How You Can Live Authentically

By Tracey Soghrati MA Psychotherapist, RN, RP and Jamie Bussin

I think all of us have some sense of our core values; what we believe in and how we wish to live. But for many those values are aspirational. It seems so hard to follow through and live the way we want to. I interviewed psychotherapist, Tracey Soghrati, on episode #255 of the Tonic Talk Show/Podcast about values, aspirations and authenticity. This is a digest of that conversation.

What Are Values?  First and foremost, according to Tracey, values are freely chosen. They’re ideals towards which we work. They guide our actions, behaviour or choices. Think of them like a compass that moves us in the direction of the life that we want to live, with the understanding that they are dynamic, not fixed.  That means they are going to change over time. 

We all go through changes and stages of our lives. For example, when your kids are young and then they’re growing up and then they move away. Or your body when it’s young and then as it ages. “Our values are going to change according to what’s happening in your stage of life. And that’s really important to recognize and not to get too set in your ways about them.” says Tracey.

For both Tracey and me, the thing we value most, today, is our time. This is interesting because we are at very different stages of our lives. The question becomes: What are we going to spend our time on? …Being pissed off with other people? Or complaining about things? …Or are we actually going to make changes?’ How are we going to conduct ourselves with the time that we have? How we choose to use our time, what we do with it, really predicts the kind of life that we’re going to live. 

But time might not be paramount for you. You might value ambition, you might value positivity, you might value determination. For many others the focus is on integrity. 

Context is important. Says Tracey; “I generally will advise people to explore their values within specific domains, because it’s going to be a little different. When you’re talking about, say, what you value in terms of your health versus who you are as a professional, who you are as maybe a parent versus a spouse, and then your personal development, like when you’re talking about how you want to spend your time, the values might look different.”

How Can You Explore Your Values?  The starting point to exploring your values is to look at those domains and ask the question: What’s important to me in terms of my health, what’s important to me in terms of my work, my family,  and my personal development? For some the answers to those questions can still be vague. And so, deeper questions to ask are: who do you care about, who do you want to spend time with, because we are such social creatures.

This is about relationships. As Tracey says, “Obviously we’re so social that if we don’t think about what kinds of relationships we want to have in our lives, then we can end up having relationships that contribute to us really feeling crappy for the duration of our lives if we don’t make changes.”

Tracey values reciprocity in relationships, specifically reciprocity of listening. She elaborates; “I like deep connections. I’m not really interested in having a superficial connection with someone. I want it to go deep or I don’t really want it.” On that point we agree.

What Matters To You? If you’re not sure what matters to you, perhaps ask yourself the following questions:

  • What gets you fired up?
  • What makes you upset, mad, sad or scared?
  • What do you enjoy doing?

That third question, “what do you enjoy doing?” might be the most important. According to Tracey; “If you’re spending all of your time doing things, because that’s the way you’ve always lived your life, but when you reflect and notice you’re not getting anything out of that stuff, it’s important to rethink what you’re doing. When do you feel grateful or appreciative? I know the times when I’m so happy to be alive.” 

So, notice what helps you feel grateful or appreciative and when do you feel like you’re really living your life your way? When do you feel like you’re being most authentic? When does it feel like you’re most creative? It doesn’t matter if you’re not in a creative job. Whatever you’re doing; thinking more creatively is a sign that you’re engaging with something that you value. 

You may ask yourself these questions several times and still not be able to conceptualize the answers. And that’s okay. It might be easier to identify if you’re living in contravention of your values. 

From a psychological perspective, signs of this conflict might be anxiety, depression or a feeling of being conflicted all the time – being pulled in different directions. There might also be low self-esteem or poor self-value. Because, if you’re not living in congruence with your values, you probably don’t trust yourself. Even if you’re not aware of the incongruence. And then it might be really difficult to make decisions. 

Tracey gives an example; “You might make decisions that are comfortable in the short term, but aren’t workable in the long term. Say you value comfort right now. Comfort long term and by that I mean being comfortable in your body as you age and live your life, is very different from comfort in the short term. In the short term you avoid exercise and sort of snuggle up to having desserts every night. But you also value your health and your ability to move with your spouse, your kids, your grandkids, whatever. If you take the big picture view, valuing your health means choosing behaviours that in the short term are actually less comfortable. Right, it means sort of exercising more and limiting food intake sometimes, but it will lead to actually greater comfort and health in the long term.” 

So it’s about really understanding the difference between short and long term choices. Make decisions that are consistent with and support your long term values and choices.