For those of you who know my father, Tom Chenault, you’ve probably heard him self-identify as a “hot mess.”
He owns this label with gusto—not in a self-deprecating way, but in a vulnerable one.
Tom knows that being vulnerable isn’t a weakness—it’s one of his greatest superpowers.
People tend to react to him with a sigh of relief, a warm smile, and usually a laugh. But most importantly, they often reciprocate by being vulnerable themselves.
It’s my dad’s “hot messiness” that has propelled him into superconnector status.
Rather than selecting his words with precision and ensuring he appears “put together” and “well-equipped” (like I often try to do), Dad comes barreling into shared spaces with a genuine authenticity that allows people to let down their walls and simply share their humanity.
Authenticity plays an incredibly important role in our health, our personal friendships, and our work-life.
But just how difficult is it to be authentic in each of these spaces? For many of us, it’s really hard.
Some feel they can’t be their “true selves” around family, while others feel they can’t let their guard down at work.
Over the next couple weeks, we are going to dive into the different areas of our life where we have the most difficulty being vulnerable.
And this week, we are going to unpack our friendships and personal lives as we learn…
Why authenticity is important for our health, and
How to be more authentic in our personal lives.
You ready? Let’s do this.
THE EFFECT OF AUTHENTICITY ON OUR HEALTH
Tony Robbins coined an idea called The Rocking Chair Test. The idea is simple—take a moment and envision yourself in a rocking chair later in life. What memories, accomplishments, and successes will hold value for you during that time? What will you wish you would’ve done?
While this test is hard to do while living in the present, psychologist Bonnie Ware administered a study similar to The Rocking Chair Test. She interviewed elderly people who were near the end of their life and asked them what their biggest regret was.
The #1 regret these dying patients had as they reflected back on their life was simple: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
This regret is undeniably about living an authentic life—one that allows each of us to live up to our fullest potential, unencumbered by the perceptions of others.
Ok, so people regret not being authentic, but what does this have to do with our current health and well-being?
I’m glad you asked.
It turns out our ability to be authentic and vulnerable has an incredible impact on our overall health.
In Barbara Frederickson’s book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do and Become, she summarizes her research findings and shows how our authentic connections improve the health of our vagus nerve.
If you’re not up-to-speed on your anatomy lessons these days (don’t worry, I had to Google it), the vagus nerve is the main nerve that runs from the brain stem through the chest and connects our brain to our lungs, digestive tract, and our heart.
So yeah...this nerve is essential to our overall well-being. As such, our ability to be authentic, to be vulnerable, to let down our guard—each of these choices in behavior has a direct influence on our overall health.
People with a healthy vagus nerve are typically happier, less stressed, and less likely to suffer from depression. Their memory is better, they have an easier time focusing on tasks, and have stronger brainpower than those with lower vagal tone.
But just because we KNOW being vulnerable and authentic is good for our health, doesn’t make it easy to accomplish.
If we can all agree that authenticity is an important quality to nurture and develop, what stops us? And how can we be more authentic in our personal lives?
4 STEPS TO AUTHENTIC PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS
Reframe vulnerability: It goes without saying, but the #1 reason authenticity is difficult is that we fear backlash and rejection. We don’t want to be vulnerable. We worry about what others may think or say if our inner truths are revealed. Best-selling author Brene Brown encourages us to reframe the idea of vulnerability. Instead of seeing vulnerability as a weakness, reframe it to be a sign of bravery.
Cultivate mindfulness: Psychologist Gregory Jantz says that while it’s important to adapt in different situations, it’s detrimental if you morph completely depending upon the scenario. To combat against shying away from being vulnerable, Jantz says that staying present and mindful is the key to success - “Mastering the art of presence perhaps is the single most effective way to ensure authenticity in any situation.”
Mindfulness translates into authenticity because when you’re in touch with your feelings, preconceived notions, and your fears around a conversation or interaction, you are better equipped to engage authentically.
Be truthful and loving: For some of us, it’s our personal lives where it’s most difficult to live authentically. While it’s important to be true to yourself, being “authentic” doesn’t equivocally translate to “giving someone a piece of your mind.”
Be loving and understanding as you walk more authentically with those around. Be vulnerable by sharing your feelings. By telling those closest to you that you’ve struggled living an authentic life, you give others an opportunity to support you (rather than coming in hot and saying “this is me...take it or leave it.”)
Seek out situations where you can be authentic: When it comes to being vulnerable and authentic in your personal life, you’re in control. Unlike some situations (like work, for example) you get to choose how you spend your time and who you spend it with.
If you’re spending time with people who you have a difficult time being vulnerable and authentic with, then it could be a good opportunity to rethink how you spend time with them—either how frequently you spend time together, or in what settings. This isn’t to say you should shy away from difficult situations or disengage completely, but as you’re practicing authenticity, start in safe spaces and grow from there.
The heart of authentic relationships is in being true to yourself and your values. Disagreements are bound to happen, but when we can each embrace tension with compassion and honesty, it is more likely those feelings will be reciprocated by others in our personal networks.
This week, let’s strive to be a better friend and more importantly, a better version of ourselves—hot messes and all.