When a firefighter runs into a burning building they are facing a situation they have never seen before. We think of them as heroes because they are doing something we ourselves would never do. Some of the most terrifying things most people can imagine they actually do for a living.
In simple terms the job of a firefighter is to take control of a situation that is out of control. What makes this more challenging is that a firefighter never fights the same fire twice. Every emergency has its own set of problems that are uniquely unfamiliar and entirely unpredictable. No matter how much they train they will always find themselves dealing with uncertainty and potentially life threatening risk.
In the midst of danger they don’t have time to consult an instruction manual. They have to rely on their instincts and courage and take immediate action. Although they spend years practicing techniques and developing their skills, none of it matters if they don’t have the confidence to show up and save lives while protecting themselves and each other from harm.
As a psychotherapist I have spent more than a decade serving people who are experiencing their own emergencies. It may be depression or anxiety, family conflict, grief, anger, or harmful habits, even thoughts of suicide. Sometimes their concerns are uncomfortable but manageable. In other cases they feel like their life is a burning building. In all cases they are approaching a situation they have never seen before and they feel unable to confront alone.
What my clients tell me they want most is answers. Will my marriage survive? Should I quit my job? Why am I depressed? How can I control my anxiety? When will things get better? Over the years I have learned that what they really need is confidence.
The word confidence comes from the Latin word fidelis which means “faith in something that hasn’t yet been seen.” When a person is confident they are able to respond to any situation without always knowing what is about to happen. It brings with it a sense of living with uncertainty.
Many of my clients are ashamed and frustrated because they think they should be able to predict and control their lives. What they must learn to accept is that each situation in life has its own set of problems that are uniquely unfamiliar and entirely unpredictable.
We are all first responders in our own life. Even with years of personal growth, learning new skills, and practicing countless techniques, the truth is you will never fight the same fire twice. What really matters is developing the confidence to trust your instincts and respond to the steady flow of change that arises in every moment.
This is what it means to be clear and present. That’s what this book is about.
In my work I have done a great deal of research and spent many years learning and consulting with other professionals. I have provided thousands of hours of therapy and crisis interventions to individuals of all ages and backgrounds. The information and strategies in this book have been tried and tested by my clients in their daily lives.
It was written with a sincere desire to begin a dialog about what it’s like to live an authentic life. It is intended to be a resource for anyone I happen to have the privilege of serving in my role as a therapist, teacher, and friend. It was born out of a necessity to compile a set of ideas that have been enormously beneficial to my clients in the process of therapy.
Over the years I have looked for ways to understand and communicate a multitude of concepts collected from a wide array of disciplines including psychology, economics, biology, sociology, popular culture and even comedy to explain things in a way that makes them approachable and applicable.
That’s why I’ve made it a point to keep this as simple and practical as possible. It is deliberately concise. Rather than a comprehensive review of research data and theoretical literature I’m convinced that my clients, and you the reader, would prefer a guidebook that introduces new ideas that are realistic and useful.
The concepts are presented in a format that is brief and to the point with exercises that can be easily completed for personal benefit. Whenever possible I’ve included some references for further exploration on your own. If you are curious or disagree with something you read I encourage you to follow your instincts and do some research to learn more.
At the end of the day this is a self-help book. You have to do the work yourself. You have your own story and all of the challenges that come with it. You’ve learned from your experiences, made your own mistakes, struggled with countless questions and conflicts. You’ve got your own strongly held beliefs and opinions about how things work. I’m not ignorant to the fact that you will decide how you use this information, apply what works, and discard the rest.
My approach to therapy is collaborative. In order to role model authenticity and integrity for my clients I begin by asking them to tell me when they think I am wrong. In this way we both share responsibility for the outcome of our work together. My hope is that this book will offer the same opportunity for readers to find their own answers and generate as many or more compelling questions.
It should also be noted that this is literally a self help book. It is about taking a look at your individual concept of self and working towards a deeper understanding of how that shapes your quality of life. By far one of the most effective strategies I have seen in helping my clients is coaching them on ways to be more reflective and intentional in striving for authenticity.
Although the idea of authenticity has become a popular buzzword its meaning has become somewhat ambiguous in our culture. On the surface it might feel like an excuse to be self-centered or even condescending. The motivation to be authentic may come from a desire to have a more satisfying and meaningful life. Many of my clients are surprised to find out how difficult and even painful it can be to work towards this goal.
