Living Authentically: The Genuine You

It is the unique combination of talents, personality and experience that make each of us vital to the whole. We sometimes cover up the “real” us; maybe someone once said we were “a bit too much” when we were little or we’re worried that we won’t be accepted if we show up fully ourselves. Of course, these are just notions that don’t serve any good purpose for us or the world. And while it’s true, that we can’t just let it “all hang out” during a workday, we can show up for work with our most authentic self in place.

The way to live more genuinely, is more about a both/and vs. an either/or approach to life. Here are 5 helpful both/and suggestions for living authentically:

1. Be deliberate. Roy Baumeister, professor of psychology at the University of Florida, states that “authenticity consists in being aware that you have choices and consciously choosing what you do.” A large part of living an authentic life involves being aware of your ability to chart your own course and responsibly choose your behaviors.

2. Don’t be too deliberate. Without this seeming like a completely contradictory message, consider how you can be intentional in your behaviors without over analyzing and over thinking everything. You want to be centered within an intuitive understanding of who you are as a person. Mark Leary, psychologist at Duke University explains that “people often make better decisions when they don’t think about them too intensely. Go with your gut. Authentic reactions are much more at a gut level.”

3. Mindfulness practice (of course)- Deep attention creates moments of happiness not contingent on outcomes or external factors or manipulation of the environment. Mindfulness meditation enables you to become a curious, accepting, and nonjudgmental observer of your experience. When you are truly connected to the present moment, there is less attachment to needing certain outcomes or trying to control the way things are. It puts things in perspective and increases connection with the whole of life.

4. Cultivating Solitude. Peter Kramer, a researcher at Brown University notes that “Quiet and time for the self are a big plus. If you’re worried about inauthenticity, there’s nothing like shutting the door.” While people differ on their individual needs for the amount of quiet time needed to relax and recharge, the benefits are many. And with the warm weather, you may want to take advantage of a little “forest bathing”, a Japanese practice of meditation while walking in the woods. In addition to the many known benefits of spending time outdoors, studies suggest that when you’re in nature, the trees and plants emit oils called phytoncides that enhance the immune system.

5. Stay Connected. The idea is to find the right balance between reflective solitude and connection with others that is healthy for you. You can learn a great deal about yourself and your strengths through carefully examining your interactions. Try noticing how you show up in relationship with others. If you are tired or irritable more than you would like, you may just need 15 to 30 minutes alone to recharge. You may just as easily find that being with friends, family, and coworkers lifts your spirits and inspires. Simply be aware of what you’re in need of in any given moment. While we may be positively affected by external factors and forces in our life, it is always wise to check inwardly with ourselves too.  

With practice, these hallmarks of living genuinely become true for you:

    Feeling open to your moment to moment experience without distortions, denial, or self-invalidation.
    Living a fully awake life in the present moment, feeling a sense of dynamism and not being static.
    Deep trust in your own intuition and ability to self-direct your own course in life.
    Feeling the freedom and ability to respond, rather than react to experiences as they occur.
    Adopting a creative approach to life, demonstrating flexibility rather than rigidity and closed-mindedness.
    May you start wherever you are, today.



“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”- John Dewey

1.Leadership is not simply a title given to those with a supervisory role or hold a job title that sounds leader-like. Leadership is about influencing people and processes in service of accomplishing a collective aim or goal. Such influence can be performed by any member of a group or organization. This notion of leadership is a fundamental state that we can enter and exit when called upon. It’s about focusing on collective needs and goals and influencing the group towards results that benefit the whole.

2.Learning leadership from lived experience. Thinking about leadership as an identity or state of mind that anyone can enter into, permits leaders to emerge at all levels of an organization. One way we can develop our leadership abilities on a daily basis is by approaching our own lived experiences mindfully. This process is engaging in and reflecting on our own experiences in a particular way; a way that promotes learning and development, no matter how “good” or “bad” an experience is deemed. And with continued practice, leadership traits such as personal agency, courage, fortitude and wisdom arise naturally.

3.Leader Within- As human beings, we envision many possible selves for who we are and the roles that we play in society. These might include selves that we feel we ought to be or selves that we ideally want to be. How we think of ourselves is comprised of these possible selves and the actual roles we play. For example, one’s identity might include roles such as “father” or “mentor”, attributes such as “intellectual” or “loyal friend”. These identities become key sources of motivation and strongly influence our attitudes, ways of thinking and behavior. With awareness, we get to choose and strengthen the parts of ourselves that best serve us and those with whom we share our world.

