There are many things I don’t subscribe to in personal development. I nearly vomited onto my keyboard when watching ‘The Secret’ for the first time, I feel positive thinking has been prostituted to become a default solution and affirmations seem to get thrown around more casually than a Hollywood marriage.
But there is one that is spouted like wildfire at the moment and that is the nature of authenticity. Authentic leadership, authentic life, authentic selling. It seems everything with authentic at the beginning of it creates a halo effect that it must be good.
I have no problem with authentic; If I eat chicken I want it to be chicken and not find out it has traces of dog in it, if I buy a BMW car I don’t want to find out it’s actually a Ford. However when we are looking at human beings I have to ask the question;
Authentic compared to what?
Many self-help gurus will say ‘your true self’, ‘your inner wisdom’, ‘your inner core’. They will say people come out of alignment in their life when they start living a life based on how other people think they should live and you create a social mask that covers your true self.
My argument is authenticity is nothing more than a buzzword. After all when no ones watching, no one you need to impress and there is only you and your shadow, you could consider that as being authentic. However there is an inference throughout all the dialogue about authenticity that if you are revealing your core authentic self you will be successful and that is always the best approach to engage in.
I have to disagree.
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To start with, we are highly irrational beings and are influenced by those around us. Research has shown this:
– A study of 50 subjects found that when others in a group say an answer, you are more likely to give the same answer…even if its wrong. The research put subjects in groups of 10. Only 1, however was a legitimate subject. The rest were part of the research team.
The objective was to look at lines on a board and pick which two matched in size. The answer was obvious but with 9 purposely saying the wrong answer, would the actual subject go along with them? A staggering 37 out the 50 did!.
– Research into what is known as the bystander effect found that if someone is in distress, Your willingness to help is directly related to the amount of other people around. The more people present the less likely you are to help.
– Self-serving Bias – In studies where subjects are tested, typically in relation to their performance or intelligence, a significant portion attributed good scores to internal skills and attributes, while bad scores were attributed to external factors such as the weather and other participants. You can watch any episode of ‘The Apprentice’ to see this in full flow!
These are 3 examples of where the decisions and behaviours of individuals changed based on influences within their immediate environment. The notion of authenticity is despite influences placed on it, the variables of what is authentic does not change. An authentic chicken does not change to beef and an authentic 19th century painting does not change to a 21st century piece just because it is placed in a different environment.
When I read about successful athletes and business people I rarely see them attributing their success to staying authentic. It is more along the lines of commitment, a strong work ethic and being able to forge a strong network of connections.
So what would be an alternative focus to look at when turning ideas into reality and being successful in creating your own path? For me, it is focussing on being adaptable.
Fluid enough to handle uncertainty, focussed enough to pursue a path with an understanding that I do have certain cognitive bias that will lead to decisions that I may later regret, I may be polite and laugh at someone I find neither funny or interesting and I sometimes do things I don’t want to do in order to keep the peace with a loved one.
And guess what, You probably will do too because it’s called being human!
With a mindset towards adaptability instead of authenticity, a great question I like to ask is “’what has to happen in order for me to get that”. This provides an answer to potentially what to do next rather than getting bogged down with whether you are displaying your authentic self. For me, striving towards authenticity is a rigid way of thinking. Look at the definition of authentic; ‘of undisputed origin’, ‘real’, ‘not copied’.
None of these fit in with being human; our cells are constantly evolving over time, the world has so much stimuli we create a mental representation of it that changes over time and how we dress, how we act & what we believe is influenced by those around us so where does the supposed authenticity come from?
Create a business, have a life the way you want to and ask ‘what needs to happen in order to get that’. If you aren’t prepared to do it based on the work required or it clashes with your values find another way. Simple!
Photo courtesy: Flickr: Donnie Ambroziak
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