This post applies to everyone. We are all guilty of this. If you are reading this post and do not think it applies to you, well then I can guarantee it applies to you as you are in fact already lying to yourself. Hopefully by the end of this post you will see that and learn how you can change it.
“The truth that survives is simply the lie that is pleasantest to believe.”– H. L. Mencken
My first internship I remember my boss having a conversation with me and asking me a specific question. He asked me “who do you lie to most often?” I was a little taken aback as I did not see the reason for his question. I answered “my parents?” I was still in college at the time and it had to be the right answer. He looked at me and said “No, Yourself.”
This is something that has stuck with me and impacted my life more than my boss could have ever known at the time. We all do it. We reason why we do things, we ignore our faults, and exaggerate our strengths. It is human nature. But if we took the time to actually evaluate ourselves and look at ourselves from an unbiased point of view; we would see things are not as rosy as they seem.
The scientific term for this is called self-deception. Wikipedia describes it as “a process of denying or rationalizing away the relevance, significance, or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument. Self-deception involves convincing oneself of a truth (or lack of truth) so that one does not reveal any self-knowledge of the deception.”
This may also lead to Cognitive Dissonance. This would be defined by Wikipedia as “an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying.”
As we can see there is much at work in our physiological make-up that allows for us to easily justify our misgivings and make them seem correct. We have all known or have met that one person that never seems to be right, but always believes they are. To the people seeing this they often think how can this person be serious; it is so blatant. But as we see from the two above terms it is not such a stretch.
All of us lie to ourselves in one form or another. But most of us are also rational human beings and we do not let our little white lies to make ourselves feel better permeate our lives and lead us to be irrational.
Now I am not a doctor or expert in this field by any stretch of the imagination. But it does interest me. I am writing this to those of you who even use those little white lies and are possible hurting your business, career, or the people close to you without even knowing it.
We have all heard of Aesop and Aesop’s fables. Well one of his fables is about The Fox and the Grapes. I lifted this from Wikipedia too as it illustrates my point precisely. “In the story, a fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. When the fox is unable to think of a way to reach them, he surmises that the grapes are probably not worth eating, as they must not be ripe or that they are sour. This example follows a pattern: one desires something, finds it unattainable, and reduces one’s dissonance by criticizing it. Jon Elster calls this pattern “adaptive preference formation.” When the fox fails to reach the grapes, he decides he does not want them after all, an example of adaptive preference formation designed to reduce cognitive dissonance.”
So why am I writing about this? I believe that if we all reflect inwardly that we can improve our personal, business, career, self image, confidence, and on a larger scale others around us.
So how can we fix it? I can only tell you what I have done. In terms of when I am doing something and I rationalize it, I will often ask myself if I am lying to, well, myself. Just being aware that it is a possibility will help you overcome this obstacle.
The next thing you can do in times of discussion or in an argument is to LISTEN. I know it is a foreign concept to some, but if you sit back and listen to the other side of the argument you are allowing two things to happen.
First, you are keeping your mouth shut and not saying something that will paint you into a corner and you defend just for the sake of defending. This goes along with exactly what we are talking about in this post.
Second, you are showing you are empathetic and can listen to another point of view. You are allowing someone to fully disclose their position as you digest what they are saying and form your own response. I will give you two quotes I love that can help with these two points:
“The wise man speaks because he has something to say, the foolish man speaks because he has to say something.” – Plato
“The wise man has long ears and a short tongue.” – German proverb
But none of this can happen unless you vow to be honest with yourself even if it means saying sorry when you are wrong at the expense of your ego. I think the ability to admit fault is something that we perceive as a weakness, but I believe when we do it, it is perceived as a strength by those around us. You are showing you loved ones, co-workers, and clients that you are not afraid to make a mistake, admit it, and fix it.
My professor, as I was completing my MBA, stated this in one of our assignments: “In the end, self-knowledge is critical to strategy. If you cannot say what you are NOT good at, you cannot begin to honestly assess what you ARE good at.” How true that is.