How can you have a truly happy and fulfilled life?
I believe it begins by living authentically.
You can’t pretend to be someone you’re not, live by rules that aren’t your own, or make choices reactively — without compromising your self-esteem and emotional health.
So how do you begin to live authentically? It’s hard to be authentic when you aren’t sure who you are, what you want from life, and how you wish to live. Authenticity requires self-awareness in many different areas of your life.
It requires you to be a detective, investigating yourself to find out who you are and what’s important to you, and then taking action on what you’ve learned to create your life accordingly.
Self-awareness isn’t something that occurs magically. You must make a decision to seek it and explore the multi-faceted expanses of the unique person known as you.
Here are 30 essential actions for self-awareness and authentic living:
1. Understand your personality
Knowing your personality type and whether you’re an introvert or extravert gives you a basic understanding of the dynamics of your personality. It helps you identify your natural aptitudes, preferences, and motivations, and also gives you tools for improving relationships and choosing a career path.
2. Define your values
Your values are the core principles that define who you are and how you want to live. By defining them, you create personal guidelines for all of your decisions and actions. Without knowing your values, you live in a reactive mode, allowing life circumstances and other people to define you. Take a look at these 400 value words to help you define your personal values.
3. Align with your integrity
Your values help you define your integrity — what you believe to be right and wrong, good and bad. When you’re living out of alignment with your integrity, you are living inauthentically and subjecting yourself to feelings of guilt, confusion, fear, and remorse.
4. Recognize your needs
We all share some very basic needs — for health, safety, and belonging. But beyond those basics, you have personal needs related to your personality and values that must be met in order to feel whole and secure. Recognize your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs, and take action to get your needs met.
5. Define and set your boundaries
Often we don’t recognize we have boundaries until someone repeatedly crosses them. We feel angry, frustrated, or controlled but don’t understand exactly why. Be proactive in determining and setting your boundaries — what people can say to you, how you wish to be treated, and who you wish to spend time with. Having strong boundaries reinforces self-esteem and emotional health.
6. Know your habits
Habits are behaviors and thoughts we perform almost unconsciously. Some of our habits are positive, but some aren’t useful or can even be harmful and self-defeating. Begin to notice your habits and start to change those that no longer serve your greater good.
7. Understand your emotions
Our feelings shift and change like waves in the ocean. Sometimes there’s an obvious cause for our emotions, but other times we don’t know why we’re feeling sad, angry, anxious, or agitated. Take time to acknowledge your emotions and seek out the possible cause for them. Watch for triggers and patterns that might help you manage or treat your emotions in the future.
8. Know your intelligence type
Intelligence isn’t just dominated by a measure of linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities. In recent years, the theory of multiple intelligence suggests there are a variety of abilities involved in intelligence and that each individual possesses a unique blend of all the intelligences. You can learn your intelligence type by taking this assessment.
9. Embrace your skills and talents
When you identify and improve upon your natural aptitudes and talents, you empower yourself and create opportunities for professional success and personal happiness. Recognizing your skills also improves your self-confidence and sense of personal fulfillment.
10. Identify your strengths and weaknesses
Honestly assessing your strengths and weaknesses allows you to make a proactive decision about improving yourself and accepting yourself as you really are. We all have weaknesses, and it’s a sign of emotionally maturity and self-esteem to accept them.
11. Seek out your stress triggers
Pay attention when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed and determine the source of the stress. Rather than lashing out or allowing yourself to get sick or anxious, manage your stress by dealing with the triggers that cause it.
12. Know what motivates you
Pay attention to what excites and inspires you. What do you feel passionate about? What gives you a sense of fulfillment, purpose, or energy? When you recognize these things, find ways to make them more a part of your daily life.
13. Identify and address limiting beliefs
We all have negative beliefs triggered by past situations that we unconsciously cling to. These beliefs hold us back and create a false shroud of fear and doubt, limiting us from living to our potential. Most of these beliefs are no longer true for us. Begin to dismantle these outdated beliefs to free yourself to live fully.
14. Understand your communication skills
Our ability to have healthy, fulfilling, and happy relationships in our personal and professional life hinges on our communication skills. If you have poor communication skills, you push people away and diminish opportunities for real connection.
15. Analyze your problem solving skills
Are you able to deal with life’s challenges and problems calmly and effectively? Do you understand the steps involved in unraveling a problem and creating solutions? Learn how to define a problem, generate alternatives, and implement solutions so difficulties don’t undermine your happiness.
