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Weekly 3: Stop lying to yourself


Idea Journal Weekly 3

October 4 · Issue #159 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: We often lie to ourselves because it’s convenient or because the truth hurts. Whatever the reason, it’s counterproductive. This issue explores some of the the most consequential lies we tell ourselves, and how to spot them.
(~4 min read)

#1. Live your true life, not a metaphor
Author Steven Pressfield writes in his book Turning Pro that sometimes, when we’re afraid of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a “shadow career” instead.
That shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. It has a similar shape, but it entails no risk: “If we fail at a shadow career the consequences are meaningless to us.”
He gives a few examples:
  • The musician who spends more time drinking and doing drugs than writing music.
  • The employee who works in a support capacity for an innovator because she’s afraid of taking the risk and becoming an innovator herself.
For Pressfield, both are cases of amateur behavior.
The amateur knows that becoming himself means being different from others. He knows that this could mean violating the expectations of the tribe, and he believes that without the tribe’s support, he can’t survive.
Therefore, the amateur stays in place and remains inauthentic: someone other than who he really is.
Pressfield advises: “If you’re dissatisfied with your current life, ask yourself what your current life is a metaphor for. That metaphor will point you toward your true calling.”
#2. Introspection doesn't always work
Researcher Rolf Dobelli writes in The Art of Thinking Clearly that “introspection illusion” is the belief that self-reflection always leads to the truth.
Dobelli references a study conducted by psychologist Petter Johansson. He had each participant glimpse portraits of two random people, and quickly choose which face was more attractive.
Johannson then showed them the portrait of the preferred face up close, and asked each participant to describe the most attractive features.
But Johannson had actually switched the portraits. Most participants didn’t even notice the switch, and proceeded to explain in detail why the person’s face was so attractive.
When we go soul-searching, we often invent the findings. The problem is that nothing is more convincing than our own beliefs — even if they’re wrong.
Dobelli uses the following example to illustrate this point.
A man named Bruce runs a vitamin business. His father founded the company before supplements became the lifestyle product they are today. And when Bruce took over the operation in the 1990s, demand surged.
Now, Bruce is one of the most successful people in the vitamin industry. 
Bruce has been taking multivitamins since he was a kid. A journalist once asked him if multivitamins have any effect. Bruce replied: “I’m sure of it.”
Do you believe Bruce?
You might think: “It’s obviously in his interest to believe that vitamins work. His family, social status, and wealth depend on the success of the company. He’s been taking multivitamins his entire life — he’d never admit that it was a waste of time.”
Now take an idea you’re certain about. For example, that God exists. Or maybe that your doctor is overcharging you.
Do you believe yourself?
You probably consider your conviction more valid than Bruce’s. After all, you have access to your internal rationale, but not his.
For Dobelli, the solution to the introspective illusion is to be your own toughest critic: “Regard your internal observations with the same skepticism as claims from some random person.”
#3. You're not as independent as you think
Author Robert Greene writes in his book The Laws of Human Nature that to better understand yourself, it’s helpful to begin “with the assumption that you are not nearly as much of an individual as you imagine.”
Your beliefs and thoughts are heavily influenced by your family, friends, colleagues, and the broader culture.
It helps to be ruthlessly honest with yourself.
Look at how your beliefs and ideas change the longer you stay within a given group or at a job. You’re under subtle pressure to get along and fit in, and you’ll often respond to this without being aware.
Greene offers two perspectives to help see this tendency more clearly: 
1. When a group you belong to has made bad decisions, how often did you go along with them?
2. How many times have you promoted an idea that is contrary to what the group wants on some core issue, and stuck to your position over a long period?
Quote of the week
“Lies beget other lies. Unlike statements of fact, which require no further work on our part, lies must be continually protected from collisions with reality. When you tell the truth, you have nothing to keep track of. The world itself becomes your memory, and if questions arise, you can always point others back to it.”
- Moral philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris in his book Lying
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