Get real: This season, give yourself the gift of authenticity
Being true to yourself is good for your mental health. Here’s our guide to being authentic
This Christmas, unwrap the real you: it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Photograph: iStockphoto
There has been a lot of talk lately, at a national, local and personal level, about the importance of putting mental health front and centre. Therefore, as the Christmas season approaches, during this time of gift-giving, we have an opportunity to focus on what we can gift to ourselves, in order to impact in a positive way on our mental health.
Living life authentically, getting in tune with our true sense of how we wish to be in this world, is one of the most positive things we can do to enhance our overall wellbeing.
Research carried out by Abigail Mengers in 2014 looked at how, as humans, we each have a desire to be authentic and when we are, even if it sets us up to be different from others, it still correlates with increased levels of joy and wellbeing.
We have many social duties to fulfil, many roles to play and tasks to complete. Often, living life authentically is something that can get drowned out in the daily grind but it is worth carving out time to look at how to live authentically. It is worth doing because our mental health is worth enhancing.
Realising your own needs, and not being held back by fear of what others might think or say, matters.
Here are five ways to move towards living life more authentically.
1. Check in with yourself about how authentically you are living
To be authentic simply means to be real, to not be a copy, to be yourself. So if you spend time trying to do what you think others expect of you, if you’re often trying to be as good as someone else – as rich , as beautiful, as powerful – then you will likely feel anxiety. Society places all kinds of pressures on people and inadvertently tells us all the time that in so many ways we are not enough. It’s good to step away from that mantra and focus on being yourself and going with your own intuition more.
2. Set the intention to be genuine
If you set the intention to be genuine, you are on a path to embracing imperfections. Perfection is a toxic notion and it can make people feel they need to “be more” or “do more” all the time. Being genuine does not mean you cannot strive for things and be ambitious. What it does mean, though, is that the only person you’re interested in comparing yourself to is you.
3. Know yourself well
Being alive means being in flux, so as we grow, our values and our dreams can change. When life is hectic, these dreams and values often remain dormant because there is no time to spend acknowledging their presence.
Making time for self-reflection can change this – and plugging out from devices can help create space for this.
Shift from ingesting information from an outside source to tuning in to what is going on inside. New ideas have a chance to emerge and when they do, if you feel called to consider a big life decision, allow yourself permission to consider that. It’s easy to get caught up in a “doing, producing, getting more information” mentality but it’s not always mentally healthy. It is worth tuning in more to yourself.
4. Tune into a story that aligns with how you wish to live
It can be hard not to be sucked into narratives and stories about what it means to be successful and powerful in the world today. Stories such as “success means wealth” and “power means power over others” are no more true than any other story, but because certain “stories” become dominant, we tend to absorb them as truth.
Give space to stories that align with your authentic self. Is success for you more aligned with a sense of living life the way you want to, having time to spend with the people you care about? Is your story of power about having power over your mind? Own your own truth.
5. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable
Everyone needs to feel emotionally safe when it comes to relationships with other people, and spilling your heart out to everyone you meet might make a person feel somewhat exposed. But there is value in allowing yourself to be vulnerable and, according to David Brendel ( Harvard Business Review, July 2014), it can fuel growth and success. Expressing vulnerability bears witness to strength as the person expressing it is not allowing fear to hold them back.
We all feel vulnerable sometimes and to express it creates transparency. The ability to be transparent is part of what makes people authentic. Anyone can look deep within to uncover barriers that might be holding you back from being real as you go about your day. Give yourself a gift this Christmas: dismantle the barriers. Anne McCormack is a family psychotherapist registered with ICP and FTAI.