The Good Kind Of Honesty

Do you consider yourself honest?

I do. In fact, it’s part of my identity, part of how I think of myself.

And if I’m being really honest, I think of my honesty as the good kind.

Because there’s a bad kind, isn’t there? The kind where you say really mean stuff to people and then shrug like it’s not your problem — “I’m just being honest!”

(Actually no, that’s just being a dick.)

The good kind of honesty is combined with kindness.

And it’s a practice, right? Sometimes it’s hard to nail the delivery so that the message gets across and everyone’s ego stays intact. It takes time, and lots of reps, before we get good at being consistently kind in our honesty.

Nowhere does it take more practice than with ourselves, and that’s because we are terrible at being honest with ourselves, and because we are often less kind to ourselves than any one else in our lives.

Come with me for a moment over into the world of nutritional science.

Back when I did my nutrition training, we looked extensively at self-reporting, which is a very common strategy in behavioural and healthcare research.

Individuals in a study or clinical setting offer a self-assessment of whatever is being examined — they report on themselves, sharing their perception of their relevant data.

For example, self-reporting might be used to study the nutritional habits of a particular group of people under a particular set of circumstances. The subjects of the study would keep a food journal to track their food intake and to make any observations, then give all that data to the researchers.

There are several problems with self-reporting, but the biggest one is that it is riddled with response bias.

This is where the subjects are not 100% objectively accurate in their self-reporting. It’s such a big problem that many nutritional studies have to undergo statistical adjustment after all the data has been collected in order to correct for this bias.

When it comes to our health and our behaviours, we are so bad at assessing ourselves.

We do not like to confront our own habits, and we REALLY don’t want anyone else to know about them.

And the craziest part is that we are so hardwired to seek social acceptance that most of the time we don’t even realise we’re not being completely honest.

That makes it basically impossible to objectively record what we’ve been up to.

Now, if (like me) you are not an expert in the statistical discipline of stochastic frontier estimation, correcting for this bias in your own life is very tricky.

There’s only one way to fix it.

And that’s to keep records of your life for a long-ass time. And to be as honest with yourself as you can possibly be in that practice.

This is what journalling is about for me. It’s about keeping track of what’s been going on in my life and how I’m handling it.

It’s about keeping a record of the shifts in my emotional landscape, to make note of the opportunities and incidents that have pushed me this way or that.

Because it’s only over a long time — and I’ve been journalling most of my adult life — that I can start to see my own response bias start to show.

Even though I know no one else will ever read my journals, I still want to put a little shine on things that I record. But later, when I’m deep in the weeds, maybe swamped with an emotion, the truth of the matter hits the page.

Later, when I’m past it all, I can look back and see where I wasn’t being completely objective — and how that response bias slowed me down.

Because of course, when we’re not being objective and completely honest with ourselves, we stay comfortable. We don’t have to deal with aspects of ourselves we don’t like. We don’t have to put in the effort to find a kind, honest approach to dealing with our own BS.  

And the kindness is the key. You can’t white-knuckle your way to peace, or to being the person you want to be.

Your conscious self — the thinking, critical, reporting part of you — has to create a safe space for your unconscious self — the instinctive, self-preserving, acceptance-seeking part of you — to emerge.

Being brutal with yourself, forcing yourself to probe wounds that haven’t healed yet — that doesn’t help.

What helps is to collect as much evidence about your life as you can, over as much time as you can.

To start to sift it, slowly letting that self-preservation mechanism dissolve.

Again, it’s a practice, but over time, your conscious and unconscious mind will pull closer together, accepting the power of real honesty in self-reflection, and become more able to see the truth of who you are.

This puts real power in your hands. When you can see your own bias, when you’ve discovered your own patterns, when you’ve spotted your own self-preservation mechanisms…

You can change. You can be more bold. You can take control of things that have previously controlled you.

And most importantly, you can become more honest, more kind, and more able to be the person you want to be.

So if you’ve never journalled, I invite you to join me. This one’s nice, but anything you can scribble in will do.

Just start, and remember: honesty, kindly.