What does it meant to be honest with yourself? What would it mean for you to live a more authentic life? Here is an exercise to begin an exploration of these life changing questions.
by Brian Curtis, Ph.D.
What does it mean to be honest with yourself?
What would it mean for you to live a more authentic life?
In 2008, the psychologist Alex Wood and his colleagues published an article in the Journal of Counseling Psychology where they developed a scale for measuring authenticity.
Of the scale’s 12 items, 4 items are related to living an authentic life.
So, as you read each of these four items, you might think about whether you feel each item describes your beliefs and your typical way of behaving from day to day.
Here we go:
1) I think it’s better to be yourself, rather than to be popular.
(Is that something that you personally believe to be true?)
2) I regularly stand by what I believe in.
(Is this something that you regularly do? Try and become interested to see if any specific examples come to mind of times when you have stood up for what you believed in. Just notice if any specific memories come to mind).
3) I’m true to myself in most situations.
(It can be interesting to consider if there are certain people and specific situations where you are regularly able to behave in a way that is more or less effortless, more or less aligned with the best version of yourself, the type of person you most want to be).
(It can also be useful to consider the opposite: Who are those people and what are those situations in which you regularly feel inauthentic, fake, like you're putting on a show or behaving in ways that tend to go against your core beliefs. Do you notice any differences between these two types of people and situations?)
4) I live in accordance with my values and beliefs.
(Well, do you?)
In addition to Alex Wood and his colleagues in 2008, the importance of values in living an authentic life was also emphasized by the behavioral scientist Francesca Gino and her colleagues in their 2015 publication in the journal Psychological Science.
In this paper, they define the desire to be authentic as the desire “to act in accordance with one’s own sense of self, emotions, and values.”
So … one answer to what it means for us to be honest with ourselves, to live a more genuine, authentic life, is to intentionally align our moment-to-moment behavior in a manner that is consistent with our values.
But before we can align our behavior with our values, we need to ask and answer a fundamental question: What do you value?
If you’re anything like me, you may have spent most of your life, or perhaps all of your life until now, without setting aside some time to deeply consider what you care most about in life, and why you care about those things.
The type of person you truly want to be. The type of life you most want to live. How you want to be remembered by the people you care most about.
One exercise to explore and connect with the values that are most important to you is the Personal Values Card Sort developed by the psychologists Stephen Rollnick and William Miller.
In this exercise, you review a list of 50 to 100 values and rank them according to whether each is more or less important to you.
(Values being chosen qualities of being and doing that are ongoing guides to living, as defined by the psychologist Steven Hayes).
Your job is to simply read each value and brief description, then notice whether that value seems very important to you in terms of how YOU want to live your life (NOT how OTHER PEOPLE like your parents, romantic partner, friends, teachers, siblings, or others want you to live).
If a value isn't important to you, simply move on to the next. If a value is important to you, you might write that word down on a piece of paper or type it out so you can remember it later.
In this way, you will have created a list of values that are deeply meaningful to you.
Here we go:
Novelty – to have a life full of change and variety
Power – to have control over others
Genuineness – to act in a manner that is true to who I am
Accuracy – to be correct in my opinions and beliefs
Caring – to take care of others
Intelligence – to keep my mind sharp and active
Intimacy – to share my innermost experiences with others
Leisure – to take time to relax and enjoy
Justice – to promote fair and equal treatment for all
Imagination – to have dreams and see possibilities
Safety – to be safe and secure
Monogamy – to have one close, loving relationship
Art – to appreciate or express myself in art
Belonging – to have a sense of being an important member of a group
Flexibility – to adjust to new circumstances easily
Self-Knowledge – to have a deep and honest understanding of myself
Moderation – to avoid excesses and find a middle ground
Popularity – to be well liked by many people
Compromise – to be willing to give and take in reaching agreements
Service – to be helpful and of service to others
Inner Peace – to experience personal peace
Mindfulness – to live conscious and mindful of the present moment
Gratitude – to be thankful and appreciative
Humor – to see the humorous side of myself and the world
Growth – to keep changing and growing
Compassion – to feel and act on concern for others
Purpose – to have meaning and direction in my life
Simplicity – to live simply, with minimal needs
Self-Acceptance – to accept myself as I am
Responsibility – to make and carry out responsible decisions
Realism – to see and act realistically and practically
Courage – to be brave and strong in the face of adversity
Self-Esteem – to feel good about myself
Sexuality – to have an active and satisfying sex life
Cooperation – to work collaboratively with others
Friendship – to have close, supportive friends
Complexity – to embrace the intricacies of life
Hope – to maintain a positive and optimistic outlook
Practicality – to focus on what is practical, prudent, and sensible
Independence – to be free from depending on others
Beauty – to appreciate beauty around me
Patriotism – to love, serve, and protect my country
Solitude – to have time and space where I can be apart from others
Stability – to have a life that stays fairly consistent
Fun – to play and have fun
Health – to be physically well and healthy
Dependability – to be reliable and trustworthy
Attractiveness – to be physically attractive
Curiosity – to seek out, experience, and learn new things
Nurturance – to encourage and support others
Creativity – to create new things or ideas
Loved – to be loved by those close to me
Forgiveness – to be forgiving of others
Passion – to have deep feelings about ideas, activities, or people
Humility – to be modest and unassuming
Family – to have a happy, loving family
Courtesy – to be considerate and polite toward others
Autonomy – to be self-determined and independent
Authority – to be in charge of others
Fame – to be known and recognized
Protect – to protect and keep safe those I love
Achievement – to have important accomplishments
Self-Control – to be disciplined in my own actions
Risk – to take risks and chances
Integrity – to live my daily life in a way that is consistent with my values
Leadership – to inspire and guide others
Excitement – to have a life full of thrills and stimulation
Order – to have a life that is well-ordered and organized
Acceptance – to be accepted as I am
Romance – to have intense, exciting love in my life
Knowledge – to learn and contribute valuable knowledge
Mastery – to be competent in my everyday activities
Provide – to provide for and take care of my family
Rationality – to be guided by reason, logic, and evidence
Loving – to give love to others
Industry – to work hard and well at my life tasks
Diligence – to be thorough and conscientious in whatever I do
Adventure – to have new and exciting experiences
Pleasure – to feel good
Wealth – to have plenty of money
Fitness – to be physically fit and strong
Commitment – to make enduring, meaningful commitments
Faithfulness – to be loyal and true in relationships
Openness – to be open to new experiences, ideas, and options
Non-Conformity – to question and challenge authority and norms
Challenge – to take on difficult tasks and problems
Spirituality – to grow and mature spiritually
Music – to enjoy or express myself in music
Honesty – to be truthful
Tolerance – to accept and respect those who differ from me
God’s Will – to seek and obey the will of God
Ecology – to live in harmony with the environment
Comfort – to have a pleasant and comfortable life
Tradition – to follow respected patterns of the past
Contribution – to make a lasting contribution in the world
Duty – to carry out my duties and obligations
World Peace – to work to promote peace in the world
Freedom – to be free from undue restrictions and limitations
Generosity – to give what I have to others
Virtue – to live a morally pure and excellent life
Finally, you can put your list of important values into a hierarchy (possibly creating your own personal TOP 10 LIST):
Most important at the top, least important at the bottom.
This can provide a roadmap for how you might go about making changes in your life to build a more honest, authentic, values-based life.