The first thing I do when something doesn’t go my way is lie. I don’t lie to others, that would be wrong. What I do is much worse: I lie to myself.
One of best ways to improve is to stop lying to ourselves.
This is a tall order. Everyone lies. And we all maintain a mental list of these lies in our subconscious that eats away at our focus and happiness.
I once took a day at a café in London and made a list of all the lies I could remember that I’ve ever told others. I stopped at 5 pages because I was filing my notebook too quickly. Embarrassing. When I switched gears and started listing the lies I had told myself, it was even worse. I couldn’t write fast enough, and there didn’t seem to be an end. I had even just told the waiter that the burger was fine, when actually it was lukewarm. As I thought about it, it became unsettling. I never realized how much these lies impacted me … in fact they created the very world I was living in.
Thinking something can make it true.
Let’s say you wrote a book, and I don’t like it. Of course, I don’t tell you because I don’t want to hurt your feelings. I know you love your book. I know you worked on it for years. I know you’re proud of it. So why on earth would I tell you that your book sucks? I’ll spare you my not-so-nice thoughts and keep our relationship intact.
Because I had to hide the fact that I think your book sucks, I believe it even more. I commit to this lie. Moreover, our relationship suffers, because I can’t be honest with you about what I think. I have to hold something back. While it’s a small crack, it still weakened our foundation. And to further complicate matters, I now have to keep track of the fact I didn’t tell you that I think your book sucks (to be clear, it does suck). I have to remember what I told you. Ugh. It’s frustrating.
Not only do I have to do this with you but I have to do it with everyone. The list of lies gets longer and longer. I’m full of things that I think but don’t say because I don’t want to hurt your feelings or make things awkward for myself. Sure they’re all innocent but eventually they act like clouds coming in and blocking out the sun.
And what are you thinking about me that you’re not telling me? I want to get better and now I start to wonder — if I’m keeping stuff from you than you must be keeping stuff from me. And so it goes. We end up being a repository of lies, and we have to spend a lot of time each day maintaining them.
We need to understand the various ways that we lie. Here are 5 of them:
- Outright Lies. This is the easiest for people to understand. It usually stops when you’re young. Adults learn to obfuscate their lies.
- Lying by Omission. I remember Dr. Phil teaching me this one. I went to a friend’s parents for dinner and Dr. Phil was on in the background. It was about the various ways that spouses lie to each other. The dude on TV was claiming that he didn’t lie to his wife about his affair, he simply omitted to tell her. Yeah. That’s lying. Lying by omission is when you don’t tell someone something because you don’t want them to know the whole story. Often, we omit because we want to avoid confrontation. Who wants to start a fight?
- Lying by exaggeration. This can be over-or-under exaggeration. Telling yourself that you’re in the top 10% of drivers is likely an exaggeration. Of course, you can undersell things too. Consider your colleague at work that is going through a divorce and comes to work hungover almost daily. I mean let’s cut her some slack right? It’s not that bad.
- Lying by misrepresentation. Have you read Moby Dick? Yeah, of course you have. Or maybe you’re hustling someone … No no, I’ve never played pool before.
- Lying for social reasons. This is the most common adult version of #1. What you say is “I’m having a birthday dinner Friday at 8 can you make it?” What I say is “I’m terribly sorry. It’s just such short notice and I have other plans.” What I think is that I’d rather drink wine by myself and re-lace my tennis shoes than go to your birthday party with all those people I can’t stand.
These are the most common ways that we lie to ourselves. Often, they are habits that we don’t even realize have become what we do everyday.
Remember the biggest lie that you tell is when you tell yourself that you don’t lie. We’re all liars. Let’s acknowledge it, label it, and make some changes. This will free up a lot of mental power.
Sam Kyle is the author of The Decision Checklist, which is packed with exercises you can do today to help improve your ability to make better decisions.