IN MY LIFETIME, I have read an immense
number of self-help books, and I have come across the sensible
advice again and again to "be yourself." It's the only way you're
ever going to be happy, it's the only way you can really find
your way in the world, it's more honest, it has more integrity,
it will help you be more creative and successful, it will give
you more energy, your relationships will work a lot better, and
it will rid you of a lot of stress.
But I've never seen anywhere any instructions
on how to be yourself. And if you and I were in a conversation,
and I asked you to "be yourself," would you know how
to do it? What if I gave you ten thousand dollars if you could
really be yourself for the next three hours? Would you know what
Do you know why it's so difficult to instruct
someone in the art of being themselves? Because it's not something
you can do with action. It's not something you can do by
trying. It's not something you can do by restraining yourself.
You can't do it with any effort.
In fact, if you are forcing yourself or
restraining yourself, you are not being yourself. If you
are trying, you are not being yourself. Even if you are trying
to be yourself, you're not being yourself. And if you try harder,
you're really not being yourself.
Being yourself is the absence of
something, not the presence of something. It is the absence
of forcing and restraining yourself. If you force yourself to
smile when you don't feel like smiling, you're not being yourself.
If you restrain yourself from crying when you feel like crying,
you're not being yourself.
You are not being yourself if you're trying.
Trying is forcing or restraining.
So how can you "be yourself?"
Even though it is a complete lack of trying, you actually have
to learn how to be yourself because you've been urged,
coerced, prodded, teased, ridiculed, and punished for being yourself
your whole life. The world has trained you to avoid being yourself,
so it's not going to be easy. And yet, in many ways it's the
easiest thing there is, because it is a total lack of
So how do you learn? By catching yourself
forcing yourself and restraining yourself. By noticing
when you're trying. And then letting it go, easing off on the
trying, and just relaxing into whatever is really true for you
right at that moment.
In other words, you learn to be yourself
by being on the lookout for that feeling of forcing and the feeling
of restraining. Tune yourself into that feeling. Become
accutely familiar with what it feels like. And watch for it.
Then when you notice yourself forcing or restraining, ease up
on the forcing or restraining.
It is a subtle process, but a very concrete
one. The feeling of trying (forcing or restraining) is a specific,
easily-identifiable feeling. Once you're got your reticular activator set for it, you'll begin
to notice it happening all the time.
And when you notice it, resist the temptation
to try. Resist your habitual urge to force yourself or restrain
Step by step you will become more and more
"just yourself." You will become more natural, more
at ease, more relaxed, more open, more honest. Your relationships
will become a lot more enjoyable. Your whole life will
become more enjoyable.
I'd like to add a warning to this rosy
picture, however. There are places and times when it is not
a good idea to be yourself. For example, let's say you work for
customer service and a customer has just made you angry. It is
probably a good idea in those circumstances to restrain yourself
from being yourself and doing what you honestly feel like doing.
Your employer is paying you to do a job. Forcing and restraining
yourself is work, and in this case, it's one of the things
you are being paid to do.
You can figure out the details for your
own situations, but I wanted to point out that it is entirely
fitting and appropriate to not be yourself in some situations.
Figure out what those are, and explore being yourself in every
other area of your life.
So let me summarize. This is how you can
follow the excellent advice to "be yourself:" Catch
yourself trying. You can't "be yourself" by an act.
Rather, you detect forcing and restraining and stop doing it.
The feeling of forcing and restraining is the feeling of not
You can't try to be yourself. As
soon as you're trying, you're not yourself. Being yourself is
not an effort. It can't by done by trying. And especially not
by trying harder. It is more like resisting temptation.
Remember that, and you're well on your way to enjoying the freedom
and power of being yourself.