10 Ways You May Be Fooling Yourself (and the Unpleasant Consequences)

One of the best and worst things that can ever happen to you occurs the day you wake up and smell the coffee.

The day that something or someone shines the bright light of truth on a belief or situation, and you awaken to that truth, can be Earth-shattering and life-changing.

It is an inevitable part of being an adult, having been impacted by people and life experiences, to have our heads buried in the sand about certain parts of our lives. There are places where we’ve clung to beliefs and behaviors without ever investigating or challenging them.

Sometimes we do this out of ignorance. But I think most of us know on some deeper level that we are fooling ourselves. It’s just too uncomfortable or painful to admit it.

One of the most important requirements of personal growth and evolution is the willingness to poke around in these areas and awaken to the truth.

Often this happens abruptly and unexpectedly when something or someone forces it upon us. This can be extremely painful, like ripping a band-aid off of a wound.

Every single one of us, regardless of how evolved and self-aware, have pockets of denial, misconceptions, defensiveness, and ignorance. By accepting that as a given, we can initiate the process of waking up to the truth without the dramatic pain of it occurring unexpectedly.

Does that mean the process will be pain-free?

No, there is discomfort in acknowledging how we’ve been denying the truth. Fear of this discomfort is the reason why we fool ourselves for so long. But the short-term discomfort of awareness is far less disruptive than the long-term consequences of remaining fooled.

So let’s talk about the reasons why it’s so essential to stop fooling yourself and to wake up to the truth. In certain situations, it seems best to just “leave well-enough alone.” Why stir the pot unnecessarily if you are functioning pretty well? There are many reasons why . . .

  • Quite often, when you are fooling yourself, you aren’t fooling others. Especially those closest to you can often see through to the truth that you can’t see. Remaining closed to the truth can cause relationship difficulties and undermine your credibility and the respect of those you love and care about. When you fool yourself, you can look like a fool.
  • Fooling yourself prevents you from becoming fully yourself. When you are living a lie or clinging to a misconception, you deny yourself the opportunity to live authentically and openly. Being real does require vulnerability, but being vulnerable allows for a much richer, more intense experience of life.
  • Fooling yourself requires a lot of energy. As I mentioned before, most of the time we know on some level when we aren’t facing a truth or looking at reality. Beyond that inner knowing, we get hints from other people. The emotional energy required to maintain a facade or ignore a situation is draining and debilitating. This is energy we could be using for something creative and affirming.
  • When you are fooling yourself, you cut yourself off from opportunities and learning that could bring your more happiness and fulfillment. The truth will set you on a different path, one that is in alignment with who you really are. There is such power and energy in being real that you find life is less of a struggle and the best choices and decisions come to you more naturally. Other people also find you more attractive because of your realness.

From my experience as a coach and in my own life, I’ve observed some common areas where we fool ourselves and lose touch with reality. Here are 10 of them:

1. Believing your thoughts and feelings define reality

This is the most common and most difficult place where we fool ourselves because we are so attached to our thoughts and feelings. We get caught in the trap of believing that every thought that goes through our heads (and the feelings the thoughts foster) is the truth. But if you examine and challenge your thoughts, you will see how few of them reflect reality.

The Awakening: Challenge your negative thoughts especially. Find evidence to the contrary. Attempt to detach from your thoughts and examine them as a detective would.

2. Believing you are right and others are wrong

This goes along with believing your thoughts but extends to your interpersonal relationships. You have established a set of beliefs based on your experiences and perceptions. This appears to you to be the best and only way in your mind. But you don’t have all of the information. Others have experiences and perceptions that add to the truth as well.

The Awakening: Acknowledge the your way isn’t the only way and that you perceive things through the filter of your personal experience. Detach from the ego-based need to be right and adopt a learner’s mindset. Recognize the potential value in all perspectives.

3. Accepting perceived limitations

We fool ourselves into believing that we aren’t capable of change, achievement, or learning. We use past failures, outdated beliefs, or simple stubbornness to prevent ourselves from moving forward in life. We accept that we are too old, too lazy, not smart enough, or not confident enough. Then we feature these excuses as “the truth” for us until we actually believe it.

The Awakening: In the vast majority of situations, we are capable of far, far more than we believe. The only way to know for sure is to try. By not trying and making the choice to believe excuses, you are making a conscious choice to limit yourself.

4. Believing you can control everything

People who fall into the over-achiever or perfectionist category often believe if they do everything right, they can control their lives and keep things exactly as they want them to be. They strive to keep their personal and professional environments in tip-top shape, according to their perceptions of perfection. This often extends to their relationships as well, as they feel the need to control the behavior of others.

The Awakening: For this situation, the awakening often occurs only after an uncontrollable event rocks the world of the perfectionist or over-achiever. Everything comes crashing down, and they realize in spite of their best efforts, there are many things out of their control. Accepting and even embracing the ambiguity and unpredictability of life frees you to go with the flow and learn to live joyfully in the moment.

5. Blaming others for your problems or mistakes

Accepting personality responsibility is hard. It means you are flawed and capable of failure. It seems far easier to deflect the blame to someone else so you won’t look bad. But unfortunately, most people see through this. And when you deflect blame, you also give away your personal power and replace emotional maturity with child-like behavior.

