Archive for authentic

If You’re Trying To Prove It, You Don’t Believe It

June 26, 2014

My counselor Eleanor recently said to me, “Mike, if you’re trying to prove something, it means you don’t actually believe it yet.” Her words hit me right between the eyes, as they often do. She was right and as I reflect on certain aspects of my life, I can see that where I’m overly attached to proving myself, it’s because I don’t actually believe in my own skill, talent, or value (i.e. I’m looking for outside validation to “prove” my worth)…maybe you can relate to this?

In this week’s video blog, I talk about this phenomenon and how we can move from “proving” to “believing” in an authentic way.

Check out the video below and feel free to leave a comment here on my blog about it. You can share thoughts, questions, ideas, insights, or anything else that this video inspires.

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Swing Hard (Just in Case You Hit It)

nothing-changes-until-you-do-pintrest21May 22, 2014

In July of 1992, the summer between my senior year in high school and my freshman year at Stanford, I got invited to play in the U.S. Junior National Baseball Championship tournament in Boise, Idaho. It was a pretty big deal. Some of the top high school players in the country were there, including a 16-year-old shortstop from Miami named Alex Rodriguez. So there we were, a group of pretty talented and confident (i.e., cocky) high school baseball players, but beneath the outward cockiness was a deep sense of insecurity, especially being around other players of this caliber.

The first day we were on the field, they sent us down to the batting cage. We were all standing around watching as each of us took turns hitting. Given the nature of the tournament, the group, and the fact that this was the first time we were on the field together, we were all definitely trying to impress one another. While we were all pretty good ballplayers and relatively impressive, there was one guy on our team, named Geoff Jenkins, who was literally like a man among boys when he stepped into the batting cage.

Geoff was an unbelievably talented player, and I’d played against him in summer ball the year before. He had this huge swing. Lots of coaches and scouts would comment on it, saying,”He won’t be able to get away with that huge swing at the next level.” Geoff was heading to play at University of Southern California that fall and since I was going to Stanford, we were going to be facing one another in the coming years at the college level.

As he was in the batting cage that day, he was putting on such an incredible display of hitting that, even in the midst of our cockiness and posturing, we were all looking around at each other in amazement at what he was doing. At one point, toward the end of his round of batting practice, Geoff swung so hard that on his backswing when he slammed the bat down, he actually cracked the wooden platform under his feet. I’d never seen anyone do that. He had to stop early and come out of the cage. The maintenance crew had to go in and try to figure out what they needed to do-either fix or remove the platform.

As Geoff walked out of the cage with his bat over his shoulder, knowing that he’d just been quite impressive, he had a sly, pleased-with-himself look on his face. One of the other guys on our team said, “Geoff, dude, why do you swing so hard?” Geoff stopped, spit, looked back at him, and, after a long pause, said, “Just in case I hit it.”

I remember thinking, Wow, that’s not how I usually approach baseball, or life for that matter.

Geoff went on to be an all-American while playing at USC and then a first-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers. By the age of 23, he was a starter in the major leagues, where he played for 11 seasons – including winning a World Series ring with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, his final year. He never stopped swinging hard, and throughout his very successful major league career, he got quite a few hits (1,293 total) and hit a lot of home runs (221 total). He also struck out 1,186 times.

Far too often we hold back and play safe in life – worrying that we might fail, mess up, or embarrass ourselves. Some of this we do consciously, but much of it is unconscious; it’s almost hardwired into us to do whatever we can to avoid looking bad.

A number of years ago, I was running in my neighborhood. In those days, when Samantha was still very young and before Rosie was even born, I used to get up before anyone was awake and go for a morning run. I was coming to my favorite part of the run (the end) and whenever I would get to the corner near our house, I would kick it into high gear, so I could “finish strong.” That morning I was having a pretty good run and was really into the song on my iPod, so when I got to the corner, I took off even faster than normal.

