How To Be Authentic

Written by Steve Rose

Steve Rose, PhD, is an addiction counsellor and former academic researcher, committed to conveying complex topics in simple language.

You wake up each morning, slipping on a mask that feels increasingly heavy. Each interaction, every decision, is dictated not by your genuine desires, but by the expectations of others, by societal pressures, or by a version of yourself that doesn’t quite resonate. The weight of these daily performances bears down on your shoulders, making every step feel like you’re trudging through thick mud. The mental gymnastics of constantly monitoring your words, behaviors, and emotions, ensuring they fit the mold, leaves you drained. Every night, as you take off that mask, you’re left wondering when you’ll truly breathe freely, longing for the day you can navigate the world as your authentic self, without the stifling exhaustion of inauthenticity.

If you can relate, this article will help you peel back the layers of expectations and societal pressures, so you can be more authentic. With tools from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, we’ll walk this journey together, paving a path toward a more authentic you. Each section is tailored to provide insights, practical exercises, and strategies to reconnect with your true self. By the end, my hope is that you’ll not only understand the value of authenticity but also possess the tools to cultivate it in your daily life.

Understanding Authenticity

In the vast spectrum of human experiences, authenticity stands out as a beacon of genuine existence. But what does it truly mean to live authentically, and why does it hold such significance?

At its core, authenticity is the alignment of one’s actions, words, and feelings with their inner beliefs and values. It’s the courage to be oneself without pretense, and the freedom to express one’s genuine thoughts and emotions without fear of judgment. Authentic living involves:

Self-awareness: Recognizing and understanding your thoughts, feelings, desires, and motivations.

Unfiltered Expression: Communicating and behaving in a manner consistent with your true self.

Consistency: Maintaining this alignment across various situations and environments.

The Benefits of Being Authentic

Living authentically is not just a feel-good mantra; it offers tangible benefits that enrich various facets of life:

Personal Fulfillment: By aligning your external world with your inner self, you create a harmony that leads to a deeper sense of satisfaction and contentment.

Deeper Connections: Authenticity fosters genuine relationships. When you are true to yourself, you attract individuals who resonate with your authenticity, leading to more profound and meaningful connections.

Overall Well-being: Research has shown that individuals who live authentically experience lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. The congruence between the inner and outer self promotes a healthier mental state.

The Pitfalls of Inauthentic Living

On the flip side, living inauthentically, as you might have felt, comes with its set of challenges:

Emotional Drain: Pretending to be someone you’re not or suppressing your genuine feelings is emotionally taxing. It’s akin to carrying a weight around, day in and day out.

Loss of Self-Identity: Constantly molding yourself to fit external expectations can blur the lines of your true identity, leading to feelings of confusion and emptiness.

Strained Relationships: Inauthenticity can prevent the formation of genuine connections. Relationships built on pretenses often lack depth and substance.

Mental Health Toll: Living incongruently can increase feelings of anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. The internal conflict between the true self and the projected self can be mentally exhausting.

In essence, while the path of authenticity requires courage and self-reflection, its rewards are manifold. Conversely, the journey of inauthenticity, although seemingly easier at times, often leads to a crossroad of emotional and mental challenges. The choice, as always, rests with you.

If you want to be more authentic, the following techniques from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy will serve as a guide.

Detach from Restrictive Beliefs

In the vast realm of the human psyche, our thoughts play a powerful role. They influence our perceptions, mold our actions, and shape our reality. But what happens when these thoughts, often shaped by years of conditioning, start to dictate our lives in ways that stifle our authentic selves? Welcome to the world of cognitive fusion, where our beliefs and thoughts become so entangled with our identity that they hinder our growth. But there’s a way out – through a transformative process known as cognitive defusion.

Understanding How Our Thoughts Can Dictate Our Actions

Every thought that crosses our mind holds potential power. From the simplest, fleeting ideas to the deep-seated beliefs that have been instilled in us since childhood, each thought carries a weight. The influence of these thoughts is particularly pronounced when they are:

Repetitive: Constantly ruminating over certain ideas can solidify them in our psyche.

Intense: Emotionally charged thoughts, whether positive or negative, have a higher impact on our behavior.

