Updated: Sep 10, 2018
All my life I have talked about the truth as being so important. I talk about “standing in my truth.”
For me, truth and authenticity are one and the same.
Authenticity is not a state of being. “Authentic” is not “who you are,” as-if you could be authentic or not authentic as a person.
Authenticity is a response, it is the authentic response that can only happen in each moment.
This means that no one is always authentic. If we are committed, we might reach ratios of being authentic 80% of the time or more. The higher the ratio of authenticity the happier and more fulfilled I am.
Not just any old authenticity though, because truth can hurt. It can damage and damage for no reason. If being authentic means I always tell the truth no matter what and that makes me authentic, well, then I want out of this game!
The only kind of authenticity I want is authenticity that is inspired from the heart.
I am most authentic when I am aligned with my heart and living my most deeply cherished values. Sometimes the most authentic response is to refrain from saying what is true for you because that is the kindest most productive response in the moment. This is not “truth for truth's sake” here. This is truth in service to the heart.
Truth for truth's sake, truth that hurts with no possibility of being productive, does not build well being in us or in our relationships.
So how do we discern and distinguish between the two? What can we use to guide us?
If authenticity is a response and not a state of being, what triggers responses in us that are not authentic?
Here is where it gets interesting. In teaching a workshop recently, I made the statement that when you are being the “stressed” version of yourself, that is not the authentic you. Participants disagreed. They believed it was authentic, just another version of authenticity. In all of my work I intend to demonstrate why I believe that is not the case. (Watch this video to learn more.)
Let’s begin by asking the question, “What triggers a response that is not authentic?”
I am going to introduce you to a very powerful tool that will answer all the questions we have posed. This tool is called, The Game Board.
There are 4 quadrants in the Game Board and each quadrant has different types of emotions. Let’s begin with the upper left side.
The emotions in the upper left quadrant are: frustration, anger, anxiety, guilt, pressure, overwhelm, irritation, annoyed etc.
What do these emotions have in common?
They are all unpleasant to experience. Most people would call them negative (even though there is no such thing as a negative emotion).
If you look at how these emotions impact the body they all add energy to the body, but it is an energy that can be unpleasant. Our heart rate increases, our breathing increases and we experience this shift as a kind of agitated feeling.
Now let’s look at the emotions in the bottom left quadrant: Depression, despair, sadness, boredom, hopelessness, etc.
What do these emotions have in common?
Again, most people would describe them as unpleasant, just like the emotions in the upper left.
If you look at how these emotions impact the body, they drain energy from the body. We might feel “heavy” and lethargic. It is hard to motivate ourselves. We feel drained.
What do the emotions on the entire left side have in common?
They are all connected to our sense of safety. In that respect they are all “warning” emotions. They are like the smoke alarm in your house. When the smoke alarm goes off it is not telling you there is a fire; it is telling you there might be a fire. Your job is to calmly shut the alarm off and check the situation out. Usually it is a false alarm.
When we are suddenly hit with one of these left side of the board emotions it is like the smoke alarm going off. The part of your brain that is the smoke alarm is called the amygdala. It is a tiny almond shaped section of your brain and its job is to store (record) all strong emotional responses you have along with everything associated with that emotion.
If as a child you got bit by a dog and it filled you with terror the amygdala stores the emotion of terror and the terror becomes associated with “dog”. This gets hardwired into your brain. Now it is 40 years later and you are a big dog lover. You see a strange dog running toward you. Your amygdala goes off like a smoke alarm. You experience the “alarm” physiologically as an increase in heart rate, increase in breathing and the old feeling of terror rises up with it. It feels real, but it is actually just an alarm going off. It happens fast, faster than you can control it.
In an ideal world you would,1) notice the changes in your body, 2) become aware of the feeling of terror, 3) look at the dog and see it is a big drooling yellow lab looking for a friendly pet and then “turn off the alarm.” You lean down and pet the dog and smile which is your authentic response.
If you are not a person who is aware you will experience the alarm going off and immediately and without thinking plug into an old strategy designed to get you away from the dog NOW. You will become the memory of terror that has been released into your body and immediately begin reacting to it. You may cry out if the dog approaches you. This is not your authentic response. It is a programmed response. You are responding from what I call your survival strategies. “How do I survive this moment with this life-threatening dog?”
This happens all the time in life. People and life events trigger our internal “smoke alarms” and when we do not understand that, we immediately react. We become busy solving problems that don’t exist in real time, problems from the past that have no bearing on this moment.
If the problem you are trying solve does not exist in present time, how in the world could you think your behavior is authentic?
It feels authentic because it is driven by a younger you, the you that was a little kid trying to get by in a world where everyone around you was big and powerful and often scary. You needed strategies to manage that. Those strategies helped you survive as a child. Unfortunately, what got you through childhood will crucify you in adulthood.
Let’s step back now and see if this makes sense to you. The emotions on the left side of the board are warning emotions like the smoke alarm. Your job is to notice the warning signal as quickly as possible. You must have high self-awareness to do that. So, building self-awareness is a very high priority.
The sooner you become aware the easier it is to become calm and centered. Now your task is to quietly check the situation out. Is there a real problem here? Did that person mean what I think they said? Could I have misunderstood? Should I wait and collect more information before I jump to conclusions?
From here you determine if there is a real threat, the nature of the threat and how you might need to respond. You can only take charge like this after you have “diffused” or “deactivated” the trigger (shut off the smoke alarm). Shutting off the alarm calms your body, releases the agitation and helps you shift your emotions.
In summary, the left side of the game board emotions are warning alarms.
These warnings are hardwired into your brain when your brain senses danger, whether that danger is real or imagined. Your “job” is to turn off the alarm and check things out. What happens too often is the alarm remains on, blasting noise into the environment (which is the inside of you!) and you grab your old survival strategies for the purpose of turning off the alarm at all costs.
We mistakenly perceive the problem to be the alarm itself and that is the origin of so many false stories we make up about people and life. When we live mostly on the right side of the Game Board we don’t need to make up stories to explain our behavior. We are living in real time responding to each moment authentically and unencumbered by the rules and the emergencies of the past.
Want to learn more? Click here to read Part 2 and find out how our authentic responses come from the right side of The Game Board.