Two Ways to Use Authenticity to Harness Your Personal Power

Friday, April 29, 2016

“Just be yourself.”

It’s the most common advice given to us when we’re facing situations that make us uneasy.  Yet it’s precisely these situations that threaten our sense of self and often convince us to act like someone we’re not in order to gain approval from others.  Not only is this tremendously exhausting, but it also leads to more unease after the fact as we berate ourselves with all those things we could have said differently or should have done better.  

The best way to unshackle ourselves from the pressure of pleasing others is to rest secure in the awareness of our own inherent awesomeness and worth, a tactic that makes us immune to the thoughts and opinions of others.

Sounds like a tall (and admittedly pretty vague) order, right?  You might be wondering, How exactly do I do that? 

I just started reading Presence by Amy Cuddy, a fascinating book that focuses on how we can bring our boldest, most powerful selves to the stressful situations that demand such a response.  She discusses how we can bring our minds in tune with our bodies, and vice versa, to take personal command of vulnerable moments, so that we walk away confident in the knowledge that we were present enough to perform our best. 

Unsurprisingly, some have contradicted Amy’s research by suggesting that assuming an air of confidence in a circumstance that actually threatens us that is being “fake,” a phenomenon we’re all too familiar with.  She refutes this claim by arguing that cultivating confidence and presence are not at all about assuming a phony air.  That’s called asynchrony, and it refers to the incongruity between our actions and our words.  We see this when people are indeed being what we’d consider “fake”: they’ll say, for example, “It’s so great to see you!” but their voice is high-pitched and the hug they offer you is stiff and short, so it comes off as disingenuous.  

Real confidence and presence come from connecting with what Cuddy refers to as your authentic best self.  From there, we can approach the world secure in our sense of self-worth and the assurance that we have inherent value independent of the outcome of an event, or what another person might think of us.  And when we believe that we are already enough, we can genuinely express that and create a true sense of confident presence. 

Okay, you might be thinking.  I’m convinced.  But how do I figure out who my authentic best self even is?

Cuddy has an answer for that, too, which I’ve paraphrased and modified a tiny bit below:

Reflect on what your core values are.    

Make a list of the things that bring you the most joy and the greatest sense of fulfillment in your life, and take a minute or two for each to write about why they’re important to you.  Deciding what you value, and deciding that those are wonderful things, frees you from being shackled to someone else’s opinion of you, which is a huge stressor in vulnerable social situations.  You don’t need their opinion because you’re already awesome!  Shoot for somewhere between five and ten things — I’ve included my list below as an example:

The key thing here is to be honest with yourself about what you value right now, so you don’t end up berating yourself for not yet having reached some idealized future version of yourself.  It’s fine, and in fact, encouraged, to set goals for the future, and you very well may find that your values change during the course of your life, but don’t let the future be the enemy of the now.  You can’t love yourself as you are without first understanding who you are.

Once you have your list of values, make these your affirmations.

Hang your list somewhere you’ll see it each day, and repeat these values in your head when you doubt yourself, or when you’re heading into a stressful or vulnerable situation.  Reminding yourself of the substance of who you are, of what you’re most proud of, of what you love the most about yourself, is a powerful way of boosting your self-confidence and reinforcing the truth that you have worth regardless of what happens.  Because when you love yourself, you don’t need to concern yourself with what other people may or may not think.

Bolstered by a true sense of self and the knowledge that you have worth means you’ll be more likely to believe you’re worthy of that raise you’re asking for, the job you’re interviewing for, the respect your presentation or your voice in class demands, or whatever else you might be hoping for in that moment of vulnerability.  I tried this technique myself yesterday before an informational interview with someone I’d never met, when a tiny voice in the back of the my head wondered why they would want to listen to or help me, and it was so empowering.  

Seriously.  Give it a try.  Love yourself and you're unstoppable. :)

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