The 3 Biggest Lies We Tell Ourselves
Why you’re not happy.
We spend a surprising amount of our time roaming this rock not actively communicating with people. For as social as we are, our chatting is merely the tip of the iceberg. It’s what’s above the water. Most of what we are, the part that truly craves being seen, lays hidden and still. We are, almost entirely, a rolling burble of thoughts and feelings. They rise and fall like the tides. They often govern how we love, how we change, how we feel in the present, and even — on occasion — how we die. And other than love, change, death and the present, there isn’t anything else that’s real. Our thoughts and feelings determine our reality — and also shield us from it.
By wrapping ourselves in our thoughts and feelings — specifically our memories, our thoughts and our expectations, all of which are ego-driven reflections and not reality itself — we craft an alternate universe. And when we communicate from that place, we’re low-key lying: to ourselves, to our family and friends, to our peers and bosses, to the Twitter machine.
We are constantly telling ourselves three lies:
- Our Memories
- Our Thoughts
- Our Expectations
You are not the person you were. You are not the person you will become. You are not the person you think you are. Untethered from the weight of the past and the future, the present is all we have. Which means who we were, who we are, and who we will be never really exist outside of our own memory or ego. Let’s dig into these a little more.
When we’re merely aware of the din below the surface, drawing it out, and letting it pass, we can free ourselves from the weight of this alternate universe, and live more truthfully. Rather than communicate and shout our every piece of brain content into the vast abyss, we can pause. When we ask ourselves upon noticing something bubble up to the surface if this a memory, a thought or an expectation, and then we can throw out the falsehoods that plague our minds. We can free our hearts and minds from the load that we carry. We can find peace and quiet. We can better understand others, and feel more easily understood. It all starts with understanding the lies.
Memories are abandoned, overridden, and overwritten. Time’s relentless attack on memory erodes our experiences into something resembling a linear narrative. Life is not that. It is not a list. It’s a blank sheet. An ellipsis. A trail to be blazed. A route to be charted. Life is always right now. Memories erode and decay with time, gaps filled in by falsehoods or by things that never quite were, or never filled at all. They are imperfect information — clouded by emotion, pain, nostalgia or lost to the unending abyss of days gone by.
Memories are the afterglow of results, and a result only exists at a set point in time. Once it’s achieved, it’s gone. It becomes a memory, merely another stepping stone that carried you to where you currently are. The farther away you get from it, the less true it becomes.
By contrast, anticipation of a future result, or constant tracking on your way toward a result you’re expecting to achieve, only exists in an intangible future sense. It never exists in reality, until it exists in the past. When you affix your self-worth to metrics and results, you are postponing your own happiness and placing it outside the realm of your control, all while — even worse — you’re convincing yourself that you’re “on your way” to being happier and more successful than ever, that you’re this close to “making it,” without realizing that once you reach where you thought was the horizon, the goalposts keep moving back and now you’ve got somewhere new to go to be happy and searching for meaning. Expectations are not real. They never arrive in the form you’re expecting, at the time you expect them to.
Only the present is real. Only the love we inject into it. Only the way we change with it. This is the process. The process is what we learn, what we create, what we sense. It’s how hard we love and change with it. It’s the fucks we give about the things that truly matter. When you spend your time, energy and capital learning, making and experiencing what you love, you can live more authentically, more meaningfully and more happily.
But who you think you are, isn’t really who you actually are. They are interpretations of yourself limited by language, or your ability to feel or distance yourself from feeling. You are the sum of your choices and behaviors — nothing more, nothing less — yet you are not who you think you are. That is distortion of what actually is … in the way the map is not the territory.
How to cut through the B.S.
Truth is the absence of these lies. It lives in the silence underneath memories, thoughts and expectations. What I mean by an “absence of memory” is believing that change is a truth, the past is a mirage, and that therefore it is possible (and likely!) that our minds and souls can be changed and molded. That by opening ourselves up to novel experience, seeking out growth, that by considering views and points that aren’t your own — held by people with different life experiences who may or may not agree with you — and by considering activities outside your comfort zone and being persistent enough not to disengage from things that are difficult. Where you are is not where you will stay. You are not defined by your skills or limitations.
What I mean by an “absence of expectation” is focusing on the present instead of the future, process instead of result, and valuing mastery over appearing smart. It means giving up the pursuit of being the “best” at something — there will always be someone better than you. It means extinguishing the desire to prove what you know, and realizing that people don’t want to understand you, they want to feel understood. It means rejecting the idea of instant gratification, of defending your point of view, of thinking of yourself or your ego. One must truly detach from the self, and let knowledge and experience wash over you the way the reefs soak up the ocean.
The secret to succeeding at anything is disciplining yourself not to remember your failures or expect anything at all. It’s taking the twists and turns as a constant stream seeking its own level, never mistaking the waves for the ocean. There’s no crisis or memory that cannot be re-framed into an opportunity.
Expectations, thoughts and memories weigh us down — they prevent us from stretching out, spreading our wings and being. And that’s the true lesson to learn from the four truths: Expectations, thoughts and memories will prevent you from truly being alive, truly accepting change, truly being present, and truly being in love.
The sooner we can detach ourselves from these clouds, from the weight of tragic memories, the suffering of incessant overthinking, or the hell of high expectations, the happier we will be, the freer we will be. We will find a way to accept change, to love with all our hearts, to come to terms with death, and to be truly present here — these are the most human, most righteous and most noble of pursuits.
Everything else, all the trying and failing and wondering if you’ll ever be enough, all of it: The rest is just noise. The rest is just lies. We’re more than the stories we tell ourselves, even if the stories we tell ourselves trick us into thinking we should be more than what we are. In the end, we are ultimately left and forgotten. All our memories, thoughts and expectations will die with us, but who we are and the mark we leave on the world will live on long after us. This is what counts. Not what we remember, or what we think, or what we expect — but what we leave in our wake. Did people know we were present? Did we change the world? Did we fall in love? Did we — not only die — but really, truly live?