April 11, 2023

Honesty takes courage, lying takes skill


To say that we all have to be a little deluded to stay motivated is the understatement of the century.

Perhaps the most influential arrow in our personal development quiver is the ability to lie to ourselves. Telling the least harmful and most useful story in the moment, so we can get the fulfillment we seek.

Some call it the placebo effect, others say positivity bias, some call it a reality distortion field, while others call it an awareness filter.

In my own experience, it doesn’t matter what we call it, only that it helps us improve your circumstances, and doesn’t harm others.

Evolutionary psychologists have studied this form of deception for years. Lies, in their broader meaning, can actually be interpreted as something rather adaptive, useful and necessary in our world. Lying is essentially a survival tool. Humans deceive themselves, both consciously and unconsciously, to boost esteem, raise their mood, solve problems and block out negative thoughts, so they can make it through the day.

Who among us has not done that? Don’t we all take an optimistic view of our own abilities so we can to cope with the challenges of living?

Shit, I’ve already lied to myself five times today, and it’s not even lunch yet.

Now, the major argument against deception is when we employ this skill to avoid making difficult but necessary changes. When we lie to ourselves to dodge chronic problems that cost money, destroy our health and hurt those we love. That’s no bueno.

Recovery counselors, for example, joke that you can tell when an addict is lying, because their lips are moving. They can stop snorting heroin anytime they want, their addiction only impacts them, they’re not as bad off as other addicts, they deserve to suffer, they’re not worth saving, these are just a few of the greatest hits from the addiction library.

Those types of lies, as we’ve all seen, are incredibly harmful and should be voided.

On the other hand, deluding ourselves to stay motivated can be a useful thing.

My theory is that honesty takes courage, lying takes skill, and we should get good at both.

I’m reminded of my friend who recently got a fancy new pair of running shoes for her birthday. Lucky for her, she chuckled, they were a size too big, so now she has a free pass to avoid working out until her new pair comes in the mail.

What a perfectly timed excuse. It actually gives me an idea for a new retail business.

Somebody should start a company that only sells workout clothes that are the wrong size. That way customers would get trapped in the return loop and have no guilt about avoiding the gym.

And of course, we make the marketing earnest. Like it’s some innovative workout line trying to motivate unmotivated people, but with the winking understanding that we’ll help them never have to follow through on their fitness goals.

And customers don’t even realize it’s all a sham until they receive their first order, with a little note next to their shoes that are seven sizes too small.

Oh no! Is this the wrong size? Geez, we’re really sorry. Guess no gym today. Here’s your return label and some brownies. Try again. Or not. We don’t really care.

This absurd product idea would never work in reality, but it reinforces my thesis about deception.

It’s all about the story we tell and sell to ourselves. Simply framing our choices in the best possible light, is that so bad? Does it really mean we lack integrity? If it leads to a better outcome and doesn’t hurt anyone, then it sounds like a useful fib to me.

Here, I’m going to share with you a collection of my favorite lies. These are several of the ways I choose to deceive myself on a daily basis. See if any of them resonate with your personality.

*Soothing myself through the power of productive delusion.

*Conveniently forgetting about the negatives to fool my inner eye.

*Motivating myself by framing experiences as expressions of my cherished values.

*Fantasizing about futures of grandeur because it gives me a positive lift right now.

*Cognitively reframing the story I tell about what reality means to me.

*Putting boring but necessary tasks into the wider context of my personal priorities.

*Creating multiple layers of meaning around a hard activity so it becomes existentially painful not to do it.

*Tricking myself into the mindset that enables the ideal mental, emotional and existential space from which to create.

Those are just a few of lies that allow me to stay productive, reduce anxiety, keep depression at bay, create meaning in the world and maximize personal fulfillment.

And you know I’m telling you the truth, because a dishonest person would never admit to all of that.

Look, we all have to be a little deluded to stay motivated in this world. And if your delusion pill works by altering your view of yourself for the better, then by all means, administer a dose of that sweet elixir.

Just make sure you’re not lying to yourself to avoid making the difficult but necessary changes.

Deception in the service of dodging chronic problems helps nobody.

What’s the most useful lie you tell yourself?