Rooted in Past Traumatic Experiences: Thoughts derived from past traumas or pivotal moments in our lives can profoundly shape our current actions.

While not all thoughts are limiting or restrictive, many of us grapple with negative self-beliefs, such as “I’m not good enough,” “I’ll never succeed,” or “People don’t like me.” When fused with these beliefs, our actions mirror them, leading to self-sabotage, missed opportunities, or strained relationships.

Techniques to “Defuse” from Limiting Beliefs and Narratives

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers a powerful tool in combating this fusion: cognitive defusion. Unlike traditional cognitive restructuring techniques that emphasize changing the content of thoughts, cognitive defusion focuses on changing our relationship with our thoughts.

Here are some core techniques:

See Thoughts as Just Thoughts: Recognize that a thought is merely a string of words or an image passing through your mind. It’s not an absolute truth or a command.

Distance Yourself: Instead of saying “I am a failure,” rephrase it as “I’m having the thought that I am a failure.” This subtle shift helps create a gap between you and the thought.

Thank Your Mind: When a limiting belief arises, you can playfully respond with, “Thanks, mind, for that input!” This acknowledges the thought without giving it power.

Paradoxical Techniques: Sometimes, purposefully exaggerating the thought in a playful way can highlight its absurdity. If you think, “I’m always messing things up,” you can amplify it to, “I’ve messed up every single thing in my entire life.” Sometimes it helps to say the thought in the voice of a favorite fictional character.

Practical Exercises for Cognitive Defusion

Now, let’s delve deeper with some hands-on exercises:

Observing Thoughts Meditation:

  • Find a quiet place and sit comfortably.
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breath.
  • As thoughts arise, imagine them as leaves floating on a stream or clouds passing by in the sky.
  • Watch each thought come and go without judgment or attachment.

Labeling Thoughts:

  • Throughout the day, practice labeling your thoughts. For instance, if you think, “I can’t do this,” label it as “a self-doubt thought.”
  • This exercise helps you detach from the thought and see it as a mere mental event.

Using Metaphors:

  • The “Passengers on the Bus” metaphor: Imagine you’re a bus driver. The passengers are your thoughts. Some passengers (thoughts) are loud and disruptive. But remember, you’re the driver, and you decide the direction of the bus. You can acknowledge the passengers without letting them take control.
  • The “Radio” metaphor: Think of your mind as a radio. Sometimes, it plays songs (thoughts) you don’t like. But, you can choose to turn down the volume and let it fade into the background as you focus on other things that matter.

Cognitive defusion isn’t about denying or suppressing our thoughts. Instead, it’s about unhooking from them, seeing them for what they truly are: transient mental events. With consistent practice, we can cultivate a mindset where our actions aren’t dictated by every thought that crosses our mind, especially the limiting ones. As you embark on this journey of defusion, you’ll discover a newfound freedom and a clearer path to your authentic self.

A Metaphor: The Radio in the Background

Imagine that your mind is like a radio that’s always on. This radio represents your thoughts and beliefs, broadcasting all kinds of stations throughout your life. Some stations play uplifting tunes, while others might play critical or negative commentary, persistent worries, or dramatic forecasts.

For much of your life, you’ve been trying to tune in to the ‘right’ station, believing that if you could just find the perfect channel, everything would be alright. At times, you’ve become so engrossed in what’s playing that you’ve adjusted your actions, feelings, and even your identity based on the station’s broadcast. When the radio plays songs of self-doubt, you may shrink away from challenges. When it broadcasts tales of potential catastrophes, you might become anxious and avoidant.

Cognitive diffusion in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is like realizing that, while you can’t always control which station the radio is on or what it’s broadcasting, you don’t have to dance to every tune it plays. It’s about learning to hear the radio but deciding for yourself how much attention you give it.

By practicing cognitive diffusion, you can let the radio play in the background without letting it dictate your actions. You can choose to dance to your own rhythm, live by your values, and be authentic, even if the radio sometimes plays songs that don’t match your personal playlist. Over time, the stations that once seemed so commanding fade into the backdrop of your life, allowing you to live more authentically and freely.