4.Experience is a funny thing. We all know that we can learn from experience. However, that doesn’t automatically happen. An experience can have all the ingredients for learning- novelty, responsibility, challenge, but we still can come away with no lessons learned or even the wrong lessons. To maximize the developmental value of any experience, it’s vital to approach and go through each experience mindfully. Mindfulness is a state of being when you are continually aware of yourself and your surroundings, open and receptive to new information and willing and able to process the experience from multiple perspectives.

5.Reflection: Reflection is vital but can sometimes feel like another item on the to-do list. We rush from meeting to meeting, checking e-mails constantly, extinguishing fire after fire, and making countless phone calls. Stopping and pausing to inquire about how things are going can easily be put into the “when I get to it” category. As the founder of modern community organizing writes, Saul Alinsky writes, ”Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings which pass through their systems undigested. Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on.” When we curiously and receptively ask questions, like “What just happened?”, “Why did it go that way?”, And periodically, relate it to general patterns of cause and effect, “Every time I attempt to lead using this approach, people don’t follow my lead,” insightful answers arrive.

6.Develop a Learning Mindset: Talented, successful people are often their own worst enemies when it comes to learning from experience. They know what works, because it has worked in the past. Rather than focusing on what can be learned from a particular experience, people often focus on either avoiding failure or proving how competent that are to others. Yet, learning sometimes requires failure and mistakes. This often requires engaging in experiences where we’re not quite ready for primetime. And we may want to look at our deeply held beliefs of what success looks like as well. Rarely do individuals set goals related to what they will learn from a particular experience. Mindful engagement encourages this by emphasizing a learning orientation. This increases resiliency as well, allowing us to bounce back after initial failure or setbacks. By learning from experience, each day can be ripe with opportunities for everyday leadership development.

Minding the Questions

IMG_1373Much of skillful leadership involves asking great questions…and really wanting to know the answer. Today’s question involves a disciplined awareness and an inquisitiveness on your part:

What’s Needed Most Right Now, at a Time like This?

This is a worthwhile question; worthy of bringing your attention to- a refrain to ask yourself with curiosity from time to time throughout each day. You could choose to even make it a practice.

The response to this question may at times feel like nothing special: make the oatmeal, get gas, or bring an umbrella. But don’t let it fool you. When we become more present to the mundane, we are vastly better equipped as we respond to what’s needed most right now in the complex and fast changing situations of our professional and personal lives. Simply orienting your life fully and completely to what is required of you as a unique individual brought here to this particular moment has the possibility to bring more growth and more calm into your life than many hours of trying diligently to figure it all out.

And for that matter, one of the many benefits of choosing to still the mind and body in the first place is that it assists with consistently answering this question with insight, intelligence and ease.

What’s Needed Most Right Now, at a Time like This?dreamstime_13130519 (1)

I don’t know what “at a time like this” looks like for you right now. I don’t know what many tasks are waiting to be completed or how many people are calling your name and waiting for a response. I don’t know if you are carrying a recent loss or cares over illness (yours or another’s) and how it’s informing your workday. I don’t know if you are unadulterated in your happiness this morning as you begin this Monday. But you do. Taking into consideration what’s most important right now has much to do with the circumstances that are inextricable to this moment. So remember to bring a gentle awareness and appreciation of this as well.

And this question is not for you alone. As part of an organization, as members of a leadership team, answering this critical and fundamental question again and again with precision, as a group, creates a clarity of vision. Together, seeing what’s most important right now increases the likelihood of that alignment of sight. From that perspective, the possibilities are limitless.

