“The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.” — Cervantes
A little-known fact is that it isn’t all that uncommon to bend the truth. People do it all the time. I know I’ve slipped and told a few whoppers. Sometimes it is to spare someone else from feeling uncomfortable. Sometimes it is to give yourself an escape from consequences you know you will encounter by telling the truth. But guess what? The truth will eventually come out, no matter how hard you try to avoid it.
There is something universally appealing in this, although few would admit it. No one wants to be regarded as a liar — even though almost everyone sometimes falls into that category. The idea that little obfuscations or outright tall tales would come back to haunt us isn’t particularly attractive. While working so hard to skirt the truth — knowing full well that it is wrong, but doing it anyway — means there is some self-improvement that needs tending to.
Think of the biggest lies in history and how they eventually were unmasked. The world is flat was debunked. Men are superior was called into question. “I’ll call you” is universally discredited. Big lie or little, as Shakespeare’s quote in “The Merchant of Venice” so aptly reveals — “the truth will out.”
If you accept that truth has more value than lies and acknowledge that it is going to come out anyway, how do you begin to cultivate the habit of telling the truth to begin with? Is this something you can teach yourself to do — after years of doing just the opposite?
You can and here’s how.
Stop and think about what you are going to reveal.
Before you respond to a question, embark on telling a story, fill out an employment application or apply for a loan, pause and think what you are about to reveal. The first thought that pops into your head may be a lie, or it could be the truth, which you quickly push aside. You will know whether it is truth or lie. Being able to identify what the thought is qualifies you to make the decision what to do next. You need the time to figure out what you are going to say or do.
Prepare a truthful answer.
Prepare answers (truths) you are willing to say ahead of time so you’re not stumped when you need to say something. Let’s say you are going to a job interview and you want to appear your best. You know you will be asked about your strengths and your accomplishments. Instead of saying you saved your previous employer $100,000 by uncovering duplicate projects when you only observed someone else doing that, if it is true you were part of a team that streamlined corporate projects to maximize efficiency, say that instead. If you are not particularly innovative, talk up how you’re a hard worker that supports team efforts. If you take the time to realize your strengths, you will be able to come up with talking points that are true, not false.
Give yourself time to think of an appropriate (and truthful) answer.
If you are uncomfortable, ask for a break. Maybe the truth you tell now would cause harm, make someone unhappy, or result in your getting fired. Instead of instantly incriminating yourself, ask for a break — literally. You need some time to frame the truth so that it’s less harmful, or to summon your resources if the blowback will be serious. It is better to say nothing than to blow it completely by telling a lie that will come back to roost.
Work on your core values.
Learning to tell the truth instead of spouting lies every time you open your mouth takes patience, time and practice. Begin by addressing your core values, identifying them and striving to live in accordance to them. If you value friendship, act like a faithful friend. If you prize family above all else, put your family ahead of everything else you do. Be the person you most admire. Adopt the traits of people you respect.
Ask others for help.
No doubt you have people in your life who are familiar with your tendency to embroider the truth, to embellish stories for effect, or to keep telling falsehoods despite your best efforts to stop. Ask for their help in supporting your quest to tell the truth. Have them call you out when they recognize you telling a lie. This might smart a bit, but you need the assistance to change your behavior.
This article was originally published on Psych Central.
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