This is why confidence is essential in opening up to such a transformative experience. After a lifetime of looking for answers outside of themselves, and sometimes hiding from their inner demons, many of my clients tell me they are apprehensive about beginning the work of self-examination. For those who have encountered significant trauma it can be even more overwhelming.
In order to reassure them I have developed a formula to serve as a framework for where to begin and how to proceed.
CONFIDENCE = CLARITY + CONSISTENCY
When you meet someone it’s not uncommon for them to ask what you do. Your answer will typically be a job title or some label that makes it easy for them to categorize you. This may be useful as a social skill but it can be harmful if you allow that description to define you. What you do for a living doesn’t always tell the whole story about who you really are.
If you allow yourself to be defined from the outside in you will find it more difficult to genuinely know yourself. In order to live with confidence you must begin by first clarifying WHO you are and let that define WHAT you do and WHY you do it.
With this level of clarity you will be able to devise an effective strategy for living a more authentic life. You can ask yourself, “How does what I do help me become the person I want be?” This is the definition of self-actualization.
There is a saying I use to emphasize this aspect of confidence.
Your role defines your goal.
Very often people find themselves confused about how they should relate to others or respond to their current situation. It’s easy to find yourself with competing interests and goals that contradict each other. This will either leave you paralyzed with doubt or overwhelmed with frustration. When you don’t know the answer to the question “What should I do?” it might be better to ask instead “Who do I want to be?”
Once you have a clear understanding of who you are and how that defines your role and goals, you have still only solved half of the equation. In order to maximize the benefits of confidence it’s essential to learn how to measure the results of your actions to improve your consistency over time.
Fundamentally there are two ways to measure consistency. You should measure both the quality of your actions (how well you do them), and the quantity of your actions (how often you do them).
By clarifying what actions will help you be more authentic, and then measuring how consistently you do them, you are engaging in a much higher level of effort than most people have ever even considered. Remember that the more specifically you make plans the more likely they are to happen.
The best part about this process is that it works even when you make mistakes. Because you are paying attention to the results of your actions you will at least know why you aren’t getting the results you want. True confidence is knowing what to do, even when you don’t know what you are doing. There is another saying that helps with this part of the equation.
Focus on direction not perfection.
Believing that you will somehow complete this process is a recipe for endless frustration and disappointment. Growth is a response to change, and change is the reason for growth. They go hand in hand. Authentic confidence is the surest evidence of your ability to adapt to unpredictable change and thrive in a dynamic and sometimes dangerous world.
In the following chapters you will explore the link between confidence and authenticity. They are presented in a particular order because they build on each other towards a complete picture of the ingredients of an authentic life.
In chapter two you will identify Authentic Values. The search for authenticity must inherently begin from the inside out shining a light on the complicated connection between the image you portray to the world and the way you imagine our inner self.
In chapter three you will examine Authentic Emotions. By recognizing the critical need for resiliency you will become more willing to accept and even appreciate the challenges that occur as you strive for a life of integrity.
In chapter four you will learn about Authentic Intentions. A strategic journey into the causes and effects of disillusionment will help you set more practical goals and elevate the universal search for meaning in your life.
In chapter five you will consider the importance of Authentic Relationships. With a blend of classic psychology and modern science you will uncover new insights into the purpose of conflict in teaching you about yourself.
In chapter six you will reflect on some important concepts about Authentic Living. Building on your own instinctive need for play as a tool for healing and growth you can create an outlook that cultivates a lifestyle that is more fulfilling and genuinely authentic.
At the end of these chapters there is a summary of the key points and questions you can use to journal or discuss with others.
In chapter seven you will find a series of exercises on Authentic Thinking that can be used to gain further insight on ways to apply these concepts in your daily life.
If you are using this book for personal development it would be ideal as a resource to collaborate with your own therapist. If you are a mental health practitioner or serving as a mentor you may find the questions at the end of each chapter and the exercises to be a useful tool in guiding those who look to you for support.
If you are experiencing a crisis or serious mental illness you should consult a mental health practitioner in addition to this material. This book has been written for educational purposes only. The ideas and exercises provided are not intended to be a replacement for professional mental health services.
I should also mention that all of the comments and stories about clients in this book have been altered to protect their privacy. Any discussion about personal information is merely anecdotal and intended only to illustrate key points of interest, and to help readers connect with the concepts in an authentic way.
It is my hope that these ideas can inform and inspire you in the same way I have seen them help so many others in my practice.