Being your authentic self in a hyperconnected world

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Jan 12, 2024

If you’re anything like me, you may find yourself occasionally feeling like you are processing your life in third-person, as if watching yourself in a movie. It can be difficult to juggle what may seem like disparate identities that we assume to navigate the different parts of our lives, like work, family, friends, even social media. In part, this is a normal aspect of the human experience as we must fulfill varying roles to countless people, whether that be as a mother, son, colleague, mentor, caretaker, and so on. However, in a world where the lines between our personal and professional lives – and now our physical and digital lives – are increasingly blurred, feeling like our “authentic selves” poses a serious challenge. 

If you are yearning to feel and be treated as a more authentic individual, you aren’t alone. This need grows even stronger when paid celebrity endorsers promise us products that can supposedly bring us closer to our “true selves,” but consistently fail to do so. Personal growth seems even more impossible when everything we do is permanently documented online for the world to see, with every mistake amplified. And if you are really anything like me, you probably feel paralyzed by the possibility of getting caught not putting your best foot forward – or, even worse, digitally documenting your life in a way that fails to capture the “real you.”

Why is it so difficult to feel authentic – and why is it even important?

Each day, uncertainty coupled with confusion seems to reach deeper into our being, as the world we inhabit becomes more multifaceted and fragmented.1 Where previously we could collectively rely on stable and unitary structures like family, religion, school, and our local community to inform us, today these systems are plagued by misinformation that fractures not only our understanding but our trust in them. As our lives become even more interconnected, it's impossible to identify one specific place to lay the foundation for building our identity. 

These blurry lines make the pursuit of our authentic selves more difficult. But no matter how elusive this may feel, it is still essential for our own sake that we strive to do so. Feeling inauthentic has been proven to make us also feel increasingly dissatisfied and anxious. On the flip side, embracing our authentic selves is shown to improve our overall well-being and benefit other psychometric markers like growth mindset and self-empowerment.2

Of course, to truly be authentic, we must answer the question: what even is our “authentic self?” It can be difficult to define exactly what authenticity is, because personalities are far from singular, and multiple things can be true for a single person who is constantly evolving. It is, for example, possible for a professed humanitarian to occasionally grapple with hateful thoughts towards fellow humans or to react unfairly under compromising circumstances (perhaps a poor night's rest). Another hypothetical contradiction is a sworn introvert seeking companionship, or conversely, an outspoken extrovert sometimes just wanting to be alone. The value of living and functioning more authentically is that we become more aware of the multifaceted features that make us up and are then able to integrate them into a cohesive self-structure.3

As a psychological state, authenticity is defined as a feeling people have when their behavior and experience are consistent with what they believe is their “true self” at any given moment.4 It is more of a subjective approach as opposed to an objective evaluation of who one truly is.5 Essentially, authenticity can be understood as the degree to which one is true to their own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures. Think of it as a powerful force that preserves our individual identity as we navigate our way through the world.

Living an authentic life is paramount to personal happiness and fulfillment. Remember that authentic individuals tend to experience a higher sense of well-being, exhibit a growth mindset, and feel a sense of empowerment in their lives. This, in turn, fosters resilience, creativity, and deeper relationships with others. In contrast, a lack of authenticity can lead to feelings of disconnection, dissatisfaction, and even mental health challenges.4

Our varying personal and professional lives each call upon different elements of our identities. In particular, our digital self, which we curate to attract validation by conforming to what we perceive to be online ideals, often clashes with the more nuanced elements of our identity.6 This dissonance leads us to feel inauthentic, as we struggle to reconcile varied facets of our self-concept. Overcoming this dissonance requires us to find a balance between the integration of these roles that feels genuine and true to our core values.

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What steps can we take to feel more authentic?

Authenticity is ultimately a feeling – and an awfully good feeling at that.5 However, before jumping into evidence-based strategies for feeling authentic, it’s important to remember that feeling inauthentic, like an imposter even, is a part of our development that naturally occurs as we grow over the course of our lives. 

Evidence suggests that nurturing authenticity is the collective function of:5

  1. Increasing self-awareness: Self-awareness is the cornerstone of authenticity as it is predicated on understanding and accepting the differing elements that make up our personalities - strengths, weaknesses, and contradictions alike. It’s the first step towards integrating all of the elements that make us up, into a unique and cohesive self-structure. 
  2. Unbiased processing: Where self-awareness is about understanding inner worlds, unbiased processing is about understanding how we make sense of the outer world and interpret information about ourselves. Getting better adept with unbiased processing results in increased self-compassion when taking in difficult or negative information about ourselves, and ultimately results in the ability to better tolerate self-criticism.
  3. Embracing yourself: Authenticity demands that reasoning for actions is not purely derived from a desire for reward or simply to please others, but in a way that deeply resonates with ourselves, even when those actions deviate from societal, familial, or socio-normative expectations (within legal reason of course!).
  4. Opening up our relational orientations as much as possible: Fostering deeper, more honest, and ultimately meaningful relationships is contingent on being as open as possible with the people in our lives with whom we share important relationships with. This is done by letting those people see the real us, especially those parts of yourself that are not commonly discussed - which ultimately results in a better understanding of ourselves and those close to us, alongside an improved capacity for self-compassion and self-understanding.
  5. Embracing growth and change: A part of feeling and ultimately being more authentic is getting through periods of not feeling authentic. However, this discomfort is a part of the process and should be embraced during our personal evolution toward becoming our authentic selves.

