Self Sabotage: The 3 Lies That Rule Your Life

In this post I’m going to explore the 3 biggest deceptions you play on yourself to create a pattern of self-sabotage, and how to correct these so you can be more honest, confident and productive.

The first lie is your prediction of the future, which you use to determine your decisions. The second lie is the hidden intention behind your actions in the present moment. And the third lie is the story you make up about what happened in the past, to explain your behaviour to yourself.

We’ll explore each of these lies today, and then look at what you can do to free yourself from this self-deception.

We live in a world we’ve created based on cognitive biases[1]– the lies, illusions, fictional stories, false evidence and inaccurate perspectives our brains create. The more we believe these lies, the more likely we are to suffer.

Why? Because dishonesty and inaccuracy create painful problems:

  • Connections with other people based on false representations of yourself lack trust and reliability, and are plagued by suspicion, jealousy, controlling, hypergamy and manipulation[2].
  • Careers based on fictional fears (e.g. sticking with a shit job just because you feel a neediness for money) become unsatisfying, boring and meaningless.
  • Your mental and physical health deteriorates when you’re untruthful with yourself, because you’ll fail provide yourself with the information, nutrition, exercise, maintenance and rest your body requires.
  • Your self worth falls apart when you can’t accurately see the evidence of how strong, resilient and successful you are in life. Most of the time, you’re doing a lot better than you think you are!

You cannot hope to be confident if your self-worth is based on lies, because all lies eventually unravel. The truth has a way of breaking through, and the longer it takes to do this, the more it hurts when it finally arrives.

When you’re aligned with the truth, your relationships become healthy and loyal, your career becomes more interesting and meaningful, and your health will be the best it can be, because you’re constantly calibrating what you think, say and do to match the most accurate information available.

So why don’t we do this more often?

Unfortunately, the human brain is not wired for truthfulness, or even accuracy[3]. It’s wired for survival. We do not perceive the world as it truly is, we perceive it in the best way possible to simply survive, based on some evolutionary advantages that come from filtering reality (e.g. what you see is only partly about visual light and more about guesses and memory filling in the gaps[4]).

You’ll think that certain things are “good” or “bad” when they’re actually neutral. You’ll believe that what you’re doing is the “right” thing to do, even though you have no evidence or rationale to strongly support that assumption. And you’ll measure who you are based on a skewed selection of evidence without realising that you don’t have all the facts required to assess yourself properly.

This might all be OK if you’re just trying to avoid dying.

The problem with this is that many of us are no longer in mortal danger on a daily basis. Technology, medicine and agriculture have ensured a high likelihood of survival for the average human[5]. To behave in an “I could die at any second so I must focus on potential threats to my life!” fight or flight mode no longer aligns accurately with our environment. Yet most of us spend a lot of time living in a stress response[6].

We humans finally have a chance to thrive rather than just survive, but for us to do that we must evolve as much as possible; we need to catch up to reality. We need to live in alignment with today’s truth; not clinging to past threats.

To enable this evolution, I’ve identified the 3 most important lies we must correct before we can hope to stop sabotaging ourselves from creating meaningful and fulfilling lives in our modern environment.

#1 The Thinking Lies

The first big lie you tell yourself is that you know the truth about something (or someone) before it’s been proven or even happened at all.

Your brain is designed to simulate the future almost constantly (predicting, assuming and worrying) so that you can reduce potential risks. When you plan and make a decision on your next action, you are beset by cognitive biases, assumptions and predictions.

The only problem with this risk-assessment process is that it’s entirely fictional.

Your brain constantly tells you a story about what might happen[7]. No doubt this is helpful for many reasons (particularly threats of death), but all too often your brain will present these simulations as the absolute truth, when they are merely guesses.

They might well be educated guesses, but they are guesses nonetheless – always fictional because the future hasn’t happened yet. Yet that doesn’t stop your brain claiming that its dire prediction of the future will definitely happen.

You won’t ever know the complete truth about something before it happens, but you can often feel certain about it. You’ll be so sure that you know how someone will react or what will happen if you try something, and yet you’re completely inventing this fantasy! And you’ll be amazed at how often you’re completely wrong – we’ve all experienced the “Oh, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be” epiphany that often comes when we actually take a risk.

