Live an authentic life

By Alice Ellis

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Do you know what your values are? For instance, do you rate financial security over creativity when it comes to your career?

Do you value a good sense of humour over good looks in a partner? And do you think loyalty’s more important than fairness in friendships? Or vice versa?

WH stress less expert Dr Suzy Green says it’s important to pin down your own values – not the values society tells you are important – because behaving in line with them is one of the major factors in being your “authentic self” (the latest buzz phrase in psychology circles).

And the more authentic your life, the more likely you are to achieve your goals, have healthy relationships and be resilient to stress.

“People who aren’t living authentic lives often struggle with depression, anxiety and physical illness,” says Dr Green. “It’s like they know at some level they’re not living in accordance with their true selves and their bodies reflect that through distress, disappointment or illness.”

Why is the values stuff so important?

“Our motivation to move our lives in certain directions is largely determined by our values – what we perceive to be important,” says Green. “Whether we actually make the effort to implement our values in our behaviour is another matter. For example, work can be a typical example of a situation where your values might not be being honoured.”

You might rate time spent with family above all else, but your job ties you to a desk for 68 hours per week. Whoops.

We regularly behave out of sync with their values because we’re constantly bombarded with information – from our families, friends, educators, media and advertising – about what we “should” value.

So, how to pin down your own, true values? Use this Core Values Checklist to see which values feel “right” for you. Use ticks and crosses or a rating system to help you work out your top five personal values and top five work values. It can also be interesting to highlight those that feel wrong for you to, since it can help you understand why certain situations feel uncomfortable or draining.

Then do “authenticity homework” as you’re going about your daily life, suggests Killeen: “Rather than feeling left out when some of the parents are gossiping while picking up their kids after school, think, ‘How do I genuinely feel about that? That gossiping is wrong? Or that I wish I was part of the group?’ If you value being part of a group more highly, that’s OK – at least you know. But if you don’t know what your values are, you’re like a boat without a rudder, you just get thrown every which way because you can’t control your own direction.”

Download the Core values checklist now.

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