Here is the full transcript of popular physician and medical journalist Andrea Pennington’s TEDx Talk: Become Who You Really Are at TEDxIUM conference. Dr. Andrea Pennington is the Founder and President of Pennington Empowerment Media. To learn more about the speaker, read the full bio here.
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Andrea Pennington – Popular physician and medical journalist
I am obsessed with transformation, specifically how dreams in the head and heart are transformed into physical reality.
For the last two decades, I have reverse-engineered peak performance behavior and hacked motivation to empower people, to transform their lives and their business in honor of their dreams and passions.
So whether it’s starting a new business or relationship to building a better brain or body, how many of you out there feel that you have the potential to do something great in life? All right.
Well, Marianne Williamson once said, “If you feel like you’re wasting your life’s potential, you are.” The truth is you have far more power over your physical well-being and your impact in life than you give yourself credit for.
Now, over the last several years as a documentary filmmaker, I have immersed myself in cultures around the world to see what it takes to really thrive and flourish. What I noticed is, in many cultures like in the Western world, when we set out in life, most of us are programmed to fit into social norms.
In business, we look to the marketplace to compete for better sameness. And when we suffer, physically or emotionally, most of us look outside of ourselves for the cause and the cure.
Now, the shift for me came in my final year of medical school, when I started the study of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. I learned that people could have heart and brain surgery while awake without anesthesia. Women could deliver their babies painlessly, and people could recover from drug addiction and craving with a few tiny, well-placed needles.
I realized there was more to the body and mind than what the American medical system was teaching me. I came to understand that our programmed beliefs about ourselves and our place in the world dictate a large part of our health and happiness as well as our level of success.
Now the challenge is: our concept of self is often inauthentic or weak. To transform what you see on the outside, you’ve got to transform who you are on the inside.
In the next few minutes, I will summarize the soul and science of my work to leave you with three vital keys to unlock your potential for transformation. It’s a simple prescription really, one small shift that can yield big results.
I’ll even tell it to you now: Become who you really are.
When you look yourself in the mirror, past the makeup or blemishes, do you ever sense that there’s more to you than what you see in your reflection? So who are you really?
When asked, “Who are you?”, most people respond with their age, ethnic background, job or position in life. Why? Because we’ve all been programmed. The programming of your self-image and how you describe yourselves to others begins in childhood.
As author and biologist, Bruce Lipton, so passionately explains, during the first six years of our lives, our brains exist in a hypnotic, trance-like state, such that we passively absorb, record and believe the things that are impressed upon us from the outside world.
So from birth, the socialization process shapes our sense of self-identity, and little by little a social mask is formed, and we behave according to the rules of our family or religion. We adopt the cultural, political and gender norms that are thrust upon us, causing most of us to lose sight of and compromise who we really are.
Now, the sad thing is most of us end up forcing the unacceptable parts of our personality into the shadows, and we end up masquerading as a half-baked version of ourselves. We embrace the qualities of our peers or the ideals of our parents, all in an attempt to fit in and be accepted.
Meanwhile, the authentic, original you, that glimmer you see reflected deep in your eyes, takes a back seat. Often we don’t realize who we are meant to be because we’re so busy trying to live out someone else’s ideas.
But what if who you thought you were is wrong? What if, by being your most authentic perfectly imperfect self, you could transform your health and your life while having an extraordinary impact in the world? You know, the challenges that our world faces today, from economic collapse, crumbling political regimes, environmental crises and global health problems, we need new solutions, not rehashed versions of old thinking.
Einstein said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
In 2010, IBM conducted a study of CEOs around the world. 60% of these CEOs said that creativity is the most important leadership quality for success in business. So, you see, we need people who will be creative enough to think outside of the box, those who are bold enough to go for their dreams, and those who are free enough to be truly themselves. That’s from whence that creative spark of genius often comes.
Now, a Greek philosopher believed that we have a telos, a purpose or an end toward which we are pointed. And — that end is the self. And the best life, says Aristotle, is spent trying to understand what that self is, and to become it. And that’s what people who want to transform the world need to hear: Become who you are.
Now, that’s also the title of one of the positive psychology courses I teach here at IUM in the business school. One of the first assignments is to research the class title. Now, many people have heard “Become Who You Are,” or they’ve seen it in online social networks, these cute little postcards. Most often, the phrase is attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche. But Nietzsche was actually quoting Pindar, the lyric poet.
Upon further research, we see that Pindar’s line, when accurately translated from the ancient Greek, reads: “Become such as you are, having learned what that is.”
So you see, your first key to becoming who you really are, is to learn who you really are.
So how do you do that? Shift your focus inward. Question your thoughts and beliefs. Seek to rediscover your true self through inquiry, contemplation, yoga. Or, as Matthieu Ricard said, through meditation.
Now, one way that you can see what is truly you and not just programming is to look at your biology. Dr C Robert Cloninger from my alma mater, the Washington University School of Medicine, developed the TCI. The TCI is the temperament and character inventory. You take it to learn what your true personality traits are that have come from your family, those aspects of our personality that are actually transmitted in the DNA. Now it is a good place to start, but as you’ve heard today, your biology doesn’t limit you, it’s just a starting point.
Next, look at your positive traits and talents. Now, we all have a variety of strengths, abilities and resources, but they don’t reflect who you are at your core. But your character strengths are those aspects of your personality that make you unique, feel engaged, and actually make you feel like life is worth living.
Now, you can learn about your character strengths by taking the VIA survey. This was developed under the guidance of Dr Martin Seligman. While studying applied positive psychology, he taught me that when we use our signature strengths more in our daily life, we can achieve authentic happiness, create more flow, and a feeling that what we do in life matters. When you feel that life has meaning and purpose, you take your better care of yourself. You will express yourself more freely, and… you really start to feel happy and hopeful. And these positive emotions and optimism go a long way towards setting you up for success, better health and longevity.