Diagnosing Your Life Lies

How free do you feel? [LINK TO HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?] Chances are, if you’re taking this course, in the previous module you found one or more areas of freedom you’d like to improve upon. And that means there’s one or more practices you need to build.

To ensure you target the right practices, it’s important to make sure you’re honest with yourself. Not being sucked in by ‘life lies’.

What is a ‘life lie’?

Drawing upon Adlerian psychology, Koga and Kishimi describe the ‘life lie’ in their book The Courage to Be Disliked. A ‘life lie’ is a pretext for avoiding life’s tasks.

Workaholism is one form of ‘life lie’. Our careers can be demanding. But sometimes, we find ourselves wedded to our jobs. We prioritise our work above our creative pursuits. Even above our families, above our friends. This, Koga and Kishimi state, is what happens when we are only able to recognise our worth on the basis of acts. When we measure our value according to the money we earn, or our job title. And it’s those who focus on this measure the most who have the toughest time adjusting to unemployment or retirement. Or the transition to a creative lifestyle.

Using our past experiences as an excuse not to try is also a life lie. Consider an anti-social person who says ‘My home environment was bad and that’s why I have a dark personality’. Conventional wisdom would probably agree. But according to Koga and Kishimi, the truth is this person has a goal of not being hurt by others. This is why they choose such a personality. To excuse their behaviour, they bring up their home life.

We can say the same of someone who claims their teacher disparaged their art. We might think their teacher’s words wounded them, and that’s why they no longer see themselves as creative. But another way of viewing the situation is to understand this person as also having a goal of not being hurt by others. To spare their own feelings, they decide not to try. And to excuse their lack of motivation and effort, they bring up their past experiences.

Cause vs. Purpose

To understand this thinking, we need to understand two key ways of looking at behaviour:

  • Aetiology = the study of the causation of a given phenomenon. (Person A had a bad home environment, thus, they have a dark personality. Person B was abused by their teacher, thus, they don’t see themselves as creative.)
  • Teleology = the study of the purpose of a given phenomenon. (Person A (who had a bad home environment) doesn’t want to be hurt by others, so they have adopted a dark personality. Person B (who was abused by their teacher) doesn’t want to be hurt by others, so they have stopped claiming a creative identity.)

Traditionally, Freud and others in the psychology have taken an aetiological perspective. That is, looking to our past experiences – especially traumas – to explain the things we now do. This style of thinking is so prevalent, it may even be how you’ve come to think about your own behaviour.

If we accept this point of view, we must also accept that our ability to change is limited, or even non-existent. It’s a view of human behaviour which argues we are who we are, and we do what we do, because of what has happened to us.

But Adler and Kishimi take a teleological perspective. That is, they consider our behaviours as dependent on our purposes. From this point of view, change is possible. We can alter our goals, and alter our actions to align with our goals. We are who we are, and we do what we do, because of what we want to become.

Our goals are informed and shaped by our past experiences. But our goals and actions do not have to be determined by what has happened to us. In brief, we should look towards our desired future to explain our actions and attitudes. Not only seek understanding from our experienced past. In this course, we will help you visualise the goal of a life of freedom, and give you the tools to get there.


If you haven’t already, complete the self assessment of your feelings of freedom. [LINK TO HOW FREE DO YOU FEEL?]

Could any of those feelings be life lies?

What’s really going on?

What life lies are you telling yourself?

It’s important to consider what’s behind any of the life lies in your life. (And we all have them!)

Let’s take the story of a little boy who is afraid of the dark as an example. In The Courage to Be Happy, Kishimi and Koga retell the story of a boy who’d cry as soon as his mother turned out the light. Because he wouldn’t stop crying, she would come back and ask ‘Why are you crying?’ ‘Because it’s so dark,’ he would answer. The mother, understanding her son’s goal, would ask with a sigh, ‘So, now that I’m back, is it a little lighter?’

The boy wasn’t afraid of the dark, Adler concluded, but of being separated from his mother. He manufactured a fear of the dark in an attempt to keep his mother nearby.

Of course, it’s not only children who act this way. In another example, from The Courage to Be Disliked, a youth yells at a waiter for spilling something on him. He justifies his emotional outburst by saying he ‘couldn’t help it’.

The philosopher counters by asking, if he’d had a weapon with him, would he still have been unable to control himself? The youth responds that using deadly force would be ‘different’. If he could control himself not to kill someone, surely, he could also control the level of his voice. Therefore, the philosopher argues, the youth ‘created the emotion of anger’ in order ‘to fulfill the goal of shouting.’

Could it be that one or more of your feelings of unfreedom is rooted in some other goal?

Let’s take a look at one of the common complaints of creatives:
‘I don’t have enough time to paint/write/play…’

It may truly be the case that you lack time. But unless you’re one of the poor souls working 19 or 20 hours a day in forced labour, it’s likely you’ll find you have ample time. The question is whether you choose to use it.