Be Willing to Experience Your Feelings and Imperfections

Life is an intricate tapestry of experiences, emotions, and memories. As we navigate our journey, certain emotions or past events can sometimes act as anchors, pulling us into patterns of inauthenticity. Avoiding or suppressing these feelings and memories might provide temporary relief, but it comes at the cost of long-term fulfillment and authenticity. The path to genuine living requires us to face, understand, and accept these aspects of our lives. Acceptance does not mean resignation or agreement, but rather acknowledging our experiences without judgment.

The Importance of Acknowledging and Accepting Emotions and Past Experiences

Releasing Emotional Baggage: By constantly avoiding or denying our emotions, we unconsciously carry them with us, leading to emotional fatigue and mental strain. Acceptance helps in letting go.

Understanding Self-Patterns: Emotions and memories, especially the challenging ones, provide insights into our behavioral patterns. By understanding and accepting them, we can break free from cycles of inauthenticity.

Building Emotional Resilience: Accepting our emotions strengthens our emotional resilience. When we understand that feelings are temporary and that they don’t define us, we become better equipped to handle future challenges.

Promoting Healing: Unresolved memories, especially traumatic ones, can be festering wounds. Acceptance is the first step toward healing.

Techniques to Practice Emotional Acceptance Without Judgment

Cultivating Non-Judgmental Awareness: Recognize emotions without labeling them as “good” or “bad”. Every emotion serves a purpose; it’s our natural response to situations.

Emotional Validation: Instead of shunning certain feelings, validate them. Saying to oneself, “It’s okay to feel this way,” can be empowering.

Avoiding Suppression and Rumination: Both extremes – suppressing emotions or excessively ruminating over them – can be detrimental. Find a balance by acknowledging emotions and letting them flow naturally.

Seeking Professional Help: Sometimes, certain memories or emotions can be overwhelming. Seeking help from a therapist can provide structured guidance on emotional acceptance and processing past trauma.

Practical Exercises for Embracing Acceptance

Expanding Awareness:

  • Sit in a quiet space and close your eyes.
  • Take a few deep breaths to center yourself.
  • Begin by scanning your body, from head to toe. Notice any sensations or tensions.
  • Shift your focus to your emotions. Name the emotion you’re feeling without judging it (e.g., sadness, joy, frustration).
  • Allow yourself to feel without trying to change or analyze the emotion.
  • As you finish, take a few deep breaths and open your eyes.

Visualization:

  • Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a peaceful place – it could be a beach, forest, or any place you find calming.
  • Picture a box or container beside you.
  • As emotions or memories arise, visualize placing them gently into the box.
  • Once you’ve acknowledged and placed all feelings and memories, imagine yourself burying or floating the box away.
  • Remember, this exercise isn’t about getting rid of emotions but symbolizes acknowledgment, acceptance, and letting go.

Mindfulness Meditation:

  • Find a comfortable sitting position.
  • Focus on your breath – the inhalation and exhalation.
  • As thoughts or emotions arise, don’t shoo them away. Simply notice them, name them, and return your focus to your breath.
  • Practice this a few minutes each day. Over time, it can train your mind to observe emotions without getting entangled.

In essence, the journey of embracing acceptance is not a destination but a continual process. By acknowledging and accepting our feelings and memories, we free ourselves from their invisible chains. This liberation paves the way for a more authentic and fulfilling life. Remember, every emotion, every memory, forms the unique story of you. Instead of editing out chapters, embrace them, and you’ll find that they enrich your life in ways you’ve never imagined.

A Metaphor: The Garden of Life

Imagine life as a vast and diverse garden. Throughout this garden, there are a variety of plants, flowers, and trees, some you admire and others you find less appealing. Some sections are lush and serene, while others might seem barren or overrun with weeds.

For a long time, you might have spent your energy trying to weed out the parts you didn’t like, believing that if you could just get rid of the unsightly areas, your garden would be perfect. You may have tirelessly yanked at thorns, bemoaned patches of shade, or tried to control every inch.

Acceptance in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is like realizing you don’t need a ‘perfect’ garden to find beauty and peace. Instead of exhausting yourself battling every unwanted plant, you learn to coexist with them. You start to see value in the thorns as they protect the delicate roses, or the shade as it gives respite on a hot day.

