By Corinne Steiner, a Sparring Partner and Professional Personal Development & Leadership Coach. 


Not to see the wood for the trees. 

With the many hats we wear, the countless tasks and responsibilities we have, everything can easily get out of hand and push us to our personal limits. We lose the overview and let ourselves be guided by urgencies. Some people describe this situation as a “hamster wheel”, while others say they feel like a robot and then there are those who think that life is passing them by.

Many of my customers feel that way. Most of them are middle-management professionals in international companies or CEOs of SMEs. It occurs particularly frequently among executives who are moving into a new role, taking on new responsibilities or if they start their own business. The risk is particularly high if a person’s working or living conditions change noticeably, causing them to fall out of their comfort zone and lose their balance.

A customer, she’s a doctor, recently said to me: “I want to have more time for my family and myself again and play sport regularly. But for the next few months, I have to look after my medical practice and make sure that my staff and patients are satisfied.”

Another client, an engineer, said in a coaching session: “I’m too busy with administration work lately. I’m stressed out from finding a new apartment. Taking care of my little daughter in the mornings puts me off my game. It annoys me, even though I like spending time with her. The fact that this stresses me even more stresses me out. I sleep more and eat healthier, but I feel drained. I lack time and energy at all ends. Despite everything, I love my job.”

Even though it may seem so at first glance, none of my clients has too much work as their main problem.

What applies to them, I believe, also applies to us.

They lie to themselves. 

They tell themselves that everything is “fine.” They don’t want to complain either because that would be “whining” on a high level since they are successful in their job, might have an intact family, a home of their own, and take nice vacations. They believe they should be satisfied. At the same time, they notice that something is wrong.

They are kidding themselves not to endanger the supposedly “good” situation. Sooner or later, they lose focus on the essential – themselves.

Instead, they focus on the outside, on others, and other things. They try to please everyone and to fulfil their duties. They are fully committed and usually very successful in doing so, while neglecting themselves and their needs.

Over time, unhealthy, self-manipulative behaviors creep in, such as uncontrolled eating, sleep deprivation, and/or smoking. Lack of exercise and neglect of friends and own hobbies are further symptoms of self-deception. Fear of failure and loss are usually unconscious companions.

More and more often they ask themselves about the meaning of their actions, and their ability to put things into practice leaves something to be desired. They become dissatisfied, unfulfilled and at some point, worry about their health, their career, their once loved person and themselves.

Why we lie to ourselves

I found the answer to this in the article “Self-deception as affective coping. An empirical perspective on philosophical issues” and in the “International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioural Sciences” of Piers Steel, a professor in the organizational behaviour and human resources area and Katrin B. Klingsieck, professor for educational-psychological diagnostics and promotion at the University of Paderborn.

Some truths are difficult to handle, especially when there is no way out. Self-deception is an “emotional coping strategy” in which people look for explanations to their situation that are pleasant. It is comparable to an illusion or wishful thinking. Everyone has secret desires. So why not use our own wishful thinking to gloss over our own situation?

For this strategy, “people sacrifice larger but later benefits for short-term rewards”. In other words, lies have short legs but make life easier.

In retrospect, we can justify our behaviour as unintentional (e.g. “I didn’t want to do this anyway”), unpredictable (e.g. “I thought I still had time!”) or beneficial (e.g. “It’s certainly better that I didn’t do it.”)

Avoiding self-deception is not easy because some of our thoughts conflict with our core beliefs and decisions. Changing this requires drastic changes in our beliefs, a task that can greatly broaden our spectrum of thinking and acting.

What you can do to avoid ending up here is to put yourself at the centre of your life. 

  1. Become aware about what you want in everyday life.
  2. Gain clarity about yourself, your values, skills, competencies, roles and opportunities. But also about where you stand in your own way.
  3. Reflect regularly on your everyday life and question what is going on. Distinguish between your actual expectations of life and what you are currently thinking up and whitewashing in order to keep yourself in supposed security and comfort zone.
  4. Focus all your attention on what is important to you and give your life direction and meaning and invest your time and energy accordingly. 
  5. Allow yourself to say “NO”and to act against all the expectations around you. This is not selfish. This is self-love.
  6. Allow yourself to be who you are and to do what you want.What this involves is accepting that not everyone finds you and your actions great. You are not perfect. No one is. Do not let your actions be guided by what others might think. The opinion of others does not change who you are: a wonderful, precious person. Your thoughts, feelings and actions, however, determine your life.
  7. If you lose focus on the essentials because of all your responsibilities and tasks, remember the above points.

Where you set your focus and how you deal with expectations determine which decisions you make and thus, your quality of life, your well-being and your health. 

That doesn’t mean that from now on you don’t care about anything or anybody and you just drop everyone and everything. Instead, be the captain of your life. Spend your time and energy consciously and meaningfully.

Only if you are at peace and in harmony with yourself, if you are fulfilled, happy and healthy, you have the energy and power to outgrow yourself and to meet external obligations and roles.

Follow your own path in the desired direction.

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