The average person spends 2 years of their life watching commercials. 4.3 years driving. 3 months stuck in traffic. You’ll spend 92 days on the toilet. Most women will spend almost a year deciding what to wear, 1.5 years doing their hair, and 8 years shopping.

The average person spends 5 hours watching TV or other video (Netflix, YouTube) each day. And over 3 hours looking at social media. ‘Liking’ something every now and then. Posting photos or comments. Not exactly pursuing a dream of photography or writing. We tell ourselves we’re ‘building a platform’ for our creative work. But in reality, being a writer is about writing. Being a photographer is about photographing things. Not hitting a little thumb on a screen or sending someone a winky face.

Even if you spend only 4 hours a day watching videos or using social media while doing not much else – not solid hours, mind you, but 5 or 10 minutes snatched here or there – that’s 1,825 hours a year. Or 76 full 24-hour days. 2.5 months.

In waking hours only, that’s 101 wasted days every year, or 3.4 months.
Imagine what you could do if you had 3.4 months to devote to something.

The good news (and the bad news)

Here’s the good news, which also happens to be the bad news: you very likely do.

Most of us could claim several hours a day to spend being creative.
The question we need to ask ourselves is why haven’t we?

Why is the lure of Netflix or YouTube or Facebook or Instagram so much stronger than the pull of the creative work we supposedly feel passionate about? Why do we hear the call of distraction so much more clearly?

Is it simply that we need to discover the tools and skills that will help us pull these bits of time together and turn them into time that we can be creative? (Something we’ll address in the Strategic Practices section of this course).

Or, is there something else going on, too?

Could, for example, your inability to find time relate to your reluctance to do so?

Perhaps you’re afraid that if you actually devoted some serious time to your art, the result might not be what you’ve hoped for. Maybe you’ve even given it a shot – and given up. Your work didn’t come out as well as what you’d imagined in your head. Or it didn’t compare well to that of other creatives you admire.

You know what? That’s okay.

The power of yet

If you do spend any amount of time online, chances are you’ve seen some variation on these quotes:

‘Don’t compare your inside to someone else’s outside.’

‘Don’t compare your first draft to someone else’s final masterpiece.’

‘Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s end.’

And you know what – unlike much of what you’ll find online, they’re all right.

Researcher Carol Dwek talks about the importance of telling ourselves we’re not there yet – rather than that we’ve failed – in developing a growth mindset.

Fear of failure

All too often, we’re afraid of failure. We haven’t learned to accept ‘not yet’. And rather than admitting we’re scared of failing, we tell ourselves life lies.

The danger in telling yourself these lies over and over is that we come to believe them. And then, even when we decide to take action, if we keep believing these life lies, we can wind up taking action in the wrong areas. Or, at least, we can wind up not addressing the problems we really need to fix.

For example, you might rush right ahead and complete the Strategic Practices portion of this course. You finesse your time management skills. Or, you might decide it’s your job that’s getting in the way. You throw all your energy into developing your Economic Practices to the point you can quit your job.

But, if the notion ‘I don’t have the time’ was, in whole or part, a life lie all along, you could end up with the most organised, free life and still be paralysed by fear, unable to create.

At that point, you might address the underlying issue – your creative confidence. That’s something else we’ll address throughout this course. Or, you might come up with a new life lie:

‘I can’t write because my computer is too old.’

‘I can’t paint because I don’t have a studio.’

‘I can’t sing because I can’t afford a coach.’

Once you’ve earned enough money or produced enough income to get those things though, you’ll come up with a fresh set.

When it comes to life lies, our creativity is bottomless

‘My new computer is great, but I need this software.’ ‘I need to write in a cafe, I can’t concentrate here.’ ‘My kids are bothering me – I need to travel somewhere exotic. I have to do that course.’

You are a creative person. We are all creative beings. You became interested in this course because you already identify as a creative, or because you want to.

The problem with being creative is that it doesn’t just mean we can be great artists or musicians or designers or writers.

It also means we can be excellent at coming up with excuses.

Unless you interrogate the reasons for your current feelings of unfreedom, chances are, you’ll be able to come up with an inexhaustible supply of life lies. It seems to be the one thing we never experience ‘writers block’ or a creative funk in doing!

Most of us can benefit from improving our time management. From having more financial resources. Or from supplementing on our artistic skills. But sometimes, our ability to craft worlds, create symphonies, and paint pictures, means that even we can’t recognise the life lies we weave.

For now, it’s enough to simply look at the statements you jotted down and recognise that they could, in fact, be life-lies. You don’t need to collect evidence on this yet. Nor start interrogating yourself too harshly (unless you want to!) In this course, we’ll walk you through the steps of diagnosing each of your feelings of unfreedom. We’ll then help you can develop your skills in the relevant areas, and make sure you’re addressing the real problem.

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