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Lies: Why We Tell Them and When to Stop

Photo courtesy of Katie Tegtmeyer
Ask anyone how they feel about lying, and the vast majority of adults and even children would respond that it is wrong. They might also tell you that they don’t do it.

They’d be lying.

While we’ve all been conditioned to strive for honesty, truth and honor - the fact remains that most of us tell “half-truths” on a semi-regular basis. In fact, the act of lying is  a natural human trait. When questioned, most of us would say we fight against that trait, but in reality, we just can’t help ourselves.

But why do we do it?

Psychologists have been scratching their heads over this very question for a long time. Since the mere concept of lying has such a negative connotation, being dishonest is not something that many people like to admit to, making it a complicated phenomenon that is difficult to study and therefore, understand.

The fact remains that lying has interested psychologists for years precisely because of its complexity. Thus, many studies have been completed with the goal of discovering the motivation behind lies and what types of people tell the biggest whoppers.

One thing’s for certain: the ability to lie effectively is actually a sign of intellect and high cognitive ability. For me, that information conjured up a mental image of playing Truth or Dare with the likes of Hannibal Lector, but you don’t have to be an evil genius to tell a tall tale. Here’s what researchers know about the why behind the lie:

  • Saving our butts – The vast majority of lies happen when we’re attempting to stay out (or get out) of trouble. Yeah, sure, we know that honesty’s always the best policy, but we want to look good, even if we have to lie to make that happen.
  • Keeping the peace – What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her, right?
  • Flattery – We bring out these little white lies to make other people feel good about themselves. Who knew distorting the truth could be so altruistic?
  • Power imbalance – There’s a power dynamic in every relationship – it may shift in different situations – but in general, the person with less power often resorts to lying to the person in control because it just seems easier.
  • Societal rules – As was demonstrated in the movie “The Invention of Lying,” life would be a very different experience if we blurted out truths 24/7. Imagine admitting to your boss that you think she’s ugly, or telling everyone that you were late to the party because you had an episode of explosive diarrhea.  Societal norms keep us at arms’ length from people we don’t intimately know, thus making it necessary to be less than honest, or risk embarrassment nearly constantly.

What I found interesting is the fact that even animals have the ability to lie to each other! Disappointingly, however, humans are the only species who have ability to lie to ourselves (and not even realize it.)

The truth is, as humans, we’re primarily motivated by maintaining our sense of self and maintaining successful relationships. These two gigantic motivating factors are at play every time we interact with other people. Thus, we stay mum about the negative parts of ourselves, and put a little “twist” on our accomplishments and merits. As long as you aren’t harboring a huge, life changing secret (like the fact that you’re having an affair), sticking to little white lies is probably not going to get you into any trouble.

I said probably.

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Road Rage: Why it’s Bad for Your Health

roadrage2Photo courtesy of Josh Greenfield

Road rage is a behavior that we often poke fun at and think of as a quirky personality trait. The reality of road rage, however, is definitely not funny. Feeling personally offended by what other drivers are doing often leads to fits of intense anger, aggression and in some cases, violence.

Although it is easy to make jokes about, if you or a loved one regularly get extremely agitated while driving, it’s time to do some self assessment. Because of the potentially serious outcomes, it is important to get a handle on how to control your emotions behind the wheel. What sparked my interest in this behavior pattern is the fact that my own husband is aggressive behind the wheel, and it concerns me.

Studies have conflicting results on whether road rage is more common with men or women. Regardless of sex, anyone can exhibit the behaviors of road rage if they assume that other drivers are out to get in their way. This may ring true in other areas of life as well. To determine if your driving frustration has the potential to become dangerous, ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • Are you dealing with a lot of pent-up stress in your life?
  • Do you view driving as a race?
  • Do you feel like other drivers are trying to annoy you?
  • Is it common for you to drive above the posted speed limit?
  • How often do you find yourself tailgating someone?
  • Do you honk your horn or flash your lights in an attempt to show your anger to other drivers?
  • Is swearing something you do often in your car, especially directed at other drivers?
  • Do you often feel that other drivers are “in your way” and need to be taught a lesson?

