Is It a Good Idea to Act Authentically?

Well, it depends how you define authenticity.

Authenticity can be problematic when we define it as freely expressing our thoughts and feelings. I have made this mistake many times in the past. I believed that it was wrong to hide my true feelings, that it was important for me to be ‘honest’ with others. The problems with this approach were:

  • It involved treating my thoughts and feelings as if they were true. I have since come to realise that sometimes they don’t reflect the reality of a situation!
  • It meant that my thoughts and feelings had control of my behaviour.
  • It meant other people had to deal with my ‘stuff’ – sometimes that was helpful, at others, frankly, it wasn’t.

A better definition of authenticity is when:

  • Behaviour, goals and values are aligned.
  • Values are freely chosen rather than imposed by others. They feel like an expression of my best self. The person I really want to be. Working out authentic values can take some time. We have to cut through what we have been taught is good and proper and get to the heart of what is important to us. There are some tips on how to do this here.
  • I am honest with myself about my thoughts and feelings and then choose what to communicate with others. Hiding from thoughts and feelings leads to behaviour that feels inauthentic to others.

This way of behaving is associated with a number of positive outcomes:

  1. I feel like my behaviour is an expression of my true self – which feels important.
  2. Mindfully noticing my thoughts and feelings and then choosing which ones to act upon provides opportunity for growth.
  3. I will tend to put more effort into pursuing self concordant goals that align with my values.
  4. I feel more satisfaction when I achieve self-concordant goals.
  5. Others are more likely to trust someone whose behaviour is both predictable and transparent. Choosing behaviour based on a consistent set of values leads to more consistency than being pushed around by whatever thoughts and feelings show up at any particular moment.
So, yes it is a good idea to act authentically – as long as that means acting in accordance with deeply held values.

For further reading on the research relating to authenticity:
Chapter 11, Character Strengths and Virtues by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman

3 thoughts on “Is It a Good Idea to Act Authentically?

  1. Really interesting site! Been looking for a ACT-blog for a while now and I think I found it. I work on a startup called Hoa’s Tool Shop and our first product is Viary, a Iphone application which is suppose to help people live their life after what they value. The app is now only available in Swedish but we’re working on a English version as we speak.

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