WHEN I WAS A KID, I saw some cool pencils
at a flea market. Nobody was looking so I grabbed some and stuck
them in my back pocket. Somebody saw me and said, "Hey that
kid just stole some pencils!" I took off running, and a
large, scary-looking man chased after me. I ran to my grandmother,
who was at the flea market with me.
She straightened it out and I gave back
the pencils. I was ashamed. I had suffered fear. And had to live
with my grandmother's disappointment for awhile after that. And
for what? For some pencils?
If you do something that makes you feel
guilty or anxious about getting caught, even if you can justify
your actions, you ought to stop doing it. That's a no-brainer.
Think about the physical consequences the disruption of
your peace of mind, the extra adrenaline you have to endure flowing
around in your bloodstream. It ain't worth it. Whatever you're
doing that you think is wrong, stop it. Give your nervous system
Anything you do that gives you a sneaky
feeling no matter how small is a target for your
scrutiny. Is it worth it? Or is it another way that greed is
making you miserable?
I'm not getting down on you. We all have
a greedy streak it's part of our biological nature. We
may not have much choice about whether we feel it, but
we do have a choice about how we respond to it.
Is the end-product of that sneaky activity
really so great? Does it make you happy? Even if you could become
rich and famous with your sneaky activities, would you want to
endure feeling guilty or afraid of getting caught? Would it be
worth it? You know it wouldn't. And if you wouldn't want to endure
those unpleasant feelings with such a great payoff, do you really
want to endure those feelings with the paltry payoff you'd get
for something much smaller? Ponder these questions whenever you
consider doing something you don't want to get caught doing.
What if I'd gotten away with stealing the
pencils? I'd have had to make sure my mom and grandmother didn't
see them. I'd have probably walked around the rest of the day
at the flea market feeling nervous. And for what? Some stupid
pencils. I already had a pencil. How many pencils does one kid
The same principle holds with anything
else. Whatever you are greedily trying to get away with (if anything,
and if not, good for you), it isn't worth it, especially if you
are prone to anxiety. Take it easy on yourself and fly right.
You'll feel better. Really, you will. I'm not talking from on
high. I'm not talking from the perspective of right and wrong.
I can easily conceive of situations where I would fully approve
of stealing. But probably not in your circumstances or mine.
I'm talking about it from the perspective that you ought to make
yourself feel as good as you can, and being sneaky or feeling
guilty doesn't feel good.
One common way to be sneaky is deceiving
people. Not only does deception cause you extra anxiety, but
if someone finds out, you lose their trust. Paul Harvey tells
the true story of baggage handlers at an airline who looked inside
an animal carrier to find a dead dog. They were afraid they might
be blamed, so in a panic, they told the owner that her dog had
been sent to the wrong airport and that they would try to retrieve
it for her.
They then looked in animal welfare agencies
for a live dog that looked like the dead dog. And eventually
they found one.
So they put the live dog in the animal
carrier and delivered it to the woman, but as soon as she saw
it, she said, "That's not my dog! My dog is dead; I was
bringing it home for burial."
DREAD AND INTEGRITY
As I got more comfortable speaking to large
groups, the most important change I made was a greater degree
of integrity. Somewhere along the way I realized what I was dreading
the most about being in front of an audience: I was afraid I
would lose my integrity. I was trying to get the audience to
respect me rather than being myself. I was trying to impress
them rather than being myself. That effort to impress caused
me to be phony. I lost my integrity. And losing your integrity
is painful. It is something that ought to be dreaded
As I became more willing to be myself and
stop trying to impress the audience, my dread diminished. When
I say "being myself" I really mean "not being
something other than myself," because being my honest self
doesn't involve doing anything. It really consistes of
not doing things like trying to get people to like me,
or trying to impress people, or trying to prove something, or
pretending to have more knowledge than I really do. Those are
all doing. Being myself is accomplished by not
doing those things.