If you or someone you know answered positively to the above, know that there are ways to help a raging driver calm down behind the wheel and turn back into a reasonable driver.  Some steps to take include:

  • Remember that other drivers are human. In fact, they may be dealing with marriage trouble, screaming kids in the car, or maybe they aren’t feeling well. Whatever they did that annoyed you was probably an honest mistake and had nothing to do with you. Don’t take it personally.
  • Drop the anonymity. You are not your car, and you shouldn’t let it become a shield while you act like a bully. Treat other drivers like you would treat them face-to-face in a social situation. Use courtesy, and give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • Listen to good music. I’m not suggesting you pipe classical symphonies through your vehicle every time you drive, but there seems to be some pretty solid evidence supporting the fact that quieter, more relaxing music leads to less instances of aggressive driving.
  • Look at the big picture. Anger is not good for you – plain and simple. Is it really worth getting your blood pressure and heart rate elevated over?

People who regularly get angry are three times more likely to have a heart attack than their more carefree peers. Getting all bent out of shape over a driving mistake certainly isn’t going to improve the situation, and the only person affected will be you (and anyone in the car with you). By letting the incident roll off your back, you’ll enjoy the rest of your ride and be on your way to making calmness into a habit. Your driving stress level will decrease, and if you’re lucky, your good attitude will eek its way into other areas of your life, too.

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Can the Truth Really Set You Free?

Photo courtesy of Tiago Pinheiro

Do you feel like you’re on a search for truth as you make your way through the world, dodging hyperbole as you go?  For a long time it was the opposite for me. I felt like I was blatantly avoiding some hard truths in my own life. I buried my head in the sand, thinking that avoidance would keep me safe and help me hide from the truth.

Looking back, I thought I knew my own truth for a very long time, but only on a subconscious level. Knowing your truth and acting on it are two very different concepts, because when you finally begin to share your truth with others, they will react accordingly. Those who have different truths and beliefs will potentially be hurt or offended.

Staying silent when you know your own truth is perhaps one of the most detrimental forms of dishonesty. It has been called the ‘Disease to Please’ and curing yourself can be quite difficult. If you question your own truth, you may end up trying to please others forever.

But here’s some food for thought – some people who are convinced that they know their own truths may actually be wrong.

Is it possible to be wrong about your own truth?

People in the public eye are the most notorious of all for not living truthfully – we see examples of this in the news, in Hollywood, in politics and in professional sports. Our society seems to be riddled with untruths everywhere we turn. If everybody’s doing it, then why can’t we?

Should we give up on honesty and truth?

We should not give up on truth! It is empowering and liberating, even while it may be complicated. Living untruthfully can ruin just about anything - including your health, according to recent research presented at the American Psychological Association’s 120th Annual Convention.

In order for you to live a truly authentic and (mostly) truthful life, you’ve got to really get in touch with yourself. Having the confidence to live a truthful life is never easy, because it means taking responsibility for all of your actions and decisions. Be able to answer for yourself with self-assurance. What you know to be true for you may not sit well with others, but what matters is that it works for you, and that you feel good about your decisions.

As important as it is to live your truth, remember that others around you are attempting the same thing, and their truth may not look like truth at all to you. Only when you can learn to accept other people as they present you with their truths is when the truth really will set you free.

I’d like to leave you with an open-ended, thought provoking concept today.

Does absolute truth exist?

If everyone’s versions of the truth are ’right’, even if only for them (I imagine Hitler thought his truth was ‘absolute truth’), what then?

My truth, your truth, we all fall down?

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The Vote is in: Strangers Often Nicer than Friends

Photo courtesy of Susan Babbitt

I’ve been totally awestruck by the plethora of good samaritans who have been helping people recover after the destruction of Hurricane Sandy. I became more and more interested in the situation as rescue teams from all over the country came to our aid. As I sat at a red light one day, my jaw dropped as a fleet of Mississippi patrol cars and rescue vehicles went past, speeding north, where the damage was the worst.