On a day-to-day basis, there are simple steps that can be intentionally taken that will support us in feeling, being, and ultimately developing into our most authentic selves, while still benefiting from and functioning within a hyperconnected world.

  1. Limit social media use: This doesn’t mean deleting all of your social media, but rather using fewer platforms or spending less time on them altogether. Doing so removes you from a public zone of judgment, providing space to intentionally and deeply focus on understanding yourself and your interests. Limiting social media use also forces you to engage with the real and important relationships in your life, allowing for a more personal way to experience self-growth that is not influenced by an algorithm.7
  2. Embrace mindfulness practices: Evidence-based mindfulness practices like meditation are a proven way to improve self-awareness due to their cultivation of skills related to unbiased processing and self-acceptance.8 Such practices empower us to better understand ourselves, including our needs, wants, aspirations, and moods.
  3. Reflective journaling and expressive journaling: Reflective journaling provides opportunities to cultivate better self-awareness, while expressive journaling methods, like the Pennebaker method, equip us with tools to organize events that happen to us in our minds. These combined journaling practices facilitate unbiased processing, enabling us to more compassionately understand emotional events.9
  4. Cognitive behavioral therapy exercises: CBT exercises help to rewire thought patterns, enabling us to process events in an objective manner.10 They also help us better understand our individual behaviors and actions, which empower us to identify opportunities to act in manners that resonate with us most “authentically.”
  5. Seeking feedback: Seeking constructive feedback regularly from the people we trust most serves to foster stronger and more communicative relationships with those closest to us. Moreover, it also serves a dual purpose of calibrating our self-awareness and mechanisms related to unbiased processing, in an environment that is intended to be supportive.3, 4
  6. Setting personal boundaries: Setting healthy boundaries and learning to say no protects our time and energy from being overwhelmed by the demands of others. It is crucial for maintaining our authentic selves while cultivating relationships that are both healthier and mutually beneficial.2
  7. Explore your curiosity: Engaging in activities that interest us, we genuinely enjoy, and find meaning in are crucial towards embracing growth and change, all while remaining true to ourselves.3 They are the building blocks through which we grow, find, and adapt ourselves, while also providing a grounding to who we authentically are now, and who we have authentically been throughout time.

The Grand Scheme

Amidst the confusion and unpredictability of an increasingly complex world, authenticity is a stabilizing force that offers psychological grounding and a basis for shared realities. By being more authentically ourselves, we benefit everyone by directly contributing to a culture that actively fosters a more conscientious approach to life. 

Living authentically in today’s world is profoundly rewarding, albeit not without challenge; it involves a more active and continuous process than ever before of fostering self-awareness, objective self-assessment, genuine behavior, and close relationships. In navigating our increasingly interwoven personal, professional, and digital lives, we must aim to be adaptively authentic and continually evolving, all while staying true to our core selves. With these steps, backed by behavioral science, hopefully we can all be a bit closer to doing so.

References

  1. Leppanen, S., Aunola, K., & Nurmi J. (2015) Authenticity, normativity and social media. Retrieved from: https://jyx.jyu.fi/bitstream/handle/123456789/46514/1/leppanenetalfinaldraft.pdf
  2. Krelling, R., Meier, A., Reinecke, L. (2022) Feeling Authentic on Social Media: Subjective Authenticity Across Instagram Stories and Posts. Retrieved from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/20563051221086235
  3. Kernis, M., & Goldman, B. (2006) A multicomponent conceptualization of authenticity: Theory and research. Retrieved from: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2007-19538-006
  4. Gino, F., & Kouchaki, M. (2020) Feeling authentic serves as a buffer against rejection. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0749597816305489
  5. Lenton, A., Bruder, M., Slabu, L., & Sedikides, C. (2012). Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2012.00805.x
  6. Ismail, S., & Latif, R. (2013) Authenticity Issues of Social Media: Credibility, Quality and Reality. Retrieved from: https://ir.unikl.edu.my/jspui/bitstream/123456789/1504/1/Authenticity%20Issues%20of%20Social%20MediaCredibility%20Quality%20and%20Reality.pdf
  7. Pandey, N. (2023) Social comparison in the age of Social media. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologs.com/social-comparison-in-the-age-of-social-media/
  8. Zheng, S., Sun, S., Huang, C., & Zou, Z. (2020) Authenticity and subjective well-being: The mediating role of mindfulness. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0092656619301217
  9. Huberman, A. (2023) A Science-Supported Journaling Protocol to Improve Mental & Physical Health. Retrieved from: https://www.hubermanlab.com/episode/a-science-supported-journaling-protocol-to-improve-mental-physical-health
  10. The Decision Lab. (2021) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Retrieved from: https://thedecisionlab.com/reference-guide/psychology/cognitive-behavioral-therapy

About the Author

Brice Gower

Brice Gower

Brice is a Consultant at The Decision Lab. He is passionate about harnessing the benefits of technological innovation, artificial intelligence, and decision science to bring about equitable outcomes for the whole of society. Prior to joining The Decision Lab, he lived in the Netherlands while studying for an LLB in International & European law at Maastricht University, where his thesis proposed a global framework for taxing AI & robotics. In his spare time, Brice is an avid tennis player, running enthusiast, and passionate supporter of Croatian soccer.

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