Living authentically is a journey that is both rewarding and challenging. In pursuing authenticity, we often encounter obstacles that make it difficult to maintain our true selves. This blog post explores three common challenges: societal expectations, negativity bias, and stress, offering practical advice for overcoming them.
Note: This is not an exhaustive list but a starting point for understanding the complexities of authenticity.
1. We Weren’t Taught to Identify Our Own Needs
In a world where societal norms often prioritize conformity and pleasing others, it’s no surprise that many of us struggle to recognize our needs. The emphasis on fitting in can lead individuals to suppress their true selves to avoid conflict or gain acceptance. We’re often celebrated for our kindness to others, but what about the importance of being kind and compassionate to ourselves?
The pressure to conform extends to various aspects of life, including behavior, career choices, and personal interests. Our education systems and upbringing only sometimes help, as they tend to measure success through external standards rather than personal growth or satisfaction. It’s like we missed the class on self-awareness, or was it ever a part of the curriculum to begin with?
Moreover, social media intensifies this issue, promoting a ‘highlight reel’ effect where we feel compelled to display only the best parts of our lives. This often leads to a significant disconnect between our online personas and our authentic selves. The fear of judgment or rejection, especially in aspects tied to our identity, like sexuality, religion, or political beliefs, can make us conceal or alter parts of who we are.
2. Because of the Negativity Bias
The negativity bias is our brain’s tendency to pay more attention to negative experiences than positive ones. This inclination has deep evolutionary roots in the survival of our species. Consider this scenario: you’re walking along a path and spot something resembling a snake on the ground. Your heart races, adrenaline surges, and you’re ready to jump back. But upon closer inspection, it’s just a stick.
Our ancestors, who instantly reacted to the ‘stick’ as though it were a ‘snake,’ were more likely to survive. Those who spent time pondering whether it was a snake might not have survived if it were an actual snake. This quick-to-alert response system was crucial for survival in a world of physical dangers.
However, this bias can be less helpful in the modern world, especially regarding personal growth and authenticity. We might perceive an inconsiderate comment as severe criticism or dwell on a small mistake, letting it overshadow our successes and positive traits. This constant focus on the negative can lead us to form a distorted self-image, hindering our ability to present our authentic selves.
3. Because Stress Begets Stress
Living in a high-stress environment can profoundly impact our ability to be authentic. When we are constantly under stress, our focus often shifts to coping with immediate challenges and pressures, leaving little room for self-reflection or expression of our true selves. This survival mode can result in a disconnect from our values, desires, and identity.
Moreover, the stress of living inauthentically – not aligning our actions with our true beliefs and feelings – creates an internal conflict. This conflict can lead to increased anxiety, a sense of unfulfillment, and even depression. The psychological toll of wearing a ‘mask’ and suppressing our authentic selves can be significant.
Stress can also be contagious. In social settings, if one person is stressed, this emotion can spread to others, creating an environment where authenticity is further suppressed. This is known as emotional contagion, where the stress and feelings of others can influence our emotional state, making it harder for us to remain true to ourselves.
This blog’s advice section or second part falls into two categories: Do It Yourself or Hire a Contractor. As we know from home maintenance, it can be imperative to save money and start a project on our own, but it can take more time to learn the skills needed to complete the project, so it can be money well spent to hire someone to help. This metaphor can ring true for the maintenance of ourselves. It’s good to know we have options.
How to Change This with a DIY (Do it Yourself) Approach:
Self-reflection: Take time for self-reflection and identify the skills you have that bring you joy. Permit yourself to engage in activities that allow for self-expression and discovery. Start small if you have to, and commit to at least one hour a week doing something you love. Then, plan to incrementally increase your time on things that create a sense of ease and peace in your world. You will likely find that spending time this way can help you focus better on other parts of your life that don’t bring you as much joy and peace.
Journaling is a private way to express your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, leading to better self-awareness and clarity. Prompt-based journals can guide you to explore various aspects of your personality and life, uncovering insights you might not have previously considered.
Meditation and Mindfulness can help you calm your mind, reduce stress, and provide clarity of thought, allowing you to reconnect with your authentic self. Mindfulness meditation can increase self-awareness and assist in understanding your true feelings and desires. Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment and accepting our thoughts and feelings without judgment. It can help you recognize when you are falling into negativity bias and allow you to step back and reassess your reactions—mindfulness practices like meditation, deep breathing, or simply bringing your attention to the present moment all cultivate mindfulness.
Physical activity is a powerful stress reliever. It releases endorphins, improves mood, and can provide a sense of accomplishment. Regular exercise can help maintain a balanced mental state conducive to authenticity.
Creating a supportive environment by surrounding yourself with supportive people who understand and encourage your true self is crucial. This environment can provide the safety and acceptance needed to express yourself authentically.
Positive Affirmations are short, powerful statements that can help reprogram our thought patterns. We can counteract the tendency to focus on the negative by repeatedly affirming our positive qualities and achievements. Create a set of affirmations that resonate with you and recite them daily, especially during moments of self-doubt.
While advice is plentiful, putting it into practice is a different story. The above recommendations may fall into the ‘Easier Said than Done’ category for you. If that is the case, you may have tried all the above suggestions. You’ve noticed that it’s been difficult to put them into regular practice, so consider one or all of the following suggestions that take things up a notch because it either involve engaging with a professional (either individually or in a class or group setting) or stepping a little further out of your comfort zone.
Hire a Contractor to Help:
Therapy or Coaching: A therapist or coach can offer an unbiased perspective on your life and help identify behavioral and thought patterns that are not immediately obvious. They provide personalized strategies for self-discovery and overcoming barriers to authenticity, like past traumas or limiting beliefs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a model of therapy that can provide techniques that can help identify and challenge negative thought patterns. Learning these techniques can help you restructure your thoughts when you overemphasize a negative trait or experience; ask yourself: Is this thought realistic? What evidence supports or contradicts it?
Creative Arts: Activities like painting, writing, music, or dance are expressive outlets for your emotions. They can help you understand and articulate feelings that are hard to express verbally. Engaging in these arts can be a journey of self-discovery, revealing aspects of your personality and talents that connect you more deeply with your authentic self.
Travel, New Experiences, or Acts of Service: Exposure to different cultures and ideas broadens your perspective and challenges existing beliefs. Exploring new activities or hobbies, even locally, can uncover previously unknown interests and passions, aiding in discovering unexplored parts of your authentic self.
Join an in-person Yoga, Meditation, Nutrition, or Physical Training Class. Look for classes led by teachers you can relate to in a way that motivates you to learn and practice new ways to engage in regular healthy activities outside your house. Unfortunately, the pandemic created patterns in which we stayed home. Although online classes have the benefit of being convenient, it also took away opportunities for getting out of the house and gave us good excuses to stay home, which caused isolation to creep in and decreased motivation.
Whether you jump in with both feet or get started in gentle increments, implementing these methods can amplify your self-reflection, leading to a more authentic connection with yourself, which is the first step to authentic connections with others.