The Ten Ways I Lie

I lied to my kids this weekend. I told them I had a fun time with them when really I didn’t. They were brats. I lied to my parents all the time when I was a kid. I lied to clients, colleagues, bosses, employees.

Sometimes people write about me and I wish I could kill them. Sometimes  I want someone to return my call and when they finally return my call ten days later I say, “oh, it was no problem. I understand.” Someone wrote me the other day and said, “James, you are a crook.” I lied to myself that it didn’t bother me. I used to lie to people all the time when I was separated from my wife. People said, “all ok?” and I was like, “Couldn’t be better.” When I had to sell my first house because I was going to lose it I lied to everyone and said I was moving someplace better. I was ashamed.


I lied for years telling people I hadn’t lost all my money when I did. I was ashamed I would lose opportunities if everyone didn’t think I was super successful.

I lied to a judge when I said I skidded uncontrollably on water on the ground when I went straight through a stop sign without stopping, hitting a station wagon in the process and breaking the legs of the 70 year old man driving it. It was a clear day.

I lied to myself this morning when I said I wasn’t angry at someone who had written a crappy article about me this weekend.

I’m sick of it.

(even half-truths are lies)

It’s hard to stop lying. I’m not a believer at all in so-called “radical honesty” where, at an extreme, you might tell some random girl you want to have sex with her even if it involves hurting everyone around you. At some point you need a filter between the brain and the mouth. You won’t find happiness inside the vomit machine your  mouth turns into.

But you can slow the lies. Every day you can cut a lie out. You can be a little more open. A little more free. Let me tell you something: when you start to limit the lies you develop super-powers and everyone around you sees it. They either run from you in fear because now you can see right through them, or they gather around you and throw opportunities at you because your superpowers will now help them.

It’s the latter you want to aspire to. Be a superhero.

(you will get X-ray vision)

Here are the types of lies we often succumb to and think it’s harmless:

An exaggeration: saying “my house is 5000 square feet” on an ad to sell your house when it might actually be 4800 square feet.  Believe me, they are going to measure anyway.

A white lie: Saying “Santa Claus exists” or “that dress” is pretty” or “this book is good” because you don’t want to hurt someone. This doesn’t mean to say “you look ugly” but better to say “you should wear the red dress that’s a little tighter around the waist.” Offer up a real, thoughtful opinion, not just a blurted out retch straight from your brain.

Fraud: Madoff did this to an extreme. But I see this on a daily level. More than 50% of hedge funds are frauds in my opinion. Most economic analysis is fraudulent. Every day politicians engage in shades of fraud but they are so used to it they think its normal behavior. It’s what politicians do. Pick any elected official and I can probably give you ten ways they engage in fraudulent behavior. One time I went with a friend of mine to visit a financial advisor. She just wanted my second opinion . I didn’t say anything the entire meeting but took notes. I found at least ten cases where he directly lied to her.

Why do people engage in fraud? It starts with….

Shame:  first you lie about how much you make because you are ashamed to tell the truth. Or you lie about past relationships because if you say you cheated and hung out with hookers every day you are afraid people won’t like you. You lack self-esteem and only the bricks carefully carved out of shame will protect you in your fortress that gets smaller and smaller.

A lie to ourselves: you might say, I’m going to learn Spanish this year even though it was totally unrealistic. You might say, I’m not an angry person even though you have grudges against everyone around you. Here’s a hint: if most of the people around you are angry at you, then chances are you are an angry person. Projection is an easy way we can lie to ourselves. We give the people around us the attributes we have. We lie to ourselves by blaming them when it’s our fault we have these attributes.

—–>Exercise: make a list of all the people around you and what you think of them. Then erase their names. Chances are what’s left are the attributes that perfectly describe you.

Fear: When I got a divorce I had it great. To everyone who I hadn’t responded to in months I said, “oh, I was going through too much in my divorce. I couldn’t get back to you.” The reality was I didn’t really want to talk to those people. Or maybe I was just irresponsible. But I was afraid of what they would think of me if I just told them the truth.

