How are you lying to yourself?

Recently interviewed on the Tim Ferriss Show, Kara Swisher, the doyenne of Silicon Valley journalism was asked what makes a great journalist. She replied ‘a good journalist knows when someone is lying to them, a great journalist can spot the lies the person is telling themselves.’

Boom. Another ‘theory of everything’ moment. Everything crystallised and I suddenly got it.

But I think her statement about the great being able to spot the lies people tell themselves is so profound that it transcends journalism. It applies to all of us, irrespective of our career path or station in life (hence the ‘theory of everything’ moment). Because we all have lies we tell ourselves, from little ones like ‘I look great in that’ to the big ones ‘I can’t change my circumstances’.

Lying to ourselves is one of the most insidious ways we get ‘stuck’ in life. We construct a narrative in our minds that interprets the world around us in a way that doesn’t hurt our feelings or sense of pride.

Maybe some people do Nathan, but I don’t.

Ok, what about that job you didn’t get? How often do we say ‘it wasn’t meant to be’ or ‘the hiring manager was biased towards a younger candidate’ when, if we’re honest with ourselves, the truth is that we just didn’t perform well in the interview. Maybe we weren’t properly prepared. Whatever the reason, we didn’t interview well enough to get the job.

So we all lie to ourselves sometimes, what’s so bad about that?

If you’re unconcerned with making progress in your life and/or career then sure, who cares. But, if you want to move forward, if you want to get unstuck, then you need to start telling yourself the truth. It’s only when we expose our self-lies in the harsh light of day that we can begin to make the necessary changes and move forward.

Ok, so how do I begin to identify lies I’m telling myself?

This isn’t easy, oftentimes we’ve lied to ourselves so much that the lie, in our minds at least, becomes real. The more you tell yourself something, the more you tend to believe it, this is where psychologists would reference techniques like self-talk and positive visualisation. It’s powerful. Furthermore, the lies we tell ourselves are often complex, like an iceberg there’s the fractional part visible above the surface and the much larger one hidden below.

Ok, so you still haven’t answered my question, how do I identify the lies I’m telling myself?

The best way is to look for inconsistencies in your life, things that don’t make sense. These are often a red flag that you may be lying to yourself about something. For example, say you’re applying to jobs for which you’re well qualified, but for some reason, never getting them. Sure, you get called for interviews because you have a good CV, progress to the first or second round, but never receive any offers.

In an attempt to cushion the blow of disappointment, we often tell ourselves ‘it wasn’t meant to be’ or ‘they couldn’t afford me’. But as this multiplies over several different interview attempts, the odds of coincidence dwindle rapidly. We’re doing something wrong, something about us, the way we’re presenting ourselves. Whatever it is, something’s not working. Sure, we could continue lying to ourselves about it, but, as the old saying goes ‘if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.’

The truth often hurts. I once had a managing director tell me I was overweight and poorly dressed in an interview (yeah, that really happened) and it stung like hell. But, he wasn’t wrong, even if he was unpleasant about it. I could continue to ignore him because he ‘didn’t say it in a nice way’ or, I could take the feedback on board and make some changes. I chose the latter.

The other way to sniff out the lies you tell yourself is to elicit this feedback from people you know. Before you do these, beware, there is a massive pitfall you must avoid with this approach. Namely, people telling you what they think you want to hear — like the husband who tells his wife he wouldn’t change a thing about her. Come on, he has a list, we all do. Anyways, the key to avoiding this pitfall is twofold: 1/ give those you ask permission to be candid with you and 2/ to ask them in such a way that you’re getting the feedback you actually want. This means asking good questions.

What do you mean by that?

There’s a massive difference between asking ‘was I wrong to overreact to…….’ And ‘how could I have handled ….. a bit better?’ Anyone close to you will answer the first question in the negative, no, you weren’t wrong to overreact. Because you’ve made it a binary thing — you’re either right or wrong, the person you asked is either with you or against you. Relational dynamics (i.e. they don’t want to hurt your feelings) demand this.

The second question isn’t binary. It’s not about who’s right or wrong, in fact, it’s assuming that you got something wrong. You’ve given the person you’re asking permission to be more candid with you. The answers to questions asked in this way will help you determine what lies you’ve been telling yourself so you can start making changes.

There’s nothing worse than feeling stuck. The powerlessness is overwhelming. In these situations, one of the best things you can do to start regaining your power and getting unstuck is to identify the lies you’re telling yourself so you can start making the changes you need to progress.

What are some other ways you’ve identified lies you’ve told yourself to get unstuck? Talk back and let me know.

Thanks for reading.

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