Sadly, I wasn’t paying attention to the ground and didn’t notice a big lip in the sidewalk. I hit it with my foot, and I went down-hard! I hadn’t fallen down that hard in years. My iPod flew out of my hand, my hat came off my head, and I caught myself inches before hitting my chin on the pavement. As shocked as I was to have fallen, as I was lying there on the ground, before I stopped to assess my physical condition, I immediately looked up to see if anyone had seen what had happened. It was a reflex. Once I saw that there were no cars driving by and no one else on the street, I finally took a moment to think about my injuries. I was a little scraped up, although not that bad, and I had bumped my knee pretty good on the ground, but it didn’t seem to be actually injured, just a little sore. I got up, brushed myself off, and, as I limped the rest of the way home, all I thought was, Well, at least no one saw that. It was a painful and humbling reminder of my own attachment to looking good (or, at the very least, not looking bad).

What if we weren’t so concerned with messing up or looking bad? This is about being willing to take risks, be bold, and “swing hard” in our lives. And although this concept is pretty simple and we all understand it, like many things in life, understanding something is quite different from actually practicing it. In other words, it’s much easier said than done.

Being bold, while scary and challenging at times, is essential to living an authentic and fulfilling life. Boldness is about stepping up and stepping out onto our “edge”-pushing the limits of what we think is possible for us. It’s about living with courage and passion, and letting go of our attachment to the outcome along with the perceptions and opinions of others (including our gremlin). Living this way is not only thrilling, it’s how we consciously evolve as human beings.

Will we swing and miss sometimes? Yes. Might we fall down and embarrass ourselves? Of course we will. But, as Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

This is an excerpt from my new book Nothing Changes Until You Do, published with permission. The book is published by Hay House and available now online or in bookstores. 

Leave a comment here on my blog about how this post relates to your life and/or any questions you have about it.

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The Power of Authenticity

Stock pictures of a rulerMay 30, 2013

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

I was recently talking to my counselor Eleanor, asking her for some guidance on both an important meeting I had coming up and on the approach I was taking in some writing I was planning.  She said to me, “Mike, get out of your head and into your heart.  Remember, the truth can’t be rehearsed.”

Her feedback was spot on and had me pause and reflect more deeply on my own relationship to the truth.   Authenticity, as you may know, is something that’s very important to me both personally and professionally.  Even though I’m comfortable admitting that authenticity is something I find challenging at times, which is one of the reasons why I chose to write a book about it and enjoy speaking about it (I’m a big believer in the principle of “we teach best what we most need to learn,”) as I started to look at this more honestly in my own life, I realized that it’s one thing for me to talk and write about authenticity, and it’s a whole other thing for me to actually be authentic in the moment with myself, the people around me, and in the most important situations in my life.

I often ask the question, “What does it actually mean to be authentic?”  The answer to this question varies quite a bit depending on who I’m talking to and continues to evolve for me personally.  In the past few months I’ve had some deeper insight into what authenticity truly means.  I now see it on a continuum.  I spoke about this specifically and shared some personal stories in the recent TEDx talk that I gave on The Power of Authenticity (click here to view the video of this talk).

The three main elements on this continuum are: phony, honest, and authentic.

Phony

On one side of the continuum is what I’ll call “phony.”  We all know what this is like and we all have experience in life being phony (i.e. being inauthentic).   Most of the time it’s not malicious; we’re not trying to deceive people or lie in an overt or harmful way (although sometimes we are).  It usually has to do with withholding or massaging the truth, spinning things in a certain way, or doing or saying what we think we’re “supposed” to in order to look good, get what we what, or simply not cause a problem.   While this can sometimes be benign, operating from this place of phoniness is stressful, it’s not conducive to building trust with others, and it isn’t sustainable or healthy for us on many levels.

Honest

As we move along the continuum, we get to the midpoint which is what I’ll call “honest.”  Honest is much better than phony as we’ve been told from the time we were kids.  “Honesty is the best policy,” as the saying goes.  However, as we’ve each learned, there are some cases in which honesty is NOT the best policy – at least not in terms of feeling good, avoiding conflict, and getting what we want.  Honesty can be a little tricky because we’ve all had experiences in life when we’ve been honest, but in doing so, we’ve created a problem, hurt someone’s feelings, or made a bigger issue out of something than needed to be made.  We’ve been honest at times and it’s been bad for us, made us look bad, it’s been controversial, and more.  Due to these negative experiences and consequences we’ve had in the past, we sometimes shy away from honesty.

Another challenging aspect of honesty is that oftentimes we say we’re just “being honest” when really we’re being right and/or judgmental.   It’s our righteousness and judgments that create separation between us and other people, not the actual honesty.  We justify our righteousness with “honesty,” which is often a smokescreen for making other people wrong and/or feeling as though we’re superior to them.

