Be your True Self. Find your Authentic Self. I hear these phrases chiming in yoga classes, workshops and plastered on Instagram posts and self-love blogs. They encourage that we live an authentic life and be true to ourselves...
After a thought provoking conversation with my partner, I realized I was culturally conditioned to define the ‘True Self’ as being ‘Authentic’ and that only led to deeper questioning. Is it possible to be authentic in every moment? Is being authentic the way to find happiness? I decided to look into this as I had caught myself using those phrases in yoga classes and past blogs. It encouraged me to seek a deeper understanding of what it truly means to live as your authentic self, if that was even possible.
I started somewhere unconventional from yoga texts to grasp how authenticity is being examined. The department of psychology at Pennsylvania State University had collected data from 136 studies which were conducted over the last few decades. These studies indicated that those who claimed true to being highly authentic, regardless of how people perceived them, were less likely to be promoted and had a lower performance level in the workplace. This had me wondering. What made authenticity undesirable? And was being authentic holding us back from our potential?
A professor, Herminia Ibarra, of Harvard Business, was also curious about the rising popularity of being authentic. Her research stated that “a too-rigid definition of authenticity can get in the way of effective leadership”. Ibarra stated three common definitions as being true to oneself, mirroring feelings and actions, and value-based decisions. All of which were great characteristics of an authentic individual yet when there was need for change or multicultural factors involved these rigid definitions would create doubt in relationships, hinder our evolution of growth and limit our perspectives.
Her findings to me were insightful. I had a connection to those definitions and the truth was, I could recollect moments where I had limited my openness to new information due to my beliefs or idea of Self. What I learned from these findings were that it is better to be comfortable with uncertainty and be courageous in learning new things even if it felt unnatural at times.
It made me laugh when my partner used chameleons as an example in his debate and later see the reference in the work of Mark Snyder, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota. He used two contrasting profiles the “High self-monitors”, those who were able to adapt to situations without feeling disingenuous, and the “True-to-selfers”, who were bold in their opinions despite whether that flowed with status quo. What was gathered from seeing these two psychological profiles were that the chameleons, “high self-monitors” were able to advance quickly due to their flexibility and perseverance. Where the “true-to-selfers” were limited in their situations due to being trapped in a loop of comfortable behaviour.
When we look at the functions of our brain, we have many perspectives of the Self. Rick Hansen, neuropsychologist, breaks down the different parts of the brain that are active when we view things from the reflective self, emotional self, autobiographical self, core self, and self-as-object. Damage to any one of the correlating areas in the brain would in response eliminate the ability to see things from the perspective of a particular self. However, you do not need to damage your brain in order to deactivate any one perspective of self. Practices such as meditation can also have the same effect. This means that from a neurological standpoint, the self is built from many subsystems and from there, more subsystems, which indicates that that the idea of a unified self is well, an illusion.The self is more intricate than limiting it to the confines of one singular self. Since the mind, on a more regular basis, is constantly fluctuating the ability to maintain an authentic or true self would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
It is in our nature to seek familiarity, to form understanding, to explore beyond boundaries, to survive. We are reminded in our quest of life that all things are changing and that we ourselves are continuously changing. Every situation, every moment in life, we make choices. Instead of focusing on an Authentic Self perhaps finding harmony in accepting our Whole Self as the many selves that we are would be of more service.
Hansen, R. 2009. Buddha’s Brain, The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom
. Ayla . @missaylanova .