Welcome to my fourth column as part of the Real Talks with SOSAD Ireland well-being series.

Each week, I outline a different mental skill that can help you to live a happier, healthier and more successful life. I explain why mental skills are important, and how you can develop them through strategic and consistent practice.

This week, I wanted to look at authenticity. 

What is authenticity?

Authenticity is living true to our beliefs and values. Authenticity is matching what is going on inside of us, in our thoughts and feelings, to what we express outwardly through our words, actions, and choices. 

Being authentic supports holistic well-being and can encourage happiness, fulfillment, and high self-esteem. It also makes us more likely to pursue our passions and believe in ourselves.

Being authentic can be difficult when society or people place pressure or expectations on us. There will also be times when we adapt to fit in, but in the long term, putting on an inauthentic front too often can be tiring and negatively impact well-being. 

As a performance and well-being coach with sports and business leaders, I get to see the many different styles and ways that people lead authentically in sport, work, or life. I’ve seen autocratic leaders manage without meaningful participation and visionary leaders empower others by building good relationships. I’ve seen democratic leaders involve followers by sharing decision-making responsibilities and pace-setting leaders drive high standards through their own behaviour and actions. I’ve witnessed positive change happen after big speeches but also without a single word spoken. Authenticity is accepting that there is no one-size-fits-all. 

It’s powerful when leaders lead authentically through consistent actions and behaviour. Some of the most inspiring and authentic leaders I’ve worked with aren’t afraid to be vulnerable, to share real-life experiences, and admit when they have made mistakes, or have dealt with a situation poorly. Communication, authenticity, and trust are two-way streets. 

While we can learn from others around us, or that have gone before us, authenticity is about learning to trust yourself, maximising your strengths, and believing in how you think, feel, and act. If you don’t know who you are and what you are about, then it is very difficult to be authentic consistently. 

To help facilitate that process, I regularly ask people the same three questions: What type of person are you and what does meaningful success look like? What are you trying to achieve and why? What values are important to you and how will they help guide you towards success? 

Being able to clearly answer those three questions can help you to hold yourself accountable and make sure you are living an authentic life. They help form a roadmap that can keep you on the path to authenticity, or get back on track if you have lost your way or behaved inauthentically. Being authentic can be hard but it is about having the courage not only to ask ourselves the tough questions, but also to keep trying to find the answers. I love these questions because no two people have ever given me the same answers. Authenticity is a journey and a way of life, rather than a destination. 

My vision is to live a happy, healthy, successful, and balanced life. I want to be in environments where I am appreciated for being my authentic self and where I get to connect with good people. My mission is to do meaningful work that empowers others to achieve meaningful success. My values are courage, joy, compassion, and creativity. I use them as helpful triggers to guide how I behave and interact in sport, work, and life on a daily basis.

Developing authenticity 

Try to become aware of differences between your actions and your beliefs. If you catch yourself making a remark or sharing an opinion that doesn’t feel right, ask yourself whether you really believe the words you speak? Do you say things that don’t actually match your values? Do you ever just say or do things because someone else taught you to, or because it’s something you learned growing up?

If we want to be more authentic, we have to notice and address the discrepancies between our beliefs and our actions. Doing this will help improve authenticity. 

*Alan O’Mara is the founder of Real Talks, a former Cavan GAA player, an author, and a performance and wellbeing coach with sports and business leaders around the world. This column is part of the Real Talks with SOSAD Ireland well-being series. Check out SOSADIreland.ie to learn more.