myself that, in fact, felt like the truest version of myself, never seemed accessible, especially when I was in the company of others. There seemed to be an unbridgeable distance between my true self and the person that tumbled out of my being.
My father responded that just about everyone struggles with this—that this was one of the great challenges in life. And he was right. This wasn’t something I grew out of as I aged. Surprisingly, however, I feel much closer to the person I want to be, but I’m always aware that mere moments and thoughts can fling me miles away from my inner home base.
In my experience, the authenticity dilemma is two-fold (at least): First, we can easily find ourselves in situations in which we’re acting inauthentically. In some cases, we’re just trying to get through the moment or appear a certain way and leave the right impression (or the impression we think is right). Meanwhile, we start to feel detached from ourselves and may even experience physical symptoms (headaches, lethargy…). In these situations, we’re being untrue to our desires and values.
Second, even if we’re not being totally untrue to ourselves, we still may feel drawn to manifesting another, better version of ourselves, a version that we identify with more. This is the more aspirational side of living authentically. I find this distinction helpful when considering why some periods have me feeling less authentically me.
Living authentically is certainly a process—not a destination—in which perfectionism plays no part. The following is just the beginning of a list of activities that may help you more easily manifest your true self and live in your authenticity.
Support yourself. Although maintaining authenticity is a daily challenge, we can aid the process by supporting ourselves. Make sure you have enough mental and emotional resources to be your best self by carving out time to care for your wellbeing. You can also support yourself by being your own cheerleader and reminding yourself to keep striving for the best you after experiences that may make you feel far your north star. I’ve found that it helps to create a short mantra the motivates you and reminds you of your values.
Cultivate a spiritual or contemplative practice that actually means something to you. Some of us connect with our spirituality through traditional practices like attending church or sitting in meditation. Others may turn to a walk in nature or time with family to experience a higher love. The important thing is to cultivate a practice or recognize an environment that helps transport you to a state of mindfulness. The more we’re able to tap into our inner awareness, the more we’re able to visualize and manifest the version of ourselves we want to present to the world. If you’re still looking for your spiritual happy place, ask yourself: Where do I feel most myself? What am I doing when I’m there? Where do I experience epiphanies about myself or the world around me?
Observe your “selves.” Take out a journal and jot down the differences between what it feels like to be in your authenticity versus what it feels like to be in a paler, distorted version of yourself. What actions or habits do you associate with these “selves”? How do you speak when you’re honoring your best self versus when you’re not? Remember to avoid judging yourself for times when you’ve felt or acted less than authentic. This is simply an exercise in learning about yourself, so you can continue to move forward.
Have a strategy for returning to the present moment. One culprit of “getting separated” from a more authentic existence is not living in the present. We may get wrapped up in comparing ourselves to others, worrying about possible future events, or torturing ourselves by continually revising the past. These thought patterns are natural and happen to just about all of us! Fortunately, you can return to the present by taking a few purposeful breaths, closing your eyes, or practicing another trusty ritual to slow and calm your mind. If breath-work isn’t for you, try taking a walk or silently reciting a mantra. One friend of mine describes objects around her space to recenter her. Experiment to see what works best for you.
Be open to learning. Although we may feel that we have a one, true inner self, that self isn’t necessarily static! Noticing changes in yourself can be panic-inducing or thrilling—it all depends on your openness to learning new things about yourself. This process may involve letting go of old beliefs (about ourselves or the world), which can be scary, but remember that allowing yourself to develop may help you live more authentically.
What are your strategies for living in your authenticity?
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