What Lies Do You Tell Yourself?

What Lies Do You Tell Yourself?

We all know what we need to do.  We know the rules.  And we know all about cause-and-effect.

So it’s not a surprise that, if we go out to dinner two or three extra times this month, we’ll find an “extra” couple of hundred dollars on our credit card statement, and blow the budget.

Or, if we don’t start setting some money aside for retirement, it’s going to look pretty grim.

Or if we drag our heels about making our online payments, eventually something will be paid late.  And then, when we want to refinance the mortgage, we won’t get the best rates because our credit scores will have dropped.

But what makes these things okay when we do them?  They’re called “rationalizations.”

Henry Beard, Andy Borowitz, and John Boswell said it best in their humorous book “Rationalizations to Live By:”

•    An “excuse” is a lie we tell others.

•    A “rationalization” is a lie we tell ourselves.

After all, we’re all busy.  We’re all under duress.  We’re all juggling too much in our heads and lives.

Sometimes things are so tough, we decide we deserve to buy that pair of shoes we saw at the mall.  Other times, after finally scoring a sale after a long dry spell, we deserve to celebrate by buying that pair of shoes we saw at the mall.  Or maybe we saved so much money buying that designer dress through Bluefly.com or RueLaLa.com that we should really buy that pair of shoes … well, you get the idea.  Besides, all that shopping is good for the economy.

The truth is:  we want that pair of shoes.  We are already emotionally invested in them.  All we are looking for is a justification to buy them.  And we know that if we look hard enough, we’ll find the perfect explanation.

And that’s where rationalizations come in.

Dieting is no different.  It might be “If I don’t finish the box of crackers, they’ll just go stale.”  Or “I only eat this way when I travel; at home I eat like a bird.”  Or “I really need the energy in this candy bar.”

What about using our businesses as a justification?  “This iPhone is really an investment; besides, I can write it off.”  Or “If I travel in Business Class, I’ll have a better chance of making good contacts.”  Or “I’ll just take the kids along on my trip to Orlando, just in case I can find the time to take them on a ride or two in the evenings after the conference.”

And then there’s procrastination.  “I’m just going to watch a little TV; I’ll do a better job on my work in the morning when I’m fresher.”  Or “Some of my best marketing ideas have come to me on the golf course.”  Or “I don’t want to call them this early; they might still be checking their email.”

Beard, Borowitz, and Brown also said, “Because no matter how badly we behave, there’s a little voice inside our heads that says something to make us feel better.”

But here’s the rub.  It’s that other little voice inside our heads, the one called “integrity.”  It’s the personal gauge we each have that keeps tabs on whether we’re living up to our own standards.  (Or BS-ing ourselves.)  It’s how easily we sleep with ourselves at night.  It’s how we behave when no one’s watching.

I just took a good look at myself and what I saw triggered my writing this article.  I thought I was doing fine, but I realized some “rationalization creep” had snuck in while I wasn’t watching.   (By the way, where do you think I get the examples I use?  I’ve used just about every one of those rationalizations myself!)  So what’s crept in?

I’ve been skipping some of my daily one-hour walks “because the heat probably isn’t good for me.”   (Heck, I was raised in the tropics and have lived in the heat all my life.  Why would that be an issue now?  No, I was just slacking off.)

I’ve gone back to always buying myself one treat–usually something salty–on each grocery shopping trip “so I won’t get bored with healthy eating.”  (“It’s just 1,350 calories for the whole bag … and I’ll walk it off in the morning.”  Right.  It’s how I gained weight in the first place, and then I wonder why I can’t take off the last 6 pounds.)

And, yes, I just watch a little TV instead of finishing something, because “I’ll surely do a better job on my work in the morning when I’m fresher.  Besides, I need to know what’s going on in the world.”  (As if listening to Talking Heads #45 and #46 is going to make a difference.  But finishing the work will!)

See how the rationalizations creep in?  Well, it’s time to get ’em out!

How about you?  How are you doing?

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Bio:  Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53: her home, her business, everything. But how could that be? She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret “weapon,” if you will, behind many individuals in high places. But yet she did! Since then, Sharon has interviewed countless women and done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers will be shared in her upcoming book “Money After Menopause.” Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” coaching programs. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve.

