damaging lies

Have you ever lied to yourself? If you answered no, you are probably lying right now. But don’t be upset. It’s normal behavior. 

We all do it from time to time as a coping mechanism. The lies we tell ourselves make the world make sense when we seem to not fit into our environment. 

However, over time, you must become aware of these lies and understand their effect on your attitude, behavior, and actions. Once you stop telling those lies, you can move on as an authentic individual.

How the Lies We Tell Ourselves Are Sabotaging us

One major problem we all have as humans is the need for the world to make sense. We need an explanation. Most of the time, we cannot accept that things just are.

That is why we invented creatures and imagined myths throughout the history of humanity that could explain why the sun goes down at night, why the moon shrinks and inflates, why the waters go up and down, and why life appeared on earth.

We need that certainty to live. Uncertainty scares the crap out of us, so we do all we can to make it go away.

Some of us think that where we are and how we are is a direct result of our actions. Others believe it to be a result of luck or the actions of others. The kind of mindset we have is an essential factor in us manufacturing the lies we tell ourselves to make the world around us make sense. We tell these lies to silence our brains.

We want to shut it down so we can move on with our lives. But is that a good thing? I argue that it’s not. Instead, it’s a mechanism we devised to mold ourselves and fit into the world around us.

However, those subtle and innocent lies we tell ourselves have adverse effects in the long term. They stifle our motivation and destroy our self-discipline. In time, they ingrain into our minds and become subconscious. We become those lies. To overcome this phenomenon, we need to be aware of these lies, catch ourselves telling them, and shift our responses.

10 Subtle Lies We Tell Ourselves

Below are the ten most common lies I have encountered. I have told some of them to myself many times during my childhood and adolescence. Some of them lingered with me through my early adulthood. Others still hang on to this day.

1. “I am just not good at X.”

That is one of the most classic lies we tell ourselves, and it starts early into our childhoods. Replace the X with whatever you want, and you will probably discover one you have told yourself, too.

Try cooking, running, cleaning, soccer, what have you. Here’s the argument to the contrary, which you might not be willing to hear: everything that you do, including all the things that you are good at today, started with you being terrible at it.

Think about walking, talking, eating, biking, driving, math, and reading — all of those. You sucked at them for a very long time. But you don’t you hear people saying they’re awful at walking or eating because they’ve learned it and now it’s a given.

Of course, in some cases, the learning had to be done for survival. In other cases, people who had authority made you do it. But the point of it is that you worked hard and learned your way around them. You undoubtedly didn’t master all of them.

Yes, even eating, don’t raise that brow. But at least you’re not bad at it. When we lie to ourselves that we are “not good at something,” we give ourselves a golden ticket not to do anything about it because it’s hard work.

Find those places in your life where you continuously say, “I’m just not good at it,” and sign-up for a class. Read a book. Learn about that craft, no matter what it is. Find a way to be less not good at it. That’s how you start.

Mindset Shift — Instead of “I am just not good at X,” say, “Right now I know very little about X, but I can learn and practice it, and I’ll get better.”

2. “If she/he would only X, then I could finally Y.”

That is the classical switcheroo of responsibilities. There’s a slew of those in everyone’s life.

  • “If my parents were more supportive, I would’ve been somewhere today.”
  • “If my husband was more understanding, I could’ve changed my job.”
  • “If the kids would be less demanding, I’d have time to take care of myself.”

The first parts of those sentences are probably accurate. Yes, they are your interpretation of reality from your perspective, but nonetheless, it is how you perceive it. That might all be true.

It’s the second part that is the lie — the way you connect causality to the effect. If you cross out the first part, put a comma after the second part, and fill in the blank with a sentence that reflects your responsibility, it’s no longer a lie; it’s a realization:

  • “I would’ve been somewhere today had I worked harder.”
  • “I could’ve changed my job if I dared to look for one and quit the one I have.”
  • “I’d have time to take care of myself If I had the guts to carve some me-time every week.”

It’s much easier to take something outside of your control and deem it to have direct results on your life. But that only hides the actual places where you had the control but did nothing about it. It’s a victim’s mentality and a blame game.

Here’s the kicker: just by saying this, you won’t turn it around. Your parents, husband, and kids won’t change on the grounds of you lamenting about it. They might, by a little bit. They might even be trying to do the thing you say they don’t do.

But if your mindset is as such, guess how long it will take you to find another reason, and another reason, and another reason? You do all of that to avoid blaming the only person that matters: you.

Mindset Shift — Instead of “If she/he would only X, then I could finally Y,” say, “I’ll be able to Y if I <fill in the blank>.”

3. “If I don’t say anything, nobody will think I’m wrong.”

Yes, they will — a lot. That’s because you think you have reasonable control over the things that come out of your mouth, but a lot of times, you don’t. You only hold your mouth shut when it comes to those things where you don’t feel confident enough to have an opinion. But on all the other stuff, you’re quite the blabber-mouth.