The biggest thinking-lie you tell yourself is “My thoughts and feelings are essentially true.”

When you imagine your boss rejecting your job application, you’ll feel anxiety in reaction to this prediction, so you come to the conclusion “I will DEFINITELY be rejected.” Yet there’s no proof for this at all. Even if your boss has said to you “I will definitely reject your application!” he hasn’t actually done it yet – he could still surprise you (he may even be testing your determination).

Sometimes you won’t even have coherent thoughts like these – in the form of instructions or visual simulations. Sometimes you’ll just strongly feel something – a resistance inside you – and interpret that as a command.

This often takes the form of feelings like guilt, stress and frustration – these emotions seem to be important and truthful assessments of what is happening, so you react to them without analysis. You feel nervous about asking someone out, so you just don’t do it, without any real consideration as to why you’re nervous and without looking at the full range of potential actions available to you (e.g. you can still ask someone out while feeling nervous – it doesn’t create any real extra risk of harm, in fact it can be quite endearing).

These impulsively reactive thoughts and feelings can create patterns and scripts if they repeat and you believe them consistently. You can end up becoming overly conservative in your thinking – unhelpfully risk-averse, inaccurately judgmental, and plagued by negative fictional narratives that run your life (without any real evidence to support them).

Here are some examples of internal lies many people live by without question – can you relate to any?

  • Bad and painful things that happened in the past will repeat if I take risks. When something hurt you, you’ll remember it more clearly than something that was pleasurable, so your brain will assume it’s a more important piece of evidence even when it might have been a random occurrence (the “availability heuristic” bias[8]). And you can’t be 100% certain about why something was painful in the past, so you can’t be sure it will repeat in the future, e.g. just because your first marriage failed doesn’t mean all future marriages are doomed, maybe you just need to get your shit together before committing to someone.
  • People of X race/gender/group are all bad or all good (“stereotyping bias”[9]). There’s no way that two people are exactly alike, so the chances of an entire group being good or bad are non-existent. You could be missing out! Your next potential best friend might currently belong to a group you stereotype negatively.
  • I’m a failure / loser / not good enough (“fundamental attribution error”[10]). These are the identities and ideas you have that claim the pain in your life is because “there’s something wrong with you.” The fact that you’re alive and reading this proves you successfully completed every single necessary survival task you needed to – of which there were thousands – and you defeated all threats and challenges you’ve ever faced. How is that “not good enough”? And even when you “failed,” how can the millions of variables in the universe that lead to a “failure” be your fault?

Once we get stuck in these unhelpful limiting beliefs and blindly obey our thoughts and emotional impulses unquestioningly – effectively becoming a slave to ourselves – we then follow through with unhelpful decisions that lead to unhelpful behaviours…

If you recognise these problem-thinking patterns in your own life and would like to change them,
apply for a free Blindspot Breakthrough Coaching Session with Dan.

#2 The Behaviour Lies

Once you’ve been seduced by cognitive biases, false thoughts and misunderstood emotions, you then make a decision to act on this information. Often, such an action will contradict what you intuitively know is the best thing to do.

The second biggest lie that rules your life is the story you tell yourself about why you’re doing something, as it happens, especially when deep-down you know there’s something else you should be doing instead (i.e. procrastination). A behavioural lie is when you do something that doesn’t align with who you really are. It’s where your actions breach your own ethics, values, standards and integrity.

How do you know when this is happening? Usually it’s as simple as stopping to look at what you are doing and asking yourself:

“Is this the BEST use of my time, focus and energy right now?”

If the answer is No, you’ve probably deceived yourself somehow.

Where behavioural lies occur most influentially the story you tell yourself about your intentions.

You’ll notice you get this wrong with other people all the time. You think your partner is being cold because they’re upset with you, but then you find out they got yelled at by their boss and they’re feeling depressed. You realise your story about WHY they are being this way – your explanation for their actions – was incorrect. You lied to yourself!

Yet we rarely pause to consider our own story about why we do what we do, and how we might be wrong about that, too. We find it hard to believe that we can lie to ourselves about our own intentions, but we can. And we do. Often.

