When you’re visualizing in the morning what you want the rest of your day to be like, you may take for granted that as an element of many other parts of your day, you want people to believe you when you tell them something. If you’re being dishonest with yourself you are less authoritative, even when you’re telling the truth to others. They can tell that something “just doesn’t add up.” Deep down you know it, too, and it undermines your confidence. You can’t tell the truth as authoritatively or persuasively when you’re deceiving yourself about other things.
Being honest with myself and being authentic are two of my core values, and there are countless reasons to practice these habits. But the fact that self-deception will damage your credibility is a simple and concrete reason that illustrates why you have to be brutally honest with yourself about who you are, who you want to be, and what you need to do to get there. Sometimes, believing one or two lies that you’re telling yourself instead of accepting an unpleasant truth is holding you back from being in touch with reality. This makes it difficult to get your bearings and get back on track.
As soon as you can be honest with yourself you’re suddenly back in touch with reality, able to be authentic and to progress in your desired direction.
When you have a conversation where you’re able to ask for the truth and to hear it, without being in denial, getting upset, or putting the person who says it “in the penalty box,” you’re having what I call “adult conversation.”
One of my favorite illustrations of this came from a CEO that I was coaching. He was having trouble leading his team. After talking with him, the issues became clear: No matter what we were talking about, he insisted that his way was the best way. When you finally got a chance to speak, he’d appear to listen, but it felt as though he was just going through the motions, analyzing you as an object more than listening to what you were saying, and the whole time you couldn’t help but feel like you were annoying him.
The problem he was discussing came down to a lack of likability, and I told him so!
“What?” he said.
“You’re not all that likable. It’s no big deal, you can work on it.” This alarmed him, but I wouldn’t be helping him if I avoided the issue. I had to be honest with him in order to get him to be honest with himself.
“You asked me to help you, and I’m helping you. Did you want me to lie to you?”
“Well, yeah! Can’t you just lie to me a little bit?” he asked, cracking a smile.
I smiled, too. “See, now that was likable.”
Everything changed after that. He was able to see all the excuses he had been making. He was able to see what was actually true. We worked on writing out the new habits he’d be developing and the old ones he’d be abandoning in order to work on his likability. I told him to not only be honest with himself, but to also get some outside perspective about areas that need attention by seeking out further adult conversations with people he loves and who love him. As he started mapping out how to work on his likability, he could address other challenges without feeling the need to deny them. He was able to admit that he had been dishonest with himself about his health and fitness. He resolved to lose thirty pounds and made a plan to do so.
I still see him, and he always reminds me of that session. When I think about it, I’m struck by how his being honest about wishing I would avoid telling him an unpleasant truth was all the honesty it took to start an adult conversation and to start the process of being honest with himself and making the decision to change what needed to be changed.
Often people make excuses in order to avoid an adult conversation that would make them address unpleasant truths. I like to say that life is about decisions (choices), so you’d better make good ones. Obviously, you should make good decisions as often as possible, but when you make bad ones, don’t compound and prolong the problem by making excuses.
When you make a decision, you are choosing a plan of action. Every action has consequences, even if that action is doing nothing. If you’re right, you reap the benefits. If you’re wrong, you’ll have to deal with the consequences. A series of adult conversations must take place, even if you only have to answer to yourself. There are plenty of questions to ask yourself and others, information to gather and analyze, and plans to recover and make adjustments.
There’s nothing about the process that having an excuse will change, so skip the step of avoiding the truth. Your ego, your picture of yourself, has served you well up to this point in life, but when it’s time to be brutally honest, you can’t avoid reality just to spare your ego. Being able to put your ego aside for a moment in order to make the changes you need to make is central to the habit of being honest with yourself and seeking out adult conversations.
There are steps to take toward positive change, no matter what the situation is. The first step is always to “get real,” accept reality, and take inventory of the truth. This is the power of getting into the habit of seeking out adult conversations, once you are able to see the power of being confronted with the need to change, of being brutally honest with yourself and making decisions and plans based on reality instead of your idea of yourself, you will find yourself able to be more authentic and make better decisions in the future, all thanks to being honest about what’s really going on and not lying to yourself.
Not even a little bit.