The Awakening: Always look at a problem or failure from the perspective of your personal responsibility and contribution. In the long run, the only behavior you can change is your own. When you accept responsibility for what you could have done differently, you empower yourself to learn and grow for the next time.

6. Believing there are no alternatives

Sometimes situations feel completely overwhelming when they go wrong. We’ve gone down a path, carefully planning our actions and choices, only to have everything blow up in our faces. In that moment, we believe we must give up. We think there are no other alternatives, no other way we can find happiness or a solution. So we simply accept the finality of failure.

The Awakening: In most cases, there is always another alternative or another way. Sometimes you have to wait until the emotional dust settles over the initial blow-up or failure. But with time, you can go back to the drawing board and find a solution. There are many paths to a successful outcome.

7. Accepting a bad relationship

When you have been in a long-term relationship, whether it’s a marriage, partnership, or friendship, it is easy to get caught in the trap of accepting what is really unacceptable to you. It is far easier to put up with the pain and frustrations than to address the real issues and deal with them. But inside, you are compromising yourself and your needs.

The Awakening: This is another scenario in which the awakening frequently happens because it is forced. Something happens in the relationship to trigger the frustrations or pain, and the truth is forced to the surface. It is far less painful to determine what you need from the relationship, and if necessary seek counseling to help you navigate moving forward safely or ending it.

8. Living beyond your means

People spend more than they make for a variety of reasons. Some are poor money managers. Others believe they deserve or need the things they want whether or not they can afford them. And others delude themselves into believing the debt won’t catch up with them. Regardless of the reasons, living in debt irresponsible, scary, and draining.

The Awakening: Accept that debt is unacceptable to you. Shift your thinking to believe that being debt-free is more fulfilling than having all of the things you want to buy. Do what needs to be done to become debt free. Revisit #’s 3, 5, and 6 to support this awakening.

9. Looking for happiness outside of yourself

Most of us spend a lot of time seeking happiness through possessions, relationships, prestige, power, appearance, and money. These things might offer short-term satisfaction, but we can never get enough. Once we’ve achieved one goal, we look to the next to maintain our happiness.

The Awakening: Happiness is achieved by finding joy and contentment in the present moment. This moment is the only reality, so practice being happy in the moment. Research also has found that sustained happiness comes from service, nurturing relationships, committing to goals, and engaging experiences.

10. Believing “it will never happen to me”

This is mostly a self-delusion of youth. When you feel invincible, you think you are immune to the tragedies and misfortunes you see happening to others. Sometimes you intentionally detach from other people’s tragedies so they won’t “infect” you with their pain and problems. But bad things happen to all of us. It is rare that anyone escapes life without experiencing pain and loss.

The Awakening: Accepting that bad things can and will happen opens your heart to compassion for yourself and others. It shifts you to a mindset of gratitude for your blessings and allows you to create support and coping tools for future life difficulties. Having the faith that in spite of bad things, you will cope and survive, allows you to live peacefully in the moment.

What other ways do we fool ourselves to our own detriment? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

16 thoughts on “10 Ways You May Be Fooling Yourself (and the Unpleasant Consequences)”

  1. Hello Barrie.
    Thank you for yet another great post. All the ten points are quite relevant and one must carry a self analysis based on them because all of us have been victims of such tendencies at one time or another. Number nine reminds me of the book ‘Acres Of Diamonds’ by Russel H. Conwell. We can traverse the whole world looking for happiness while all along the things we thought could give us the ‘happiness’ were right where we started our search.

    Thanks for such timely and thought-provoking reminders

  2. Barrie,

    Hoo boy, I’ve been guilty of a bunch of these! I especially appreciate your thoughts on living authentically, and how not doing so cuts us off from opportunity and a richer life.

    You’re right, it does take risk to be fully yourself, flaws and all, but the rewards are *huge*. I’ve been working on this one the last couple years, and I definitely see the payoff in both my relationships and creative work.

    Thank you for this article! Shared with gratitude.


    • You are so welcome Deonne. I’m so glad you are seeing the rewards of being fully yourself. They far outweigh the courage and pain of becoming fully yourself.

  3. I think we all can relate to any one of these. I’m not sure what’s more painful: realizing we are fooling ourselves or watching a loved one fool herself. Thank you for sharing.

    • Yes, both are very uncomfortable Brandi. But I find it far harder in the initial stages of waking up to denial in myself. When the walls come tumbling down, it is a very vulnerable place to be!

  4. Once again Barrie, you have provided a timely and beautiful piece which speaks truth
    straight to the heart. bless you and thank you !

  5. Hi Barrie – this is a great list and I think I’ve been guilty of all of them (although I’ve been lucky in my relationships). I’m particularly trying to work on 3 & 4 at the moment, which is sort of strange as on the one hand I’m feeling limited in my abilities, and on the other hand I’m wanting to control everything! Actually, how it probably works is that I try to use my perceived limitations to justify why I can’t control things, rather than surrendering and letting go of the need for so much control and trusting the universe! And yet ‘going with the flow’ is pretty much the theme of my blog!! Thanks again for reminding me how we make life hard for ourselves when we don’t need to.

    • We do make life so hard for ourselves Kathy. Believing that we have control over anything is really a limiting belief. It is a fine balance to be able to allow life to happen and to be creative in life at the same time.

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