You pretend to agree with the boss’s racist remarks while telling yourself, “It’s not worth rocking the boat, I don’t care much either way.” Yet the truth is more likely to be, “I’m uncomfortable with emotional conflict and have a needy, fearful attachment to keeping my job.”

You’ll guilt-trip your partner into doing things they don’t want to do (for your benefit), all the while telling yourself, “I must resort to this tactic because it’s the only way I can get through to her” rather than admitting, “I don’t want to risk rejection by asking for what I want directly because then I’ll feel unloved and out of control.”

Almost any form of self-sacrifice or behaviour that’s done with the primary intention to “make someone happy” is likely to be done under false pretences. You’ll tell yourself and others that you’re “just trying to be nice” and that you “wanted to help” and that you “don’t mind doing it,” but underneath this slick cover story is a much darker truth: you just want them to like you and acknowledge your existence.

One of the reasons I specialize in coaching people-pleasers is because approval-seeking as a form of behavioural dishonesty is incredibly common, and it’s devastating to connections and destructive to self-worth. Any time you do something to be “nice” there’s a very good chance you’re secretly doing it for a selfish reason created by insecurities about your worth as a person.

But you don’t tell them that, right? Hell, you don’t even admit it to yourself.

When it comes to behavioural honesty, it’s not WHAT you do but WHY you do it. There’s nothing wrong with acts of kindness, compassion and generosity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with social behaviours that influence people’s decision-making. What can be “wrong” about it is your intention for doing it, especially when this intention is hidden from others and, even worse; from yourself.

After you’ve engaged in these deceptive behaviours, you’re likely to experience uncomfortable thoughts and feelings as you reflect on them. You’ve done something that deep-down you know wasn’t the best thing you could’ve done, and you feel uncomfortable with this fact.

You don’t want to feel bad about what you’ve done, so you need a good story to explain why you’ve done it. You need to be able to sell it to yourself.

And this is when you apply your deceptive skills to how you measure yourself in the past…

If you want to live with more integrity and develop into someone you can be proud of without needing approval from others,
apply for a free Blindspot Breakthrough Coaching Session with Dan.

#3 The Measurement Lies

The third big lie you tell yourself is the creative story explaining what happened in the past. This includes rewriting the truth about why you behaved the way you did, in such a way as to relieve yourself of responsibility for the consequences of your actions, or to keep up a fantasy identity about who you are.

We know we do things we aren’t proud of, but we don’t want to take responsibility for them. We’d rather find a less painful explanation.

When I stray from integrity, I’ll quickly concoct a big story about what happened to help make sense of my behaviour. I’ll notice myself automatically starting to look for excuses, justifications, and ways to minimise my role in the decision-making.

We also do this for people we like – letting them off for poor behaviour by justifying it as exceptional or even a necessary evil – while we do the opposite with people we hate (e.g. minimise their good points and dismiss any helpful behaviour as uncharacteristic).

I used to rehabilitate criminal offenders for the Department of Corrections. I was shocked to discover that most of them did actually feel guilty about their crimes (I had always assumed most criminals were psychopathic and remorseless about hurting people).

Every day I witnessed these harm-causing individuals face a tricky emotional dilemma – living with their crimes. They would engage in a complicated mental rationalization process to reduce their own suffering.

They commonly blamed everyone else and made it sound like they were actually the real victims themselves. They used their upbringing or environment as an excuse. They passed the buck onto alcohol and drugs, or “the system”, or even their own “uncontrollable” impulses.

They were going through a process of transforming responsibility into blame – something we all do.

It’s where we tell ourselves a story about how we “had no choice” but to engage in less-than-respectable behaviour. Blame is where we claim that someone or something else caused our own decisions. You can even blame “yourself” by claiming your past self somehow let you down – this is essentially no different to blaming another person, because your past self is another person.

Criminals used to tell me they’d violently attacked someone because “they asked for it” or because “my father always hit me and that’s the only way I know.” Similarly, I’d excuse my binge-eating on “being too stressed out by my boss,” and I’d blame my cowardly avoidance of asking girls out on “being too shy.”

There’s always an outside force we can blame for our own behaviour, but that doesn’t make it an accurate thing to do. Shit, you can blame everything on The Big Bang if you want – at least that would be somewhat accurate.