By practicing acceptance, you begin to embrace the entirety of your garden, tending to it with care and attention, but without the harsh judgment. You allow some wildflowers to grow, even if they weren’t in your original plan, and you discover beauty in unexpected corners. This holistic embrace of the garden, both its challenges and splendors, allows you to cultivate a space that’s authentically yours, resonating with the true essence of who you are.

Ground Yourself in the Present Moment

In a world filled with incessant distractions, constant mental chatter, and an ever-growing to-do list, finding our way to the present moment seems like an elusive endeavor. Yet, it is in this very moment, stripped of past regrets and future anxieties, that we find the cornerstone of authenticity. To be truly authentic is to be rooted in the here and now, embracing each moment in its entirety. But why is this present-centered awareness so crucial for authenticity, and how can one cultivate it?

The Significance of Mindfulness and Presence in Cultivating Authenticity

Eliminating Autopilot Mode: Often, we go through life on autopilot, lost in thoughts, without truly experiencing the world around us. Mindfulness pulls us back into the real world, ensuring our actions are intentional and authentic.

Reducing Judgment: A present-centered mindset allows us to experience life without the tinted glasses of judgment. We see things as they are, leading to a genuine understanding and response to life’s events.

Enhancing Self-awareness: Being in the present helps us tune into our inner selves, our emotions, thoughts, and sensations, fostering a deeper self-awareness which is pivotal for authenticity.

Relief from Time-based Stress: Rooting ourselves in the present provides a break from the chains of past regrets and anxieties about the future, facilitating a mental space where authenticity can thrive.

Techniques to Foster a Present-Centered Mindset

Setting Intentional Reminders: Set periodic reminders throughout the day to check in with yourself. It could be a phone alarm or a sticky note, just something to remind you to take a moment to breathe and be present.

Mindful Transitions: Use transitions, like moving from one task to another, as opportunities to ground yourself. Take a few deep breaths, notice your surroundings, and anchor yourself in the moment.

Engaging Fully: Whatever you’re doing, be it eating, listening, or walking, try to do it with full attention. This not only enhances the experience but also cultivates a habit of being present.

Limiting Multitasking: Multitasking can scatter our attention. Try focusing on one task at a time, giving it your full attention.

Practical Exercises for Being in the Present Moment

Mindful Breathing:

  • Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
  • Take a moment to notice the natural rhythm of your breath without trying to change it.
  • Focus on the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your nostrils or the rise and fall of your chest.
  • If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath. This act of refocusing is in itself a practice of mindfulness.
  • Start with a few minutes and gradually extend as you become more comfortable.

Grounding Exercises:

  • 5-4-3-2-1: This is a sensory awareness exercise. Identify five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell, and one you can taste. This exercise is especially useful during moments of overwhelm.
  • Feet on the Floor: Sit with your feet flat on the ground. Focus all your attention on the soles of your feet – their temperature, pressure, any tingling, etc. This simple exercise can help ground you in the present.

Daily Mindfulness Practices:

  • Mindful Eating: Instead of eating in a rush or while distracted, eat with attention. Notice the colors, textures, and flavors. Savor each bite.
  • Mindful Walking: As you walk, be it for exercise or just getting from one place to another, notice the sensation of your feet lifting off, moving through the air, and then making contact with the ground. Feel the air against your skin and any sounds that might accompany your walk.

Authenticity is not a destination but a journey, one best traveled with awareness and presence. By embedding the principles of mindfulness in our daily life, we not only enrich our experiences but also inch closer to our authentic selves. It’s a journey of a thousand steps, and each step taken in the present moment is a step taken in authenticity.

A Metaphor: The Garden of Now

Picture a sprawling, vibrant garden, teeming with life. Each part of this garden represents a moment in your life. There’s the past section with plants that have matured and blossomed, showing their age with faded petals and withering stems. There’s the future section where seeds are planted, awaiting their time to grow, surrounded by the mystery of what they might become.

However, right in the center of this garden, there’s a plot called “The Garden of Now.” Here, flowers are in full bloom, bees are buzzing, and the sun shines just right. The air is freshest, the colors are most vivid, and the fragrances are most beautiful in this section.

Many people, in their journey through life, spend a lot of time tending to the past section, reminiscing or lamenting over the plants that once were. Others spend their time in the future section, planning, worrying, or daydreaming about the seeds and their potential. In doing so, they neglect the Garden of Now, allowing its flowers to wither without appreciation or its fruits to fall uneaten.

