The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
— Jeremiah 17:9 NIV
Good question. Not me.
This explains why we’ve all said at some point, “I don’t understand why I did what I did.” Which is just another way of saying, “I don’t understand why I decided what I decided.” “Chose what I chose.” It’s why we do things that make perfect sense in the moment that make utterly no sense a moment later. It explains why you decided to do the very thing you advised someone else not to do earlier. It’s why the person in the mirror is the most difficult person you will ever attempt to lead. They don’t tell the truth.
Unless you force them to.
You’ve got to pin ’em down, look ’em in the eye, and ask, “Are you being honest with me? Really?”
Jeremiah’s words explain why smart people make not-so-smart decisions.
Decisions we look at and think, Even I would know better than to do that! But would we? Would we if it were us listening to our smart selves? Probably not.
I’ve watched intelligent, resourced men that had worked hard to amass significant wealth, lose a significant portion of it on an “investment” that was really just a scheme… a scheme that promised more of what they already had, only quicker this time. When I listen to their stories, I think, How did someone as smart and as successful as you fall for something as dubious as that? After the fact, they wonder the same thing. In the moment… well… in the moment they were just like us. Deceived. Their hearts were deceitful. Mine is too.
So is yours.
THE WAY FORWARD
So, if there’s no cure, if we never graduate from or mature past this, if we will always have a propensity to deceive ourselves, talk ourselves into the very thing we should talk ourselves out of, sell ourselves on the very things we should declare off-limits, what then do we do? Sounds pretty hopeless, doesn’t it?
Well, while it’s true there’s no cure, there is hope. There is a way to keep our deceitful hearts in check. Here are three tips.
To begin with, admit it.
The sooner you embrace this uncomfortable, disquieting fact about yourself, the quicker you’ll be able to develop and maintain a healthy suspicion. The more open you’ll be to information and advice that conflicts with where your heart is taking you. The more cautious you will be when the salesman inside you starts selling you. The easier it will be to recognize what you are tempted to justify may be just a lie you’re telling yourself.
Second, ask it.
Ask our question: Am I being honest with myself… really?
Have a heart-to-heart with yourself. Have it in the mirror. Look yourself in the eye. Seriously, stand in front of the mirror and ask yourself out loud… and use your name. “Andy, are you being honest with yourself… really?” And then, tell yourself the truth even… even… if you don’t plan to act on it.
You owe it to yourself to know, even if knowing points you in a direction you don’t intend to go.
It won’t hurt to know. You need to be honest with yourself… really.
Third, be curious.
Echoing the prophet Jeremiah, Brené Brown insists, “Our rational, grown-up selves are good liars.”1 To punch through our deceptive selves requires what she refers to as “emotional curiosity.” When we push through our discomfort and get curious about why we’re feeling what we’re feeling… why we are determined to do what we are hell-bent on doing, we get to the truth.
But most people don’t do that. Don’t be most people.
Be curious. Curiosity will keep you focused on the frontiers of your ignorance. That’s where we learn. That’s where we gain insight. It’s where we catch sight of our prejudice and our narrowmindedness. When it’s uncomfortable… and it will get uncomfortable. When it gets uncomfortable and you are tempted to turn away… to turn back to what you’ve always known, know this… that is fear talking. That is insecurity talking. You’ll learn little from either. So turn back around and be curious. If you do, you will learn something. If nothing else, you will learn something about yourself.
We naturally resist what we don’t understand and what we can’t control. We are always tempted to dismiss and excuse and criticize what we don’t understand and can’t control. When we do, we lose. As I tell leaders all the time, be a student, not a critic. Critics look for reasons not to learn from what they don’t understand. Students, on the other hand, are always learning. They face their ignorance. They are curious. Be curious. Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this, really? Why did I react the way I did when confronted with new insight and information? Why did I bristle when questioned? Why won’t I read that book, that article?”
WHY WE DON’T
As simple as all this sounds, it’s not simple. It’s terrifying. After all, once we’re honest with ourselves, we’re accountable—accountable to ourselves. This means when we hear ourselves giving our friends and family all the “reasons” we’ve come up with to support our really bad decisions, we’ll know we’re lying.
“The reason I went…”
“The reason I bought it…”
“The reason I called her…”
“The reason I called him back…”
“The reason we’re moving…”
“The reason I’m moving in…”
Once you’ve been absolutely honest with yourself, it’s gonna be a bit harder to be dishonest with everybody else. And while being honest with ourselves can be a bit terrifying, being honest with ourselves, telling ourselves the truth, can be… liberating. In fact, it’s almost always liberating. Jesus made a powerful statement in this regard. You may not know Jesus said it because politicians say it all the time… without giving Jesus credit. Apparently, it’s okay to mention what Jesus says as long as you don’t mention Jesus.
Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)
The truth really will set you free. But the opposite is true as well: dishonesty will imprison you. And if we’re not careful, we’ll imprison ourselves when we’re less than honest with ourselves.
Telling yourself the truth, owning up to the real reason you’re considering what you’re considering, will bring immediate clarity. You will see better. It will be harder to deceive yourself. In this way, telling yourself the truth will empower you to make the right decision. And that’s why you’ve got to ask it. Twice.
Am I being honest with myself… really?
Am I telling myself the truth or selling myself a regret?
Watch the video
Excerpted with permission from Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets: 5 Questions to Help You Determine Your Next Move by Andy Stanley, copyright Andy Stanley.
Brené Brown, Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (New York: Random House, 2015), 86.
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How often do you feel you’re truly honest with yourself about your decisions? How does it bring you hope to know that the truth really will set you free? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
“Classic Andy—accessible to any of us wanting to change, yet deep enough to challenge you if you think you know the answers.”
—MAX LUCADO, pastor and New York Times bestselling author
“Andy is a voice I’ve trusted in my life for a long time. One of the dozen things I like about Andy is that he doesn’t varnish the truth but will tell us the way it is with kindness and a boatload of wisdom. This is the right book for the right time. We’ve got some important decisions to make and this book will help frame the right questions to ask.”
—BOB GOFF, Sweet Maria’s husband and New York Times bestselling author of Love Does, Everybody Always, and Dream Big
“In the end, the life you get ‘stuck’ with is the life you make. Now is the time to change your choices to regret-proof your future. Andy will show you how.”
—LEVI LUSKO, pastor of Fresh Life Church and author