21 Days of Radical Honesty

There's being honest and then there's being honest. When you factor in little white lies in with the bigger ones, most of us would have 18" noses if fathered by Mr. Geppetto. In a nationwide survey titled "The Day America Told the Truth", 93% of Americans admitted that they lie "regularly and habitually" at work and 35% admitted to having secret affairs while in committed relationships. Virginia-based psychotherapist Brad Blanton says the truth will set you free. Freedom from stress, the past and the constant need to be liked. In fact, his Radical Honesty community says that this type of authentic sharing opens up the possibility of love and intimacy.

However, you might not like his version of the truth. His approach commonly involves getting really uncomfortable, offending people and often hurting their feelings. When trying to justify the many white lies that our daily lives our peppered with, a very common rationale is "I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings". Blanton sees these untruths as the building blocks of resentment. His belief is that feelings come and go and that people will get over them, but the interaction that results from real honesty is what creates true intimacy. If you are lusting after your husband's brother, Blanton strongly believes you should tell them both. Writer A.J. Jacobs underwent an experiment with Blanton's Radical Honesty that he wrote about in Esquire Magazine (link in Learn More). After many uncomfortable conversations with his wife and embarrassing moments with colleagues, he found some equilibrium with compassion and the brutal truth. For the next three weeks, your challenge is to push your comfort levels with Radical Honesty. We don't encourage you to go out of your way to hurt peoples' feelings, but be warned that that doing so along with substantial levels of discomfort are to be expected. 

  • Learning the Anatomy of a Lie: Technically, you are lying every time you withhold information for the purpose of manipulating a situation or someone's opinion of you to better serve your own interests. The story is that you are telling or the secret you are trying to hide becomes the focus of your attention and results in a host of subsequent stress. This type of accumulating stress is what commonly leads to larger problems such as chronic anxiety and depression. The act of being completely truthful will not only feel counterintuitive but also prove to be incredibly uncomfortable at times. Would you rather not sit through hours of Les Mis with your sister because you can't stand musicals? For the next three weeks, you won't have to if you stay honest. 

  • Dredging Up the Past: Since the premise of Radical Honesty is about being happier and less stressed, it might be necessary for you to clear the air around some of your personal history. Just about everyone is subject to drag along a chunk of their past and have it affect their current life situation and relationships. Blanton's clients are often asked to bring in their parents for an all-out unloading of everything they feel resentful towards them for, from childhood to present time. He also asks his clients to confess to any lies towards their parents that have bubbling under the surface for years. "Remember that time in high school when I came home and threw up in the living room because of the cafeteria food poisoning? Well, I was actually drunk." The idea is to rid the relationship of hidden agendas and feelings so that you can actually be yourself and diminish resentment. Over the next three weeks, pick at least three people you've lied to and have that uncomfortable conversation about the truth. 

  • Honesty in the Workplace: This is very touchy, especially given that statistic about 93% of Americans lying at work. Because it is so commonplace, the person who tells the truth can often be isolated and deemed antisocial. Be as honest as possible without losing your job. It's probably a bad idea to tell your boss you think he's a dumbass or to risk a sexual harassment lawsuit as you strive for more "authentic interactions". However, you might be pleasantly surprised at the time saved and respect earned as a result of dropping your need to be liked or having to twist a situation to be in your favor. When communicating with others, via email or otherwise, Blanton recommends starting sentences with "I resent you for" or "I appreciate you for". Try starting with telling your coworkers how you feel as opposed to what you think they want to hear. Did you forget that VP's name? Don't pretend like you didn't by doing some awkward introduction to another colleague. Just tell her you forgot. Maybe she'll get offended, and that's okay. More likely, she'll appreciate your integrity. Are you bored in a meeting because it has nothing to do with you? Maybe it's time to say so and then leave to do something more productive. 

  • Your Own Private Honesty: There's a pretty pervasive myth around it being okay to be dishonest with others as long as you are being honest with yourself. If you're interested in using honesty as a tool to have authentic relationships with the people around you, keeping the truth to yourself won't cut it. Are you stuck in a place of confusion where you don't even know how to disseminate the truth? Then there's your honest statement or answer: "I don't know". This is often the best place to start and serves as a natural launching pad for creativity and conversation. Just make sure that "I don't know" is the most honest answer as opposed to another way to skirt responsibility. 

  • Catch & Confess: Here's a honest statement about this challenge: It isn't easy and you'll go back to autopilot over and over again. Like so many other challenges that work on establishing new behaviors, there is a wealth of value in the mere act of catching yourself in the old habits. This simple act of recognition is the birth of mindfulness and awakening. When you catch yourself in a lie, first congratulate yourself and then immediately confess to whomever you are lying to. The embarrassing confessions will help reinforce the desired behavior of being honest. Here are some common breeding grounds for dishonesty that you should be vigilant of: 
    -When people ask how you're doing. Do you respond honestly or give them a canned response? 
    -Are you always holding back strong feelings? Are you lying by omission? 
    -Are you desperately afraid of hurting someone's feelings and lying instead? 
    -Do you pretend that you're interested in something that you couldn't care less about? 

  • Honesty & Kindness: Many people find positive honesty even more challenging that dishing out potentially hurtful criticism. There are countless things we feel appreciative for or admire in others but never voice for one reason or another. Maybe it's inconvenient or you are unsure of how they'll react to the praise. Get out of your comfort zone when it comes to these accolades. There is a huge amount of vulnerability to embrace when it comes to practicing true honesty. When it comes to approaching things with a gentle touch, there's a big difference between solicited feedback and abrupt honesty. Walking up to someone and telling them you dislike their shirt is quite different than if they had directly asked your opinion. Even then, there are ways to soften the blow while remaining honest. Try and separate your honesty from a subconscious need for conflict. A good way to stay mindful of this is when unwelcome radical honesty comes back your way. Getting the unbridled truth thrown right back at you is a common reaction to being brutally honest. Take the opportunity to create a bit of space in your reaction and opt for graceful responses such as "Thanks for telling me." "Really?" "You're totally right!" or "That's fine." 

-Elijah Szasz