  • Anonymous

    Great article Sharon, it is interesting that this sense of personal responsibility that you describe is exactly what many parents insist on from their children and yet then give themselves license not to do!

    • And then … quite surprised … they wonder why their kids don’t take that sense of personal responsibility to heart …

  • Jen

    Excellent article Sharon!  Oh, it’s so easy to rationalize our lives away!  Thanks for sharing your straightforward observations.

    • Anonymous

      Jen, I think we do this in waves.  Something happens that makes us aware of some of our rationalizations, so we clean up our act in that area … and then start rationalizing little by little again.  Granted, they aren’t all so crucial.  But some are.

  • Sharon, another excellent article. I especially like the part about rationalizations.Got this from one mentor: “as long as your money is flowing out, you are not saving. If you buy a pair of shoes for half price and you spent the money and also spent the savings…you are not saving.”

    • Anonymous

      The importance depends on where we are on the “savings curve” … whether in the critical first stages or well along to where we’re going to be okay regardless.  Back in the first stages, the real question is whether we need the shoes in the first place!

  • Wow, really hit home on this!  I know that financial discipline is one of the single most important things we need to have and yet most people don’t have any – which is why there is so much economic trouble.  I always think of my mom who has lived a life of such integrity and financial responsibility – she has put kids through college, almost paid off her mortgage and maintained stellar credit all while working on an admins salary.  This article is inspiring me to evaluate the things I need to change to be more like her!

    • Anonymous

      Michelle, congratulate your mom for her accomplishments.  They are ALL stellar!  Then thank her for being such a great role model.  And don’t forget to compliment yourself for being honest enough to see where you still have something to learn from her.  Kudos all around!

  • This really hit me hard, Sharon. It’s like you are inside my head, especially when I open my check register and am deciding to buy something or not. Wow, you really have it dialed in..oh, Wait you are just like me a woman, over 50 and in business dealing with finances. Aha, that is how you are inside my head. Now, I see where I’ve been rationalizing all this time. I’m off to clear that out, too.

    • Anonymous

      Carla, it’s amazingly easy to do!  It’s got to be tied up with human nature somehow.  But it sure can lead you astray!  😉

  • It all comes down to being true to yourself; the better you will feel. Your mind always will play tricks on you all the time, as long as we now that and deal with it I think we will be fine. But you have to stay on top. I have been in both sides of the road in the ditch; just staying on the road is my goal!

    • Anonymous

      What a fabulous goal, Olga!

  • Carol Giambri

    Sharon, loved the article and your examples. Loved: “Rationalization” is a lie we tell ourselves.  For me the situation may be different and fresh to me right now.  I have a trust for others even when it involves hundreds of dollars. I believe all are honest and with their word they are a person of integrity.  Bad rationalization at this present moment.  Well, I never got burnt but my finances are not one that can offer “excuses or lies” to holding off on one paying their debt to me on time so they can attend an event.  For me the “wallet may not be fat or the bank account loaded” but realizing my generosity may be a hindrance to others finding a way to be responsible with their word and commitment. Maybe I am enabling others “rationalization?”   Hope this comes through as clear as I am trying to express myself.

    • Anonymous

      Carol, you’re being very clear.  But there’s a slight difference.  Rationalizations are when we actually know better, but are giving ourselves the excuse to act badly.  What I think you’re dealing here with is an actual money behavior.  The other person may be “rationalizing” their actions and know better … but I think you are actually “enabling.”  The question is why you are doing it, and what you are hoping to get in return.  It can be quite innocent, some learned behavior from your childhood.  I cover enabling in “Money after Menopause,” but haven’t done so in an article yet.  I’ll do one soon! 

    • Anonymous

      Carol, you’re being very clear.  But there’s a slight difference.  Rationalizations are when we actually know better, but are giving ourselves the excuse to act badly.  What I think you’re dealing here with is an actual money behavior.  The other person may be “rationalizing” their actions and know better … but I think you are actually “enabling.”  The question is why you are doing it, and what you are hoping to get in return.  It can be quite innocent, some learned behavior from your childhood.  I cover enabling in “Money after Menopause,” but haven’t done so in an article yet.  I’ll do one soon! 