Present moment awareness in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is about choosing to spend more time in the Garden of Now. It’s about feeling the sun on your skin, smelling the flowers, and observing the intricate dance of nature that’s happening right in front of you. It’s not about forsaking the past or future but recognizing the richness of the present moment and engaging with it fully.

By anchoring yourself in the Garden of Now, you align more closely with your true self, unburdened by regrets of the past or anxieties of the future. This presence allows you to live more authentically, to appreciate the beauty in front of you, and to cultivate the moments that truly matter.

Detach from the Ego

The human experience is complex, made even more so by the layers of identity we cultivate over our lifetimes. We become entwined with our thoughts, our emotions, our roles, and our stories, often to the point where distinguishing our true selves from these layers feels impossible. But to find authenticity and to genuinely connect with our core, it is helpful to understand the ACT concept of “Self-as-Context” to detach from the ego.

Understanding the ‘Observing Self’ vs. the ‘Thinking Self’

The ‘Thinking Self’: This is the part of us that is caught up in narratives. It’s the voice in our head that constantly narrates our life, judges situations, replays past events, and anticipates the future. It’s heavily influenced by emotions, past experiences, and societal inputs. This self is intertwined with the ego, often defining us by our roles, achievements, failures, and perceptions.

The ‘Observing Self’: Contrary to the thinking self, the observing self is a stable, consistent perspective that has been with us throughout our lives. It’s the part of us that can watch our own thoughts, feelings, and actions without judgment. It’s like the sky, unchanging, while our thoughts and feelings are like clouds that come and go.

Recognizing That We Are Not Defined Solely by Our Thoughts, Feelings, or Roles

Transient Nature of Thoughts and Feelings: Just as clouds pass and change forms, so do our thoughts and feelings. They are temporary and don’t define the entirety of who we are.

Roles as Contextual: The roles we take on (parent, employee, friend) are situational. They provide context but don’t capture our holistic essence. We’re more than the sum of our roles.

The Core Self is Unchanging: While our beliefs, opinions, and emotions might shift over time, the core essence or the observing self remains consistent. Recognizing this can be liberating as it detaches our identity from the fluctuating externalities of life.

Practical Exercises for Recognizing Self-as-Context

Reflections:

  • Journaling: Dedicate time each day to write down your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Over time, you’ll begin to notice patterns and recognize that while thoughts and emotions recur, they also pass. This practice helps in differentiating the thinking self from the observing self.
  • Questioning the Ego: Whenever you find yourself heavily identifying with a role or an emotion, ask, “Is this all that I am?” This question can create space for introspection and detachment from the ego.

Guided Meditations:

  • Anchor to the Breath: Find a quiet space and close your eyes. Focus on your breath. As thoughts arise, observe them without judgment and let them float away, returning your attention to your breath. This practice can enhance the connection with the observing self.
  • Body Scan Meditation: Starting from your toes and moving up to your head, focus on each part of your body, observing sensations without judgment. This practice not only grounds you in the present but also emphasizes the observing self that notices without getting entangled.

Perspective-Taking Activities:

  • The Third-Person Technique: Reflect on your day or a particular event from a third-person perspective, as if you were narrating it to someone. This technique offers a detached viewpoint, helping you view situations without the biases of the ego.
  • Role Play: Engage in role-playing exercises, either alone or with others. By momentarily stepping into different roles, you can gain a clearer understanding that roles are just aspects of life and not the entirety of your identity.

In wrapping up, recognizing the Self-as-Context is akin to finding a compass within, one that always points to the true north amidst life’s storms and calm. By consistently practicing detachment from the ego, we pave the path toward a more genuine and authentic existence. In this space, we find freedom — freedom from restrictive narratives, freedom from stifling roles, and most importantly, the freedom to be our most authentic selves.

A Metaphor: The Sky and the Weather

Visualize the vast expanse of the sky. Infinite, unchanging, and ever-present, it stretches as far as the eye can see. The sky holds everything beneath it—cityscapes, mountains, forests, oceans, and everything in between. Within this sky, weather patterns constantly emerge: storms, sunshine, rainbows, and clouds of all shapes and sizes.

