The Liar in Your Head

Liar!There is a liar inside my head that has kept me back from achieving everything I am capable of. You probably know the one I’m talking about because it’s probably in yours too.

It’s the voice that tells you it’s time to quit. It makes up all kinds of reasons why you should stop right now, and every one of them is a lie.

It tells you that you won’t be able to reach your goal. The only way that can be true is if you listen to it.

It tells you that you will feel better when you quit. That may be true for about a second, then you immediately feel worse—because you quit. The momentary pleasure of easing the pain does not last, but the regret of falling short can’t be erased.

It tells you that you’ve reached a limit, physical, mental, or moral. But pushing past perceived limits is the only way to grow.

It even has a scientific veneer of credibility to it, because now researchers tell us that willpower is a finite resource, so it’s not our fault if we quit. But human progress is the result of people who treat willpower as an infinite resource.

It tells you that just this once won’t hurt. But when you do it just this once, it gets easier to do it again and again.

It tells you that you can start tomorrow. But tomorrow never comes.

It tells you that you need to do just a bit more analysis before you act. But sometimes acting is analysis, because it provides feedback that refines your knowledge and understanding.

What can you do about the liar? One approach, obviously, is to ignore it. That’s easy to say and hard to do, of course, but you can improve your chances of success by anticipating it. I’ve written before about the power of positive pessimism, a mindset that does not blindly assume everything is going to be easy and rosy, and so is better prepared for the inevitable difficulties and discouragement.

Or you can actually beat the liar at its own game and turn its voice into a cue for redoubled effort. Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit) tells us that habits are formed through a “cue-routine-reward” loop. In this case, you can’t change the cue, because the voice will speak up, so you have to change the routine. When the voice tells you to quit, use it as motivation to push even harder or spend more time. You know it’s lying, so if it tells you it’s time to quit, believe the opposite: it’s time to work even harder.

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