For those things you feel like you know well enough, you’ll go to war for your opinions. Sometimes you’ll get a pat on the back; other times, you’ll get egg on your face. Sometimes, you’ll feel like an imposter. But by filtering out those things where you believe you might be wrong, you do nothing but stay oblivious.

When you have an opinion, you have two choices.

  1. Come out with it and say it with the mindset of a student. That means that if you are wrong, you have an opportunity to learn what’s right. Over time, you’ll improve your judgment and decision-making abilities. You’ll grow and become better.
  2. Don’t say anything and stay complacent.

Again, the fallacy here is causality. Even if you don’t say anything, people will still think you’re wrong about many things, including those you are one hundred percent certain of. By not saying anything you are doing nothing but staying unauthentic and eroding your true self.

Mindset Shift — Instead of “If I don’t say anything, nobody will think I’m wrong” say, “I will speak my mind and be open to critical feedback, which will allow me to learn.”

4. “I don’t regret anything.”

That is one of those big lies we tell ourselves, which I have taunted many times. I even popped my chest up and pounded it like a proud primate. Before you jump at my throat (which you are entitled to), let me say that I am a huge proponent of living life without regrets and focusing on the positive and on gratitude.

I also understand that everything that happened and all you’ve done so far in life has brought you where you are today. Getting regret into that equation would imply that you could’ve been in a different, better place had you had done things differently in the past. Here’s where the lie begins to reveal itself.

Regretting things from the past doesn’t mean that you regret where you are today. It also doesn’t mean that you wish you were in a different place or predicament. It merely means that you have the open-mindedness to look back on your life and understand, in hindsight, if you have made errors of judgment, took questionable actions, or hurt people around you.

It’s okay to do that exercise of self-reflection, but not to imagine a potentially different point in life where you could’ve been. There is absolutely no way of knowing if it could’ve been better or worse, and it truly doesn’t matter. When you say “I don’t regret anything,” it only means you are not willing to learn from your past, never question your history, and move on with no lessons learned.

Mindset Shift — Instead of “I don’t regret anything,” say, “I live in the present and have a vision for my future, but I also learn from my past.”

5. “I’m unlucky.”

Ah, this one’s a killer. Mind you, it’s okay to say this when you are referring to not winning the lottery. However, even in that context, it’s a false statement. It’s not that you are unlucky, but statistically speaking, you are unlikely to win, just like the vast majority of people who play the lottery, not because of your luck but because of the laws of statistics.

Everything in our universe is subject to the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, math, and so on. You are neither special nor unspecial. In other words, you are unique, just like everybody else. Luck has nothing to do with anything in your life.

Your life has been shaped by your decisions and the decisions of those in your environment. Some people equate all terrible things in their life with a lack of luck, while outstanding accomplishments are often attributed to skill. Others think of everything as part of some surreal gift that some have, and some don’t.

Please stop it. Luck doesn’t exist. It’s just you, your skill, willingness, motivation, judgment, decisions, attitudes, behaviors. It’s all you.

Mindset Shift — Instead of “I’m unlucky,” say, “I create my own life through hard work, and I mitigate the risks in my life with good judgment.”

6. “When I’m ready, I’ll finally X.”

If I were to choose one concept that is at the base of lacking goal accomplishment, it’s this idea of being ready. Unfortunately, we grow up with that in mind. Our parents send us to school, and they tell us: study for twelve years, then study for four more years, then you’ll be (somewhat) ready.

That might apply to some extent to your formal education, but once you move into adulthood, the concept is no longer valid. You may think you are getting ready, but the world around you evolves at a much faster pace than you. Whatever you learn today will soon be obsolete.

So, the idea here is that you’ll never be ready. No matter what you do, things will always be ahead of you, so you might as well start. Of course, I’m not advising leaping in head forward with zero knowledge about the field or activity you want to engage with, but there’s a big gap between that extreme and “being ready.”

Watch for places where you use this lie to give yourself a reason not to act.

  • “I’ll be able to exercise when I can afford to buy a treadmill.”
  • “I will go back to school to get my degree once I have enough savings to feel safe.”
  • “I’ll learn to play guitar after I retire.”

These are all white lies designed to make you feel okay with not doing what you know you have to do. You need to come to terms that you are never going to be ready. If you suffer from perfectionism, you might find yourself in this predicament in all aspects of your life. You need to pull yourself out of that mindset and take a leap of faith.

Mindset Shift — Instead of “When I’m ready, I’ll finally X,” say, “I’ll start today, and if I fail, I’ll try harder.”

7. “I never have time.”

Time is not a real, tangible concept. It’s a human-made notion to allow us to measure the passage of time. Time simply goes and never stops. We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day, 168 in a week, and 728 in a month.

