“Be congruent. Be authentic. Be your true self.” —Mahatma Gandhi
It can be exhausting and disempowering to live a life in which you’re not being true to yourself — always saying what you think others want to hear, doing things you have no enthusiasm for, pretending you’re fine when you’re not.
Many of us learned at a young age that being our naturally bubbly and exuberant selves was often met with disapproval or got us into trouble.
We were told what to do— be a good boy, sit down and be quiet, stop playing in the mud, get down from that tree, put your jacket on, eat your broccoli.
And how to feel —boys don’t cry, children should be seen and not heard. And my mother’s favourite: “Stop crying or I’ll really give you something to cry about.”
The underlying message was clear: “It’s not OK to be yourself.”
So, rather than being natural and spontaneous, we learned to suppress our true nature in order to get the love and approval we needed.
And many of us carry these inauthentic, people pleasing patterns with us into adulthood.
Your true, authentic self will always seek expansion, creativity and aliveness.
I love the following story from the Indian spiritual teacher, Osho:
The Child and the Songbird
A child was sitting in math class one day. His desk was next to the window.
During the lesson, a beautiful songbird landed on a tree branch just outside the open window and began to sing. The song was so enchanting that the boy soon became totally absorbed in it.
That is, until the teacher’s voice snapped him out of his reverie. “Pay attention!” shouted the teacher.
Lost in the beautiful birdsong, the boy had completely forgotten about the math class.
But he had been paying attention. He was giving the bird his full, undivided attention.
It was the teacher who was distracting him from the beauty of the birdsong.
It is a pity they don’t teach us in school to honour and prioritise our curious and joyful selves. In fact, we are often taught just the opposite.
Society’s Roadmap To Success
Many of us were told at an early age that the roadmap to a happy and successful life is to study hard, get a well-paid job, get married, have kids, buy a house and that, when we have ticked all these boxes, THEN we will be happy.
Although we are already happy without any of these things, we absorb the message like sponges. Grown-ups must know what they are talking about, right?
We are advised to put our innate joy, playfulness and inner freedom aside for 25 years—to engage in things we often have no real interest in, with the promise that it will make us happy one day.
It is quite bizarre.
Now is the only time to be happy. Being true to yourself is key.
The real trick to being happy is to follow your inner calling and do whatever makes you feel expansive and alive.
Here are 7 tips to help you live a more congruent and authentic life.
1. Take an honest look at what’s working in your life and what isn’t
I invite you to take a pen and paper and write down all the things in your life that deplete you, suck your energy and make you unhappy—all those areas that are not in alignment with your true needs, desires and aspirations.
Journaling is a great tool for gaining clarity. Ask yourself these questions:
Where are you compromising your own vitality and wellbeing to do what others expect of you?
What are the things that truly inspire and excite you? And what’s preventing you from manifesting more of them?
What would need to change in your life for you to be congruent, authentic and true to yourself?
What kind of conversations would you need to have with the people around you?
2. You don’t need to hide your true thoughts and feelings
For years, I struggled with self-acceptance. I tried to hide the parts of myself I deemed unacceptable, believing that, if people knew what I was really like, they would judge and reject me.
I have since come to realise that the exact opposite is true. People admire and respect you more when you are honest, authentic and real.
Every one of us, without exception is a mess. It’s the human condition.
We can be loving, caring, confident, and giving in one moment. And in the next, we are jealous, angry, insecure or needy. And it’s all OK. There’s nothing wrong or shameful about any of it.
To be human is to be imperfect. It couldn’t be otherwise.
So, if you’re feeling down, admit it. If you are feeling angry, express it. If you’re having a moment of joy or gratitude, share it. This is how small children live.
Nothing is hidden. Everything is expressed fully, without reservation.
Many of us are programmed to believe that we need to be a certain way in order to be acceptable.
It is so freeing to drop the heavy burden of pretending you’re something you are not.
Being honest and vulnerable frees up so much energy and makes life much simpler, much less stressful. You never have to worry about being caught out, about being seen. What a relief!
3. Put on your own oxygen mask first
When you fly, there’s a good reason you’re advised to put on your own oxygen mask first. You’re not much use to anyone else if you pass out.
And it’s the same in life generally. If we are not receiving the oxygen of nourishing relationships, work satisfaction and having our deepest needs and desires met, we are running on empty and have little to give to others.
The greatest gift you can give another is the example of your own life working
When you are being true to yourself, you become a walking gift—an inspiration and example for everyone you come into contact with.