The lesson for you is: When you feel dread
when you feel anxiety anticipating an event check
to see if you feel you cannot be yourself. And check to see if
you are really correct about that. Maybe there is some degree
of pretense you could drop. Maybe you could be your honest self
and it would work out okay. Maybe there is some way you could
do it so that you enjoyed it, so it was something you wanted
to do, so you did it in a way you would really like to
do it, or so you said what you wanted to say the way
you wanted to say it.
To handle the dread and fear, stop suppressing
I once listened to a tape that had a mental
exercise on it. You did the exercise with your eyes closed. It
was an exercise in "congruency," which is Neurolinguistic
Programming (NLP) jargon for "integrity," and may actually
be a better word for it. Congruency is when all of you is lined
up, when no parts of you object to what you're doing. Someone
who is not congruent might be, for example, someone who
is saying, "I feel fine," but is looking down, looking
haggard and worried and shaking his head "no" while
he said it. His words and his body language don't match up
they are incongruent.
Anyway, the exercise went like this: I
was supposed to remember a few times when I felt some inner conflict.
I remembered when someone asked me to go somewhere with them
and I agreed, but part of me agreed out of obligation and part
of me wished I hadn't said yes. Another time was being nice to
someone I actually didn't like. And so on. On the tape, I had
time to think up these examples, and then the instructions told
me to really feel what it felt like to experience that inner
conflict. It was a way to get a good impression of what incongruency
feels like to me.
Then I was to remember times I felt one
hundred percent congruent. Somebody asked me for something and
I said yes, and fully meant yes all parts
of me said yes in full agreement. Or another time I received
a gift I totally loved and said so. And there was time on the
tape to really feel what it felt like to feel congruent.
Then I was instructed to compare the two
experiences. What did congruency feel like? What did incongruency
feel like? And what was the difference?
It was very distinct. In all the incongruent
situations, I felt a tense, unpleasant sensation in my middle.
In all the congruent experiences, I felt good all over. No part
of my body felt any better than any other.
Lewis Andrews, the author of an excellent
book called To Thine Own Self Be True, was still young
and going through therapist-training, which required he go through
therapy himself, and one day while he was talking about a problem,
Andrews justified a white lie he planned on telling. The therapist
responded, "Do you really want to do this to yourself?"
Lewis didn't understand. "Don't you realize," the therapist
explained, "that by trying to manipulate somebody else you're
only going to hurt yourself."
"Maybe," responded Lewis, "if
you believe in some kind of afterlife justice
"No, no!" said the therapist,
"I'm talking about right now, what you're going to feel
Wrote Lewis, "Lying, if I took the
trouble to be aware of it, was really a terrible psychological
state. My vision dimmed, my pulse quickened anxiously, and there
was a noticeable loss of contact with the outside world, all
this in addition to any long-term physical effects of such stress."
He went on, "Indeed, the more I experimented
with disciplining my deceitful impulses in the days and months
that followed forsaking the temptation to manipulate other
peoples' feelings and stating my real intentions without the
usual rationalizations the more confident and peaceful
I began to feel."
The psychology professor, John Skowronski,
showed people written reports of a person's behavior. He discovered
something interesting about the way we judge each other. Skowronski
found that if I made a mistake, for example, all I would need
to do is a single intelligent action to dispel your judgment
that I was stupid.
But if I do something unethical, in order
to dispel your judgment that I was an immoral person, I would
have to do three very honorable actions (like being offered
a large amount of hush money by a nuclear power plant, and refusing
So when you feel anxious about doing something
unethical, your anxiety is actually a good response based on
reality: It is dangerous to do something immoral. If people
find out about it, it could destroy your reputation in their
Just in case you are not convinced yet,
and feel that a little white lie here and there is okay and fudging
a little on your income tax is your duty as a citizen, check
out a few research tidbits:
1. Julian Rotter, a researcher at the University
of Connecticut, compared the social lives of habitually honest
people with those who agreed with statements like, "You
have to hide your feelings from others," and "You can't
afford to be honest." Rotter discovered that honest people
tend to attract trustworthy, truthful, and supportive people
into their lives. Less honest people tend to attract disloyal,
unreliable, and evasive people into their lives.
