We are all human, we all make mistakes and have strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has areas where they need to improve. But they are hard to identify and its even harder to make the changes necessary to improve. It’s hard because of self deception. It’s part of our automatic human defense mechanism. It’s there precisely to prevent us from getting hurt. But in order to grow and have success, humans must be able to identify the points in their lives when they’re lying to themselves. If not, you’ll keep bouncing around in life until shit finally hits the fan and you’re forced to face facts.
Self deception is the fountain of failure, unhappiness and missed opportunities. Identifying when you’ve been deceiving yourself and then why you’ve been doing it are the keys to improving the situation. It’s true in all facets of life, from work to friendship to family to learning a new skill.
Let’s start with business. One of the biggest reasons that startups do not succeed is that founders deceive themselves. They buy into the hype, they ignore the big problems, the hardest work and don’t learn the right lessons when things go poorly.
For example, when I was running ExchangeHut, we had a very profitable tickets trading marketplace. We wanted to expand to other universities. We hired “campus reps,” students at other universities, to help us expand. We gave them big incentives to push them to establish ExchangeHut on their campus. After a semester, our most successful new campus had 100 users. It was a complete failure.
We lied to ourselves and internally blamed our reps for being unmotiveded, not smart or entrepreneurial enough. In reality, the reason they didn’t succeed is that we didn’t provide them with enough guidance, support and planning. We continued with new reps the next semester and had the same results. We wasted time and money because we let ourselves believe that it was someone else’s fault, not our own.
In the early days of Entrustet, back in March 2010, we knew we had a good product, but didn’t understand why people weren’t signing up as quickly as we thought they should. We thought we were doing the right things: talking to the press, writing blogs and continuing to develop new features. We kept telling ourselves that if we kept at it, we’d find success. It took us another 6 months to realize that we were lying to ourselves. We were not doing the hard work, we were doing the easy, fun work. Once we made the switch and stopped deceiving ourselves, things started to turn around.
People deceive themselves all the time about all sorts of things: they say “it’s someone else fault, im doing fine,” “I shoulda gotten that promotion, not Larry” “I don’t have time to get in shape,” “I’d take that trip if only I had the time,” “Everythings going well.” Your mind will try to convince you that you’re right.
That’s why it’s hard to notice when you’re deceiving yourself. Some clues are when things are not going well for you, but you’re not sure why. Or success and fun aren’t coming easily. Or when you’re acting with struggle, not with ease. When that happens to me, I try to take a step back and reevaluate. Pull away from the situation. Spend a bit of time alone. Do some exercise. Reflect on what I was deceiving myself about, and then try to push through and figure out why you were doing it. I’ve found that the only way to make things better is to remove myself from the situation, then come back with a clear head and start to attack the problem head on again.
What do you do when you realize you’ve been deceiving yourself? When have you realized in the past? How do you try to make sure that it doesn’t continue to happen or so that you realize it more quickly?