“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Richard Feynman, American physicist & Nobel Prize winner

The person we deceive the most easily is ourselves. We are all inclined to view ourselves in the best light, but we are far from perfect. When we don’t live up to the ideals we hold ourselves to, it’s often easier to lie to ourselves than to face our imperfections. It’s a sort of defense mechanism that might even have evolutionary origins to protect our psyches.

Like the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for our racing hearts and clammy skin when we sense that we are in danger, defense mechanisms have evolved to prepare us for “fight-or-flight”, a strategy to prevent us from meeting an untimely end.

Yet, these protective systems are not meant to be active all the time and constant activation leads to undue stress on the body and ensuing long-term health consequences. We know this intuitively: Walking in an unfamiliar, shady neighbourhood at night, we become hyper-vigilant, perhaps walking faster than usual to get into a safe space. Once in a safer space, we relax. Yet, many of us are stuck in a hyper-alert state of self-deception when it comes to our psychological self. This is hardly healthy.

Our world view frames how we view the world, and becomes the way we experience reality. It has developed over a lifetime to provide rationality, structure, and safety where none might exist. We seek evidence from our surroundings to reinforce our view.

Bringing the subconscious into the conscious

By being attentive to the times when our self-deception defense kicks in, we can begin to gain control over what happens in our subconscious. The scariest thing about self-awareness is giving up the act and accepting our own imperfections. Gaining this control puts us in a better position — one where we can take responsibility for how we act and react to the world, and one where we can choose to improve on ourselves, if that’s what we truly desire.