Self Deception

Warning: This article contains one of the more difficult, and more essential, lessons of life. 

It is essentially the idea that you are your own problem, and your own solution. It’s not about what happens to you, or even what you do, but whether you are coming from a Whole View.

In the book “Leadership and Self Deception” The Arbinger Institute describes this situation as either being “inside the box” or “outside the box”.

When you are inside the box, you have a distorted view of reality because you can only see your own point of view from inside the box, and miss out on other realities, other people’s perspectives. Therefore, from within the box you are more likely to blame others for your problems, even though you are actually causing the problem with your limited view.

The Arbinger Institute theorizes that when we are acting from inside the box, it is actually contrary to what we feel we should be doing. This is why the book has “self deception” in the title.

There is a danger from even a single choice made from inside the box, because we are more likely to extend our period inside the box. This happens when we blame others, thereby provoking others to treat me like someone who is in a box. Our reaction is likely to defend or justify our position inside the box, and also to stay inside the box.


A part of the issue of being inside the box, or with an incomplete view, is that by blaming others for their mistakes and our own, we are trying to change them rather than change ourselves.

In the 5th Discipline, this is called a “fundamental attribution error” where we credit a person’s behaviour with incorrect causes. In this case we are projecting our problem onto someone else rather than ourselves.

You can change our yown behaviour, have a conversation, or maybe even change the other person. But unless you see that you have limited views, you will still be inside the box and primarily focused on yourself, seeing others as objects. And wherever you go, there you will be, and so will be your problem.

Ultimately, the Arbinger Institute teaches that what you have to do is leave your box.

downloadPractice 1: Change your view


To be out of the box you need to question your own virtue and acknowledge feeling a need to help another. See others as people with needs, hopes, and worries as legitimate as my own.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that were always doing huge favours for others or even doing any action differently. Its a view, or the difference between a smile or a glare at a passing driver.

downloadPractice 2: Watch for the moment of choice


When we’re with another person in the box its easy for us to get in the box too because justification is so easy – the other person is a jerk! But then I need that person to continue to be a jerk to justify my own behaviour, so I’ll invite them to continue being a jerk.

Watch this process when you find yourself being triggered by someone else’s limited view:

There is a moment of choice from the very beginning. 1. You have a feeling. 2. You choose to honour the feeling or to betray (self betrayal) your gut instinct, and 3. You need to justify the betrayal by blowing up your own good qualities and others’ negative qualities, plus inflate the value of things that justify the self-betrayal (like getting sleep, responsibilities the next day), and then you 4. Blame

downloadPractice 3: Take Responsibility


Refusing to look for justification for your mistakes. Own up to your mistakes, and watch how others will be more likely to admit their mistakes to you as well.

An important part of this is not trying to be perfect, but rather trying to be better. The view here is on growth and process rather than correctness and results.

downloadPractice 4: How can you help?


Don’t look for others’ boxes or accuse them of being in the box. Only look for your own box. In other words, don’t focus on what others are doing wrong, focus on what you can do right to help. Don’t worry whether others are helping you. Focus on how you can help.

The below exercises are from “The Other Kind of Smart” by Harvey Deutschendorf.

downloadPractice 5: Techniques for reality testing


i) Always look for as many sources of information and opinions as possible before developing a view on important matters.

ii) Seek out ideas and views that differ from yours. Ask yourself why these people believe they are right. What evidence do they have?

iii) Check out as many people as possible to see if they see things as you do.

iv) Make a point of sounding out your ideas with people who think differently from you.

v) Practice trying to see things from as many different perspectives as possible. Such as to have debates with friends/ family on various issues. Take opposite sides of an issue and defend it from that viewpoint.

vi) When you feel you’ve done a thorough job of investigating an issue/ situation, make up your own mind.

vii) If you receive feedback from many different sources that the way you see things has flaws, be prepared to reconsider your beliefs.



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