What does it mean to be authentic? An analysis of why it may lead you to become lazy and how you can get out of it.

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“Be Authentic to yourself.”

screams every other Instagram post.

However, this “be authentic” is rather confusing as it doesn’t say what we need to be authentic to? And, this unclear message means we assume it means to be true to what we really feel and not to care about other’s opinion. This harmless looking interpretation has sent me in the wrong path for far too long. Hence, while I felt that I was being authentic during those moments led to frustration and guilt moments later. I realised that I was using this as a way to avoid tougher situations, uncomfortable conversations or standing up for something important but controversial. But, as my reasoning sounded right, I was struggling to find a way out.

Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. My big question I was grappling with was who is this “yourself” in the statement? Is it me as in today? or the me that who I want to become? And, how do I choose the right one? a sustained contemplation got me the answer. Sure, sometimes seemingly obvious answer to you may take ages for others like me to find. And, when I did, I could clearly see that my current interpretation was against our basic instinct to grow and evolve. At the same time, a more powerful interpretation of being authentic was readily available and I ran with it.

This change in mindset has enabled me to go vegan, stick to intermittent fasting, exercise 6 days a week & stop eating 90% of the junk food – all within a space of 4 years.

Result? This ‘small change’ in perspective was one of the reason which has enabled to achieve lot. Consider all my major diet changes for instance in the past 5 years. In 2014, this had helped me leave out much loved masala chai & Lancashire farm yogurt & to finally take the plunge to go vegan. Last year, I successfully transitioned further into to intermittent fasting diet (2.5 meals within 8 hours & water fast for 16). And, finally, since the back end of 2018, I have managed to cut out 90% of junk foods & have started exercising 6 days a week without fail. So far, I have managed to stick with all of these tough but amazing changes that I am proud of. I have always known about the power of small changes in perspective but never expected to witness the same in my own life.

So, what was wrong with my previous interpretation?

When you first hear the three words together, they sound & feel right. And, they are. Every top marketer that I read and listen to, recommend it very highly. Seth Godin for instance, says that we as marketers need to be be authentic to get best results. Also, it is harder than ever to be authentic now due to constant scrutiny we face on social media. We are made to think twice before we like, share or speak about something. This makes it easy for us to lose our ‘authenticity opinion’. Hence, the message is to listen to the latter – our true inner voice or intuition with regards to the choices we make in life. This had made me to be true to ourselves as of ‘today’ or ‘at this moment’ to be precise.

But, intuition is nothing but a strong sense of feeling about something. So, in other words “being authentic” would mean as being true to our most strongest feeling at all times.

Our mind is more like a wrestling field where our four fundamental drives create feelings and thoughts that battle with each other to influence our action.

Now, if you consider our mind, it is not like a railway station which gets one thought or feeling after another. It is more like a wrestling field where our four fundamental drives create feelings and thoughts that battle with each other to influence our action. Most decisions we make are an outcome of such battles. The feeling to continue to sleep vs feeling to hit the gym, the feeling to prepare for the exam next week vs the feeling to binge watch that latest movie on Netflix, or the feeling to call that friend in need vs burying the head in other less important tasks like an ostrich. All are examples of such battles.

So, in these epic “battle of feelings” the winner is decided on different factors like our knowledge, maturity, mental strength, peer pressure & the urge of immediate pleasure that is waiting for us. And, if we always choose to be ‘Authentic’ to the feeling that wins, then we may not get very far. This interpretation of ‘Being Authentic’ actually sets us back by many thousands of years as only animals are loyal to their instincts, not humans. We are known for our self-restrain & our ability to control our instincts and urges. So, my previous version of “being authentic” discussed so far devolved me but I needed the one that moves us forward.

So, what’s a better perspective?

Well, we should be authentic. No questions there. But, if you are a person of growth mindset (which I think we all are), you must be authentic to your purpose (or the goal) and not your feelings. When you adopt such an interpretation, it may feel that you are not authentic because at times, as you will be fighting against that powerful feeling to quit or run away from the challenge but it feels natural to go with it.

When you do this, you tend to choose the right path, side with the right feelings & choose the higher, more difficult road towards personal and professional growth.

“You grow when you are authentic to your purpose, your values & your future ideal self that you are striving to be and not to your current feelings & emotions.”

So, this would mean that you are authentic to your mission & not to thoughts that distract them.

This would mean to be authentic to your true values even if your emotions are driving you towards a shortcut.

This would mean to be authentic to your true ideal self that you are striving to become even if you strongly feel it is not worth it.

The biggest impact with this change in mindset towards authenticity would be on your consistency. Consistency that this brings to the table will help you stick to the plan, keep your promises, & ship your work, no matter what. This Consistency brings the confidence to take on bigger and better challenges. Eventually, this makes others around us to trust us. Once there is trust, everyone around let their guard down & we will have deeper connections around us. Life become less arduous. No wonder, consistency is the most revered quality that is invaluable to both personal and professional life. But, you can only be consistent when you find a way to ward off distracting feelings & emotions, which is who you are today, & be authentic to your future ideal self.

Sure, it may not happen 100% of the time & you may still choose to go with your feelings from time to time. However, if you continue to be aware when making those decisions & choose to be authentic to your purpose, your mental muscle will become stronger. Soon, it will no longer be hard for you to hit the gym every morning, write that post every week or act out of compassion even in a hostile environment.

So, next time, when someone asks you to “Be Authentic” stop them & ask

“Authentic to what?”

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