Being authentic is a great way to live a life that’s leaps and bounds ahead of the alternative. Authenticity is truly the only way you can ‘live your best life’. Otherwise you can be held back by situations and surroundings you don’t really want. Being untrue to yourself is a good way to wind up unhappy.
You might think that taking on that extra role, though it doesn’t suit you, will be good for you. Or that looking out for that friend or family member all the time is necessary, or that going along with someone else’s plans is good enough. All the while, however, your emotional needs are being suppressed. They may later bubble up in displays of anger or sadness that we don’t link to the cause.
Life isn’t always going to go perfectly, of course, and situations like those suggested might sometimes be unavoidable. The essence of their encumbrance occurs in many smaller ways throughout our day-to-day lives.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some examples of what they might be, how to avoid them and why it’s important that we try to.
What being genuine really means
When you’re not being genuine, you drain the joy from your life. Not being true to yourself means at least in part living against your true feelings. It’s as simple as that, and though it might be easy to understand, we rarely tend to think about it.
We tell a white lie or nod along to something we dislike or don’t want, without missing a beat.
Why being disingenuous is bad
The problem is, the more you get used to this behavior and allowing it to continue, the more you allow a life that doesn’t sit right with you emotionally.
For example, if you took it to the extreme and hung around with people you deeply disliked and worked a job that stood against your core values, you’d be very unhappy. The only reason you’d even allow this to happen would be if you were telling yourself and others, on some level, that it was fine – if you were being untrue to yourself.
Doing so would be the only thing perpetuating your unhappiness.
How to be more genuine
So, how can we live life more genuinely, thereby nurturing a life we will actually be proud of and enjoy? A life that we will love?
1. Tell the truth
The first step in leading an authentic life is, unsurprisingly, telling the truth.
- If you don’t find something funny, don’t laugh.
- If you don’t agree with what someone says, don’t.
This John Lennon quote sums it up really nicely:
Being honest may not get you a lot of friends but it’ll always get you the right ones.
By not being genuine, you begin a chain reaction of dishonest approval of what you dislike, encouraging more of it in the future. In this way, you can help to create an atmosphere in your life that you don’t actually like. It’s like going along with a shade of blue for the living room that you’re not actually that keen on.
It’s important to stand up for your true feelings to avoid living in a cold blue living room.
Not only that, but once a web of white lies has been spun, you can find yourself in quite awkward and uncomfortable positions once your truth is found out.
I’m not usually one to lie, but have found myself in instances where I have done and regretted it. The facade usually gets torn down by follow up questions. It's easy to tell a single white lie, but having to keep up with multiple lies is hard, trust me.
Nobody likes these situations. The liar (or truth omitter) is found out to be somehow different than expected, not to mention dishonest. Those they’ve not been entirely truthful to feel scandalised, and maybe even stupid for having had the proverbial wool pulled over their eyes the whole time.
Lies, or ‘bending the truth’ to put it nicely, distort the realities of what people believe, and cause us to continue acting based on that distortion. Therefore, when the veil is shattered, we discover that we have wasted time reacting to a fantasy, feeling quite foolish for doing so.
In 2012, an experiment by Kelly Anita E. and co-author Lijuan Wang, PhD, studied the difference over ten weeks between participants instructed to tell the truth and others with no such instruction. Those who avoided white lies and larger lies found that their mental health, physical health and relationships were significantly improved.
2. Say no
Practice saying no, acknowledging your typical knee-jerk ‘yes’ reactions and moving away from them. If, like me, you’re very used to the knee-jerk yes response, try to use someone asking you a question as a reminder to pause. Once you’ve paused and determined whether you do or don’t want to say yes, before doing so anyway, then give your answer.
If you don’t want to say yes, don’t. This again is telling your truth, which as we’ve discussed is important. But saying no can for some be more difficult than telling the truth.
Saying no is confrontational, you worry you might offend someone or come off as a bad or selfish person.
