How To Be More Honest By Avoiding These 5 Words

When I first started on this path of changing my life, of aiming for okay, the first thing I had to do was begin practicing rigorous honesty, not only with myself but also with others. On paper this seemed pretty straightforward (albeit not easy): be more accountable for my actions; admit when I'm wrong; stop pretending everything is fine, etc. What actually ended up being surprisingly difficult to stay mindful of was the little lies, the ones I justified away: saying I knew what someone was talking about when I didn't; giving someone an inauthentic compliment to try to win him/her over; saying I'd do something and canceling ten minutes before it started, etc. 

These little white lies that seemed so harmless were actually becoming bigger and bigger roadblocks to my ability to be honest with myself on a larger scale. When I became mindful of how ingrained these smaller untruths were in my day-to-day interactions, it was a wakeup call. I was committed to practicing rigorous honesty and thus set out to work on tackling those small, "justifiable" lies first to ultimately lay the foundation for truth and authenticity in all other areas of my life. 

But how do you break a habit you initially don't think you have? My belief was that I wasn't a liar because I didn't cheat, steal, or do any of the obvious forms of lying. However, what I was guilty of were things like lies of omission (i.e. withholding information), finger pointing (i.e. passing the buck/playing the victim), poor follow through (i.e. lack of accountability), and all of these more subversive, "inconsequential" types of lies. Of course one of the biggest lies we can tell ourselves is that we're not actually liars. 

To get a handle on this suddenly overwhelming large revelation and task, I needed somewhere small to start. 

I've created a list of five watch words that help me to be a more honest person. These words, or rather the absence of these words, don't inherently keep me honest, but they do keep me aware. And when I'm aware, I'm much less likely to lie. 

So here they are:
1. Always
2. Never
3. Really
4. Very
5. So

They seem pretty harmless at first glance, but don't let them fool you. These words are powerful, so powerful in fact, that they have the ability to take what you mean and inverse it. 

For instance, if someone says, "I never get what I want," do you, as the listener, think, "Wow, that poor person. I hope she's okay. It sounds like she's suffering right now"? Or do you hear, "I can't see how much I have, I want more, and I'm pissed that I'm not getting it right now."

I hear the latter. But I bet the intention of the person was simply to express frustration and garner some sympathy. However, what resulted was the opposite--essentially, the listener heard noise.

What does this have to do with lying? It's simple.

When we use these generalizing yet polarizing words like always, never, really, very, so, we frame things in black and white. We pit impermanent perspectives and outcomes against one another in the name of effect or emphasis and we eliminate gray. Gray happens to be, in my opinion, where a lot of truth lives.

Early on in this journey, I noticed how much I said things like, "I never," "They always," "She's so," "He's very," usually then followed by some negative statement. And the truth is, it wasn't that black and white, few things are. When I live in Always/Never Land, I'm shutting out truth and inviting in lies. Exaggerating--lying--does not bolster my argument, in fact, it diminishes it, or worse, inverses it altogether.

So what's the solution? How do we move out of the black and white and into the gray, into the truth?

1. I became hyper vigilant of these five watch words. In the beginning, I couldn't stop myself from saying them. They were that ingrained into my vernacular. Since I couldn't stop myself from saying them, I had to practice editing myself in real-time. I would say to a friend something like, "I'll always be alone," and then catch myself and quickly say, "Ok, that's not true. I just feel alone right now." It felt silly at first, but it worked. As I was learning to edit myself, I could feel my credibility growing with others and with myself. Because here's the thing, when we lie, others aren't the only ones to stop believing us. 

2. I had to broaden my vocabulary, and I don't mean in the SAT kind of way, although that helps. But I mean I had to stop being lazy with my language. Always, never, really, very, so--these are lazy words. I used them to exaggerate feelings and situations when I couldn't find the real words I was looking for to express how I was feeling.

3. I had to slooooow down. I was so used to firing off statements that I framed up in these lazy words, and then was disappointed when the message came out sideways. By slowing down--PAUSING--I allowed my mouth and my mind to work together instead of being terrible adversaries. When I took a moment, an hour, a day, a week, to reflect on something, I found I was able to not only find better words to express how I truly felt but that my message met its target with much greater clarity. 

As I work to continue to develop these skills (just yesterday I went into a full-on Always/Never RANT to my therapist), I find myself more equipped for honest interactions. Staying mindful of moments when I'm apt to exaggerate for effect or emphasis eventually translate into me being more mindful of being honest in all areas of my life.

Honesty can be scary and painful, but it is also freeing and joyful, which is why I will leave you with an exception to the lazy words avoidance suggestion. These five words: always, never, really, very, so--when coupled with a positive statement (and probably some exclamation points) can be a really wonderful (see, I just did it right there) thing. So go wild! "I am so excited for you!" "I always love seeing you!" "You are very special to me."--just to give a few examples.

As humans, instinctively, we crave honesty and clear communication. It lets us know where we stand, what's real, and what's safe. Today, honesty is the best gift I can give myself and others.