Understatement: Oh, it’s ok if you stay over for a week. Oh, don’t worry about missing that meeting with me where you thought it was the next day despite ten confirmations. Oh, it’s ok that you made a bad choice that cost me a ton of money. I’ll survive. Nobody ever survives. Understatement is an ugly seed that’s now planted inside your dank brick house. The seed grows into an ugly plant that can barely fit.

Meanwhile, more and more people take advantage of how “nice” you are.

Omission: I saw this all the time in the financial industry. Our fund is up 30% per year. They don’t mention their prior fund that blew up. I left my old job because I wanted to be closer to my parents, or the boss hired his nephew. My old relationship ended because she cheated.

Or when someone gets back from Las Vegas. “I broke even probably” when they were down $10,000. Again, shame, fear, ego, lack of self-esteen, fear of  lost love, fear people won’t think you’re smart.

Control: This was my favorite trick. You get X for me and I’ll get Y for you. But Y was in the distant future. I would never have to think about it. It was a bait. A twist. But I needed to lie to get the results I needed. To control people.

Desire: Desire for money, desire for sex, leads to lies upon lies. The funny thing is, they are related. In NYC, tell someone you have money, you’ll get sex. Or…tell someone you’ll help them get sex, you’ll get money. Or you don’t want to appear too anxious. There’s entire blogs about how to lie to people to get what you desire. But getting what you desire won’t make you happy.

Little lies and big lies are buried inside of ourselves. We have a lifetime of lying. We’ve built the brick house many times over. We can’t get out to see the sunlight. And the ugly fungi we’ve planted inside our uglier house has filled up every room with unbreathable air.

“Radical honesty” is an extreme. It’s a form of lying so you can get your selfish needs out of the way.

How many of the above lies have applied to you today?

So here’s my trick to become more and more truthful. Every day make this list: Write down three columns: “Yourself“, “One other“, “Confess“.

– Yourself: find one thing to be honest with myself about. What’s one thing in the above list that I lied about. Just be honest. Am I really angry at that guy for not calling me back. Admit it to myself. Then…how can I deal with this anger. That’s much better than bottling it up.

– One other: confide in someone. “You know what, I’m angry at this guy and I need help dealing with it.” Confiding in a friend feels good. If you trust someone, then they can trust you. Then you build more and more people that you can trust. Suddenly you have real friends, not ones built with lies but ones that will last lives.

Confiding in someone has consequences and responsibilities. They will then confide in you. Then you have to keep that trust. Can you do it?

– Step three: confess. Not in the AA 12 step way where you have to solve the problem without regard to the consequences. But maybe just admitting, I’m an angry person in general. Or…”you lost some money based on a recommendation I made 5 years ago and I knew you were going to lose it. I’m sorry about that. How can I make it up to you.” Or…”I wasn’t really a good friend. I didn’t call you back. I have nothing more to say.” If you don’t want to confess out loud, then write it down. Sometimes that has the same effect.

Every day, pull a brick down. We live in the Amazon jungle. Its lush, and green, and sunny, and wet with life. Don’t build your own tomb in the middle of it. Come out and play. Come out and enjoy the sun. And just like the young Kal-El when he landed on this planet after his distant journey, the energy from our yellow sun will give you powers beyond belief. And when your mirror is totally clean, you can finally see yourself in it.



33 Responses to “The Ten Ways I Lie”

  1. Rob Zidar Says:

    50% of hedge funds are frauds? Please explain that one.

    • James Altucher Says:

      Probably worthy of another post but I can think of at least 10-20 different ways off the top of my head that many hedge funds engage in slightly to very fraudulent activity in order to achieve “alpha”.

    • JOe Says:

      I was going to ask the same thing. Being in this industry, it scares me to think how many funds are actually outright “PONZI SCHEMES.”….James>>>>at some point I would love to hear your take on the ways 50% of the funds may be a fraud. thanks for the great website and outright honesty.

