Bob Goldman

I am a handsome, charismatic, brilliant, successful, wonderful person.

I am also a person who lies to himself -- a lot.

It may seem to you that it's a waste of time to lie to yourself when there are so many other people you can lie to, but there are real advantages to lying to yourself, or practicing "self-deception," as we scientists call it. (Yes, I have advanced degrees in astrophysics, molecular biology and modern dance. It says so on my resume.)

I first heard the buzz about self-deception from the "Work & Family" columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Sue Shellenbarger. "Lying to yourself," Shellenbarger writes, "can actually have benefits."

Before you hop on the fantasy train, take a moment to reflect. If you think it's easy to lie to yourself, you're lying to yourself.

According to Canadian psychology professor, Del Paulhus, "self-deception isn't just lying or faking ... (it) is deeper and more complicated."

If you don't speak Canadian, let me translate -- convincing your boss that you are the right person to take on a big assignment is easy. Convincing yourself is hard. As Professor Paulhus explains, you can only practice self-deception by accessing the "strong psychological forces that keep us from acknowledging a threatening truth about ourselves." While convincing your boss -- and yourself -- that you're not the bungler you know you are can get you into trouble, it can also get you promoted. "Believing we are more talented or intelligent than we really are can help us influence and win over others," says Robert Trivers, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University.

Here's how it works -- your bubblehead of a CEO has completely convinced herself that she is a business genius. As result, she lays out her lamebrain schemes with such vigor and assuredness that your fellow employees are persuaded she actually knows what she's talking about.

Of course, since your fellow employees have also been deceiving themselves about how smart they are, everyone falls in line in this marvelous chain of self-deception, which can continue for years -- right up until the moment the company goes belly up.

Exactly what causes us to practice self-deception is not exactly clear. Evolutionary psychologists theorize that self-deception is an inborn personality trait. For born liars, "different parts of the brain can harbor conflicting beliefs at the same time." I don't believe it. Any caveman who faced a charging dinosaur and said to himself, "I'm way too nice a person to be eaten by a Tyrannosaurus," did not survive long enough to contribute his DNA to our genetic pool.

Bob Goldman

Bob Goldman is a business humor writer.

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