How to develop your self-authorship

Have you ever felt like you should do something because everyone is doing it? Do you follow certain rules which were taught to you as a kid, just out of principle, or maybe out of habit? Are there behaviours you consider acceptable based on what the society you live in has defined?

Alongside growth mindset and metacognition, self-authorship is one of the three key pillars of mindframing. Self-authorship is the belief that you can rely on your own internal values to make decisions. It’s accepting the fact that you cannot control all the external event happening to you and around you, but you can control the way you react. It’s a powerful mind frame, but it’s hard to master.

“Self-Authorship is the capacity to internally define a coherent belief system and identity that coordinates mutual relations with others.”

Baxter Magnolia, Professor of Educational Leadership at Miami University.

Research has shown that strong self-authorship is linked to better performance, better critical reasoning, better cognitive thinking, and better motivation. Instead of focusing on goals based on what society may expect from you, self-authorship will allow you to define goals that actually make sense to you, but also to better achieve these goals—especially when things get tough. So how can you develop your self-authorship?

The three phases of self-authorship

Developing self-authorship is a journey that goes from following external formulas to expressing your own internal authority. Researchers have identified three main phases to achieve full self-authorship.

Self-authorship phases
  1. Trust your internal voice. Realise that although reality is out of your control, you can control how you react to reality. Instead of reacting automatically to what happens to you based on what you have been taught in the past, actively listen to your internal voice to shape how you react.
  2. Build an internal foundation. This is a conscious process where you decide to combine your identity, your relationships, your beliefs and your values into a set of internal commitments from which to act upon.
  3. Secure internal commitments. Shift from making internal commitments to actually acting upon them. When faced with external events that are out of your control, use the values to defined to guide your decision-making process.

As you can imagine, developing self-authorship is not a quick process. It can in fact take years to get to a point where you can reliably use your own set of internal commitments to guide your decisions, without automatically reacting to external events.

Activities to develop self-authorship

Studies point to a few different experiences that have been shown to help people develop their self-authorship. A good approach is to give them all a try and see which ones help you best to question and develop your own set of internal commitments.

  • Question your values and beliefs. Instead of taking your personal values for granted, ask yourself: what do I believe in? Are these values my values? It may sound simple when you put it this way, but it’s actually extremely hard to question your own values and beliefs. Get out of your comfort zone and be proactive. This can be a great journaling exercise.
  • Hang out with diverse people. Make sure to connect and actively engage with people coming from different backgrounds, who may have different experiences from yours. By doing this, you will increase your awareness, understanding and openness to diversity, and at the same time develop your own values, which may be either inspired by these diverse experiences, or developed as counter values and beliefs.
  • Take responsibility. Realise that you are in charge of your learning experience and personal growth. You decide who you want to become, and everything you learn has an impact on your values and identity. While you can’t control many external events that have an impact on your life, you can control the material you engage with—what you read, watch, and listen to.

It’s a lot of work to develop your self-authorship, but it’s well worth it. The journey itself can be enlightening and help you get to know yourself better.


Anne-Laure Le Cunff

I’m an ex-Googler, entrepreneur, and part-time neuroscience student at King’s College. If you found this article useful, subscribe to my weekly newsletter about mindful productivity.

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