In this metaphor, the sky represents “self-as-context,” the overarching sense of self that is constant and unchanging, regardless of the experiences or ‘weather’ patterns of our lives. The weather represents our fleeting emotions, thoughts, sensations, roles, and memories. Sometimes the weather is stormy, filled with heavy thoughts or powerful emotions. Other times, it’s sunny and calm, with moments of joy and peace.

Many people identify closely with the weather. They might think, “I am sad” when a storm cloud appears or “I am successful” when the sun shines brightly. But this identification can be limiting and inauthentic because it ties our sense of self to the ever-changing conditions of our internal and external experiences.

Recognizing self-as-context is like understanding that, while you might experience the weather, you are not the weather. You are the sky, vast and unchanging, that holds space for all these experiences. Storms come and go, but the sky remains. It doesn’t resist the rain or cling to the sunshine; it simply allows all weather to pass through.

By embracing the perspective of the sky, you gain a more authentic sense of self. You’re not defined by any single weather pattern or even a series of them. Instead, you have the stability and spaciousness of the sky, enabling you to observe and experience life’s weather without getting lost in it. This awareness helps you live with greater authenticity, rooted in the unchanging essence of who you truly are.

Clarify Personal Values

In the labyrinth of life, our values serve as the guiding light, helping us navigate decisions, conflicts, and challenges. They provide a sense of purpose and direction. Without clear values, we may find ourselves lost, making choices that don’t align with our true selves, and feeling disconnected or unfulfilled. Understanding and committing to our core values is foundational for authentic living.

The Importance of Recognizing and Understanding One’s Core Values

Guide for Decision Making: When we’re aware of our values, they act as a compass, leading us towards choices that resonate with our authentic selves.

Foundation for Authentic Relationships: Recognizing our values helps in building relationships that are grounded in mutual respect and understanding. It facilitates deeper connections with like-minded individuals.

A Sense of Purpose: Core values provide a roadmap to a purposeful life. They help in determining our life’s direction and in understanding what truly matters to us.

Resilience During Challenges: During tumultuous times, our values act as anchors, providing stability and strength. They remind us of who we are and what we stand for, even when the world around us is in chaos.

Techniques to Identify and Clarify Personal Values

Self-reflection: Taking the time to introspect about moments in life when we felt incredibly fulfilled or, conversely, very disappointed can offer insights into what we value.

Feedback from Trusted Ones: Sometimes, those close to us can provide a mirror to our values. They can highlight patterns in our behavior that resonate with our core beliefs.

Analyze Past Decisions: Looking back at major life decisions and analyzing the reasons behind them can shed light on underlying values.

Dream Analysis: Our aspirations, hopes, and dreams often align with our core values. Pondering on what we aspire to achieve can help identify what we truly value.

Practical Exercises for Values Clarification

Values Card Sort:

  • Prepare a set of cards, each containing a value (e.g., “Family,” “Honesty,” “Achievement”). Include as many values as you can think of.
  • Lay out all the cards and group them into three categories: ‘Very Important to Me’, ‘Important to Me’, and ‘Not Important to Me’.
  • From the ‘Very Important to Me’ pile, select the top 5-10 values that resonate most deeply.
  • Reflect on these chosen values, considering their significance in your life.

Journaling Prompts:

  • Describe a time when you felt genuinely proud of yourself. What values were you honoring at that moment?
  • Think about someone you deeply admire. What values do they embody?
  • Describe a time when you felt deeply disappointed or conflicted. Were any of your core values being compromised?
  • Envision your ideal day. What values are reflected in this vision?

Values-Based Meditation:

  • Find a quiet space and sit comfortably.
  • Start with a few minutes of deep breathing to center yourself.
  • Visualize a time when you were living in complete alignment with your values. Relish the feelings associated with that moment.
  • Now, imagine a future scenario where you’re embodying these values. Feel the satisfaction, pride, and contentment.
  • Conclude the meditation by setting an intention to honor these values in your daily life.

Values clarification isn’t a one-time activity. As we evolve, our values might shift or gain more depth. The key is to remain connected to them, ensuring they reflect who we genuinely are. By consistently aligning our actions with our core values, we inch closer to an authentic, fulfilling life. It’s a journey of introspection, understanding, and commitment, but one that paves the way for genuine contentment and purpose.