If you worry about this, it’s probably safe to say that saying no doesn't make you a bad person. It just means that you want to care for yourself.
Sometimes it’s just important to put our needs first. You don’t then begrudge whatever it is you’ve said yes to, and do it but with a resentful, false enthusiasm.
Furthermore, saying no and setting boundaries then sets a precedent. People know how you truly feel and ought to respect that, assuming you’ve expressed your true feelings with care and whilst being polite. They will then know what you will and won’t do, and why, and they won’t ask too much of you.
What it really means to say no
In James Altucher’s book The Power of No, he asserts that saying ‘no’ more often is really saying ‘yes’ to life. A life more meaningful for you. Whereas too much ‘yes’ can leave us drained emotionally and physically from overcommitment to others. That kind of commitment leaves little for ourselves.
People who say yes all the time have no respected boundaries by others, who may assume they can ask of them whatever they want, whenever they want.
If they do so, it will of course leave you feeling run down and drained. Living according to the wishes of others and against your own needs, growing more resentful by the day. This, understandably, will lead to higher levels of stress, and even depression and anger.
We have an entire article dedicated to people pleasers, and how to avoid being one. If you find it difficult to say no more often, you might find it an interesting read!
3. Think about what you want
Saying no and telling the truth is dependent on knowing what your truth is. In order to do these things you must be more in tune with yourself, or practice checking in with yourself more often – particularly at the moments you are asked.
It can be good initial practice to start with smaller things. For example, if a friend asks you to join them for badminton one week, an activity which you usually partake in but sometimes out of obligation rather than genuine enthusiasm. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you don’t have a lot of time in a week and would prefer to be doing something else with the time you do have, doing that could improve your week every week from then on.
You might feel in this situation that there’s no real reason to say no and that you don’t know what you would rather do instead. It’s a good opportunity to check in with yourself and think about what you might rather do.
When you’ve discovered an activity or pastime you would rather engage with each week, you’ll have your clear reason to turn down the badminton. A good friend will be understanding of this, and you can find someone who might want to do your new thing instead (if it is a shared thing).
Tweaking small things like this in all walks of your life will eventually harmonise all of it to your needs, to your truths. Once you aim more for them, and less for going along with other people’s, you will establish a better relationship with yourself and a better life all-round. You will be living your genuine life.
Other ways of discovering your true needs, in order to lean into them and become more genuine, could include:
4. Lean into positive thinking and away from negative perceptions
One thing that can complicate the matter out of white and black thinking around ‘truth’, is what truth it is we decide to indulge.
A lot of us tend to focus on the negative, whether it’s about something that has happened or about our identity and life.
Without delving too deeply into themes of mindfulness and presence (that would be a whole other article), none of these perceptions are quite our truths. They are in fact just that: perceptions. Ideas conjured by us. Ideas can be changed.
Negative perceptions can sometimes feel like our truth, but in reality, are simply things we tell ourselves. We can balance this negative dialogue out and live a different truth through things like:
It’s worth looking into these things in order to transition into a more balanced and more positive truth, if we otherwise tend to believe negative things about ourselves or our lives.
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Being happier by being genuine
All in all, we can see how becoming more genuine suits not just us (though that is of utmost importance) but also those around us. A happier, more genuine you, leads to happier and more genuine relationships and other aspects of life.
When we stop to think about this it may seem almost obvious. But the trick is not dismissing its importance. To then discover how to make changes in our lives necessary to live life more honestly, and therefore more fully. Telling the truth, saying no and thinking about what we really want are excellent ways to make those changes.
We can start small and incorporate these practices around things that won’t have an abrupt and dramatic effect. Telling someone we trust that we don’t want to go for coffee that day. Eventually, though, we deserve to have boundaries and follow our dreams in all areas of life, no matter who we fear it might upset or unbalance. The alternative is becoming quite unbalanced ourselves.