  2. George Says:

    The lie of false modesty can be motivated by a fear of appearing as if you are bragging. I had a hard time navigating these waters for a long time. I had a job that paid well but did not provide me with the experience I was looking for. I could not feel happy about the money I was making because I did not feel like the work I was doing merited it. Looking back on it I think all that shame I felt was unnecessary, however, I still did not want to take credit (bragging) for something I felt I did not deserve (respect for a position with a nice sounding title and good salary but little substantive work). I still feel a little confused about the whole situation. I no longer work there (thank God) but the transition was harsher than it should have been because I stayed there longer than I should have. I suppose it was a learning experience.

  3. DON O Says:

    Interesting – good read. Thank you

  4. W at Off-Road Finance Says:

    I’ve been trying a similar approach to this, and I agree it’s very powerful to lie less.

  5. 736hundred Says:

    Here’s a lie for you:
    I always wanted that fun loving extended family, yet I do everything in my power to stay far far away from them because I don’t like them, they have hurt me, I don’t share their values, etc.. – Or is it I don’t like myself because I can not accept them as they are? Or is it that I protect myself with walls, so that they don’t stand a chance?
    In other words, am I the cause? I am I lying to myself?

  6. mikeyhell Says:

    I started a permanent list in my journal called “Ways that I Lie to Myself.” It’s already long.

  7. coastalharp Says:

    resonates deeply. Thank you!

  8. Julie Mars Says:

    Re the super-hero idea …some of us land in the middle of those two extremes. Yes you are open and free (my experience) … but you won’t necessarily have anyone beating down your door thanking you for it lol (also my experience). IMO at best you gain equilibrium because you know you can say what you think and you can roll with the consequences (if any arise). That filter you mentioned.. how exactly would it work so it doesn’t lead to the lie by omission? Whenever that filter pops into my head I stop and think about the WHY I think I should apply it. Then it gets confusing (overthinking it) unless my intentions are clear to myself. If I can determine my intention then I don’t really need to filter. That said, I enjoyed your article 🙂

    Interesting article here as well:

  9. Wil Stahl Says:

    James, trying to reconcile “Understatement” with past posts encouraging people to give their ideas away for free. If you give you idea away and someone uses it to their benefit and not yours aren’t they “taking advantage of how “nice” you are?”

    • TruthAsIs Says:

      Business success = Capital + Good idea + Quality people to execute; So, people with capital and connections usually tend to downplay the importance of ideation as this would affect their equity stakes. This is why you only see big VCs complaining about patent trolls and not junior entrepreneurs. Good ideas are hard to come by and the moneyed people know it – they just wont admit it to first-time entrepreneurs. So, no, please don’t share your ideas openly, especially if they are great ones and sell yourself short!

  10. Lee Says:

    You should find sleeping at night a lot easier instead of lying awake as your subconscious tries to keep all your stories straight.

  11. Todd Says:

    Interesting video about the feasibility of college degrees

  12. Carlos Chávez Sosa Says:

    My friend, the other day i lied to myself and thought i would never read your articles again. Fortunately i lied. This article is great!. “HONESTLY!!!” …..

    • Jeff Says:

      LOL his writing is terrible. But this article was good. Sometimes I give him a chance in a paragraph or two then I just quit reading because his style is not very focused. He jumps from point to point but sometimes the gap is so wide its like crossing an ocean. Its hard to follow. This one was decent though.

  13. John Keller Says:

    “—–>Exercise: make a list of all the people around you and what you think of them. Then erase their names. Chances are what’s left are the attributes that perfectly describe you.”

    One of the most profound things I’ve read this year. Thanks James – keep at it.

