How To Stop Lying: 10 Steps To Finding Honesty

Updated February 27, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Galyen, LCSW, BC-TMH

Almost everyone has told a lie at least a few times in their life, and they can come as the result of a host of different situations or reasons. From little white lies to try and protect someone’s feelings to lies that cover mistakes you’ve made, there are many kinds of lying that someone can participate in. However, if you aren’t careful, lying can get out of hand and cause problems in your life.

If you find your casual conversation can easily lead to lies or that you’re merely lying all the time, you might have a problem with compulsive lying. We’ve put together a list of 10 steps that you can take to stop lying to lead a less complicated, more honest life. But before you can learn to stop lying, it is important that you first understand what compulsive lying is and how this behavior can have a negative impact on your life.

What Is Compulsive Lying?

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There are several different terms to describe the problem of lying to excess, including pathological lying, habitual lying, and compulsive lying. They all boil down to the same thing: people who lie compulsively find lying easier than telling the truth. Lies become a regular behavior triggered by even the most mundane conversations during the course of their day.

Lying is different than being in denial or having delusions about reality. Lies are a deliberate changing of the truth, including leaving out or altering key points out of a story, re-stating facts differently, or a total fabrication.

The Problem with A Habit Of Lying

While lies often seem to be harmless by those that tell them, they can, in fact, complicate or harm many different aspects of your life. A recent study conducted by a team of scientists at the University of Chicago’s Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience examined the adverse effects that college students who lie may see in their everyday lives. Their study, published in Psychiatric Quarterly in early 2019, found that people who reported telling lies every day had lower grade point averages than their peers, as well as lower qualities of life and levels of self-esteem. They also found that these “daily liars” were more likely to have trouble in their social and family lives.

Steps To Help You Stop Lying

1. Admit that you have a problem with lying.

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The first step in learning how to be more honest is simple: admit that you have a problem with lying. This doesn’t mean you have to disclose your problem to everyone you know, but it is difficult to make changes without being completely open with yourself about this problem. If you are still internally justifying some of the lies you tell, you won’t be able to stop lying.

2. Be accountable to someone.

Find someone in your life, whether it be a close friend, family member, or a mental health professional, that you can be open with about your lying habit and make a commitment to be completely truthful with this person. Significant changes are best taken one step at a time. By designating one person with whom you’ll always aim to be truthful, you can help set up new habits that can eventually grow into learning to lie a lot less.

3. Examine what triggers you to lie.

What triggers your urge to lie? If you aren’t sure, pay attention to yourself and your situation the next time you start to lie. Where are you? Who are you with? How do you feel? By asking yourself these questions, you can analyze the ‘why’ behind what leads to lies. Next, brainstorm ideas on how you could have responded instead. Planning can help you be mindful that a similar situation arises by allowing you to have an honest response in mind already.

4. Consider the type of lie you most often tend to tell.

There are many different types of lies, but all can be placed into a few different categories: white lies, lies by omission, exaggerations, “gray” or subtle lies, and complete untruths. Each type of lie has its own internal reasoning surrounding why it is told. White and gray lies are often discussed to avoid hurting someone’s feelings; lies by omission, exaggerations, and complete untruths are more frequently a kind of lies to avoid putting yourself in a bad light or lies to cover what may be seen as a bad decision.

5. honestly, meet your emotional needs.

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Humans are hard-wired to find ways to meet their emotional needs, such as attention, connections to others, excitement, intimacy, love, meaning, safety, security, self-esteem, and status. Oftentimes lies are a way for someone to fulfill the needs that aren’t being met in another way. However, using lies to get that fulfillment isn’t real or meaningful. It’s false because it comes from a lie rather than a place of truth and can be fleeting, which means you often can find yourself in a similar situation to try and keep filling that need. Finding ways to fulfill your emotional needs in real, meaningful ways not only helps you avoid resorting to lies but it also leads to better connections and a greater sense of fulfillment.

6. Practice setting boundaries.

Often, people who have compulsive lying problems started because they had difficulty setting boundaries for themselves. This can be about your personal life or your professional one. Have you ever agreed to a friend’s party scheme or invitation to hang out without actually intending to participate? Or, have you ever agreed to take on more projects at work when you knew you didn’t actually have the time to get it done? These are both examples of the types of situations where boundaries could help you avoid lying.

Saying no to something can be difficult, but having set boundaries doesn’t make you a bad or difficult person. They help you be more assertive about your own needs, rather than resorting to lies to make someone feel better or make yourself look good to your boss. By being honest in these situations, you’re actually prioritizing your well-being while avoiding setting yourself up to disappoint your friend or boss.

7. Consider the consequences.

Lies have a way of stacking upon each other over time until you’ve told so many lies that you can’t keep your story straight any longer. The person you lied to will begin to realize that you aren’t truthful with them, and you risk losing both their good opinion and their trust. This can lead to lost friendships, broken relationships, and missed opportunities in your professional life. Remember that lies are rarely harmless, no matter how small they may seem at the time.

8. Journal.

Keeping a journal can be a great way to help you to see patterns in your lying habits, even when it seems like you’re lying for no reason. It can also give you a chance to reflect on the situation and see ways in which you could have chosen to be truthful instead. Write down a more positive approach you could have taken at the moment so that, if the same situation occurs again, you’re already mentally prepared with a better response.

9. Set positive goals.

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People tend to lie to feel better about themselves in one way or another. Instead, try setting positive goals for yourself, such as finishing a project a little early or making time to go out with a friend you haven’t seen for a while. Small, easy to accomplish goals such as these make you feel better about yourself in a genuine, positive way so that you don’t feel the urge to seek the same validation through lying.

10. Take it one day at a time.

Just like you wouldn’t expect to be able to learn a new language or how to play an instrument in a single day, learning how to stop lying isn’t going to result in an immediate change. Commit to small goals every day that you know you can accomplish to don’t feel discouraged if things don’t always go according to plan.

Start by making it a goal to tell the truth in situations where you know you usually always lie. For example, if you tend to tell people that you’ve completed more schooling than you actually have or that you grew up someplace other than your hometown. Make it a point to actually tell the truth in these situations, and the truth will eventually become as much of a habit as the lies once were. Take it one day at a time, and don’t get discouraged if you still slip up and lie occasionally.

It is always important to remember that struggling with pathological lying does not make you a bad person. Most people who lie tend to have impulsive personalities, which psychologist Linda Blair believes ties into their lying habit. “If you’re an impulsive person, it’s tough to break the habit because you have this terrible feeling inside you that you have to sort things out right now,” says Blair. “So when it comes to your head, you say it. That doesn’t mean you necessarily lie, but it’s a little harder for you to stop from lying, more than it is for someone who’s more reflective.”

Learning how to stop lying can be a long journey that requires a genuine effort on your part. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Counseling can be a fantastic avenue to help you dig deeper, find why you can’t stop lying, and then develop ways to work past this issue. At ReGain, we can match you to a licensed therapist to help you question lying habits, analyze the reasons behind them, and learn to make the lies stop. Our convenient online sessions can be done from your computer, tablet, or phone, whenever it best suits your schedule.

Remember that meaningful changes don’t happen overnight; they result from self-reflection, discipline, and determination. It is only by putting in the effort to make small changes every day to learn to stop lying and find a meaningful level of honesty in yourself and your daily life.

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