There is confirmation bias[11] at work here. There’s a certain set of beliefs you desperately want to maintain because they help remove the guilt you feel about your cowardice and lack of integrity. And these beliefs all centre around you being a powerless victim who cannot be expected to make better decisions and who cannot be held to account for lapses in integrity.

Most people assume their brain is fairly accurate when it comes to recording memories and tracking evidence of what happens[12]. But the truth is your brain couldn’t be more unreliable[13]!

You’ll feel compelled to look for evidence that “proves” your innocence (e.g. “my boss said you had to do it”) while you simultaneously avoid and minimise evidence that shows you are in fact the only causal element in your own decision-making.

Watch yourself next time you do something “wrong” – notice how you immediately start pointing that invisible finger in your mind towards something outside of “yourself.” Notice how quickly a “Because…” story is created.

There are also identities we try to maintain, which help to simplify the world. If I want to believe I’m Mr Nice Guy, my brain will strive to make it true. I’ll ignore evidence that I’m manipulative or vindictive or resentful, and I’ll hype up evidence that I’m a good boy, a self-sacrificing martyr, all the while blaming other people for not appreciating my contribution.

This story is easier for me to swallow than the truth; that I’m being a weak people-pleaser who could actually stand up for himself and ask directly for what he wanted and express himself honestly etc. if I was just willing to take responsibility for myself and be more courageous.

I might not want to identify as “A Loser” but it’s easier to understand my life if I am consistently one thing. Many people seem to choose negative identities, preferring them over no identity at all.

As “A Loser”, my biases will filter the recording of evidence and skew the results that happened so that I can keep my identity intact. My brain will  record everything as if I am a loser. I’ll  hype-up my failures, sometimes real but mostly imagined, and downplay my successes (e.g. the plain fact that I’ve survived every day of my life while completing nearly every task I set out to do).

If you think of yourself as “a victim,” your mind will dwell on the times you were mistreated, while justifying or minimizing the times you brought misery upon yourself through not being honest, bold or humble.

Even arrogant people do this, just the other way around – you highlight successes (or completely fabricate them) while going to great lengths to avoid clear evidence that you have flaws as well (e.g. those unbearable people who mock mental illness while being seemingly unaware of their own obvious psychological problems).

Almost every memory you have of yourself is massively skewed by fictional stories that you told to yourself, both at the time of creating the memory and then again every time you recall the memory. Every time you receive any form of feedback from the outside world, your mind immediately goes to work on moderating it to fit your identity, or your victim-narrative, or the beliefs you want to maintain about how the world works.

Simply put: trusting the accuracy of your brain’s recording of what happened in the past is like believing that a history book written by a warlord is unbiased about his enemies.

The Loop From Hell

These 3 lies keep you trapped in a loop of destruction: a perpetually increasing tendency towards self-sabotage.

As you falsify evidence in your recordings of who you are, you further skew your ability to think truthfully and make accurate decisions, which then promotes more dishonest behaviour. The loop goes round ‘n round, making things worse at every turn.

In the end, you become a person who’s living a lie. Like a fish in water, you won’t even be able to see this lie-world around you because your brain is convinced by its own stories.

Your thoughts end up being based almost entirely on fictional simulations that have almost never been tested; your behaviour becomes a near-constant self-deception and manipulation of others; and the way you see yourself becomes a story about a character who never really existed.

You’re now living in a fantasy world – conservatively clinging to a fiction that keeps you missing out on reality, with all it’s opportunities, confidence, meaningful experiences and genuinen enjoyment.

Solution: The 3X Model

The good news is you can break out of this loop any time you want.

I designed The 3X Model[14] specifically for this purpose – to help people live with more integrity; to live a more honest life so they can be proud of themselves and accept life on its own terms.

First, you must apply the value of curiosity to your thinking.

Before you plan for the future, start with the assumption that you’re already massively biased and influenced by fictions in your mind that have never been proven.

You must accept that any simulation you create about the future – however convincing – is entirely fictional. You can be completely wrong while feeling completely right. I always remind myself that I am probably at least a little bit wrong with every prediction I make.

There are two questions you can ask yourself to help reduce self-deception.

1. “What do I know for sure?”

This does not mean “What do I feel sure about?” It means “What could I prove scientifically?” That is the raw data you must work with. If you can’t prove it; it doesn’t exist.

