The Authentic You

Epictetus once said, “It is impossible for man to learn that which he thinks he already knows.” This quotation sums up why so many of us are not experiencing contentment or serenity in our lives. We think we possess knowledge that we actually haven’t yet acquired. And where our ignorance has the most devastating impact on our ultimate outcome is when it pertains directly to ourselves.

If we think we know ourselves, yet we have never taken the time to understand ourselves, then it will never be possible for us to live an authentic life.  What is an authentic life?  It is a life in which we are making the decisions that are in keeping with what is best for is. It is a life where the opinion of those around us matters a great deal less than the opinions we have about ourselves.

To live authentically, you have to strip yourself of everything that is not genuine. You have to let go of learned behavior that does not match up with who you really are. And you have to get to the point where you would rather disappoint everyone else in your life than to disappoint you.

Some people would say that such a philosophy promotes selfishness. But what it really does is enable you to give others the freedom to be authentic, too. Once you cease meeting or trying to meet the expectations of others at the expense of your own needs, they will be forced to gain clarity about themselves and what their needs may be.

I have spoken about the potency of habits in a previous blog post. And I want to delve more deeply into the way that habits can negatively impact both your life and the lives of those around you. When William James wrote his chapter on “Habit” in his Principles of Psychology, there were many things about human behavior that had not yet been discovered or analyzed. James encouraged people to allow certain actions to become habitual, such as eating a meal or taking a bath.

The problem is, even these seemingly innocuous activities should actually be engaged in while we are thinking about them. Why? Well, the more we get into the pattern of doing things without engaging our mental faculties, the more inclined we are to not use those faculties at times that it is essential for us to do so. Now, there obviously are habits that have a positive influence on our lives. But sometimes we need to make sure that the habits we think are positive actually are.

For example, if we have a habit of repressing our true thoughts and opinions in order to be accepted by others, is that really a good habit?  Or does it simply appear to be good on the surface? And, even if we do win this much sought-after acceptance, is it really worth very much if we had to pretend to be someone other than ourselves in order to gain it?

Let me ask you something. If someone told you that he or she would write a book under your name and that it would be a best-seller, would you think that was a tempting idea? Even if you did, would the accolades that you received when the book was published mean nearly as much to you as if you had written the book yourself? Or would a certain part of you feel like a fraud?

When people told you what a wonderful writer you were, would that mean that you would actually believe them? Or is it possible that you could get to the point where you actually believed that you had written the book? If you answer no, I challenge you to reconsider your reply. Although you may think that I’m taking things too far by using this example to illustrate my point, you probably at least concede that it would be possible for some people to buy into their own fraudulent identity.

Sometimes it is easier to get trapped in a life that is compromised of learned behavior patterns and assumed opinions than it is to explore our own authenticity as an individual. To conform to what others think we should be does not require courage or conviction. What it does take is a self-image that is not clearly defined. I am often told by people who cross my path that they would finally have happiness or contentment in their lives if they could just find the right career or if the man or woman of their dreams would miraculously come into their lives. Although I empathize with such thought patterns, I think that they are both unrealistic and dangerous.

For one thing, such beliefs prevent us from taking the time to work on ourselves. They remove the necessity of personal growth because we are looking at  something outside of ourselves to make us complete.  And, when that person or that career fails to live up to our idyllic fantasies, we are left feeling even more dissatisfied than we were before. In a way, it’s like someone with an eating disorder attempting to “cure” the problem without getting to the root of what is causing it.

When I was thirteen, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. The illness itself harmed me far less than the way the doctor I was seeing at the time treated the illness. Rather than taking the time to analyze and examine what was causing me to deprive myself of nourishment, she blamed me for not eating and seemed to subscribe to the erroneous assumption that I was making a conscious choice not to eat. If you know anything about anorexia, you understand that it is not a choice. Even though those who are anorexic often use starvation as a coping mechanism to handle the fact that certain aspects of their lives seem to be beyond their control, they are not consciously engaging in this behavior.

Similarly, if you are unfulfilled or unhappy and you are seeking a relationship or a career to escape from the emptiness within yourself, you may not be doing this intentionally. When we feel a void within us, it is only natural that we might have a frantic need to fill that emptiness.  It’s interesting how quick we are to talk about connecting or reconnecting with our bliss. But is there still not the assumption that we have discovered our “bliss”? Emptiness and bliss are not compatible. Thus, as long as we have a nagging sense of dissatisfaction within ourselves, we are not only not connecting with our bliss–we have not found our “bliss”.