    • Duchessherri

      Sounds like me Carol.  I lend money to others trusting them to pay it back, but guess what?  They tell me ‘life happens’ and I’ll get paid ‘tomorrow’ or when the next check comes in.  Sharon is correct in that we are enabling the other people and not doing what we can to help them find other resources; a second/third job, sell something, start an online business, etc.  I learned to always help others less fortunate than I am.  Now I’m learning that helping them does not mean lending/giving them money.  Life really is not a bowl of cherries along the garden path.
      Duchess Sherri Ann

  • Anne (Annie) Berryhill

    Sharon you crack me up with your straight-shootin’ article! I am not sure that there is one person on Earth who could not see themselves in your examples. But it is so necessary to just come right out and talk about it! How else are we going to understand how to overcome those voices of rationalizations and excuses unless we see them for what they are! Thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Glad it works for you, Annie!  I figure people resonate better if you get out of the theoretical, lofty stuff … and keep it real. 

    • Anonymous

      Glad it works for you, Annie!  I figure people resonate better if you get out of the theoretical, lofty stuff … and keep it real. 

  • Susan Kim

    Do you have a spy following me?  I can’t believe how many of these excuses I’ve used myself. So spot on. Really helpful!  

    • Anonymous

      As I said elsewhere, Susan, no spies involved.  I’ve just been around the block long enough, and often enough, to know that we all call on these rationalizations.  The question is:  how often? 

  • I read this right after I had a conversation with someone about how little I had walked this summer compared to last year – yes we lie to ourself…even as we eat those wonderful Oreos with milk

    • Anonymous

      Oh, Angela.  Oreos?  And with milk?  Yum.  We all deserve treats.  Questions is:  are they treats … or habits?  😉

  • Wendy

    Great article Sharon – having barely survived the taming my wild TO DO list, this topic is still pretty fresh in my mind.  You’ve inspired me to book that dreaded appointment with my dentist that I’ve been putting off for….4 years (gulp!).      

    • Anonymous

      Boy, won’t HE be surprised!  (So, what else is on that list, Wendy?)  😉

  • Duchessherri

    Sharon, you always hit the nail right on the head.  I’ve done everyone of your examples myself.  BUT, I am getting better at resisting the temptation to buy things I don’t really need.  A couple of recent, unexpected high dollar expenses (hearing aids & car repairs) have strengthened my resolve to not buy anything unless I really NEED it (hearing aids & car repairs).  And I realize that if I had started this only buying essential items a long time ago I would probably have had the money to pay cash for those items.  Credit cards, can’t live with them and can’t live without them.  
    Thanks for this article.  Am so happy that you know how to tell it like it is.  I need your words of wisdom!
    Duchess Sherri Ann

    • Anonymous

      Truth is, Sherri, we all get a little wiser as we get older.  But I’m just trying to help others not have to wait so long!  Can you imagine if we knew all this stuff when we were 40???

  • Sondra

    This is so great Sharon. I do self checks all day long; constantly exploring where a particular thought or action may be coming from and really holding myself accountable. Making the conscious decision – that I would love and respect myself enough to live a financially responsible and prosperous life – has made all the difference in the world to me. 

    • Anonymous

      “Living consciously.”  What a concept, huh, Sondra?  It’s not as easy as it sounds, but the ramifications are magnificent!

  • Great article. I’ve been doing a bit of “rationalizing” myself. Time to get back on track.

    • Anonymous

      Lori, it’s so easy to do.  Probably the greatest deterrent is having a strong, appealing goal that keeps pulling us back in line!

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  • Cat

    So easy even to rationalize your rationalizations! Great article!

  • Sondra

    Oh my! Wonderful post Sharon. Reminds me so much of one of my favorite reads, Jeff Olson’s, “The Slight Edge,” A tool that has really helped me monitor myself for those simple “errors in judgment” that can keep me from being my best. Posts like yours are always welcome reinforcers.