How often have you read or been told, “Just be yourself,” and from there thought: But what does that actually mean?
For me personally, too many times to count.
Being yourself, or living authentically, according to author and researcher Dr. Brené Brown, “is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we actually are.”
Yet, for a lot of us, this is much easier said than done. Given particular circumstances or people, we often walk around as a modified version of ourselves just to get through the day.
However, being authentic may actually be the necessary step a number of us need to lead a more fulfilled life—regardless of how intimidating it can be.
Authenticity is regarded as a cornerstone of mental health and is ranked by some experts as one of the three basic psychological needs, according to Psychology Today.
Accepting and embracing your core self is a gateway to increased confidence, building more genuine relationships, decreased stress, and a greater sense of freedom.
How to Start Exploring Your Authenticity
It all begins with taking a look inward and owning—not judging—who you are at your core.
Self-compassion and treating yourself with kindness on a daily basis are the keys to feeling more comfortable being yourself.
One way to begin: Start challenging those negative inner thoughts that tell you to change who you are with words of praise for yourself.
Greet “I wish I wasn’t so worried” with “I love that I care deeply about the things that matter to me.” Or, challenge “Why aren’t I as easygoing as my friend?” with “I admire how I’m intentional with my time.”
Embracing who you are is about digging deep inside of yourself and honoring your wants, desires, thoughts, and feelings—regardless of outside factors and people.
“Embracing who you are is about digging deep inside of yourself and honoring your wants, desires, thoughts, and feelings—regardless of outside factors and people.”
By beginning to stick up for authentic yourself—whether it’s in a moment as small as ordering something different than everyone else at dinner or as big as owning your opinion in a meeting—you’ll start to make authenticity a daily practice in your life.
Protect What Makes You Unique
A core part of maintaining authenticity is also protecting what makes you you.
Oftentimes, the stress, negativity, shame, and judgment from others can get the best of us and cause us to turn away from how we really feel or want to act.
The ideal fix: Physically remove yourself from situations and people who disrupt your internal energy. Politely excusing yourself or not replying to that triggering text can go a long way.
But in many instances, we can’t all just up and walk away from a terrible boss or toxic sibling. So, in that case, try creating a safe space for yourself in your mind.
Take a step back from the situation, breath, and look inward. Use this moment to reflect on one of your core values that can help you through the situation. Maybe it’s your openness, self-respect, curiosity, or compassion. (There’s a great list of over 50 common core values here.)
Then, Mindful.org recommends asking yourself: “If you weren’t afraid, what would you most want to say?” Use this question to get in touch with your authentic reaction to the situation.
Try to remember that the only person who is in control of you is and always should be you.
“Remember that the only person who is in control of you is and always should be you.”
Being authentic isn’t always an easy road—but in the end, remaining true to yourself will always feel more satisfying than conforming.
I originally wrote this story for Shine.