On top of what I read and witnessed about those highly damaged areas - people continued to ask if I needed any help, asking what they could do if my home or family had suffered any damage.

Thankfully, although we were right on the edge of disaster, my town was barely affected by the storm at all.  I did what I could to help those who were greatly affected by Sandy, but continued to be genuinely astonished by the simply Herculean efforts put forth by some of the volunteers.

One thing that seemed noteworthy to me was that a huge percentage of the people reaching out to me - offering help, prayers, good will?  Were complete strangers.

Now – don’t misunderstand me here – friends and family checked in too – but I was literally inundated with a huge number of concerned people that I simply didn’t know.  I found that interesting and confusing, and I wanted to learn more about this – the kindness of strangers.

Most of us have heard a friend complain that her spouse or significant other takes her for granted, ignores her, or pays more quality attention to other people.  On a related note – many times people talk so poorly about a family member that you’d think they were discussing a mortal enemy. Avoiding phone calls, skipping out on family events, screaming matches, name calling and blatant disrespect are all common behaviors among some families. What amazes me is that these very same people are more than willing to go above and beyond for people they don’t (or barely) know.

The main psychology working behind this behavior is the belief that family members and spouses can’t reject us, no matter how poorly we treat them. Of course, this isn’t necessarily true – especially when it comes to married couples, as evidenced by the divorce rate.

But what else is at play here?  During my research on the topic, I learned that the ‘kindness of strangers’ phenomenon occurs more often in people who were taught as young children to treat strangers with a high level of respect.  These same people also often view their spouse or significant other as a virtual extension of themselves – and those with low self-esteem consequently end up treating their spouses as poorly as they treat themselves.

There’s also something known as the ‘closeness-communication bias’. Psychologists have found that, although partners usually think they are communicating their wants and needs well - the truth is that many couples are interacting at or below the level of people who have just met.  This communication breakdown occurs when people spend so much time together that they stop taking the perspective of “the other person.” When couples and close friends talk, they often have an unfortunate ‘illusion of insight’ which leads them to leave out critical details that would not get left out while talking to a stranger. In short: we end up explaining ourselves and behaving ourselves better with strangers, because we make so many assumptions with those closest to us.

There is so much to be gained from the kindness of strangers. I’ve been completely fascinated to learn what motivates us to help people we barely know more readily than we’ll help our own family members and our husbands and wives. While the kindness of strangers has literally helped millions of people who were left devastated by Hurricane Sandy, what we can learn from their kindness and their behaviors can even help us in our close relationships. Since we’re all working to be as happy as possible, naturally we want our loved ones to reap the benefits of our happiness, too.

And maybe the best way to do that –  is to treat them like complete strangers.

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Promises, Promises: Who Can You Believe?

Photo courtesy of Mike & Tiffy

A promise holds a lot of power.  Recall how you felt when someone broke a promise they made to you. Broken promises speak volumes about a person’s integrity.

The following is a list of promises you should make today. And the person you’ll be promising is yourself.

1. I promise to live in the moment. I want to notice things about my life that I never noticed before.

2. I promise to let go of my desire to be in control of everything and everyone. By letting go and handing the reigns over to someone else at times, I can take more time for simply enjoying life.

3. I promise to look for enjoyment in situations that might otherwise be seen as dull or even hopeless. Even standing in line can be fun and interesting if I have the right mindset.

4. When it comes to others, I promise to always give them the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to judge people anymore.

5. I promise to smile more often. I might even manage to laugh more often too!

6. I promise to use nice words as often as I can, to myself and to those around me. You know that saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” Not true.

7. I promise to do all I can to excel using my strengths. In contrast, I also promise to accept my shortcomings without judgement.

8. If I face a hurdle, I promise to use my strength to get over it. I will not let fear stop me anymore.

9. If I fall down or fail, I promise I will still love myself. I will also get back up again and keep moving toward my goals.