Of course, like the word happiness, bliss is also a word that can be defined in many different ways. However, I have the sense that it conveys the essence of elation or exuberance. If we use that definition of bliss or even partially subscribe to that definition, then we must also admit that there are not many people whom we have ever known who have seemed very exuberant or elated. Does this mean that it is unrealistic to expect to ever feel bliss? No. But it does mean that we may have to redefine the word. The other option is that we will have to accept the fact that, even though we want to believe we are connected to our bliss, we are actually still pursuing it.

One assumption that prevents us from living authentically is the idea that happiness or bliss is a destination that we will someday reach. Perhaps, some of us even think that if we feel loved and appreciated enough, contentment will be ours. But what sort of contentment are we seeking? If you are honest with yourself, I think you’ll admit that you are not looking for the temporary feeling of rapture that comes from devouring a piece of chocolate cake.

Chocolate cake is wonderful, but once you’ve eaten it, it’s gone. If you pursue the wrong type of bliss or if you are not clear about the type of bliss that you won’t, you may end up with a lot of what I would call “chocolate cake” moments but no lasting feeling of fulfillment or significance. Is that what you want? Even if you could exist on a diet of nothing but candy, cake, and cookies, would that ultimately satisfy you?

To me, the satisfaction that comes from lots of  “chocolate cake moments” is a bit like the happiness that is derived from buying clothes and jewelry or taking a trip to some country you’ve never traveled to before. Sure, there is enjoyment–but how long does it last, and how profound is it? Your soul is never going to be content if the only nourishment it gets are from things that have no lasting value.

At the end of your life, knowing that you have lived authentically and honestly is going to mean a great deal more to you than how many pairs of shoes you have in the closet or how many trips to Europe or exotic locales you have taken. And unless you are living authentically at the time that you enter into a relationship or marriage, you will not find happiness in that partnership, either. For no matter how much love, admiration, and acceptance you get, if it isn’t the authentic you who is being accepted or loved or admired, how can it make you happy?  

An actor I once knew told me that he believed that nearly all people are wearing masks and that only when we get to the point in our lives where we are willing to take off our masks will we be at peace with ourselves. It is somewhat uncomfortable to accept this concept. For, if we do, we have to wonder how much of the behavior we are witnessing on the part of those around us is sincere.  But when we understand the reason why we wear masks, we can embrace the idea without it making us feel overwhelmed, confused, or uneasy.

Usually, we put on these masks at a very young age. Why? Because when we are children, we start being told what behavior is “acceptable” and what behavior is “unacceptable”. Our hands are slapped when we touch the hot stove, and we get a spanking when we decide to stick our finger in an electrical outlet. We hear so many “thou shalt nots” that, merely for the sake of ease, we repress our needs and desires and modify our words and actions in order to please those around us.

The problem is that we carry this repressed behavior into our adult life, and, instead of the masks getting more transparent, they oftentimes get more opaque. Eventually, separating our real faces from the masks that have been covering them for so long becomes almost impossible. For one thing, the masks have become our security blankets. As long as we are wearing them, we are able to face the world without having to constantly worry about being rejected. Even though we may get rejected when we wear our masks, the real persons being rejected are the persons we’re pretending to be.

In a way, wearing a mask not only protects us from being hurt but it also means that many of the negative judgements that are made about us can be disregarded. We can tell ourselves, “Well, that person didn’t really know me. If  he had, he wouldn’t have rejected me.” Yes, this  may be the case, but is it not better to be rejected for ourselves than to be accepted for someone we’re not? 

If we do not give other people the chance to see and get to know the true individuals that we are, we are inadvertently forcing them into the role of unwitting conspirators in our  elaborate attempts to weave a life built upon half-truths and lies. So, we are both failing to connect with our own authenticity and encouraging others to be inauthentic as well.

As I learn more and more about human behavior and examine with growing clarity the role that our mental conditioning and our learned patterns of behavior play in our success and happiness, I realize that as much as an artist works to perfect his paintings or a pianist works to polish his or her technique, we must work at mastering the art of living.  Once again, I turn to Epictetus, who said, “For as carpenter’s material is wood, and that of the statuary is copper, so the matter of the art of living is each man’s life.”  In the end, each of our lives if what we have made of it, and we can either choose to master the art of living or we can always be stuck in a never-ending cycle of lies, destructive patterns, deception, emotional pain, and learned behaviors. Which choice will you make?