A Metaphor: The Compass Within

Imagine embarking on a journey through a vast, dense forest. This forest is filled with various paths, some well-trodden and others barely visible. Each path represents different choices, opportunities, and directions in life. As you wander, it’s easy to get distracted by the beautiful sights and sounds, or to become disoriented by the shadows and unclear trails.

In your pocket, you carry a compass. This isn’t just any compass; it’s your personal compass, with its needle pointing towards your true north. This true north isn’t a destination, but rather a direction—it represents your core values, the deep and enduring beliefs and principles that give meaning and purpose to your journey.

As you traverse the forest, there will be times when you’re tempted to follow a popular path, one taken by many before you, thinking it’s the “right” way. Or you might stumble upon a path that seems easier, even if it leads away from your true north. But every time you consult your compass, it reminds you of your values, of the direction that aligns most authentically with who you are and what you stand for.

Values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are like this compass. They aren’t about reaching a particular endpoint or destination but guiding you in your daily actions and decisions. They help you navigate the complexities of life with integrity and authenticity. When faced with crossroads or distractions, your values are the consistent guide that brings clarity.

By frequently checking in with your compass, by understanding and honoring your values, you move through life’s forest more authentically. Even if you wander or get lost momentarily, your compass—the embodiment of your values—will always help you find your way back to your authentic path.

Align Actions with Personal Values

The pursuit of authenticity demands more than just understanding one’s values. The true test lies in translating these values into tangible actions. It’s in the realm of committed action that values come to life, steering us towards a life that reflects our true essence. Acting in harmony with our values leads not only to external accomplishments but also to internal contentment.

Emphasizing the Need to Act in Ways That Resonate with One’s Values

Consistency Between Beliefs and Behavior: Living a life where there’s a mismatch between what we believe and how we act can lead to cognitive dissonance, an uncomfortable tension. Conversely, when actions mirror beliefs, there’s a sense of internal harmony.

Enhanced Life Satisfaction: Studies consistently show that individuals who act in line with their values experience higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction.

Building Authentic Relationships: When we consistently act according to our values, it not only instills self-respect but also garners respect from others, laying the foundation for genuine relationships.

Resilience in the Face of Challenges: Challenges are an inevitable part of life. However, navigating them becomes more manageable when actions are grounded in core values, providing a clear direction amid uncertainties.

Techniques to Ensure Actions Align with Personal Beliefs and Aspirations

Mindful Awareness: Regularly check in with yourself. Ask if your actions are reflecting your core values or if they’re influenced by external pressures.

Accountability Partners: Share your values and related goals with a trusted friend or family member. Having someone to check in with can help stay on track.

Visual Reminders: Create visual cues around your living or working space that remind you of your values. It can be quotes, images, or symbols that resonate with your core beliefs.

Regular Reflection: Dedicate time weekly or monthly to reflect on your actions. Assess if they’re in line with your values and where adjustments need to be made.

Practical Exercises to Translate Values into Committed Actions

Goal Setting:

  • SMART Goals: Ensure that your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This framework ensures clarity and feasibility.
  • Alignment with Values: Before finalizing any goal, assess its alignment with your values. Ask yourself why this goal is essential and which core value it resonates with.
  • Review and Adjust: Regularly review your goals, assessing your progress and making necessary adjustments.

Behavioral Experiments:

  • Predict and Act: Predict the outcome of acting in alignment with a particular value and then engage in that behavior. Afterward, reflect on the experience. Did it match your prediction? How did it make you feel?
  • Challenge and Change: If you identify a behavior that’s not in line with your values, challenge it. Experiment with a new behavior that aligns more closely with your core values and observe the outcomes.

Creating Action Plans:

  • Break It Down: For each value, list down specific actions that reflect that value.
  • Prioritize: Not all actions have equal importance. Prioritize them based on their impact and feasibility.
  • Set Deadlines: Assign a timeline to each action. Having a deadline creates a sense of commitment.
  • Review and Celebrate: Regularly review your action plan. Celebrate the actions you’ve completed, and adjust the ones you haven’t.