Due to the complexities and difficulties with honesty, we spend a lot of time in life oscillating between phony and honest – wanting to mostly be honest, but to do so in a politically correct way, or at least in a way that’s not too offensive, problematic, doesn’t create problems for us or other people, and gets us what we want.  However, there’s not a lot of freedom in these two aspects of this continuum.  The true freedom lies beyond honesty.

Authentic

Authenticity is on the opposite side of the continuum from phony.  It’s absolutely honest, but minus the righteousness and plus vulnerability.  It’s the vulnerability aspect of authenticity that’s both liberating and challenging.  It’s scary for a lot of us, myself included, to be vulnerable – especially at certain times, with specific people, and in particular situations.  We’ve been taught and trained not to make ourselves vulnerable.  We’ve allowed ourselves to be vulnerable in the past and people have hurt our feelings, they’ve manipulated us, and they’ve used things against us.  Based on these types of experiences (and our fears of these or other “bad” things happening), we have a tendency to protect ourselves from vulnerability.

It’s our ability to embrace vulnerability which allows us to experience true authenticity, and thus true freedom and power in life.  I’m a big fan of the work of Brene Brown, author of the best-selling book Daring Greatly and professor at the University of Houston.  She has given a few very successful TED talks on vulnerability which you may have seen.  Brene is a behavioral psychology researcher who has studied vulnerability, shame, and fear for over a decade.   What she has found in her research is that vulnerability liberates us from our erroneous and insatiable obsession with perfection – thinking we have to be perfect and can’t make mistakes, have flaws, or be human.  In other words, being vulnerable allows us to let go of the pressure-filled, stress-inducing, perfection demands we place on ourselves.  Vulnerability is also the fundamental element of building trust and connection with other human beings.  Our ability (or inability) to be vulnerable is directly connected with our ability (or inability) to be authentic.

Authenticity is what gives us freedom to be ourselves and be comfortable with who we are, and it’s also what gives us access to connecting with other people in a meaningful and genuine way.  This is true power of authenticity and when we embrace it, even though it can be uncomfortable and scary at times, we give ourselves and those around us one of the most important gifts of all – the real us.  There is no destination called authentic.  Authenticity is a courageous process and a way of being, not a possession or an accomplishment.  As the famous saying goes, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.”  The same could be said about authenticity.

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Embracing Powerlessness

June 7, 2012

(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)

In a recent session I had with my new counselor Eleanor, she said to me, “Mike, it sounds like embracing powerlessness is something that would benefit you right now.”  When she said this, a chill went down my spine and my body tightened up.  “What do you mean, ’embrace powerlessness’?'” I asked.  “Why would I want to do that?”

Powerlessness seems almost like a dirty word to me, at least to my ego for sure.  Priding myself on being a “powerful person” and in the business of “empowering” others, I couldn’t imagine what embracing powerlessness even meant, let alone see the value in doing it myself.

Even with my fear and resistance, I continued to listen to what Eleanor had to say about this.  She went on to say, “Allowing yourself to feel powerless doesn’t mean you are powerless.  In fact, the more willing you are to embrace the feeling of powerlessness when it shows up, the more authentic power you’ll be able to access.”

She then taught me a simple meditation/visualization technique to embrace the feeling of powerlessness (for specifics about this technique, click here to listen to my audio podcast where I explain it in detail).  I’ve been using this technique for the past few weeks and talking about it with people close to me.  It has been incredibly liberating.

Through this process, I’ve realized that in many of the areas of my life where I’ve struggled and suffered most, one of the key factors has been my inability to acknowledge, express, or embracemy feelings of powerlessness. Instead of embracing powerlessness, I often end up erroneously attempting to force outcomes or results in the name of being “responsible” or “powerful,” when what is usually really driving me is fear and control (hence the struggling/suffering).  Can you relate in any way?

I recently heard the author, speaker, entrepreneur Chip Conley give a presentation at the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco.  He opened with the serenity prayer, which I appreciated and heard in a new way – “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”  I’ve always had a bit of a reaction to this prayer and its underlying wisdom – not wanting to fully acknowledge the idea that there are actually things I cannot change.  However, this prayer is all about consciously embracing our own powerlessness and there’s true brilliance in its simplicity and insight.