16. Define what is meaningful
We all crave meaning in life, but often we have no idea what is meaningful to us. For some, meaning relates to their religious beliefs. For others a meaningful life is defined by a specific passion or purpose. What is meaningful for you, and how can you make that part of your life?
17. Determine your parenting style
If you’re a parent, have you defined the kind of parent you want to be? Are you parenting based on the advice of your parents or parenting books, or do you have your own beliefs about the best way to raise your children? Determine the kind of parent you want to be and the actions involved in being that parent.
18. Know your emotional intelligence score
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. Strong emotional intelligence is essential for healthy, happy relationships. If you don’t know how strong your emotional intelligence is, you can take an assessment here.
19. Examine your marriage or love relationship
What kind of marriage or partnership do you want with the one you love? Are you currently living your definition of a strong and happy marriage? Define what is and isn’t working about your relationship. Look honestly at yourself and your contribution to difficulties or miscommunication. What actions can you take to improve the relationship and align it with your vision?
20. Understand vulnerability
Here is a beautiful quote I found on Tumblr about vulnerability . . . “Emotional vulnerability is when an individual surrenders fully to the joys and sorrows of giving and receiving love. It is when you break open locks and tear down walls—being open and transparent.” Are you capable of opening yourself up to another person and being completely transparent and real?
21. Recognize your passive-aggressive behaviors
According to Wikipedia, “passive-aggressive behavior is the indirect expression of hostility, such as through procrastination, sarcasm, hostile jokes, stubbornness, resentment, sullenness, or deliberate or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is (often explicitly) responsible.” Do you see yourself in any of these behaviors? Passive aggression will sabotage your relationships and undermine your self-esteem.
22. Examine what triggers anger
Begin to notice your feelings of anger, how you express your anger, and the circumstances or people who might have triggered it. Develop solutions for managing anger, communicating in calm and mature ways, and removing yourself from anger-provoking situations.
23. Acknowledge and heal pain from the past
Untreated pain from your past will infect your happiness and success. Acknowledge where old wounds are still causing you grief, and work with a professional counselor to help you move past those wounds.
24. Examine your assumptions and beliefs
Often we have beliefs and assumptions we’ve adopted over time but have never challenged. These might have come from parents, peers, social expectations, or lack of knowledge. Look at all of your beliefs and determine if they still apply to you. Read and research contrary opinions so you fairly view all angles of your assumptions. This broadens your horizons and makes you a more balanced, understanding, and interesting person.
25. Acknowledge how you’ve caused pain
Have you caused someone pain or offended someone? Do you need to apologize and make amends? Be honest with yourself about the pain you have caused and take action to rectify it.
26. Notice the words you choose
Our words have power for good and bad. Do you speak words of kindness, acceptance, and love. Or do your words reflect judgement, resentment, or insecurity? Think before you speak, and choose your words carefully so you reflect truth and kindness.
27. Tune in to your body
Your body sends you strong messages about what’s going on with your emotions. It also lets you know when you aren’t taking care of it with nutritious food and proper exercise. Pay attention to the messages from your body.
28. Notice and address your fears
Your fears can warn you about danger, but some fears aren’t based in reality or truth. Examine your fears to determine how they are holding you back and whether or not they are legitimate. Begin to challenge unfounded fears by taking action in spite of them.
29. Watch out for the victim mentality
A victim mentality is a developed personalty trait in which one sees himself as powerless and victimized by others. Once you adopt this trait, you begin to accept your victimhood as true. Sometimes we use a victim mentality to manipulate others, as a form of passive aggression. This is a very off-putting trait to those around you, and will eventually undermine your self-esteem.
30. Be mindful of expressing love
Part of being completely authentic and vulnerable is the ability to openly express your love for others in words and actions. This ability is essential for close and intimate relationships. Do you regularly and openly express your feelings of love to those whom you love? If not, today is not too soon to begin.
Self-awareness in these thirty areas empowers you to be fully yourself and to live an honest, authentic life. When you are free to be yourself completely, create your own personal operating system, and live on your own terms, you will experience far more happiness in your relationships and your work.
Only by living authentically can we become self-actualized, fully functioning, emotionally healthy adults. As you practice self-awareness, you’ll find you want to explore the depths of your true self, and this exploration itself is an exciting and life-altering adventure.
photo credit: Ivana Vasilj via photopin
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