5 Ways To Overcome Self-Deception for Lincoln’s Birthday

January 31, 2022
“The trouble with too many people is they believe the realm of truth always lies within their vision.“ - Abraham Lincoln

Most people are taught from a young age that lying is bad and that telling the truth is the foundation of building healthy, strong relationships with others.

But Honest Abe nailed it—too many people believe what they see and perhaps ONLY what they see. 

Self-deception isn’t just about actively telling lies to ourselves; it also refers to the false ideas and stories we tell ourselves to justify situations or results that we don’t like.

As a species, humans are experts at self-deception. Every day we convince ourselves to believe untrue things and refuse to accept things that don’t align with how we think the world and by extension, our relationships, should be. 

And if you are reading this right now thinking that you don’t lie to yourself, that is self-deception busy at work. 

We all lie to ourselves constantly. The average person tells around 200 lies per day, even if they never voice them aloud. 

Sometimes the lies we tell are small (I’m too busy to keep an organized home,) and sometimes they are big (I’m not good enough, so I don’t deserve to succeed.)

A majority of the time, we live in complete denial about the excessive lying in our minds since self-deception is a way to protect ourselves from painful or undesirable facts. 

So if self-deception is either sub- or unconscious thinking, how can we overcome something that we don’t even know we’re doing?

It turns out it’s not as difficult as it seems. 

Here are five ways to overcome self-deception ... 

1: Learn to Identity + Decipher Deceptions  

“The lies we tell other people are nothing compared to the lies we tell ourselves.”     ― Derek Landy

The first thing you need to do is be able to spot a lie, if not before you repeat it to yourself, then at least as soon as you’ve finished saying it.

Sometimes you won’t recognize it until after it’s been spoken … and even then, it may take a while before you bring any critical awareness to a statement you just took as fact. After all, you said it and you’re not a liar so … 

You can see how tricky it can be to identify the lies and then interrupt them.

A simple place to begin, while waiting for a contemporary lie to crop up, is to look at the difference between how your life narrative appears when you’re considering it by yourself vs. how you would describe your story to someone else.

Do you embellish or downplay certain things?

Are there facts you completely obscure or re-write? 

For most people, there are at least a few discrepancies between the story they tell themselves and the story they share.

And even then, depending on the audience, there may be varying degrees of disclosure.

You may be more likely to share something vulnerable with an intimate friend in a way that would be inappropriate on either a first date, at a cocktail party or on a job interview.

Another place to look for self-deception is how, when and why you react to certain things—whether those are places, people, or activities.

If something is prompting a big reaction, you can remember than whatever is hysterical is usually historical.

Getting cut off in traffic is not the end of the world, even if it was a relatively close call in avoiding a collision.

So if you burst into a bout of road rage, that’s an opportunity to poke around and see if your response to being cut off is really an extension of any time you’ve been discounted or disrespected. And chances are the first instances of that were at home when you were a child.

You don’t need to get overly “shrinky” about it – this isn’t about trying to self-therapize yourself.

It’s just calling out the lies as they occur so you can more quickly course-correct and move on.

Objective self-observation is the start of dismantling self-deception. 

2: Return to Your Core Values

When self-deception becomes the norm, it is easy to lose sight of what matters in life. 

As a result, you may either get stuck in a rut of people-pleasing to protect the lies OR end up bouncing around between the various lies trying to stitch some kind of consistency out of them when they don’t all seem to line up or be in alignment with themselves or your values.

Instead of trying to manage what people think of you or what you think you SHOULD want out of life instead of what you actually DO want out of life, take a few moments to re-visit both your short-term and long-term goals. 

A quick way to realign is similar to how you navigate a long stretch of flat road—focus on the horizon, not the yellow or white line right in front of your face.

Where do you see yourself in five years, ten years, or even twenty years?

Are the stories (lies) you’re telling yourself today match your reality AND your desired destination?

Identifying or restating your goals is a key part of achieving your aspirations instead of allowing any excuses or explanations (other forms of self-deception) determine whether you will or won’t, can or can’t. 

3: Monitor Critical Self-Talk

When the voices in our heads are overly critical, degrading, and damaging, they can block access to our happiness and stifle even the ability to do better. 

Too many people are their own worst critics, and when allowed to run unchecked, their own worst enemy. 

Self-deception as critical thoughts and feelings may be an obsolete way of protecting ourselves from a fear of failure OR success … chances are the seeds of those critiques were planted by someone else to keep you in your place or remind you not to expect too much from life (and other people, including the people who started the conversation in the first place!)

As soon as you catch yourself mentally beating yourself up, try to shift that behavior by feeding positive and encouraging thoughts into your mind while returning to your expectations and goals for yourself. 

4: Face Up To Your Fears

When self-deception is used as a coping mechanism to protect our hearts and minds from our fears, we often suffer more than we would if we just experienced the feelings or situations we were desperately trying to avoid. 

Deluding yourself may appear to make life easier, but there are often long-term, unforeseen consequences to that behavior. 

Sigmund Freud believed that self-deception was necessary as a coping mechanism to protect ourselves from inner conflicts between our conscious and unconscious thoughts. 

But using self-deception to avoid facing up to the uncertain and unpredictable nature of life can be a trap that prevents you from experiencing ANYTHING you can’t immediately understand or control, good or bad.

When you find yourself in an uncomfortable state of “cognitive dissonance” where your actions are running counter to your beliefs and attitudes, you create unnecessary stress for yourself as your subconscious struggles to piece together a puzzle that will likely NEVER make sense. 

So instead of avoiding all fears through self-deception, practice exploring why a situation or goal MAY be scary and then dismantling any of the lies you tell yourself to manage your feelings instead.

Once you do that, you’ll be able to distinguish exaggerated fears from actual fears, meaning dangerous situations that anyone would agree needs extra care and attention, and then you can walk slowly and deliberately to meet any real fears head-on, one step at a time. 

And you get to do that with less baggage as you leave the random excuses behind where they belong.

5: Accept Shortcomings & Strive To Be Better

Living an authentic life is freeing in more ways than one—not only do you not have to deal with the consequences of lying to yourself but you also get to experience a sense of wholeness in how you move through time and space.

Gone are the raw edges left over from trimming odd angles or trying to be perfect. And in their place os the feeling of being right with yourself and the world. 

And by the way, it’s ok to fail.

You may have been told that failing means YOU are a failure but that was someone else’s lie and you adopted it as your own.

Failure is just one more step towards eventual success. 

Instead of avoiding potential failure with self-deceptive thoughts, learn to cultivate a practice of accepting your shortcomings and striving to do better the next time. 

 When a reporter asked Thomas Edison, "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" Edison replied, "I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps."

The world is full of examples of people who persevere beyond setbacks and there’s no reason you can’t join them.

The Bottom Line

Even if it is hard to admit, we all lie to ourselves, distort our realities, and regularly engage in self-deception. 

But, even if we lie to ourselves all the time, we don’t have to live a life of denial that holds those lies to be true or unchangeable.

By bringing awareness to how we think, feel, and react to everything that life throws at us, from clutter to calamities and tragedies, we can begin to recognize those self-deceptions and throw a bright light on our 200 lies—not just for the sake of blowing them up but with the bigger prize of setting ourselves free from deception and delusion for good.

Declutter Your Life Podcast by Andrew Mellen. Available on iTunes!