Are you challenged to be unapologetically yourself? Do you long to be comfortable in your own skin, by saying and doing what you really want to do? Living authentically in our day and age is challenging for a myriad of reasons, whether it is the pressure to keep up appearances with people we know, the pervasive tendency to compare, the use of social media (even though we know it is just a highlight reel of people's lives), being fearful of rejection or upsetting others, or holding onto messages we've picked up along the way from friends, family, peers, coworkers, and society in general. When we are blasted with the idea(s) that insert size/shape/appearance, social status, job title, religious/spiritual identity, political party, financial status, is the only acceptable way of living, our authentic selves become buried, and we can become like chameleons adapting to our surroundings and trying to garner the approval of others in all situations, and at all times.
Unearthing and staying rooted in what makes you, you may not happen overnight. However, if you are willing to implement authentic practices in your daily life, you can become more self-accepting and live a life of ease. Here are 3 steps below to living an authentic life.
1) Spend time by yourself. Take a day just for yourself where you choose what you do (or don't do). Notice if you want to enjoy a slow morning or if you wake up ready to fit in the day's activities, become aware of your initial desires (versus obligations) to spend your time, and observe what feels natural. You might even explore different neighborhoods in your city or venture on a day trip, and see where you most feel comfortable, and conversely, where makes you feel constricted or like an outsider. Pay attention to what music you listen to in the car, or restaurants and food you actually want to try, rather then feeling obligated to try the greatest and latest recommendations by others. (If you find yourself rigid in your eating or in eating disorder recovery, I would encourage you to pay attention to what appeals to your stomach and not to your mind or distorted judgments of food.)
Disconnect from social media (Just for the day people-- you can do it!). The purpose of spending time by yourself is two-fold: it allows you to make decisions without the direct influence of others and it allows you to enjoy your own presence. When you are relatively content by yourself, you are less likely to surround yourself with unhealthy people or relationships wherein you feel the need to people-please or change yourself.
2) Journal regularly. Being honest on paper is a lot less intimidating for most people. Set aside 10 - 20 minutes most evenings to disconnect from the TV/phone/computer screen (which conveniently is also necessary for good sleep hygiene), and journal. Ideally, you would want to adopt a "stream of consciousness" approach wherein you write about whatever thoughts, feelings, experience(s) that comes up in the moment, as that is best for truly being authentic. However, if you are the type that needs more guidance, I love this Q & A Journal from Anthropologie that gives you prompts daily, ranging from quirky to serious thought-provoking questions.
3) Practice being perfectly imperfect. Perfectionism and authenticity do not mix, as being authentic requires being real, and being real means you are acknowledging that you are human, and being human means that you make mistakes. Got it? For those fiercely independent and perfectionistic types at work or school, your challenge might be admitting that you need help with an important project or that it is impossible to meet a proposed deadline without working 12 hour days. For those who feel compelled to keep up with appearances (and if you live in Dallas, TX like me, you know that physical appearance can be everything at times), challenge yourself one day to wear what actually feels comfortable to you and go sans make-up. For those who take on too much and try to be superhuman, prioritize what is most meaningful to you and say no to things or people that don't align with your priorities, or who drain you.
Living authentically requires bravery, but the pay off is worth it. Helping my clients develop and embrace their authentic selves in therapy is one of the most rewarding experiences for me in my work as a therapist. In the spirit of authenticity and vulnerability, I will also share that I myself have had a journey to living authentically, but am so grateful for the challenging lessons I've learned when I stopped letting people-pleasing tendencies and a fear of upsetting others get in the way of wholly embracing my true self.
I'll leave you with a thoughtful quote by one of my favorites, Brene Brown: “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are