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Are You Fooling Yourself?

Deception is one of my specialties. As a mentalist and former magician, I've studied how the mind can be deceived. But my powers of deception have nothing on your own ability to deceive yourself.

Each of us has the capacity to make great decisions – decisions that help us to achieve our goals and reflect our values. Unfortunately, we often fail. Why? We fall short because we allow internal obstacles to get in our way, often without even realizing it.

One of the biggest of these “mind blocks” is self-deception.

My mom once told me that I was too negative. She even gave me Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Power of Positive Thinking. I wondered what on earth she was talking about. Me - negative? I had always considered myself a fairly positive person. But a little self-reflection revealed to me that she was right. I had been deceiving myself. I did need to lighten up.

A tangled web

We lie to other people at least a few (and sometimes many) times every day. But what we fail to see is that we lie to ourselves even more. A few common self-deceptions:

Fundamental Attribution Error – when we fail or exercise poor judgment, we tend to attribute it to situational circumstances, but when others screw up we see it as their own fault – a personality flaw.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect – We believe that we are better than most people in many areas, even when we aren’t. 70% of us believe we are above-average in attractiveness. 80% of us think we are above-average drivers.

The Affect Heuristic – we believe an idea simply because we like it, not because it has merit.

Want to learn more about improving your thinking and decision making?

Garbage in - garbage out

Our decisions and behavior are predicated on what we believe. If what we believe is false, then our decisions will be faulty and we will act against our own best interests. For example, if you tell yourself that it is too cold to go for a run or a workout (which is rarely ever true), your goal of getting in shape will be harder to reach.

If you believe that you don’t have the ability or will power to overcome distractions (again, rarely ever true), you won’t become more productive.

Uncomfortable truths

It is extremely uncomfortable to confront the “lying lizard” we have in our brains. It hurts to embrace the truth about ourselves when that truth is not so flattering, such as the fact that we may be more lazy or intolerant than we want to believe. Or that we have great potential but we need to work harder to reach it.

It is tough to face the facts when those facts contradict what we have always believed or want to believe, but it is worth it. The benefits of being honest with ourselves are enormous! The more honest we are, especially in understanding why we do things and what our true motivations are, the better chance we have of improving.

Know thyself

How can you learn to be more honest with yourself? By continually striving to learn, reflect, and have an open mindset. Here are a few ways to do that:

Learn about how the mind works. Since you are reading this blog, you are already on this path. Congratulations! The more you learn about our unconscious tricks of deception, the more you can confront those impulses when they occur and outsmart them.

Therapy. There is a huge stigma around therapy and that’s unfortunate. In reality it is a great way to learn to be honest with yourself about who you are and why, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.

Honest feedback. Ask people you know and trust for honest feedback. If you find yourself making bad decisions or doing unwise things, ask a friend for his or her thoughts. Why do they think you do that? They may help you uncover something about yourself you had been lying about all along. And as painful as it is to admit, now you can take steps to improve.

Think well and be well!

- Steve Haffner


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