I often think to myself, “Could I show it to someone else?” If the answer is No, then it doesn’t exist. I can’t show someone my future self being hurt, therefore I’m not really being hurt.

You might have a fear that asking that girl out will go badly, but the only thing you know for sure is there is a girl standing in line at the café and you’re a bit nervous because attracted to her. There are no other facts to work with. There is no measurable evidence for the thing you’re afraid could happen. Until you say something to her, all possibilities remain fictional, i.e. untrue.

2. “What is the right thing for me to do if I want to live with integrity?”

This does not mean “What would feel good to do?” It means “What would I be proud of doing even if it doesn’t go the way I hope?” The answer to that question is what you should attempt to do next.

I find that now is the helpful time to think of a future version of myself, as a guy I want to impress. What would he want me to do? How can I serve him? What discomfort should I endure now to ensure he has a good life?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you must then try your very best to move forward on expressing yourself as honestly and accurately as possible.

Try to get it done as concisely and boldly as possible – avoid sugar-coating, moderation, half-hearted attempts, apology and safety-nets. Just say it proudly, or do it boldly. Keep it simple. Try to make it as truly representative of who you are in the moment as possible. Go all in and take a risk.

Go up to the girl and say Hi. Say “No I disagree” to your boss. Decide on a name for your new business. Just fucking GO FOR IT. Don’t waste time explaining to yourself why you’re doing it when you could just be doing it.

Finally, when the dust clears and it’s time to assess what happened, to respect and acknowledge that you are going to have a hard time measuring it accurately if you just leave your brain on autopilot.

Find some time alone, get out a pen and paper (or voice recorder), and try to accurately record what really happened.

Try to leave out the fictional storytelling – or at least identify the difference between something that actually happened vs the extra story you told yourself about it. Try to measure just the raw facts; what happened, what you did, and how you reacted internally to these things as they occurred. Separate the stories from the measurable evidence.

Notice the factors you could control and those you couldn’t. Give yourself credit for doing your best effort and acknowledge what you learned from your attempt. Resist the temptation to say “I could have…” or “I should have…” because you DIDN’T. The only thing that was possible was reality – what actually happened. Stick with the facts.

Now you can loop back around in a much healthier way, using the 3X Model to slowly but surely repair the damage done from weeks, months or years of self-sabotage cycles.

On a personal note…

I genuinely do live according to the 3X Model principles (with occasional slips and lapses).

When I notice myself starting to get agitated, stressed, anxious or upset, I slow down and start going through the model. I look at what I’m telling myself is happening, and how that compares to what is actually happening. I notice the discrepancies, and call myself out on the bullshit I’ve told myself.

I then try to make a decision based on what I’d be proud of later, or what I think a confident man should do in this situation.

Then, once per day I write in my journal about the significant events of the day, and analyse them for truth and lessons to be learned.

For example, a little while ago I got stressed about money. I noticed myself starting to doubt my business-model, and I even blamed the country I lived in for lack of suitable clients. But I caught myself doing this, slowed down, and started the 3X process.

I noticed the truth was that I had a roof over my head and food in the fridge, enough to last the next 24 hours without dying. So immediately I saw there was no major threat to my safety. I also observed that “money in the bank” is really just numbers on a computer screen that do absolutely nothing to my life in the current moment.

It was just the story I told myself about “being broke” that upset me – the money itself wasn’t doing anything to me right now, positive or negative. Money, in fact, doesn’t even exist, and the stories about what money can or cannot do for me were all fictions.

Then, because I already know my core values[15], I tried to do something according to the value of giving (I’ve learned from experience that giving is the best antidote to neediness). So I reached out to some people in my audience and offered them support.

After this was done, I journaled about how the “lack” of money didn’t measurably harm me in any way, so I can remember for next time, and that being giving towards other people felt good and brought me back to zero.

Even after many years of disciplined self-development, psychological training and coaching others, I still don’t trust my brain on autopilot. Every day I follow the 3X Model whenever I notice unhelpful behaviour occurring.

Give it a try, see what happens.

If you want to learn how to apply The 3X Model of Confidence on a daily basis so you constantly build greater self-worth,

apply for a free Blindspot Breakthrough Coaching Session with Dan.


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