What if we stopped pushing against, resisting, and fighting with the things we think need to be changed about life, others, and ourselves – especially those things that are out of our control?  What if we were able to bring a deeper level of acceptance and serenity to the difficulties and challenges in our lives, instead of piling onto them (as well as ourselves and others) with loads of judgment, pressure, expectation, and more?

It’s incredibly liberating when we’re able to acknowledge and express our true emotions, even the ones we may not like, such as powerlessness.  We tend to have lots of stories, beliefs, and real hierarchy when it comes to emotions – deciding that some are “good” and others are “bad.”  The reality is that emotions are positive when we express them in a healthy way and negative when we suppress them, hold them back, or pretend we’re not feeling them.

We’ve all had lots of positive experiences in life when we’ve had the courage to express our fear, sadness, anger, and more (i.e. the “bad” ones).  We’ve also had negative and painful experiences when we’ve withheld or suppressed our love, excitement, passion, gratitude, and others (i.e. the “good” ones).  Maybe it’s less about the emotion itself and more about our willingness and ability to express it in a healthy and authentic way.

It’s also important to remember that human emotions aren’t sustainable.  They are meant to be felt and expressed.  Once they are felt and expressed, however, they pass through us beautifully.  This is why we often feel much better after a good cry (see my post on “The Benefit of Tears”).  The more conscious we are about our emotions and the more willing we are to express them authentically – the happier, healthier, and more alive we become.

As I’ve been allowing myself to embrace and express my own feelings of powerlessness, even though it has been a bit scary and uncomfortable, especially at first, I’ve been experiencing a deeper level of peace and power in regards to some very stressful and uncertain circumstances I’m currently facing in my life.  And, embracing powerlessness in general has started to shift my entire outlook and is liberating me from a great deal of undue pressure and expectation that I’ve been placing on myself for many years (i.e. most of my life.)

How can you start embracing powerlessness in a positive, empowering, and liberating way in your own life?

Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more.

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Express Yourself

May 12, 2009

How honest are you?  While most of us aren’t bald-faced liars who go around deceiving people consciously, if we’re honest with ourselves about it, we often don’t fully speak our truth or express all of our emotions.  We’ve been trained and have in turn trained ourselves to be “appropriate” and to say and do the “right” thing so we can get what we want and look as good as possible in most situations.

For me, being a “nice guy,” a “people pleaser,” and wanting others to be impressed with me often poses a challenge when what I want to say or express doesn’t seem to fit into the “likeable” category.  Most of the people I know and work with have some “story” about themselves they want others to believe and therefore only feel comfortable sharing thoughts, ideas, and feelings that match up with this story or the public “identity” that they put forth.

However, what if, even with whatever fear or resistance we each have – we were able to fully, passionately, and honestly express ourselves?

One way we can do this, which I talk about in Chapter Five of Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken (Principle 3 – Express Yourself), is to lower our “waterline.”  This idea is based on the metaphor of an iceberg, with just the tip of it popping up above the surface, and the rest of the iceberg (who we really are) down below the waterline.

The exercise that I share in the book and often do in my workshops, which I originally learned from my friends and mentors Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John, is called “if you really knew me.”  Each person in the group has a minute or two to complete the phrase, “if you really knew me, you’d know…” and then share some things about themselves in an honest, transparent, and vulnerable way.  It takes courage, safety, and trust to do this.  As I’ve seen time and time again, this exercise can have a profound impact on everyone involved.

Even though I’m feeling nervous as I write this and I worry that this is overly personal or possibly inappropriate for me to write in an “advice article” like this, I will share with you some things you’d know about me if we were sitting in a circle, doing this powerful exercise together.

If you really knew me, you’d know that I spend a lot of time and energy worrying about my physical appearance – obsessing about certain aspects of how I look (my hair, my skin, my eyes, my teeth, my weight, and more) and worrying that I don’t look good enough, that people can see me aging, losing my hair, and not taking care of myself – and that they’ll judge me or won’t like me because of it.

If you really, really knew me you’d know that I can’t seem to figure out how to stay on top of my life, my work, my finances, and all of my many personal and professional responsibilities in a way that feels balanced, workable, or peaceful.  Much of the time I feel like I am drowning, messing things up, and simply “pretending” to be happy and grateful.

