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Do You Lie to Yourself?

I’ll start exercising next week.

I’ll stop smoking at the end of the month.

I’ll start making better decisions about the people I date.

Sound familiar? We all make promises to ourselves. And all too often, if we were really honest with ourselves, we’d see that these are promises we know we’ll never keep.

One of the biggest problems with lying to ourselves is that it keeps us from actually doing better when it comes to the things we really do want to improve on. Then, when we find that we aren’t improving, we get down on ourselves, which makes us even less likely to get some positive momentum going the next time.

In other words, lying to ourselves sets up a vicious downward cycle that makes it extremely difficult to achieve the goals we set for our lives.

So if you want to make changes in your life—to your health, your relationships, your career, or anything else—it’s important that you stop lying to yourself. Then you can begin to take positive steps toward authentic and lasting change.

Here are some suggestions for making positive changes in your life. Approach them in a way that helps you be honest with yourself so that you can actually begin to achieve your goals.

Don’t Make yourself Promises that you can’t Keep

You’ve heard about the importance of dreaming big and believing in yourself and in what you can achieve. We agree that envisioning the positive and practicing faith can be extremely powerful. But when you are trying to break the cycle of lying to yourself so you can achieve real and lasting change, big dreams can sometimes work against you. After all, few of us are ever going to run a four-minute mile, develop the body of a supermodel, or date a Kennedy.

So instead, do your best to set realistic goals that are actually achievable. When trying to slim down, losing 10 pounds would be a great start for most of us. In your dating life, a worthwhile and achievable goal might be to date only people who meet certain standards and treat you the way you deserve to be treated.

Be Specific

Along with being realistic, it’s also important that you be as clear and precise as possible when you think about your goals. What do you hope to accomplish during the first two weeks? In the first month? By the end of winter? But keep this in mind: Your ultimate goal may be to lose a certain number of pounds or inches, or to stop smoking altogether, but your more immediate goals should be to achieve consistency and to find ways to be healthier overall—whether we’re talking about physical, emotional, or relational health. If you are consistent, your more visible goals will take care of themselves and you’ll start seeing the evidence on an everyday basis. Then, once you start seeing improvement, it’ll be easier to keep up the momentum.

Start by Setting Small, Attainable Goals

Whatever you are aiming for, begin with baby steps. Institute one small change at a time. For example, maybe you could aim to exercise for 30 minutes twice a week. That sounds doable, doesn’t it? And if you aren’t exercising much at all right now, then that would be a big improvement. Or maybe you could agree to cut out a certain number of cigarettes per day or to avoid calling your ex for two whole weeks. You’ll have to come up with the right baby steps to fit your situation. The point is that regardless of the changes you want to make, you’ll find much greater success if you start small and then build toward bigger goals.

Get a Buddy to Support You

Whether you are trying to be healthier, more fit, or wiser in your decision making, one of the best ways to be more disciplined is to find a partner who will help you. A buddy can help you be more consistent and avoid certain temptations, and he or she can also provide some basic accountability whenever you need support. If you are trying to make important changes in your life, don’t go it alone.

Reward Yourself

Watch for ways to congratulate yourself when you are being consistent and making positive strides toward your goals. For example, once you’ve dropped a few pounds or inches, let yourself buy that new outfit you’ve had your eye on. After you’ve taken the time to update your resume for that new job, treat yourself to an evening out. Just be careful not to reward yourself in ways that undermine your progress. Obviously, rewarding yourself with a cake for losing a couple of pounds isn’t a good idea. The idea is simply to reward yourself for making good decisions and for altering your lifestyle for the better. Let’s face it: It’s not easy to make sacrifices and be disciplined. So be sure to compensate yourself when you do.

Avoid the Negative Self-Talk

One of the worst ways you can lie to yourself is to fill your head with self-criticism. So as you go through your day-to-day routines, pay attention to your self-talk. Rather than constantly repeating discouraging and critical phrases to yourself, do your best to be positive. Instead of saying, “I’m not disciplined enough to exercise,” say, “I’ll plan out a realistic strategy and stick to my plan.” Instead of saying, “That was so stupid of me to tell that terrible joke on my date,” focus on all the ways that the date went well. Be honest enough with yourself to admit when you’re actually doing OK.

Remember, we all can be prone to lying to ourselves from time to time. We need to observe what we are doing so we can begin to make the changes we want to make. Once we are aware of any ways in which we are undermining our own efforts at improvement, we can begin to put together goals and strategies that are realistic, specific, and intentional. Then we can be more honest with ourselves and pursue lives that are much healthier and more fulfilling.