Detachment from routine, university and work allowed for time and space to reflect on my experiences over the past few years, the decisions I made, people I met, and the person I was striving to become; time off the gas pedal led me to the question, am I living authentically?
Having recently finished my studies, I moved back home, after a few years away- it was a real shock to the system. Being the second eldest of 5, my house is eventful, to say the least. Strangely, experiencing the madness of younger siblings is something I dearly missed.
A few weeks into living back at home, and I was having the best time- we would insult each other, wrestle, and build enormous assault courses. I realised I had been pushing myself too hard for too long and had started taking myself way too seriously.
It humbled me just how much I learnt from them.
So, this brings me to my magnificent hypothesis — When you’re in the present and not thinking, you’re being yourself.
Boom, problem solved. We really can learn a great deal from children. Think about it…
Have you ever watched a child dancing to a song completely absorbed in the present moment, or lost deep within a fantasy world playing with their toys? It’s a pleasure to see and brings a smile to your face.
Although, as soon as the child witnesses you validating the behaviour, they think about their actions and it becomes a performance, an act, and thus loses the enchanting effect.
Authenticity is a beautifully rare thing. As we age and are forced to move on from toy cars, our brain develops at incredible speeds. Consequently, we tend to become a little more self-conscious of our place in the world, and how others perceive us.
This is arguably our fall from grace, a detachment from nature.
As a result, sadly we lose this child-like spirit. I believe it is possible to reclaim the energy and even channel this into your chosen craft, by doing so you will begin to re-discover your authentic self.
Have you ever have come across an older individual who somehow managed to retain this child-like spirit? They’re truly a joy to be around, not in the sense that they’re childish- but you can just tell they’re really being themselves.
Catching glimpses of this wonderful trait has become so rare, that it has really started to fascinate me. Who comes to your mind when you think of authenticity? For me, I think of Ricky Gervais and, Russel Brand. It seems like if you switched the camera off, they would be exactly the same people. There is no façade, I believe they’re admired exactly for this reason.
I was pretty content with my theory, that you just simply stop thinking. I quickly found out although this may sound easy, it is one of the hardest things I have ever tried to do- don’t believe me? Try to not think of anything for 10 seconds, ok 5, 3.. see what I mean?
My chronic inquisitiveness led me to realise this must just be the tip of the iceberg. So, I did some more research drawing from positive psychology, Eckhart Tolle, Jordan Peterson and Carl Rogers.
I have come to view authenticity across two dimensions- being and acting
From my personal experience, when around those whom I feel comfortable with, people who accept me for who I am, I feel comfortable enough to let down all defences, and my true self spills out.
So, who is your true self?
You may have to dig for your true self, and this task can be a bit of a rabbit hole, and you can easily become lost in unresolved — psychic soil mazes, begin to over-analyse everything, and only end up making yourself more confused.
The truth is, you’re likely to trip many times, but I would argue the pain is worth it, as authenticity is widely considered to be the foundation of human flourishment.
This is for good reason too, it requires sustained effort to overcome a plethora of unconscious neuroses, regular effort to reflect over the congruence of your acts, and the removal of false beliefs.
There will be a silent struggle, patience will be your greatest ally.
This is not something you can force into existence.
In the famous book, ‘The Alchemist’, Paulo Coelho said:
“ A person’s only obligation is to realise their destiny”.
Although this is commonly interpreted as an outwards physical journey to reach a destination, the final destination to me is a psychic one, and the map is running through your veins.
The outer world is simply a reflection of your inner.
Carl Jung believed; we are all born with an innate personality. Sure, additional variables such as your experiences, and the people you spend time with mould your personality and belief systems.
But we are all born with a propensity towards certain activities, people and environments. Your mission is, to be honest, pay attention to work out what these things are, then accept them and then live it.
The problem is, along the way to becoming as Jung would call it ‘Individualised’, we are subject to a one size fits all school system and are bombarded with countless distractions.
The opinions of others can be particularly destructive with many preaching about how you ‘should’ be doing something. until eventually, you’re doing the things you think you ‘ought’ to be doing.
So you do your best to fit in nicely, submerging parts of yourself which are deemed ‘unacceptable’, Consequently, you fall out of alignment with your biological blueprint.
Certain personal limiting beliefs are built and strengthened other a lifetime.
I recognise we all have responsibilities and in order for society to function; a certain amount of inhibition is required. But there is a huge amount of dead weight we tend to carry which can really hold back your potential to flourish, both personally and professionally.
Knowing all this theory is great, but isn’t all that helpful as there is no practical application.
So how do we undo the conditioning and strip false beliefs away?
Perhaps, instead, we should strive to find that childlike curiosity again and explore the world, until we find that piece which fits with us.
There are few habits you could incorporate- but most importantly begin rekindling your curiosity and see where it takes you.
In a world full of opinions, one thing is clear — nothing is for certain. I like to remind myself:
‘assume nothing, question everything’
This sceptical approach extends beyond the information consumed, and conversations you have, but also to your own thoughts (we really aren’t good at telling ourselves the truth).
Don’t stop experimenting with jobs, hobbies, friends, partners until you find that which truly complements you. It takes time, but there’s no rush, it will be worth the wait in the long run.
So that’s Being Authentic, what about acting?
To help you act authentically. You can begin to use ‘Subception theory’.
What the hell is that you ask? A fantastic idea put forth by Rogers.
Rogers suggests that you can intrinsically feel something is off when you’re being inauthentic. Personally, I find this to be remarkably true and a very powerful tool.
Have you experienced sudden embarrassment after saying something you didn’t truly believe? I have. For me, this is usually accompanied by a strange visceral feeling rippling through my stomach and back. I believe this sensation is what Rogers was referring to, an internal somatosensory lie detector, which when triggered sends sensory responses to put you back on course.
On the other hand, have you said something that felt so right it strengthened you? You said it with your chest, and quite literally felt the confidence oozing out from you? This is a hint that you are being your authentic self — and are acting in congruence with your values and beliefs.
So, pay attention to your body, but once you feel your autonomic nervous system kick you for lying, what should you do? Jordan Peterson would recommend you shut up. This is probably a good idea, better you could even apologise to the other for telling a lie.
This will require an enormous amount of discipline, but in the long run, it will bring you closer to your true self- something worth more than saving face in my eyes.
Become obsessed with only telling the truth.
To summarise, I’ll finish with a paraphrase from one of Jordan Peterson lectures. He managed to condense authenticity into a single paragraph really well.
“Knowing what the truth is, or what the exact right course of action to take will be is extremely difficult. But what is more obvious — Is what is wrong. Stop doing that which you know to be wrong, and naturally, you will get closer to what is right.”
(it’s a mouthful, but it makes sense, right?)
Go be yourself!