If you really, really, really knew me you’d know that I believe my work, my message, and the gifts that I have are incredibly powerful, important, and meaningful.  I’m sometimes blown away by the impact I have on others.  I want to have an even deeper and bigger impact on people and the world, but my ego seems to think that I’m not doing enough, not being appreciated in the way I deserve, or that I better hurry up and “make it” before people really find out how full of it I am.

Wow…I can’t really believe I just shared all of that.  And, it feels both scary and liberating to have done so.  When we’re willing to own and express our truth, we can free ourselves from needless worry, hiding, and denial.  This allows us to be ourselves, live our lives with passion, and go for what we truly want in life.

Real authenticity is not some set of rules or a self-righteous definition about how people “should” be in life…it is the willingness and courage to be real, true, transparent, and vulnerable in the moment-by-moment, day-by-day experience of being in relationship with others and living this magical, mysterious, wonderful, crazy, exciting thing we call life.

Authenticity Challenge: What You Can Do

Think about some important things you have not been willing to say or some intense feelings you have not been willing to express recently.  Make a commitment to yourself, even if you’re feeling scared or uncomfortable about it, to express yourself honestly about these important things.  Write them down, call a friend of family member, or talk to someone you fully trust.  What would they know about you if they really knew how you were feeling right now?  Reach out in a bold, vulnerable, and honest way and see what happens when you express yourself like this.  It can be magical and one of the most liberating experiences in life!  Have fun…

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Why It Can Be Hard to Be Authentic

April 21, 2009

Why is it hard to be authentic?  More important, why is it hard for you to be authentic?

This isn’t an accusation or a judgment, it’s an important question.  If we can ask and answer this question honestly, without judging ourselves, we’re well on our way to becoming more of who we really are and ultimately more authentic.

For me, being honest, real, and authentic in a vulnerable way is what I aspire to be in my life, all the time.  However, this is also something I find quite difficult and challenging to do in the day-by-day, moment-by-moment aspects of my life, my work, and my relationships.

I’m often more interested (at least on the surface) in being liked, impressing people, and wanting to look good, than I am in being real.  I worry that if I really speak my truth, go for what I want, and let it all hang out – people won’t like me, I will upset or offend them, or I won’t be able to get what I truly want.

Can you relate to this in your own life?

Many of us, myself included, get quite upset, in a self-righteous way, when we see, hear about, or experience other people being dishonest, phony, or simply withholding the truth.  However, how often do we do that ourselves?  We can be quite hypocritical when it comes to authenticity – expecting it from others all the time, but not doing, saying, and being totally authentic ourselves.

This doesn’t make us “bad” or “wrong,” it simply makes us human.  Authenticity is challenging for most everyone I know, talk to, and work with.  The more we can get in touch with our own personal difficulty with being authentic, the more able and willing we’ll be to move past whatever stops us from being real.  But first, we have to notice our own difficulty or resistance to authenticity, with compassion, and tell the truth about it.

There are many factors that play into this – family upbringing, cultural training, long-held beliefs about what’s “appropriate,” and our own personal fears.  When it comes to being authentic, the bottom line for most of us is that we’re scared.  We don’t want to deal with what we imagine to be the consequences of authenticity – people’s judgments or reactions, our own fears and doubts, possible failure or rejection, and more – so we just shut up and try to fit in.

Shutting up and trying to fit in, as we all know from experience, doesn’t really work, feel good, or lead us to anything meaningful or fulfilling in life.  Doing this leads to resentment, frustration, and a lack of power in our lives, but is often easier for us to do than it is to confront our fear, speak our truth, and be fully authentic.

Getting in touch with what makes authenticity hard for us can give us access to a deeper place of truth within us and is the first step in becoming more real.

Here are a few questions for you to think about and answer with honesty and compassion:

  • What specific messages have you received throughout your life about being authentic and being yourself, that stop you from expressing yourself fully?
  • What are the main obstacles that get in your way of being real?
  • What are some of the biggest fears you have about being fully yourself, speaking your truth, and going for what you want in life?

Allow yourself to sit with these questions, ponder them, and see what comes out of this inquiry.  Talk to others about this with empathy and openness.  Engaging in this inquiry can and will open up some new ideas, insights, and possibilities for you.  Have fun with it and be kind to yourself in the process!

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