Self-Deception and Living Well

We don't know what we don't know.

Enjoying abundant good health often means having a great wellness plan for our way of living and sticking to it. Sometimes we struggle and don’t know why. The problem may be that we don’t know what we don’t know. Self-deception happens at various levels of consciousness and when it’s at its insidious worst, we don’t even realize it.

The Arbinger Institute ( defines self-deception simply as “Not knowing and resisting the possibility that one has a problem.” They believe that “Most conflicts are perpetuated by self-deception. So are most failures in communication. And most breakdowns in trust and accountability.” The manager who thinks she is doing a great job while all her reports can’t stand working for her, or the person who really believes they hold no prejudices as they operate on blatant principles of inequality would be just a couple of examples.

While interpersonal self-deception takes a heavy toll, so can self-deception lead to the breakdown in trust and accountability with one’s self, especially around health. Not wanting to look at one’s health status is a key aspect of wellness self-deception. Avoiding those annual physical exams, passing up opportunities to get a free blood pressure check, etc. can keep one self-deceived and set up really negative consequences. Bill Cosby was at one time worried about a medical problem he was experiencing and kept avoiding being examined for it because he feared it might be cancer. “I figure, that if I don’t go in and see the doctor and he can’t examine me, then he can’t tell me that I’ve got it. And if he can’t tell me that I’ve got it, then I ain’t got it!” Cosby gets big laughs because we can all relate.

We can all relate to "Homer".

Wellness self-deception’s biggest role may be in how we fool ourselves about how closely we are following our own wellness plan and pursuing our health goals. While wellness is not about being perfect (yes, you can still have chocolate or BBQ at times), it’s challenge is not BS’ing yourself about how often the “exception” to your own wellness guidelines happens. One of my wellness coaching students has found that her clients really love having true choice about their lifestyle behavior and at times, they consciously choose “the exception”. When they do so they tell themselves that they are consciously deciding to delay the attainment of their health goals by exercising that choice. The result is a more mindful decision about having that hot fudge sundae…or not!

A great weapon for fighting wellness self-deception is the awareness that comes with tracking. People who self-monitor well have the most success at attaining their wellness goals. Calorie counting really works, if you do it consistently. With the new phone apps that task has become ten times easier than it used to be (e.g.
). Tracking workouts on an app or a simple wall calendar, or keeping a wellness journal can all be ways to avoid self-betrayal and give us the increased awareness that is the key to living well.

The real antidote to self-deception however, lies in awareness and in what the Arbinger Institute’s authors call “Getting Out Of The Box”. See our previous post for lots about awareness and especially how it relates to coaching. (

Getting Out Of The Box means being willing to look at ourselves and to see. It’s about shedding the insistent blindness that we create, largely out of fear. It’s really more like “blinders” than blindness. Our mental and emotional blinders cut out our peripheral awareness of our selves and the world around us, limiting our view to what’s right in front of us, to our current perception of what is. Busting out of that mule-like way of working and living starts with the openness to consider that we just might not have everything figured out, that we just might be operating on some assumptions and FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real.

Cultivating awareness is fun. If we can get our heads out of the sand and face what is, and that might take courage, we may actually like the improvement in the view! Life is endlessly fascinating and being open to discovery enriches every moment we have on this wonderful ride called life.