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Are Authentic People More Mindful?

New research suggests that mindfulness emerges from authenticity.

Humanistic psychologists have long been interested in authenticity. One of the originators of humanistic psychology, Carl Rogers, proposed that authenticity was the foundation stone of an emotionally mature life. Authenticity is about knowing yourself, taking responsibility for your choices in life, and being able to stand your ground for what you believe in. But it is a much-misunderstood idea.

Just because someone is able to stand their ground, and argue for what they think, doesn’t mean that they are authentic. One of the problems in talking about this topic is that the most inauthentic people, because they don’t know themselves well and therefore lack insight, often think that they are more authentic than they are. They aren't able to comprehend the nature of their inauthenticity.

On the other hand, the most authentic people, because they know themselves so well, recognize their struggles in living authentically.

Authenticity always starts from the inside and works out.

Authenticity isn’t about just saying what you think or doing what you want. Authentic people say and do things in a certain way. Carl Rogers believed that when you become more authentic you become a certain type of person. In essence, you become more empathic, more accepting, both of yourself and others. Authenticity is not a free for all, in which anything goes, but a way of being that is defined by emotional and psychological maturity.

Inspired by this idea, in a recent study published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Ornella Tohme and I investigated the possibility that the more authentic people are, the more they are mindful and emotionally intelligent.

Mindfulness is about being aware of one’s experiences without judgment. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to process emotional information accurately and efficiently. The emotionally intelligent person is in control of their emotions, able to regulate their emotions, understand what they are feeling, and able to use their emotional soft skills. We used standard and widely used psychometric tests to assess mindfulness and emotional intelligence.

We found that those who scored higher on our test for authenticity were indeed more mindful. They were better at observing changes in their body, describing their feelings, more aware of what is going on around them, and more able to accept themselves. And they were also more emotionally intelligent.

It seems that authenticity is beneficial in these ways, so we wondered what our research might tell us about how to help people become more authentic.

We proposed that mindfulness and emotional intelligence are emergent properties of authenticity, but we think that this is a two-way relationship. By practising the skills of mindfulness, and learning about emotional intelligence, a person may also give themselves the tools they need to become more authentic. They can open themselves up to new ways of thinking about the world and themselves, become more observant and accepting of their emotional reactions to situations, giving them the chance to process information in a new way and to change and grow as a person.

However, it takes courage to do this. Authenticity involves learning about yourself. That can mean facing up to things that you don’t like about yourself, admitting your failures and mistakes to yourself, being able to laugh at yourself, and most importantly the willingness to let go of rigid ideas from the past about who you think you are.

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Tohme, O., & Joseph, S. (2020). Authenticity is correlated with mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. First online publication.

Joseph, S. (2016). Authentic: How to be yourself and why it matters. Piatkus.

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