2. In a survey of 425 psychologists, family
counselors, psychiatrists, and social workers (people who have
daily experience dealing with the problems people face), 96%
thought that becoming more "open, genuine, and honest"
was an ESSENTIAL requirement for mental health.
3. James Pennebaker of Southern Methodist
University, in research funded by the National Science Foundation
and the National Institutes of Health, found that people who
habitually withhold information about themselves (especially
traumatic events) are more susceptible to contagious diseases
than people who are more open.
4. In a study by Bella DePaulo and her
colleages at the University of Virginia, they found that people
average one or two lies a day. Their motivation most often was
to make themselves appear smarter, kinder, or more gregarious
or to try to make things go their way. In other words,
the most common reason they lied was to make themselves look
good or to manipulate others.
Most of the lying was done to strangers:
77% to strangers
48% to acquaintances
46% to mothers
34% to lovers
28% to friends
Honesty will reduce anxiety and stress
in the long run, but the consideration of whether or not to be
honest goes beyond the consequences of this particular
communication. Do you try to be good? If so, why would you avoid
being honest? And if you do selfish, exploitive things, the concern
about whether or not to be honest is moot. What you need to do
is live your life so you can be honest. Here are some
ideas and aphorisms on honesty to help you:
There is a reason why the needle jumps
on a lie detector. Lying is stressful.
How can you be honest until you know how
you feel and what you truly want? This self-knowledge requires
solitude time away from others, time by yourself to think
without the influence of other people.
Timing is important. Sometimes restraining
yourself is the best thing. You'll have to decide by taking time
Keeping silent is better than lying in
almost all cases.
And some people will use your honesty against
you. Silence is the best option for those people.
To someone who has betrayed your confidence
before, you can say, "I'd rather not talk about that."
Sometimes you'll pay a price for your honesty.
You have to decide whether it's worth it.
Honesty does not mean giving up your very
important psychological right to privacy. It doesn't mean you
have to reveal everything about yourself to anyone who asks.
Decietfulness and lying make life stressful
and keep you from being close to people.
Most people, at some level, know
when you're lying. They won't trust you, and you won't trust
Lewis Andrews said, "Honest people
exude something special from inside that others trust."
Usually, the only people who tolerate deceitfulness
for any length of time are decievers.
The basic level of honesty is "not
lying or misleading." The next level, for those with whom
you want to be close, is openness. Not lying or misleading
is for everyone. Being open is for your close relationships.
You have the right to think. Often people
try to force you to say something you don't want to say, and
under pressure, you lie almost accidentally. When you
feel that pressure, you have the right to say you'll think about
it and get back to them.
Dishonesty is a way to manipulate people's
feelings and hide your true intentions. Who would want to live
that way? Is it fun? Does it make life more enjoyable? Does it
help you sleep well at night?
It untangles your life to be honest.
An honest life needs no deceit.
Honesty is necessary to be close.
You can't relax and be yourself if you're
pretending and hiding.
In a study by John Gottman, he found in
the short term, nice newlyweds were happier, but in the long
term, honest newlyweds were happier.
In a close relationship, honesty can cause
conflict, but it's not confusing, and problems can be solved.
You can't solve a problem if you don't know what it's about.
The heart of a persistent problem is something unsaid. Lack of
openness causes confusion. Honesty helps things improve over
When you're honest, people can sense it
and they trust you.
Whenever I focus on being honest
not pretending, openly saying what I want and feel I become
a better, happier, more relaxed person, and I feel closer to
Living an honest life makes it a lot easier
to have a good relationship, to feel good about yourself and
good about your life, and easier to succeed and feel secure at
The commitment to not misrepresent yourself
not try to impress or try to look good that commitment
to be your honest self lowers stress.
For less stress and anxiety,
improve your honesty and integrity.