I drank deeply at McDintons that night, a cheap local Irish pub here in sunny Tampa, Florida. We chatted as a big jovial group on a wooden outdoor patio. A few attractive girls mingled among us. An inaptly named friend, Chad, sat on a stool facing us with his half-empty beer as he dropped facts about his life.
He proclaimed he made $260,000 per year at his new contracting job. Months prior, he’d said, “I was an Army sniper.” Later, I mentioned it innocently in front of his visiting friends. He hissed, “No, no I wasn’t actually a sniper!” Today, he’d written 75 pages of a book. Everything about it screamed lie. He’d never mentioned writing before.
We are like Chad more than we realize. Lies inundate our lives in varying sizes and severities, and often go unnoticed. Yet if you avoid most of these lies, you stand to improve your life and create a valuable identity shift.
The landscape of deception
Per research, 60% of people lie in a mere 10-minute conversation. And not only that, many lie 2-3 times in that same exchange.Lying is most common when you want to appear likable and competent.During an experiment with college students, Dr. Robert Feldman said:
“The lies the students told varied considerably. Some were relatively minor, such as agreeing with the person with whom they were speaking that they liked someone when they really did not.
Others were more extreme, such as falsely claiming to be the star of a rock band.”
Lying embeds itself in our nature. I’ll point out two lies for many of you. When the dentist asks, “How often do you floss?” And you inflate the number. Or when you check “yes” to “Have you read the terms and conditions?”Per a UC Berkely study, 91% ofpeople checkyes without reading the terms.
My friend Dave works in farming and said many farmers lie about their yields. They often farm in communities and everyone keeps tabs on their neighbors. One of Dave’s neighbors always asks him what his yield is first, and then one-ups him with a slightly higher yield. Dave said, “And then I met an honest farmer who told me his actual yields and it caught me off guard.It was refreshing because I knew I didn’t need to lie about my own.”
And look — I’m not innocent either. Just as my aforementioned friend lied about writing 75 pages — I did extremely similar things only a few years earlier. When I still dreamed of writing, and before I’d published a single page, I claimed I’d written many. I was loaded with insecurity and yearned for approval. And so perhaps I’m a hypocrite for being so critical of Chad.
I once ended a relationship with a woman I was no longer attracted to. I refrained from telling her the real reason. It felt too harsh. I explained I wasn’t feeling it anymore and kept things respectful. Social cohesion and kindness necessitates lying. But not as much as we do.
Why dishonesty is so pervasive
Lying emerges naturally in childhood and children are, unsurprisingly, prolific liars. Strict parents often condition their kids to lie even more than non-strict parents, because the kids learn it’s the only way to freedom. And often, it works. One study proved parents detect their children’s lies far more poorly than they think. Stranger are often better.
Deception saturates our childhood. How can we not lie as adults? It is as Aristotle wrote, “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.”
My friend, Ryan, absolves his children if they are honest about their infractions. He believes it reinforces honesty, rather than fueling further lies.
Honesty correlates to better health and happiness, especially in situations where lies tempt you. Experimenters had a group spend 10 weeks without telling any major or minor lies. Compared to the control group, they reported feeling much better and healthier overall. Their relationships improved.Their identity shifted to that of an honest person.
Think about it: fibbing modifies and warps reality. You live in conflict with the truth. With each modification, you must remember more things. You protect your lies. You worry about them. You create inner tension because you aren’t living in accordance with what you actually believe.
I stopped because I realized my braggartly behavior implied to myself, “You aren’t enough.” And the more I kept lying, the more it reaffirmed that I wasn’t enough when all along, I already was — just as you are.
The other truth perks
Honesty bestows the luxury of details upon you. The hallmark sign of dishonesty is people speaking in broad strokes, even after being asked for more information. Their subconscious steers them from details because chumming the weeds risks snagging them.
I’ve found hyper-honest people aren’t typically mean. They’re endearing and funny. The human mind is quirky and unique and it shows. No, don’t drop a huge spiel about your pending divorce and hated mother-in-law when someone asks, “How are you?” Just pay attention to the subtle tug of needless lies.
Beware of brutal honesty, which comes off as mean and vindictive. People respect kind and empathetic straight-shooters.
Create the right conditions to hear the truth. Seeking affirmation and pressuring peoples answers evokes what you want to hear. But you won’t hear what they actually think, and what you need to.
I invite people’s candor. I urge them to be honest about their concerns. Worst case scenario, they still beat around the bush, but make their concerns clear enough to see.
The desire for respect and likability drives most lies. Around 80% of your evaluation emerges from perceptions of competence and warmth. You convey both with confidence, honesty, and receptiveness. Be a friendly, good listener. Embrace candor. Don’t bend reality — if you can help it.
One exercise: track how many lies you say in a given day. Tally them up at night. Think of situations where you warped the truth slightly for convenience or when you lied to avoid conflict or appease someone. You’ll be surprised by how many lies pile up.
With full honesty, people stop bugging me as much with things they know I won’t like. Sure, it’s a little uncomfortable to tell people what they don’t want to hear, but it can be done kindly, and with good intent. People were never owed a glossed over fact-altered version of where you stand.
With kind but radical honesty, people get to know who you really are, and know where you really stand. Enough with the shenanigans. Tell the truth.