The Ten Ways I Lie

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Recently by James Altucher: The Trillion Dollar Lies


I lied to my kids this weekend. I told them I had a fun time with them when really I didn’t. They were brats. I lied to my parents all the time when I was a kid. I lied to clients, colleagues, bosses, employees.

Sometimes people write about me and I wish I could kill them. Sometimes I want someone to return my call and when they finally return my call ten days later I say, “oh, it was no problem. I understand.” Someone wrote me the other day and said, “James, you are a crook.” I lied to myself that it didn’t bother me. I used to lie to people all the time when I was separated from my wife. People said, “all ok?” and I was like, “Couldn’t be better.” When I had to sell my first house because I was going to lose it I lied to everyone and said I was moving someplace better. I was ashamed.

I lied for years telling people I hadn’t lost all my money when I did. I was ashamed I would lose opportunities if everyone didn’t think I was super successful.

I lied to a judge when I said I skidded uncontrollably on water on the ground when I went straight through a stop sign without stopping, hitting a station wagon in the process and breaking the legs of the 70 year old man driving it. It was a clear day.

I lied to myself this morning when I said I wasn’t angry at someone who had written a crappy article about me this weekend.

I’m sick of it.

It’s hard to stop lying. I’m not a believer at all in so-called “radical honesty” where, at an extreme, you might tell some random girl you want to have sex with her even if it involves hurting everyone around you. At some point you need a filter between the brain and the mouth. You won’t find happiness inside the vomit machine your mouth turns into.

But you can slow the lies. Every day you can cut a lie out. You can be a little more open. A little more free. Let me tell you something: when you start to limit the lies you develop super-powers and everyone around you sees it. They either run from you in fear because now you can see right through them, or they gather around you and throw opportunities at you because your superpowers will now help them.

It’s the latter you want to aspire to. Be a superhero.

Here are the types of lies we often succumb to and think it’s harmless:

An exaggeration: saying “my house is 5000 square feet” on an ad to sell your house when it might actually be 4800 square feet. Believe me, they are going to measure anyway.

A white lie: Saying “Santa Claus exists” or “that dress” is pretty” or “this book is good” because you don’t want to hurt someone. This doesn’t mean to say “you look ugly” but better to say “you should wear the red dress that’s a little tighter around the waist.” Offer up a real, thoughtful opinion, not just a blurted out retch straight from your brain.

Fraud: Madoff did this to an extreme. But I see this on a daily level. More than 50% of hedge funds are frauds in my opinion. Most economic analysis is fraudulent. Every day politicians engage in shades of fraud but they are so used to it they think its normal behavior. It’s what politicians do. Pick any elected official and I can probably give you ten ways they engage in fraudulent behavior. One time I went with a friend of mine to visit a financial advisor. She just wanted my second opinion . I didn’t say anything the entire meeting but took notes. I found at least ten cases where he directly lied to her.

Why do people engage in fraud? It starts with….

Shame: first you lie about how much you make because you are ashamed to tell the truth. Or you lie about past relationships because if you say you cheated and hung out with hookers every day you are afraid people won’t like you. You lack self-esteem and only the bricks carefully carved out of shame will protect you in your fortress that gets smaller and smaller.

A lie to ourselves: you might say, I’m going to learn Spanish this year even though it was totally unrealistic. You might say, I’m not an angry person even though you have grudges against everyone around you. Here’s a hint: if most of the people around you are angry at you, then chances are you are an angry person. Projection is an easy way we can lie to ourselves. We give the people around us the attributes we have. We lie to ourselves by blaming them when it’s our fault we have these attributes.

—–>Exercise: make a list of all the people around you and what you think of them. Then erase their names. Chances are what’s left are the attributes that perfectly describe you.

Fear: When I got a divorce I had it great. To everyone who I hadn’t responded to in months I said, “oh, I was going through too much in my divorce. I couldn’t get back to you.” The reality was I didn’t really want to talk to those people. Or maybe I was just irresponsible. But I was afraid of what they would think of me if I just told them the truth.

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