Last time I wrote about being true to your own fundamental values. And then it gets more complex! There is another side to being true to yourself, which is about allowing yourself to be how you are.
It was a quote from my beloved teacher, Ram Dass, that prompted me first into thinking about this: ‘I am always true to myself and this means that I am often inconsistent’ It was in the midst of listening to a talk about allowing ourselves to be human, and not always trying to be perfect, and it made me realise how often I would push myself to behave and react as you are supposed to if you are a good person, a good worker, a good parent – you get the theme…
We are a rich tapestry of often contradictory characteristics, and the particular blend of me that I am aware of today may not be the same as yesterday or tomorrow. So we can be generally sociable and wish we could just be on our own for a while, or usually focussed on our tasks but just not in the mood today, or sometimes love being a parent and other times just want to talk with other grown-ups.
We receive a lot of conditioning that makes us feel obliged to be the way we think others expect us to be, and it is hard to break the habit of trying to be how we should be rather than how we truly are.
Furthermore, we are constantly evolving. As we add to our experience, we tend to develop certain of our characteristics more. For example, we may become more compassionate towards others as we become more aware of the difficulties that some people have to contend with, or we may enjoy our own company more as we become more confident in ourselves and no longer need to be always part of a group. So, over time, being true to ourselves may mean dropping some old habits that others expect of us, because they no longer fit so well with how we have become.
I know that for me getting to grips with these two ways of being true to yourself has been difficult. Others have a picture of who you are and what you’re like, and can easily push you back into that old story, because it is also built into our culture: once you reach adulthood, it is as if you are now set in stone as a personality, even though we all know it is not true. What’s more, we do the pushing to ourselves: I often try to make myself be focussed when I am just not in the mood because I am ‘someone who can be like that’ – and then have to remind myself that I’m also a meanderer through life!
If we are going to be true to ourselves we have to admit to our inconsistencies and accept them as part of the richness of who we are. Every time we don’t, we are betraying ourselves again, and paying the cost of our hearts and minds contradicting each other.
How do we get better at being true to ourselves and our mixture of characteristics?
- Begin by giving yourself a moment to reflect. Notice your own mood. Do you want to be sociable or quiet today? Do you want to be active or still? Do you feel confused or clear, serious or silly? What do you really feel like doing today? And notice how you feel physically and how your mind reacts if you follow your preferences – and if you don’t.
- Learn to delight in your contradictions. Be grateful you are daft as well as wise – otherwise you would be most unsympathetic to others who had such opposite characteristics! It is part of what makes us human, and most of us prefer others who are not perfect.
- Even if you can’t fully cater for your differing moods, because of constraints at work for example, do give them a bit of recognition. Wherever possible, gear your tasks to your mood: if you feel like being sociable, talk to someone rather than emailing them. If you’re not in the mood to focus on a task, do something simple first and give yourself a chance to gently adapt your mood. And at the very least, take 15 minutes to indulge in what you really feel like doing. Our moods do shift if we allow them to without forcing it.
- Pay some attention to how you have evolved over the years. Have you grown out of enjoying a noisy pub night? Then suggest an alternative to your friends – it’s quite likely some of them will feel the same.
- Finally, dare to admit your inconsistencies to others. You may be surprised by how accepting they are when you are honest about it.
I believe this form of being true to yourself is a lifelong job! As we begin to explore it, we discover in how many ways we have learnt to betray ourselves and not follow our own hearts, our own story. At the same time, it is delightful to realise that being ourselves in all its diversity is the best gift we can give to others – it allows them to be real as well. Those who love you love you for who you are – so go ahead, be silly if you feel like it!!