February 3, 2015

What’s the Biggest Lie You Tell Yourself?

Notebook on a bed with text: The Biggest Lie I Tell Myself Is...

One way we develop our characters is by figuring out their false belief: What lie do they tell themselves? Following Michael Hauge’s advice, the answer to this question usually comes down to what a character believes due to their backstory wound.

For example, a character might be hurt so badly in an ugly breakup that they believe they’re unlovable. The wound—the bad breakup—colors their perception and worldview so they expect that no one will appreciate or love them. Instead of the stereotypical rose-colored glasses, they’re looking at the world through blue-colored glasses to match their mopey perspective.

Now the fun thing about my near-minor in psychology is that when I learn a cool character development element like that, I also think about how it applies in the real world. *smile* Just like our characters, we tend to hold false beliefs and lie to ourselves as well.

Several months ago, I shared an image on Facebook with this quote:

The biggest lie I tell myself is
“I don’t need to write that down—I’ll remember it.”

Oh boy, is that ever the case. I’ve mentioned before that I have a very good photographic-type memory, to the point that it’s hard for me to gain enough distance on my stories. Setting my work aside for a month doesn’t do the trick. Maybe a year would be long enough. Luckily, however, my memory is useful more often than not.

But if I don’t write something down? There are no notes to visualize in my mind so that photographic memory is worthless. Worse than worthless, in fact, because of the false belief that my memory is that good in all situations.

We All Tell Ourselves Lies

We fill our lives with little lies like that. Telling ourselves that something doesn’t matter, isn’t important, even when it is important and it does matter.

As writers, we’re often plagued by self-doubt, and that adds to the lies. We might tell ourselves that our words aren’t special. That we’re a nobody. That we don’t matter.

Just like our characters though, we can change. And the first step to any change is to realize there’s a problem. *smile*

We Can Change Our Internal Monologue

I’m starting to get over the lie of thinking my memory is good in all cases and all situations. Anytime I catch myself thinking that I don’t need to write something down, I think of the dozens of things I’ve forgotten since breakfast. *grin*

However, I wouldn’t be able to do that if I wasn’t consciously aware of my false belief. I’m still nowhere close to “cured”—as those dozens of things forgotten since breakfast attest—but at least I’m better about writing down the important things.

With the typical self-doubt of writers, I could probably come up with several more lies I tell myself, but I haven’t consciously acknowledged those. Without that awareness, I can’t do anything to change those scripts in my head.

To follow the lead of our characters and improve ourselves, we first have to recognize the lies we tell ourselves.

What Lies Do We Tell Ourselves?

The biggest, most common lie we probably tell ourselves is:

“I can’t do that.”

Maybe we’re referring to getting on social media, or blogging, or public speaking. Maybe we’re talking ourselves out of a risk in our stories or characters or queries. Maybe we’re putting ourselves down as far as our capabilities and therefore limiting our options for writing or querying or publishing paths.

Fine, maybe we can’t actually do abc. But have we tried? Have we tried more than once? Have we tried and succeeded a bit but ignored that progress to concentrate only on the aspects we didn’t make progress on?

Other common lies we might tell ourselves include:

  • We’re not worthy of…
  • We (or our writing) aren’t good enough.
  • We don’t deserve…
  • We (or our writing) aren’t unique or special enough.
  • It’s too risky to try to…
  • We don’t have a choice.
  • Our worth is determined by our success.
  • We’re too old to…
  • If we ignore this problem, it will go away.
  • We don’t need help to…
  • It never works when we do…
  • We’re not xyz enough to do…
  • We’ll never succeed/be published/improve/etc.
  • Our circumstances (family, day job, etc.) are what’s holding us back.
  • Our dreams are too unrealistic.
  • If we follow our heart, everything will work out.
  • We don’t have time to…
  • We don’t need to say “no”—we have time to…

Obviously, some of those contradict, or at least they might seem to contradict on the surface. Like the bottom two examples, we might tell ourselves we don’t have time to write, but we might also say “yes” to too many things because we’re not comfortable saying “no.”

Or the three examples above those contradict as well. Sometimes our circumstances really are holding us back, and sometimes our dreams are unrealistic, and sometimes following our heart can get us into trouble. Just like with our writing, we have to find a balance between confidence and being open to reality, between sacrifice and reward.

So sometimes those lies are actually the truth. But if we know what false beliefs we tend to fall back on time-after-time, we might have better insights into which situation is more likely true.

How Can We Overcome Our Lies?

As I mentioned above, the first step is being aware of what we’re telling ourselves. We can see what bullet points in that list above look a little too familiar. Then we can think about how that lie affects our life.

