Editor’s note: See also Comfortable in Your Own Skin (Part 1): Authenticity and Well-being.
Living authentically comes naturally to those with the signature strength of Integrity, Honesty, and Authenticity. For others, more thought and action may be required to ramp up authenticity levels. Here are three evidence-driven approaches to consider.
Avenue 1: Use Mindfulness and CuriosityThe term “beginner’s mind” is sometimes used when learning mindfulness meditation. It means bringing fresh eyes to familiar things, as if seeing them for the first time, even something as common as a raisin, often used in teaching this skill. What if we bring this powerful tool of beginner’s mind to our own selves, seeing ourselves as if for the first time?
Ivtzan, Gardner, and Smailova did just that in a study designed to facilitate participant understanding of both an actual and an ideal view of themselves. After a 3-day mindfulness class, well-being levels increased as the image of participants’ actual selves became closer to their ideal selves. Participants highest in curiosity, essential to a beginner’s mind, closed the actual / ideal self gap by greater margins.
If authenticity is how closely we express our true selves to the world, then closing the actual / ideal self gap using mindfulness and curiosity might move us toward higher authenticity.
Understand Your Motivations
External influence can decrease our well being and increase our experienced stress. A first step is to know the difference between our own motivations and external motivations.Kasser and Ryan developed the Aspiration Index, a self-assessment designed to distinguish motivations or goals that we pursue for our own satisfaction from the ones we pursue to achieve external validation or approval from others. The former are called intrinsic motivations, and include things like self-acceptance, affiliation, and feeling part of a community. Kasser’s work demonstrates that well-being increases as we amplify intrinsic motivators.
Our well-being can also be increased when the value of extrinsic motivators like popularity, image, and financial success are reduced in our lives.
So as you reflect on the ways you spend your time and energy, ask yourself whether your motivation is coming from within. The Aspiration Index developed to measure these motivations can help you do just that in a more scientific way. If your values line up too heavily on the extrinsic or materialistic side, you may choose to make life changes that align more closely with your intrinsic values and goals.
Reflect on Your Life
Self reflection on our own values and beliefs may influence our authenticity, too. In their “Reflect on Life” study, Lekes and colleagues conducted a month-long experiment where participants learned about intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Afterwards, each participant selected two meaningful personal intrinsic values and then received weekly emails for a month reminding them of their chosen values along with supporting quotations and messages.Each participant was also asked to reflect on their values.
Well-being increased immediately in the lab. Four weeks later, extrinsic motivators had decreased while intrinsic motivation and well-being had increased. The more engaged participants were in self-reflection, the greater their extrinsic values declined along with larger well-being gains.
Perhaps reflecting on our motivations amplifies that little voice in our minds that seems to be able to connect us with our true selves and enhances our well-being in the process.
Additional Benefits to Authenticity
Mindfulness, assessing our motivations, and reflecting on our lives may seem like a great deal of difficult work. Why pursue it? Why now, when you’ve lived a significant portion of your life already? There are several important reasons, in addition to enhanced well-being.Improved Relationships. Think about someone who lacks authenticity. You might describe them as deceitful or dishonest, maybe even as a poser or a phony. These aren’t the people most of us would like to get to know. The more authentically we live, the more likely we are to receive social benefits such as being well liked, supported by friends, and participating collaboratively with others. Authentic living improves our personal well-being as well as our well-being in relationship to others.
Increased Vitality. Substantial scientific effort has been expended to understand what depletes our energy and vitality, but little on what builds it. Deci and Ryan set out to change this by studying motivation, action, and energy levels. They found that when participants acted on intrinsic motivations their vitality levels were not depleted. Instead they remained stable or were enhanced.
Vitality is correlated with many good things, including performance and perseverance. Just as importantly, vitality is correlated with well-being. When we act on our own motivations and not the influence or expectations of others, we live more authentically and we feel alive!No Regrets. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, consider this. An Australian hospice nurse named Bronnie Ware studied and categorized regrets expressed by dying patients. She spent time with her patients in their final weeks of life, as they received palliative care in the comfort of their own homes. Ware reports that the most common regret she heard from her years of caring for dying patients was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Call to Action
If you are able to read this article, there is still time to act. What courageous actions could you take to live your life more authentically? Like a sweater that is wool through and through, what would it mean for you to be true to yourself?
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Ivtzan, I., Gardner, H. E., & Smailova, Z., (2011). Mindfulness meditation and curiosity: The contributing
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Kasser, T. (1995.). Aspiration Index.
Kasser, T. & Ryan, R. (1996). Further Examining the American Dream: Differential Correlates of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22: 280-287.
Lekes, N., Hope, N., Gouveia, L., Koestner, R. & Philippe, F. (2012). Influencing value priorities and increasing well-being: The effects of reflecting on intrinsic values. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7:3, 249-261. DOI:10.1080/17439760.2012.677468. First page preview.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Steiner, S. (2012, February 1) Top five regrets of the dying. The Guardian.
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Photo Credit: via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Raisins courtesy of Afroswede
Balance scale courtesy of diffendale
Two thinkers courtesy of Sidereal
Friends on a bench courtesy of VinothChandar
At the end courtesy of Kelly Sue