10. I promise to do more of the things that I enjoy doing. It’s my life, and I’m the one living it.

11. I promise that I will be more expressive with how much my family and friends mean to me. I will hug more often too.

12. I promise to keep these promises. If I can’t even trust myself, who can I trust?

In life, it’s extremely important to keep the promises you make to others, and it’s even more important when the promise was made to yourself. Show yourself what you’re made of and start keeping these promises today.

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Four Easy Ways to Move on After a Divorce

Photo courtesy of Philip Leara

Sometimes what appears to be a devastating life circumstance can actually turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you. Ending a marriage is one of those life-changing events, and no matter what the particulars, it will be accompanied by a mixed bag of emotions. But there are some effective coping strategies that can help heal your heart and change your entire life for the better.

First, accept the fact that you are going to need time to heal but that you will. You need nurturing, encouragement and support while you restore your well-being, so it is important that you surround yourself with the positive. Seek out your upbeat friends. Listen to the kind of music that makes you want to grab a hairbrush-microphone and sing along. In fact, crank that iPod up during your shower every single morning. And when you go to the movies, see only comedies. Whoever said Laughter is the best medicine was not kidding.

Now, those ideas may seem quaint and obvious. But promising yourself that you will absolutely, consistently treat your own heart with the tenderness you would your best friend’s is necessary. Here is a blueprint for rebuilding, revitalizing, rejuvenating your life after divorce:

Let it out. Talking about your divorce is essential, so find a real support group, preferably with a certified counselor. It’s important to listen to the experiences of others and to share your own. That’s how you learn that things will be all right eventually.

Do something you have always wanted to do but were too afraid to try. Set weekly goals to add something new and exciting to your life. Go skydiving. There are quite inexpensive simulators now, so you don’t even really have to jump out of a plane. Take up belly dancing. Join a book club. Learn to swim. Visit every museum in your area. Almost all museums offer free days each month so that the bounties are available to all. Learn to knit and make scarves for the less fortunate. There are free and low-cost classes at the Y practically everywhere.

Figure out what you truly want in a mate. This may seem strange and frivolous, but fill out a pretend online-dating application. Those things are quite eye-opening. Most dating websites ask dozens of questions that can help you see with clarity exactly what you desire in another person, plus you’ll get a brilliant summary of your own strengths. And you never know: You may even decide to submit the application.

Remember that YOU are the sculptor here. This is very, very important. What if you decide to look at your divorce as a true fresh start? You’ll be well on your way to planning the shape of your future life. There are countless examples of people who’ve been right where you are and who’ve worked through the initial pain and confusion of divorce to discover a brand new career, a stronger relationship with a beloved partner, a simpler existence wrapped in happiness and contentment. I’m one of them. If I hadn’t survived a divorce, I would not have gone back to school for my M.F.A., wouldn’t have become a published writer, would never have found my darling husband. You can fashion your life any way you want. So why not make it better than it has ever been before?

Our guest poster Elane Johnson has had  her non-fiction appear in Brevity, Superstition Review, Sonora Review and The IndianapolisStar among other publications. Her award-winning “Aftermath” is featured in creative writing programs across the country. Elane, an adjunct instructor of writing who holds an M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction, is married to the writer Stephen Ulrich. She pens an irreverent blog for pure pleasure.


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Are You Being Selfish….Enough?

Photo courtesy of Randy Willis PhotosThroughout my life, whenever I was told I was being selfish, I immediately felt shameful and tried to amend my behavior accordingly. What I didn’t realize until very recently is that selfishness can be used for good, and trying to beat all sense of selfishness out of someone could be detrimental to their future happiness.

I have fought against a lot of my natural instincts throughout my life because of societal expectations. I tried to refrain from saying exactly what was on my mind when I was told that I was too bold. For many years, I tried to keep my dry, sardonic humor at bay,  feeling that I may be more accepted by others if I portrayed my role as “female”  in a more socially acceptable manner. And, even though I had an inner desire to stop making so many sacrifices for other people so that I could further my own goals, I continued to follow the herd.