Back in my post about how we can show our characters’ false beliefs, I listed several ways those lies will affect our characters’ lives. If we look again, we could probably recognize how those lies might affect our lives too, such as:

  • Filtering: Magnifying the negative and ignoring the positive
    Dwelling on events that prove our belief right and glossing over those that prove us wrong.
    Get a negative review? Don’t forget about all the positive reviews. One negative review shouldn’t outweigh ten positive reviews.
  • Polarized Thinking: Seeing things in black-or-white
    Deeming any attempt to overcome a flaw a failure if it doesn’t turn out perfectly.
    Get feedback that our work wasn’t perfect? Don’t forget about what we did right. Maybe our characterization could use work, but our showing was great, or vice versa.
  • Overgeneralization: Basing conclusions on single piece of evidence
    Picking out a single word, act, or event to reinforce belief.
    Someone doesn’t like our story? That doesn’t mean no one would like our story. Writing and reading are completely subjective.
  • Personalization: Taking everything as a direct reaction to them
    Seeing ourselves and our flaw as the cause for everything others do or say.
    Get a rejection? That doesn’t mean they don’t like us. For all we know, they just signed a new author in our genre and don’t feel comfortable taking on another one right now.

Once we know and recognize the script, we can change it. Or we can learn to ignore it. Or we can stomp on it with an attitude of:

“If someone offered me a million dollars to prove that lie wasn’t true, could I do it?”

Could we find the time? Could we not let our age or self-doubt or whatever hold us back? Could we take risks?

I don’t know about you, but I could probably overcome a lot of those scripts if someone offered me a million dollars. And that’s how we know they’re lies. If we can overcome them with the proper motivation, it’s the lie that’s holding us back, not the content of the lie.

All that said, change is hard. I recognize myself in several of those lies above (“If we ignore this problem, it will go away.”—Gah! Yes. So much yes.), and I still haven’t been able to overcome that false belief. It’s easier to believe the lie sometimes than to go through the effort to change.

But maybe I’ll start thinking about that million dollars perspective. Could I do whatever I’m dreading for a million dollars? Yes? Then I should at least have the courage (and awareness) to admit what I’m dreading instead of lying to myself about the “solution” of ignoring it.

I suppose if my characters can find that courage to overcome their flaws, I should be able to as well. Let’s see if we can write ourselves a happy ending. *smile*

What lies do you tell yourself? How do those lies affect your life? Are you able to recognize when you tell yourself some of the lies? Have you been able to overcome any of your false beliefs? How did you do overcome the lie?

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Hi Jami,
I really love this post! I, apparently, am a queen liar. So many of my lies are on that list.
I was *starting* to overcome my need for perfection. It took a loooooong time and very hard work. I paid close attention to my thoughts. Any time I found mmyself being critical of imperfection, I stopped that train of thought. It took a very conscious effert. I don’t know how many times the critical thoughts went unchecked, but at least I was stopping a few of them.
Thanks for sharing some hard truths!


Biggest lie I tell myself? “I can do that.

Okay, context makes a difference, and I’m doing better about it, but I keep forgetting how unwell I am, which only makes me overtax myself and get worse.

I’ve realized that eating actually makes me feel guilty—that my mother would sometimes even literally take food off my plate and give it to someone else, but she’d more often say things like, “You don’t need that; have some water.” She insists that she always made sure my brother and I had enough to eat—that she had starved sometimes when we were kids, in order to make sure we were fed. But I’ve also noticed that her vehement insistence usually means she’s rewriting reality to suit her.

“I can’t do that” also makes an appearance, sometimes, or “I shouldn’t do that,” or “If I do that, then maybe…[unlikely worst-csse scenario here].” (Anxiety issues. I have them.)

There are others, too, that I’m working on, but I’ve been feeling discouraged lately. Thank you, Jami, for the encouragement. 🙂


Great list! I recognize myself in many of them! And I am definitely another person who has to write things down. I will forget in the moment it takes to walk from one room to another.

Lies I tell myself: “I could never write like that.” “If I’m not going to be the best writer, then I should just give up.”

These are the most damaging lies I tell myself. I know where they come from. They come from people in my young life being dismissive, not of me necessarily, but dismissive of people all around them. An artist, writer, musician, actor, athlete…anyone who wasn’t the absolute best got a dismissive wave and a “he/she is terrible, is ‘worthless’ blah, blah, blah.” So, now, if I can’t be a best seller and the best writer in my genre around, then I dismiss myself.

I’ve learned to tell myself that there is plenty of room on the shelves for me, even if I’m not the “best.” I also remind myself that art is subjective and there will be people who dismiss me, and that’s okay. There will be others who will like my stuff.

