Five techniques to help you identify your authentic self.
Originally published June 15, 2021 on psychologytoday.com
- One of the keys to discovering your authentic self is differentiating it from external factors.
- Journaling and writing daily, about the present, not the past or the future, helps to fuel authenticity.
- You can’t achieve self-affirmation and be authentic if you’re relying on external input about who you are.
The pandemic forced many people to look within more than they ever had before. One issue that has fueled more soul-searching and challenged many of my clients is defining what it means to be “authentic.” Noted author, researcher, professor, and podcast host Brene Brown says, “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are.”
The person identified the most with the concept of “authenticity” is German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who wrote “Being and Time” (German: Sein Und Zeit, 1927), a magnum opus and key document of existentialism. Heidegger sees authenticity as the unfolding of our life and the realm of those possibilities. He states that in living out our lives we care about the course it takes and that any “position” or “opinion” we take in the world is a “stand” for who we are and what we care about. He calls this “being in the world” and believes it carries with it a sense of competence and built-in agency.
Even before Heidegger, in 1846, Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic, and religious author acknowledged as the first existentialist philosopher, suggested that each of us should “become what one is.” He noted that denying one’s authenticity in favor of fitting into a societal standard leads to “despair” as well as spiritlessness, denial, and defiance.
Becoming authentic is a process. The first hurdle to leap over is learning how to differentiate your authentic self from external factors. If you can accomplish that goal, your journey will yield a life that is more purposeful, spirited, and sustainably satisfied.
I’ve developed a five-step template that will help guide you on the right path to identifying your authentic self: journaling, writing “I statements,” problem-solving, decision-making, and affirmation statements. These are techniques and tools that are easy to manage and designed for you to do by yourself.
Journaling is a critical tool to help us understand more about how we look at situations. It is important to stay in the present and focus on journaling your experiences each day. Write about what you felt, thought, saw, liked, didn’t like. Focus only on your experiences, and not on other people’s commentary about you or their experiences.
2. “I” Statements
Review your journal entry and extract all your “I” statements. Pay attention to what you feel is authentic to you. “I like…” “I think…” “I feel…” In the beginning, this can be as simple as “I enjoy feeling the sun on my face” or “I feel better carrying an extra bottle of water.” They don’t have to be great epiphanies. After journaling for a while, your “I” statements will reflect deeper thoughts and have more meaning to you.
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Authentic problem solving gives you a feeling of agency and competence. It also helps with “I” statements and identifying what works best for you. As you journal, look for problems that you’re identifying, like issues that are making you anxious. Use this problem-solving rubric to move you into a place of feeling more effective and independent. Ask yourself specific questions, “What is my problem?” “What can I do?” What will happen if?
Diagnose options, list pros and cons, and preferences that make you feel the most comfortable and apply for each problem in question. Remind yourself you’re challenging yourself to solve a problem. Once you choose an option, remember if it doesn’t work the way you had hoped, review the rubric to see if some other option you determined might still apply to the problem.
Leaning in and learning to trust in your decision-making skills is the only way you can become your authentic self. Nobody knows you better than you know you. Make decisions without delegating or opinion shopping. Start with “low stakes” micro-decisions, then move up to “higher stakes” decisions. The more you face your fears and learn about yourself, the easier it will be for you to make decisions on your own.
5. Affirmation Statements
Writing “I” statements to affirm what you think, feel, know, and like, as well as how you acted after acquiring knowledge about yourself, is important to journal about. In addition, write an affirmation statement whenever you have effectively solved a problem and decided independently. Reviewing the affirmation statements will remind you of the strength and power you have within.
Don’t exert unnecessary pressure on yourself to become more authentic, it’s not a race. Heidegger noted, “time is essentially human and why apart from us humans, it is nothing. Only because we are finite is there something called time.”
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, February 20, 2020, “Authenticity”