“How do I look?” Your best friend’s face is aglow with hope as she waits for your affirmative reply. Inwardly you cringe, hating to hurt her with the truth or hurt yourself by telling a lie.
“F-fine,” you stutter, sinking into silent shame. And so the cycle continues as you keep on saying things you don’t mean to make life a little easier for the time being.
Telling lies is a bad habit that virtually everyone indulges on occasion. While many people do it to protect others’ feelings, as in the above scenario, others tell falsehoods for reasons stemming from self-interest if not downright deception.
Most of us don’t enjoy practicing deception, but lying is a difficult habit to break. If you’re trying to get better at telling the truth, the following suggestions may be able to help:
- Check your feelings. When you start to respond to someone with false information, you may feel physiological symptoms. Your gaze may drop, your heart may pump harder, your face may redden, and your hands may clench. Become aware of these and other symptoms, and the next time you’re tempted to lie, check to see if your physical condition reflects this internal agitation. Use those symptoms as a boundary that will not let you go further in falsehood. Catch yourself and change your wording to reflect greater accuracy instead of deception.
- Avoid situations where you’re tempted to tell a lie. If certain friends provoke you into exaggerating your claims to greatness, such as amount of weight loss, exploits with the opposite sex, or school grades, stay away from them. Find new friends who will accept you as you are. Or if you are tempted to lie to your spouse about how much money you spent on groceries, work out a budget and follow it. Don’t keep falling into the same traps that prompt you to lie.
- Practice apologizing. When you catch yourself in a lie, make a point of correcting your words to another person:
“I’m sorry. That isn’t quite right. What I meant to say is ….”
Or try phrasing like this:
“No, I didn’t actually get the work done, to be honest. But I expect to finish it up today.”
Making yourself speak the truth, even if it means changing your story, will help you become more apologetic and truthful. You will start feeling more comfortable in saying difficult things when you find that nothing terrible happens when the truth is told. And others will come to trust you, so that sharing negative views will become easier.
- Get an accountability partner. Ask a close friend or family member to hold you accountable for your efforts to stop lying. Meet weekly to report on your progress, giving specific examples of what worked and what didn’t, and asking for help in particular ways:
“I’m sorry, Hank, but I slipped up with Sarah again. I told her I’d call by 9 p.m. when I knew I wouldn’t be home until later, when it was too late to call.”
Hank may be able to offer advice for dealing with a certain situation, or he might suggest ways of avoiding the problem.
- Finally, reward yourself for measurable success. One way is to start by counting the number of lies you tell in a week’s time, say 20. After a couple of weeks at trying to reduce this number, you count up remaining lies for the next few weeks and find an average of 11. Take yourself out for an ice cream sundae or the latest best seller, and ask your accountability partner along.
Telling the truth can be painful, but it’s far better to feel a pinch now than a hard slap later.