“Er”, “Um”, “Like”: Mindful vs. Mindless Speech

I stumbled across a creative and innovative practice this morning that is worth sharing. It incorporates mindfulness into our daily lives in a way that forces us to actually think about what we are saying and how we are saying it. This simple but challenging instruction brings an immediate and positive shift to how we are in the world. 020206_trdp_s6 (1)
The exercise is to become aware of the use of “filler” words and phrases, and try to eliminate them from your speech. These are words such as “um”, “like”, “well”, “you know”, “kind of.” I have been told that one of mine is “by the way.” You may already know what yours are, or perhaps haven’t given it any attention and are somewhat unaware. These phrases can shift overtime for us but underlying them is the question of why we use them. See if you can notice what is happening when you do. Where are you when it happens? Is it an ingrained habit? Are you giving a presentation and there is some anxiety? Do you feel like you are entering a difficult conversation?
photo_468_20080904This is not easy. When you first begin to practice in this way, you may be shocked by how much you use these filler words. This habit tends to be strong, so remember to be patient with yourself. It can be helpful to enlist friends and family to point out when you are “doing” it again. Bring lots of friendliness to yourself, even smiling softly as you notice the tendency and practice this intentional thoughtfulness. To give a little perspective, Jan Chozen Bays in her wonderful book, Mindfulness on the Go, reports that “a typical teenager uses the filler word “like” an estimated two hundred thousand times a year!”
Filler words seem to serve several functions. For instance, Bays says, “They are space holders, telling the listener that you are going to start speaking or that you are not finished speaking yet…they also soften what we say, making it less definitive or assertive.” You can imagine how this tendency can hinder us in all areas of life, in particular our work life. If you are trying to win the hearts and minds of a client, your team or coworkers, ending your presentation, “So, anyway, I, you know, think we should, basically, kind of go ahead with the project” doesn’t quite move or inspire.
branch4The most effective speakers, the ones that are truly inspirational and effect change do not use filler words. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, we recognize this kind of clarity when we hear it. Conversely, lots of “ums” and “sort ofs” obstruct the listener from hearing you in subtle and not so subtle ways. They can make the speaker sound less intelligent, less competent and dilute the importance of what is being said.
We could point to our modern culture with its relativistic bent as the cause of the increased usage of filler words. Decades ago, speaking in this way was not commonplace. Yet no matter the catalyst, with mindful attention we can choose to do things differently.
We can speak clearly, concisely and without couching our wisdom and knowledge. With mindfulness, we refrain from harmful speech. You begin, as Don Miguel Ruiz instructs in the First of his Four Agreements to, “Be impeccable with your word.” It takes patience, kindness and yes, practice. And it has the power to open wide the gate of communication with others and illuminate your own path.070711a7017 (1)


brainThere are lots of ways in which we as human beings can get caught under the vast net of stress in our lives. We oftentimes find ourselves feeling trapped by difficult circumstances and the attending feelings and thoughts that arise from them. All of this can create a sense of being overwhelmed and life at times can appear unmanageable. We then struggle and we suffer. Often times the root cause no longer exists but our coping strategies themselves have become problematic.

For instance, we may initially have found some short term relief in the pleasure of eating, in particular rich comfort food laden with simple carbohydrates. These foods produce feel-good chemicals in our body and we get a quick surge. Unfortunately, and just as rapidly, we then get a marked drop in energy and mood. The same is true of addictions of all kinds, alcohol, cigarettes, too much TV, too much social media…the list is endless. And it can be an endless loop unless we step out of the ring.

Beginning and maintaining a mindfulness practice has shown to bring healthful and lasting relief to the stress in our lives that is simply part of daily living and relief from the compulsions and bad habits that are largely maladaptive coping strategies.

women meditatingIn an original research article published in Frontiers in Psychology (2015), short term meditation was shown to significantly enhance cerebral blood flow in areas of the brain critical for self-regulation. These are the areas of the brain that support us in good decision making and in overcoming unhealthy habits and addictions of all kinds.

Collaborating researchers from the University of Oregon, University of Texas/Austin and the Institute of Neuroinformatics at Dalian University in China discovered changes in the anterior cingulate cortex and insula in the brains of those who had been only meditating for 5 days (30 minutes a day). These parts of the brain have also been reported to be associated with positive mood.

The study showed neuroplasticity (changes in the brain) demonstrated with fMri imaging and consistent mood improvement reported by participants as well.

These findings provides hopeful news that regulating our emotions and responses doesn’t have to be an arduous, protracted process but it does take discipline. The benefits reported are only maintained by continued practice.

And there are many mindfulness practices you can engage in. It can be helpful to begin with guided meditations. It can be a little tricky starting out on your own and a guide gives instruction and support. You can find several of them here on this website for free. There is no sign up or commitment involved, except a commitment to yourself to show up and practice and trusting in that.

Wherever you are on your journey, may you have compassion for yourself. May you healthy and happy.   IMG_0050