Universal Rules: Change Happens Faster if You Lie to Yourself
I try this line out on 75% or better of my clients, and quite amaze myself at their incredulity. For example, a client recently told me, "I have absolutely no options." Knowing her story, I listed off 4 or 5 realistic options and said I could likely come up with more. She blanked out for a second, as she went inside and had a look. When she came back up, she said, "Well, I have no options I would actually do."
Now, I hope you're seeing the interesting thing that's going on here. Strictly speaking, although we don't put it this way, the first thing she told me was a lie. Now, we could argue that she said the former and meant the latter. This is emphatically not the case.
The principal reason we stay stuck is that the lies we tell ourselves are so effective. If all I do is sigh and say, "I have absolutely no options," then I have none. If I say, "I'm stuck in a loveless marriage," I am. If I say, "That's just the way I am," I'm right.
Of course, what's also funny about this is that when we get into a stuck place, often the people around us try to convince us that we indeed do have options. The part of us that creates the stuckness (call it the ego) isn't looking for a way out. The ego is looking for the pain and hopelessness that comes from having no options. It will therefore discount any option other than stuckness. It will do this by lying to you, and that lie will be contained in the premise that doing something different, or seeing a situation differently, is not possible.
We know this is a lie because we've all experienced changing something we thought we couldn't, and getting better results.
The ego is clever, though, and its principal cleverness is compartmentalization. We may have a string of successes innovating change at work, and it will never occur to us that the same skill set is available in our interpersonal relationships. We make a change in one relationship, yet deny the possibility of change in another.
Until we learn to lie to ourselves, consciously.
I'm of course playing with the word "lie," because it has the potential to get your attention. Another way of putting what I am saying is, "Choosing to bring the games I'm playing with myself into consciousness."
One of the best ways to learn how to do this is to notice "absolutizing" language. In our first example, the client said, "I have absolutely no options." Another version is the positive absolute: "I always screw up." In either case (positive & negative absolutes), and of course there are a raft of absolutes, the lie is simple. "Here I am, a poor, helpless victim of (fill in the blank) and I can do nothing about it."
The breaking of the lie, and the replacing it with a newer and better lie comes when we notice and correct our own absolutes.
You may be wondering why I'm calling the new position a lie instead of going all New Agey and calling it an affirmation. One reason is that I gag on most New Age claptrap. The second reason is that the new position is a lie until it's adopted more or less all the time.
Let's use "I always screw up" as an example. If I catch myself telling myself that, I stop, have a breath, and correct myself. If I was talking to myself, I correct to myself. If I said it out loud, I correct out loud. "I have made mistakes in the past, and I've also resolved a ton of similar situations. Rather than whine about this one, here's what I'm going to do." I then set a plan in motion.
You may be thinking, "Well, that's a lot better! How can that be a lie?"
It's a lie because you haven't actually done anything yet.
The lie a kid tells himself - "I can ride a bike" - is how he gets on that scary two wheeler in the first place. Continuing to tell himself the lie helps him to survive falling and bleeding, repeatedly. "I can do it!" gets him back in the saddle. But it's a lie, until he actually can ride the bike without falling.
On the other hand, it would be stupid of the kid to act like an adult and say, "I'll never be able to ride a bike," and then try. Or worse, never try. Yet, as adults, most of our drama and silliness comes from telling ourselves what we can't do, and then wondering why we stay stuck.
The way out is through lying to ourselves, then acting on the lie. "I'm really shy, so I'm going to go to a party and strike up a conversation with a stranger" is a cure for shyness. "I'm really shy, so I'll sit in the corner and sulk" is not. "I've had enough of this crazy relationship, so I'll leave" is a curative. I've had enough of this crazy relationship, but I can't leave is not. And, of course, in both and all situations, saying "I'll do it differently" requires actually doing it differently.
This week, watch yourself for the absolutes you're telling yourself. Recognize them for what they are and what they are not. They are not true - they're convenient lies to keep yourself stuck. Change one or two, by lying to yourself and giving yourself an option or twenty. Then, act.