In 2004, I felt a deep longing to attend a 6-month meditation retreat in Canada. I was conflicted because it would mean not seeing my 14-year old daughter for half a year.
I didn’t know what to do. One part of me really wanted to go and another part felt guilty—felt I was being selfish.
I ended up going in the end. I will always remember something the head monk said to me when I told him I was feeling guilty about leaving my daughter.
He said, “What an amazing example you are setting—teaching her the importance of following your heart’s calling.”
4.Dance to the beat of your own drum
A lot of people get caught up in conforming to what society deems ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’.
Often there is pressure from your family, teachers or peers to go down the conventional route. And you end up complying, either to make others happy or because you don’t know what you really want.
And then you wake up one morning 30 years later and think “Where has all the time gone? What have I done with my life?”
“What do I really want?” is a great question to become crystal clear on. Otherwise you risk drifting aimlessly through life, living from a script you didn’t write and have no real passion or enthusiasm for.
So, what do you want? What feels expansive and alive for you? Grab your pen and paper and explore.
Do you want to live in a big house with a swimming pool? Or a yurt in the middle of a field?
Is a vibrant social life your thing? Or a life of solitude and contemplation?
Do you want to work hard and make lots of money? Or work less and have lots of free time for travel and adventure?
There’s no right or wrong way to live. We all end up in the same place in the end.
The only thing we can get ‘wrong’, perhaps is living at odds with our heart’s calling—you desire peace and solitude but find yourself working in a casino or nightclub.
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5. Live more from your heart and less from your head
I learned a great technique years ago for making decisions.
Let’s say you’re trying to decide between option A and option B.
Close your eyes and take a couple of deep, conscious breaths. When you feel settled, bring option A to mind. Picture yourself in this situation now, in the present moment. Bring it to life in your imagination—the smells, the colours, the people, the feeling of being there—as if you are already living it.
Notice how it FEELS to be there.
Now do the same with option B and notice how that feels.
Now compare how they both felt.
Does one feel lighter and more expansive? Did you get more of an inner ‘yes’ with one of the options? A feeling of resistance with the other?
I’ve experienced that my heart has infinitely more wisdom than my thinking mind, which generally operates from a place of fear and caution.
Your true, authentic self will always seek expansion, aliveness, and creativity.
I’ve discovered that whenever I follow my heart, life invariably takes care of my needs, often in ways I would never have imagined possible.
I recently heard the expression: “Live life in the passenger seat.” Hand the steering wheel over to life itself and let your intuition guide you.
Your heart is the gauge that knows when your being true to yourself.
6. It’s OK to jump ship mid-stream if that’s what feels right
Have you ever felt inspired to go down a particular path, invested time, money and effort (or emotion in an intimate relationship) only to realise that it didn’t feel right any more?
This is the story of my life. I’d be rich by now if it wasn’t for all the unused flight tickets I’ve bought over the years!
For various reasons, people often feel obliged to continue in a direction that no longer feels alive or serves their needs. They do it because they feel they should.
Maybe they have invested lot of time and money in training—years even. Maybe they believe they’ll be regarded as failures if they quit. Or maybe they’re just embarrassed to admit they’ve changed their minds.
As humans, we are not static beings. We are constantly changing, constantly evolving and, being congruent sometimes requires jumping ship mid-stream and going off in a completely different direction.
Being true to yourself may require constant readjustment.
I‘d definitely prefer to risk the judgement of others than live with the consequences of knowing I’m on the wrong path.
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7. Life starts where you comfort zone ends
“The best things in life are on the other side of fear.” — Will Smith
There is a constant tug-of-war going on inside each of us.
On one side, there is the conditioned ego mind, whose mission is to keep us safe and secure. The mind is the voice of reason and tends to be cautious and fear-based, with an aversion to risk taking.
On the other side is the free-spirited, adventurous, unconditioned Self that is not separate from LIFE itself— creative, constantly evolving, and always seeking greater expression and expansion.
Being true to yourself usually involves paying more attention to this part of your being.
Do you know the feeling of standing on the edge of a high diving board? On one hand, your knees are shaking and you feel terrified. At the same time, you are fully present and awake. Every cell of your body is tingling with aliveness.
Life starts where your comfort zone ends.
So, the question is:
Where in your life are you not heeding the call of your heart—the call of the LIFE inside you that is always seeking greater expression?
And what would it take to step out of your comfort zone and be true to yourself?
“People say that what we are all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we are really seeking. I think what we are seeking is an experience of being fully alive, so our life experiences on the purely physical plain will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” —Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth.
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