Perhaps many people have a misunderstanding of what it is to be selfish.  Selfishness does not suggest  that we think only of ourselves with no regard to others.  To do so would be egomaniacal and self-absorbed. I have no desire to hurt other people, and I get a great deal of satisfaction out of helping others.  The difference between Present Me and Past Me is that now I tend to help myself first.

Naturally there are exceptions to this rule, as I am a wife, daughter, and mother to 2 children, and if they are in need, I push the hold button on my own needs indefinitely.

Finding out what makes you fulfilled and happy and then moving forward with your happiness as your priorty, is the kind of selfishness that makes the world go round. Forge ahead toward your goals, remaining steadfast until you realize them. Reach for success and don’t waver when people try to get in your way.  Many people who have achieved success did so because they were selfish enough to care about what would make them happy and then they persevered until they reached their goals!

The weirdest thing happens when you begin to embrace selfishness. Once you are able to stop sacrificing your own happiness, you will finally reach a genuine Place of Yes, where you can help others because you want to, not because you’re expected to.

Happiness isn’t going to fall on your lap, or magically appear one day because you’ve helped so many other people. If you want to experience true happiness, make yourself a priority and go out there and get it.

After all, “Nothing resembles selfishness more closely than self-respect.”

~George Sand


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Leave the Past Alone and Make the Present Perfect

Photo courtesy of TooFarNorth
I spent a great deal of my twenties and early thirties dwelling on the past - thinking about what I should have done differently or wishing I could go back and choose an alternate ending like in those Choose Your Own Adventure books. I’ve spent hours embroiled in bitter ruminations about how my life might have turned out if I hadn’t acted a certain way at what I considered (in hindsight) to be critical turning points in my life story.  Truth be told, for many years, I spent more time in the past than I did in the present.

I was the antithesis of the person who lives her life with “No regrets.” I had more regrets than I knew what to do with. I was literally obsessed with my actions in the past that I had no way of rectifying. When a friend of mine urged me to explain why I was filled with so much remorse about situations that had absolutely no real bearing on my present life, I had an ‘a-ha’ moment. By spending so much time in the past, I had forgotten that what I do have control over is the present.

It’s ok to feel bad about something you did or didn’t do years ago that perhaps you might do differently if given a second chance, like lying to a friend or not helping someone when you should have. But if you’re finding yourself haunted by the Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda about life-changing choices, here’s the thing: there is definitely something amiss, but to find the solution, you’re going to have to start looking in the present instead of the past.

Regardless of whether you’re living in the past, future or in an alternate universe altogether – ask yourself why you aren’t living in the now. Instead of looking backward or forward or at the greener grass on the other side of the fence, look in the mirror. Re-evaluate your life and re-configure your plans so that you can start enjoying every minute as it comes. Determine what you want your life to look like and make a plan to get there. If your present isn’t perfect, do some conjugation until your life is in exactly the right tense.

Find out what other obstacles might be impeding your present happiness with a great book by David Viscott - Emotionally Free – Letting Go of the Past to Live in the Moment.


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How Full Catastrophe Living Can Change Your Life

Photo courtesy of Hape_Gera

A few months ago, I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type III, a painful connective tissue disorder that makes many everyday activities impossible, including working outside of the home. I had to resign from my well-paying office job and I began to feel that my life as I knew it was over. I didn’t know what I was going to do, if I could pay my bills, or if I could still manage to be a good enough parent. I was also in quite a great deal of physical pain which just kept getting worse. I spiraled downward into a pit of self loathing and despair until I hit a hard rock bottom and realized there was nowhere left to go but up.

I clawed my way out of my depression long enough to crawl into the lap of my new therapist, who recommended that I read the book Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I began reading it as soon as it arrived at my front door in that familiar brown packaging I have come to love. In the book, Zinn describes the experiences of his patients during his ten years of teaching an eight-week course called the Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Over 4,000 people ultimately took the course, which teaches mindfulness as an effective way to develop control over our own lives, despite all of the catastrophes we may be presented with on a regular basis.