Until soon,

Alexis, the SuccessDiva

This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All rights are reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva

Live Without Limits!

ballerina31I have oftentimes said that in order to achieve the results we want in any area of our lives, we have to discover the ingredients we need to make those results happen. Pretend for just one moment that you are a master chef who is creating a new recipe with no guidance or direction . . . a recipe that will be the product of creativity, expertise, knowledge, and perhaps a dash of two of instinct. Do you see that having each ingredient in the right proportion will be essential to the eventual outcome? This may sound a bit like a scientific experiment to some of you, and in a way life can be like that, also. When we find that the thought patterns and attitudes that we have held onto for so long are no longer working for us, we are forced to either remain unfulfilled or to explore new choices and different decisions.

As I said in my blog article “Be Yourself”, you cannot always count on someone else backing you up in a decision that you make. Why? Well, although there are those toxic individuals who might well not have your best interest at heart, there are also those people who are rather timid souls themselves and are therefore apt to discourage you from taking any major risks.

I’m sure you realize by now that I am a diva who is willing to take risks. But that doesn’t mean that I have’t had plenty of times in which I have either pressured myself or  been pressured by others into continuing down a path that was not the right one for me.

To cut away from the path that has been chosen by you or by others for you requires you to be bold and daring. Does it require you to let go of fear? No, it doesn’t. What it does require, however, is for you to allow your faith in yourself to overcome your fear.

Susan Jeffers wrote a book entitled Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, and I think that title sums up the kind of attitude towards life that you have to adopt. If you wait for fear to go away, you will die with most of your potential still locked inside you. Conversely, if you understand that only until you push past the fear and do what you want to do or need to do in spite of fear, you will end up creating the kind of life that you have always desired.

I remember reading Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway a couple of years ago. I thought I had absorbed the concept of the book completely. For a few weeks, I recommended the book to everyone who crossed my path, thinking that it contained the “secret” to ultimate success and fulfillment. The problem was, even though I had read every word in Susan Jeffers’ book, I had not learned how to apply the knowledge I had acquired.  Have you ever listened to a self-help CD program or read a motivational book and felt incredibly enthusiastic about it only to find that the feeling was only temporary? If so, why do you think that is? Well, for one thing, you have probably fallen into a set of habits in your life–habits that pretty much have control over most of your thoughts and actions.

The American psychologist and philosopher William James, in his work The Principles of Psychology, discusses the role that habit plays in our destiny in the chapter entitled “Habit”. James recounts incidents in which people’s habits have become so deeply ingrained that much of the time they do not even think about that which they are doing. He encourages us to make our nervous system our ally in the establishment of a new habit, for it is within our nervous system that habits take root, for better or worse. 

When someone talks about being on “automatic pilot,” what he or she means is that whatever action is being spoken of has become almost entirely automatic on his or her part. In a way, if you let enough of your habits become automatic, you are more like an automaton than a human being. That is, of course, an exaggeration. Yet I think it points out with remarkable clarity how dangerous it could be to allow yourself to lapse into a mode in which your cognitive functions are scarcely being used at all.

One thing that sets humans apart from animals is our ability to reason and to make conscious choices about our behavior. In the animal world, procreation is more of an instinct than a decision, whereas many people never have offspring. When we choose to ignore the pivotal role that our mind and our thoughts have in our lives, we are negating that which sets us apart as unique and remarkable human beings. At any given moment in time, we have the ability to make a change in our lives, whether small or large, simply by changing the way we think. Yet, so many of us do not take advantage of this incredible ability we possess. Yes, sometimes it is a struggle to change our thoughts when our emotions are in conflict with those thoughts.  But when we minimize our instinctual responses and try to tap into our incredible reasoning capabilities, we will usually find that we can make a change that might have seemed impossible at first.

Since I mentioned recipes, cooking, and ingredients at the beginning of my post, I want to return to the idea of life being like a recipe. There are not only things you have to put into the recipe but also there are ingredients that you have to leave out. That means that concocting the dish of your dreams may be as much about letting go as it is about increasing. Some things that you will find necessary to let go of may not ever have been very important to you. You may not miss a friend whom you only saw a couple of times a year or a summer vacation to Disney World.  And, deleting trivial relationships and insignificant activities from your life can accomplish a great deal.