Thanks for sharing!

Karen McFarland

Do we lie to ourself? Wow, what an amazing post Jami. I think that having the ability to look at ourselves is an art. Truly it takes time and a lot of work on our part to look past the bull and see what’s truly there. And we don’t always like what we see. It’s tuff. But once we acknowledge it, we’re then able to move forward. Either accept things the way they are or do something about it and take the necessary steps needed to succeed. You are amazing girl! I am so sorry I wasn’t able to meet you when I was visiting over in Phoenix last year. Maybe next trip? Keep ’em coming! 😉

Deborah Makarios

I think the lie I struggle with at the moment is “I’ll never get anywhere with my writing, so what does it matter if I slack off a bit?” And of course, the only way to fight a lie is with the truth. If I keep slacking off, I will definitely never get anywhere!
I’ve been having fun just lately with my characters’ false beliefs, wounds, secrets & unbearable feelings (whatever they will do anything to avoid feeling). He believes she adores him like he adores her, she believes his brother-in-law adores her like she adores him… and the brother-in-law believes everyone is as fascinated by changing depictions of anatomy in medieval art as he is 🙂

Lynette M Burrows

You caught me! lol Yup, lots of those are on my list. Though staying aware of the lies is hard when the list longer than my arm. There are several I have knocked down a few notches, but I swear some of them are almost an addiction. Your post reminded me of the big one I used to tell myself: “If I didn’t have to xxx, I would write much faster.” Two lies for the price of one – I didn’t HAVE to do xxx and writing faster is somehow better. Great post, Jami.

Julie Musil

Excellent question! The biggest lie I tell myself is that I don’t have time. I do have time, I just need to do a better job of managing it.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Hey Jami! As a fellow psychology buff, I enjoyed reading this. 😀 Lol I actually think that EVERYBODY’S special, EVERYBODY’S worth it; we are ALL somebodys and we all matter. This stems from my sort of religious belief that God created us and said we’re “very good”, and he also loves us no matter how bad we are, so we should all be unique, interesting, worthy and valuable people. I believe God doesn’t make inferior or useless things, haha. So yay my religious belief is very helpful to me in that way, in that I can have confidence in myself AND not fall into the trap of becoming arrogant either. 😀 Of course, one can believe that we are all special and worthwhile without believing in God too, but I was just using my belief as an example, haha. Oh for those cognitive distortions, I can very often avoid them now, since I’m made so aware of them thanks to being a psych major, as well as being a psych major who is especially aware of these things and is fascinated by them, lol. I usually don’t succumb to the all or nothing thinking now, for example, nor the related confirmation bias (ignoring contradicting evidence). Sometimes I would deliberately let myself think in extremes, though, e.g. if I want to wholeheartedly love a movie, I would ignore its weaknesses as much as possible and fix my eyes upon its strengths. Even if I do do black and white thinking, I…  — Read More »

Diana Jackson

Whew! I see myself in much of that list of lies but it is a wonderful thought, turning it on its head by thinking that if the characters can overcome it why can’t we. My characters seem to work out problems far more intuitively than I do in real life.
One of my greatest lies is with social media – I sometimes turn facebook or twitter on with the greatest intentions and see everyone interacting and simply freeze. I can’t do it. I’m totally speechless. ‘You’ve got nothing to say’ goes the lie. ‘Everyone has much more confidence is another.’ Instead I need to become the character of ‘me’ before logging on … who knows.

Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)

I’ve been thinking about this post a lot off and on but couldn’t comment until now. While one your “lies” is not being able to say “No” I also think there are times when we say “No” too much and close ourselves off to opportunities. Sometimes we say no when we’re afraid to try something new that might help us. Also, while you make the point that we can let fear prove our inaction right, there’s another side to this. That said, I need to speak to one of the lies you struggle with, “If I ignore it, it will go away.” Let me just say from experience, especially this year (2015 for those reading this in the future) there is a danger in focusing on a problem so much that it consumes you. Case in point, my stalled education/living independently situation. Even though I’m not able to progress as quickly as I’d like, I also can’t pretend I don’t feel I have the time and safety net others I know do because when my grandmother (my primary support) dies, I’m on my own. It’s hard to deal with my late-blooming life when I don’t have the benefit of my parents being an added layer of support. I can only economize so much from what little disability money I get. I think it goes to back to something I posed in my reply to another post of yours that sometimes we have to put something aside because it’s causing one…  — Read More »


[…] hope we can all see the false belief she’s telling herself here: I must write full-time to be a real writer. Yes, that’s just like the false beliefs that our […]


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