When you say that you don’t have time for something, you’re saying that whatever you are talking about is not important to you. I often hear people say things like exercise is important to me, but I don’t have the time for it, with the kids and the job and this and that.

“I don’t have time.”

News flash: exercise is not essential to you. If it were, you’d make time. It’s easy to hide behind busyness and throw time in front as the guilty culprit. But time has nothing to do with it.

Every time you say, “I don’t have time for X,” take a deep breath, clear your throat and say right after, “Actually, what I meant to say is I don’t give a crap about X.”

That’s the truth.

If you cannot create your priorities and arrange the critical ones first, don’t blame time; blame yourself. If you have so many priorities that you can’t fit them into your schedule, that’s also a problem. Revisit your priorities and try to focus.

Mindset Shift — Instead of “I never have time,” say, “I need to revisit my priorities and make time for what is truly important.”

8. “I never had a chance.”

That, too, is not true. You were born, and somehow you made it into adulthood. Somebody somewhere cared enough for you so that you survived. And here you are, just like everybody else.

That’s your chance.

If you meant to say that you didn’t get a lot more stuff for free so you can start your life on a higher step, who says that you or anyone should have that?

“But others had it — “ Who cares? You are not them. That’s reality.

As a matter of fact, for every person born with a silver spoon in their mouth, ten others grew up poor and managed to live a happy and accomplished life. There comes the point in all of our lives when the “original chances” no longer matter.

All that matters is our decisions and what we do with what we have at our disposal. It is up to us to sharpen our skills, harness our strengths, and work around our weaknesses. It is our responsibility to create, recognize, and grab on to opportunities.

Maybe you never had a chance, but that means nothing for your life. The more you focus on that, the more you bring envy into your life and allow it to poison your mind. Focus on the fact that you make your chances now with your judgment and your actions.

Mindset Shift — Instead of “I never had a chance,” say, “I work on being the best version of myself and look for opportunities to create the life that I want.”

9. “If X disappeared, I couldn’t survive.”

Among all the lies we tell ourselves, this one is a tough one, I know. Ever since I’ve had children and heard horrific stories of people losing their children, this thought has inhabited my head. I thought that if I were to lose one of my children or, for that matter, my wife or my sister, the pain would be so tremendous that I would simply not be able to continue living.

That’s the thought, and it’s raw and harsh and painful. But it’s there. It’s hard to fight it, and it’s hard to think in hypotheticals. But, the truth is we are all more resilient than we think.

And in times of loss and pain, there are always other people around us, people who care and love us and whom we care for and love. It’s hard as hell to even think logically about the possibility of maintaining your love for humanity in the face of loss, but it’s possible.

Mindset Shift — Instead of “If X disappeared, I couldn’t survive,” say, “I cherish my life and the life of those around me, and I will overcome the hardship of a loss.”

10. “That’s just who I am.”

That is one big load of crap, and you need to nip it in the bud right away. That’s what’s know as self-labeling or limiting beliefs turning into labels. We all love to label ourselves. Why? Because it’s convenient.

  • “I’m a procrastinator.”
  • “I’m just naturally late.”
  • “I simply can’t write very well.”

Those are labels that you define and plaster on your forehead. You then start wearing those damned labels with some strange pride. You know you hate them; after all, if you’d have a choice in choosing to be that way, you’d never select them. But, somehow, they are useful to you because they help you navigate life and save face. 

Instead of using labels, use verbs. Catch yourself labeling and change it into a verb.

  • “I procrastinate.”
  • “I leave too late.”
  • “My writing sucks.”

Do you know what’s excellent about verbs? You can choose to do the opposite. You can decide to learn and practice not being that way or doing that thing. Verbs give you options and reveal growth opportunities. Labels pin you into a corner for good. Drop those labels.

Mindset Shift — Instead of “That’s just who I am,” say, “I will always approach life with a student’s mindset, ready to learn and get better.”

Shut Up Your Internal Saboteur

I’m the first person to admit that I lived most of my life with different internal chatter variations. I became an expert at lying to myself, and I’ve used most of the sentences above more than once.

Our minds are always looking for ways to soothe us, keep us okay with our status quo, and lead us back to our comfort zones. The comfort zone is okay for rest and recovery, but it can’t be a way of living. 

Left unchecked, we decay— mind, body, and spirit. Working on your self-awareness and catching yourself as you tell these lies to yourself is the only way to shut that inner voice down and build yourself up.

Practice stating a contrary statement as soon as you have the impulse to tell one of these lies. Each one of them has an opposite — pick from the examples above. Use those in your particular context so you can become more honest with yourself.

Once you open up to that honesty, you’ll see your authentic self come to light. Only then can you move forward and grow.

Go for it!

Adapted from an original article published on iulianionescu.com under 10 Subtle And Damaging Lies We Tell Ourselves.

For more similar articles on personal growth, please join my free newsletter