But, there are usually a few things in life that we are attached to that we find we must also let go of . . .  if, that is, we are to create a life that even begins to match up with our dreams. We may have to break ties with a toxic parent who continues to be an unhealthy influence on our lives. Or we might have to give up our “secure” job to pursue a career that everyone else tells us is “wishful thinking”. Do you see where feeling the fear yet doing it anyway is such a powerful and essential philosophy?

The writer Anais Nin once said, “There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I think that waiting until the idea of not taking a risk becomes painful is not necessarily the wisest course of action. However, if you need to get to that point to become aware of how desperately you need to make a change or take a chance, it is a positive turn of events. I have spent my life taking risks of one kind or another, and I have oftentimes been asked by people where what they perceive to be a steadfast confidence in myself and my abilities comes from.

When I tell them that I actually have to overcome a massive amount of fear to do whatever it is that they find so remarkable, they find it astonishing. This is usually because many people assume that anyone who would dare to take a significant risk must have a sense of assurance that taking that risk will be to their benefit. But, what is the truth? Even though most of us were adventurous when we were children, as we grow up, it is nearly impossible not to be conditioned by society and those around us into believing that there are certain things we simply cannot do.

So, why do certain individuals go after goals that would seem unreachable to some and actually achieve them? Is it probable that these particular people never came into contact with anyone who discouraged them? I think both you and I know the answer to that question. If anything, those who have accomplished things of the greatest significance have had to overcome an outrageous amount of criticism and/or negativity in order to do so. What they did not generally have to overcome is a timidity of the soul that prevented them from being willing to cast aside the opinions of others and pursue their dreams regardless of anyone else’s advice or views. In the end, no matter how many times these incredible achievers listened to those who had no faith in them and their dreams–no matter how many times they allowed these naysayers to affect their behavior–they ultimately believed in themselves enough to go after what they wanted.

Whenever I speak of faith, I tend to suspect that many of you think I am talking about religious faith. But that isn’t what I’m speaking of. Although it can indeed be beneficial to have faith in a force greater than yourself, what I am talking about is faith in you. It’s so easy to exaggerate our flaws and to focus on our past failures and disappointments. After awhile, the person we see ourselves as is not the person we are but rather the person whom our decisions and actions have made us believe that we are. It takes a lot of effort and determination to let go of every negative judgement you’ve made about yourself and every preconceived idea you may be subscribing to about your abilities. Yet, until you can separate the “you” that you are from the “you” that you think you are, you will never become the person that you are meant to be. 

You have to take off those dusty spectacles through which you are seeing yourself and the world around you and put on a clean pair of glasses that will enable you to see everything the way it really is. You do want to perceive things from a realistic vantage point, don’t you? Well then, it’s essential that you be willing to let go of your limiting ideas and your narrow-minded views. Then, you can embrace the full potentiality of who you are and all the possibilities and opportunities that are waiting for you in your life.

Sure, you will make mistakes when you decide to be adventurous and take risks. Yes, you will disappoint people when your actions and choices fail to match up with what they think you should do. You will probably also not meet the expectations others have of you . . . possibly even those whose approval and acceptance you have been completely dependent on. But what’s better–disappointing everyone else or disappointing yourself?

You know in your heart that there is something right now you want to do that you’re not doing. There is a choice or a change you want to make that you are apprehensive about. Well, what is apprehension but another form of fear? It is with courage that we achieve great things.

Fear only weakens us. Although it may seem to be protecting us from making a decision that could be wrong, it is actually eroding every bit of our self-confidence. When you protect yourself, you are also shielding yourself. You are putting a barrier up between yourself and everything that surrounds you. I still maintain that it is important to guard our hearts. But there is a vast difference in preserving our emotional well-being and protecting ourselves from the universe that surrounds us.

You can be trusting and still be careful. You can be wise yet still be vulnerable. I love the verse in the Bible that says, “be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). I think that passage of scripture illustrates how well two seemingly contradictory attributes can work together. We do need to be able to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the world with the innocence of a dove . . . or, as the case may be, of a child. At the same time, if we do not use discernment and wisdom in all that we do, we will be ravaged by the cruelty and brutality of those who have lost all sense of humanity.

I have perfect faith that every one of you who is reading this post is going to discover that you are capable of much more than you ever imagined. And I hope that you won’t wait another moment to let go of your mental restraints and limiting beliefs so that you can live a life without limits!

Until soon,

Alexis, the SuccessDiva

This page and all written material at the SuccessDiva pages is written by Alexis Wingate. All rights are reserved. (C) Copyright by Alexis Wingate, the SuccessDiva