During my reading of the book, I began to put some of his suggestions into practice in my own life and I started to see a change in the way I faced difficulties. Mindfulness involves using our inner capacities for relaxation, paying attention, awareness and insight, and becomes a form of ‘walking meditation’ as you move throughout your daily activities. Your focus moves from “doing” to “being” as you learn how to concentrate on the foundations of mindfulness: non-judging, patience, trust, non-striving, acceptance and letting go. This transformation is reached through a combination of breathing, various forms of meditation, body scans and yoga.

Throughout my experience with practicing full catastrophe living, I have learned how to watch my thoughts rather than getting caught up in them. By allowing my body and mind to rest in the moment I have become more adept at tuning into life’s basic experiences. I am now able to be in the moment with everything exactly as it is, without wanting to change a thing. Daily, I have been practicing mindfulness by concentrating on what is happening now rather than things in the past or future, and I have gained a deep appreciation for the present. I have realized that I have a limited time on this earth and in this body, so I’m taking it all in. Every. Single. Moment.

If you’re anything like me, and have been dealing with an increased amount of stressors in your life, give the concept of mindfulness a try.  You’ll be surprised at how much of life you’ve been missing.

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Why Asking for Help Will Leave You Feeling Empowered

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All my life I’ve had trouble asking for help. My mother says I have been like this since my childhood years and that I always wanted to do things for myself with little or no assistance from anyone. It’s easy to devise why I developed into a strong woman – my mother was and is an extremely capable, self-reliant and intelligent woman herself. With her as a role model, I flourished into quite an aggressive person, which gave me an overwhelming amount of determination and will to overcome obstacles. This has been very helpful in my life and has helped me through many difficult situations, including postpartum depression, divorce, single parenting, undiagnosed chronic pain, and creating a blended family with my children and my new husband.

However, I have discovered a fatal flaw in my seemingly endless ability to be self-reliant and independent. Until very recently, I simply did not know how to ask for help. I found the concept uncomfortable and 98% of the time I was adamantly opposed to it. I suppose some people would call me stubborn, and I guess they would be right. I am, after all, a Taurus. However, the inability to ask for help can lead to a great deal of problems when hmmmmmm…I don’t know – YOU ACTUALLY REALLY NEED HELP! Last year, I was presented with my biggest challenge yet, and I found myself fighting an inner battle, needing help at work, at home, and at life, but mentally incapable of asking for it.

Not only did I have a problem asking for help, but I also never even suggested to many of my close friends and family that I was anything less than perfect. This complicated matters even more when my need for help arose, because it was unexpected and surprising to those around me. They were under the impression that I had everything under control. My personal situation involved a diagnosis of a chronic medical condition that forced me to change my ways and begin telling people about my limits and asking for some slack. I learned how to let my friends in on the secret that I wasn’t Superwoman after all, with a PS that if they wouldn’t mind, could they please come to my rescue?

As you can imagine, my loved ones were quite surprised at first, but what may surprise you is what happened next. The more comfortable I became with admitting my limitations and declaring what I could and could not do, the more empowered I felt. The impenetrable walls I had spent a lifetime building up around me quickly crumbled and I felt free for the first time ever. Free from the pressure to perform, free from unreasonably high self imposed expectations, free to be the real me. I learned that it’s okay to be a person with problems. I don’t have to be perfect to be loved, and most of all, I have developed a deep appreciation for my amazing friends and family who have stepped up with the help I needed without even batting an eye.

Sometimes, asking for what we need in life can be a very difficult challenge for many people. The most ironic thing is, by admitting your weaknesses and vocalizing the things that you need help with, you’ll find yourself feeling stronger than ever.

Adrienne McGuire is a writer, educator, and wellness enthusiast. Her desire to balance family with career led her to abandon the corporate ladder to create the life she really wanted. Her journey down the road less traveled eventually led her to the doors of DailyPath, where she has become an integral part of the writing team.

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