Recognizing and understanding our values is just the starting point. The journey towards authenticity is marked by the steps we take to bring these values to life. Committed action is the bridge between intention and reality, between aspiration and achievement. It’s a dynamic process of reflection, adjustment, and persistence. But at its core, it’s about honoring oneself, ensuring that every step taken resonates with the heart’s true desires and the soul’s deepest beliefs. In this alignment lies the promise of an authentic, fulfilling existence.

A Metaphor: The Artisan’s Craft

Picture a skilled artisan in a rustic workshop, surrounded by tools and raw materials. This artisan represents you, and the craft symbolizes your life and your journey toward living authentically. Each day, the artisan chooses to create, to mold, to refine. Some days, the creations flow effortlessly, and other days, mistakes happen or unexpected challenges arise.

Now, in a corner of this workshop, there are blueprints. These aren’t ordinary blueprints, but dynamic, ever-evolving ones. These blueprints represent your values, the guiding principles that give shape and direction to what the artisan creates.

Committed action in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is the deliberate, intentional act of the artisan working on their craft, even when it’s challenging or uncertain. It’s about making consistent choices that align with the blueprints, even when tempted to stray or when faced with distractions. Each hammer strike, each chisel scrape, each brushstroke is a committed action, taken with mindfulness of the overarching design.

Living authentically doesn’t mean every step of the process is smooth or that the end product is flawless. It means that the artisan is present, engaged, and intentional with every action, regardless of the outcome. Over time, with every committed action, the craft begins to reflect the true essence of the artisan, shaped and guided by the values represented in the blueprints.

By committing to actions that resonate with your values, you become like the artisan—living and creating authentically, honoring the unique blueprint of your life, and molding your experiences with intention and purpose.

Conclusion

Imagine waking up each day, feeling a sense of alignment between your innermost beliefs and the life you lead. Each decision, each action, each interaction is imbued with a sense of purpose and genuineness. Living authentically isn’t about perfection; it’s about congruence. It’s the peace that comes from knowing that your external world mirrors your inner values and aspirations. It’s the joy in recognizing that your choices, no matter how big or small, are a true reflection of who you are.

But remember, cultivating authenticity is not a destination but a continuous journey. Like the ebb and flow of the tide, there will be moments of clarity and moments of doubt. That’s the nature of growth and self-discovery. However, every time you choose to act in line with your values, every time you decide to be genuine in your interactions, and every time you prioritize your inner truth over external pressures, you take a step closer to your authentic self.

Embrace this journey with patience and compassion. There’s no predefined path or timeline. It’s a personal voyage that unfolds uniquely for each individual. The commitment to authenticity is, in essence, a commitment to oneself. And on this journey, know that every effort, every introspection, and every moment of self-awareness is a beacon guiding you closer to the heart of your true self. Be gentle with yourself and celebrate every step you take towards authenticity. The path may be winding, but the rewards of living authentically are boundless and profoundly enriching.

Fascinated by ideas? Check out my podcast:

Struggling with an addiction?

If you’re struggling with an addiction, it can be difficult to stop. Gaining short-term relief, at a long-term cost, you may start to wonder if it’s even worth it anymore. If you’re looking to make some changes, feel free to reach out. I offer individual addiction counselling to clients in the US and Canada. If you’re interested in learning more, you can send me a message here.

Other Mental Health Resources

If you are struggling with other mental health issues or are looking for a specialist near you, use the Psychology Today therapist directory here to find a practitioner who specializes in your area of concern.

If you require a lower-cost option, you can check out BetterHelp.com. It is one of the most flexible forms of online counseling. Their main benefit is lower costs, high accessibility through their mobile app, and the ability to switch counselors quickly and easily, until you find the right fit.

*As an affiliate partner with Better Help, I receive a referral fee if you purchase products or services through the links provided.

As always, it is important to be critical when seeking help, since the quality of counselors are not consistent. If you are not feeling supported, it may be helpful to seek out another practitioner. I wrote an article on things to consider here.


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1 Comment

  1. Richard

    Superb and very comprehensive article. Dr. Rose, you have included many tools for change. I can relate to the nature metaphors as I believe nature is the greatest healer. You summed it up nicely with this one sentence: “Living authentically isn’t about perfection; it’s about congruence.” So true – authentically speaking. Thanks for another great article!

    Reply

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