In the first part of this blog I set out four reasons why aiming to ‘be authentic’ is not only not achievable (which part of your multi-facted personality is ‘really you’?), it’s also often a terrible idea (you’d do better to bring your better self to work, and leave the fun-loving hoon for Friday nights). I also promised, however, to suggest a better way. Here it is, again in four parts.
The first part is to recognise and come to terms with your multi-faceted self. We’ve all had the experience of surprising ourselves, either by being able to do things that we thought were beyond us (because our understanding at the time was limited, for example, or because we aren’t very accurate at assessing our own abilities and resources), or by finding that something we want to achieve just doesn’t seem to be happening and somehow we seem to be getting in our own way (you want to get fit, for example, but don’t).
We all have a ‘future self,’ which is focused on what we want over time (that’s impressed by thoughts such as ‘a second on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’), and an impulsive ‘right now self,’ which is much more attracted by that piece of cake and does a very good job of shushing our other voices.
The advantage, by the way, of coming to terms with your multi-faceted self is that it gives you options, and in any situation the side that has the more options usually prevails. If you aim for authenticity, then the assumption is that you have a ‘real’ core, a sincere self that is, presumably, pretty much set in stone. Find it and bring it. The alternative I’m suggesting is to recognise what is already obvious – you don’t have a ‘real’ core, but many different parts – and see which of your many and varied skills, resources, parts, strengths you judge will serve you best in a particular situation. (This may sound like a lot of hard work. It isn’t. You’re already bringing different parts to different situations – it’s just that you’re doing so automatically and without being aware that’s what you’re doing.)
The second part is to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of those various parts. There is much to be said for your future self if it’s good at setting up goals and aspirations, planning ahead and motivating you to get going. However, for many of us that future self is the anxious part, the worrying part that catastrophizes and paralyses us – in which case, it needs some help and support to become a better ally.
Similarly, if you have all kinds of great plans but have developed the belief that you have ‘terrible willpower,’ and find that you can’t stick at anything, or perhaps you’re a big dreamer (great future self) and a massive procrastinator, then your ‘right now self’ is not serving you well. You probably already have a good sense of where your strengths and weaknesses lie in this respect.
The third part is to discover how to access them in the appropriate circumstances, and this may require you doing some further work and perhaps getting some help. If you were brought up by a worrier (over-active future self: you can only be anxious about the future) and you’ve absorbed that way of being very well, then why would you expect to be able to ‘just get over it’? And if you find your ‘right now self’ seems to be too much in charge, then your ‘future self’ can make plans to do work on that, and find someone who can help you get it sorted. It can be done, and is being done every day.
Finally, instead of being authentic – which is all about making the world fit you – aim instead for congruency to the situation, which is to say knowing what is appropriate in which circumstance, and bringing the best part of you. Being congruent to the situation means using your intelligence and logic to work out what is required, and having the inner qualities to identify your best, most appropriate parts and how to bring them.
As an example, let’s suppose you have a big presentation to make at work. The authentic approach may be to concentrate on your feelings, on whether this feels right for you. No-one cares (except you). And why are your feelings important? In fact, as an expert in this space, Christina Canters, observes, focusing on your internals is a terrible way to go about either preparing for or delivering a presentation. Far, far better to set out a plan to create an excellent presentation (it’s a skill, or a set of skills, so forget the ‘born presenter’ stuff); know what would count as a terrific presentation; know that there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ presentation (there’s hundreds of different ways of being terrific, and no way at all of being perfect); think of your audience rather than yourself; and get on with preparing.
Being congruent to the situation means knowing that you’re far more interesting and varied than a miserable thin little ‘core self,’ and giving yourself the gift of options. And the better you get at this, the more you are changing, and for the better. The parts you need in particular situations get used more, and thus get better; and the parts (anxiety, procrastination) that could do with a rest, get it – until they are needed (there will be a time when you when you should be anxious; there will be a time when action is not the best policy).
If you have a big challenge ahead of you that you'd like to prepare for, such as a presentation or an exam, give me a call (no charge, no commitment) to discuss how Clinical Hypnotherapy can help bring our the best part of you for that particular situation...
PS Since I wrote this, I've seen a really interesting interview discussing Elon Musk's brain and how he and other entrepreneurs and innovators are really very, very different from the rest of us. It's with Melissa Schilling, a management professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, who recently wrote a book called Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World, Here's the interview, and here's a link to an extract from the book.