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08/30/2017 11:17 am ET

The Little Strategy That Helps You Say "No"

Ever feel that your life is living you? Here's an honest-to-goodness way to rediscover true joy.
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Credit: Jasu Hu

Humans lie better than any other creatures on earth, and oh, lordy, do we pay a price for it. Lying messes with our mental and physical health, obscures our happiness. When we lie to fit in, to succeed, to get approval, we gain the world—a tiny piece of it, anyway—and in the process lose our souls. Believing our own fibs (“Oh, I’m fine!” “Of course I don’t mind!” “Sure, I’d love to!”), we gradually lose access to the deep truths that allow us to fulfill our destiny. 

If you suspect you could get a little closer to your authentic self, I suggest you start with a mental cleanse: one day of total inner honesty. I don’t mean that you should rear up on your hind legs in a meeting and shout, “I hate this freaking job!” Or openly gag when your sister serves her special tuna spaghetti. You cleanse by telling yourself the truth—but make it the whole truth. Is your “I’m sorry” a true apology or a little white lie to smooth things over? Are you really hungry for the malted milk balls you’re eating? Do you honestly want to have dinner with that particular friend? You don’t have to reveal the answers to anyone else until you’re ready. The path to integrity turns inward before it leads outward. 

If this speaks to your soul, grab a timer, a pen, and some paper. Choose them carefully. They should give you a small jolt of pleasure, whether you prefer a pencil with a good eraser or a felt-tip, a leather-bound journal or a spiral notebook, or even just a notes app on your phone. What feels best? Noticing how you react to these objects is your first exercise. 

Next, set a timer to go off at a moment when you can put aside what you’re doing, whether it’s in 30 minutes or a couple of hours. Then, in your notebook, write: “Am I living my deepest truth right now?” When your alarm sounds, it’s time for an honesty check-in. Open your journal, reread the question, and take a breath. Let the answer rise up. Whatever you were doing when the alarm went off, wherever you were, whoever you were with—do those choices feel perfectly honest? If you’re not quite sure, don’t worry. Just asking and waiting will gradually reveal you to yourself. The truth isn’t something you think up; it’s something that arises by itself from deep within. You’ll eventually feel how the quick, anxious responses from the mind differ from the peaceful knowing that wells up from your center.

Credit: Jasu Hu

At your first few honesty check-ins, you may notice nothing at all. Or you may feel only a twitch of nerves, a wisp of sadness. Ask yourself, What could this sensation be trying to tell me? If no answer arises, that’s okay. Just write “I don’t know,” set the timer again, and repeat. Your truth is like a wild animal; if it’s been attacked or suppressed, it may take some time to show itself. Be gentle. With time and repetition, you’ll eventually connect. 

When a new truth comes up, it may be a simple yes or no, or a flood of realizations: Maybe you don’t want to say no to your mother for fear of losing her love. Or you hate business trips (that’s why you always get migraines on planes!). Or you’re dying to be outdoors, not cooped up inside. Write down everything without judgment. If you’re smack-dab in pure authenticity, write about the joy. If you’ve been lying until your pants burst into flames, write about the misery and anger. 

An honesty day is a hero’s saga. With each check-in, you’ll come closer to your real, moment- to-moment truth. As the Good Book says, that alone is enough to set you free. Over time, when you become more aware of the ways you deceive yourself, you may begin making subtle (or not so subtle) behavioral shifts. You may choose authenticity more often. Obligations may become unbearable. Unwanted relationships will wither; better ones will blossom. 

This is addictive stuff. My own first honesty day led to another, then a week, a year, and then an indefinite commitment. Take it from me: You’re about to change your life. The more honest you are, the more you’ll find yourself doing what you love, with people you love, in places you love. You’ll realize that nothing really true is ever unloving, and nothing unloving is ever really true. That wild creature, your true self, will come to meet you, then trust you, then guide you home, one day at a time. Honestly. 

Martha Beck is the author of, most recently, Diana, Herself: An Allegory of Awakening

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