  14. iwan Says:


  15. Zen Stick Says:

    Excellent observations about yourself and everyone else. A sure sign of moving into Human Adulthood… the real kind. Realize that the vast majority of people are still children, with grown-up bodies. Most 55 years olds are really 13 year olds with 42 years experience. Or 4 year olds with 51 years experience.
    Actual, mature, human Adults are a very rare thing. Real Honesty is a cardinal sign of this evolutionary stage.
    The only downside is that real honesty is inversely proportional to the number of friends you will have. But, fortunately, if one has truly evolved to this stage of human adulthood, one has zero problem with being alone… in fact, one treasures it.

    • liberranter Says:

      Most 55 years olds are really 13 year olds with 42 years experience. Or 4 year olds with 51 years experience.

      Actual, mature, human Adults are a very rare thing. Real Honesty is a cardinal sign of this evolutionary stage.

      BINGO. Once you come to realize this, everything falls into perspective and people become much easier to tolerate – and ignore, when necessary.

  16. Tom Luongo Says:

    James, the more I do as you say the fewer people I have in my life. It’s a curse. Most people I’ve met don’t want you to be honest with them b/c they are incapable of being honest with themselves. But, those that can handle the honesty (justified or unjustified) do tend to stick around a long time. I’ve been on a mission in the past few years to purge myself of people who I interact with for the wrong reasons (ie. the build up of lies) and find out just what our relationship is made of. If it’s not strong enough, they get excised.

    There aren’t that many people left. But, the ones who are I know I can count on.

    If I’m angry at someone they know it, I’m not capable of hiding it. Sometimes I wish I could.

    Thanks, good post.

    • liberranter Says:

      Most people … don’t want you to be honest with them b/c they are incapable of being honest with themselves.

      That, Tom, is probably one of the 100 Wisest Sayings Of All Time.

  17. slobotnavich Says:

    Lying is part of getting through life. “You look great!” You look like a fat flabby old broad. “You’re really funny!” About as funny as changing a diaper. “I swear you look ten years younger!” Yeah, younger than an Egyptian mummy. “I wish my son Steve would ask your daughter out.” He might if he were blind.

  18. MC1171611 Says:

    James, this is a great post. Even though I’ve never been one to out-and-out lie, what you said has definitely made me look inward a bit and see some of the mistruths that I live with.

    I’m definitely going to keep this in mind.

  19. RJ O'Guillory Says:


    Great essay…and I presume…an honest one…? If you want to have fun with “the truth” try my childhood memoir, Webster Groves-The Life of an Insane Family…in my mid-30’s I had to confront the “truth”…and my life has been better ever since…


    RJ O’Guillory
    Webster Groves-The Life of an Insane Family

  20. Gilang Argaprana Cool Says:

    you sexy and i know it

  21. whippoorwill Says:

    This article is what I needed to read today. Thank you, James Altucher.

  22. Rob Meier Says:

    I guess what you are saying is that using little lies gather steam and turn into big lies and then you start believing the lies yourself.
    My personally I’ve met a few BIG liars in my life. Liars always ostracize themselves because no one wants to be around them. I bet if you have many friends then they regard you as a good person.

  23. themerchantoftruth Says:

    and James your wife is probably a lie when she says she loves you. She will pack up in the middle of the night and be gone the next day. Leaving you alone to face thw rold. Like you said most things in life dont work out. Pisser aint it?

  24. Cleareyedreader Says:

    James: You write great stuff, write it well and always provide an insight. This time you said too much in two ways: “I lied to a judge when I said I skidded uncontrollably on water on the
    ground when I went straight through a stop sign without stopping,
    hitting a station wagon in the process and breaking the legs of the 70
    year old man driving it. It was a clear day.” The first point is merely tactical. If you make a statement like this on the public record, you have to be assuming that you will never have to testify in the future, including about something that is crucial to you. You just killed your credibility. The second is deeper. If you really did something wrong and it bothers you, does a public confession give you absolution of some kind? I don’t think so. Did the skidding lie deprive the 70-year-old with broken legs of insurance money to compensate him or just deprive the state of the ability to punish you? Writing it up the way you did smacks of jousting with the gods or inviting some form or retribution.

  25. Kyler Vraizen Says:

    Your right about the whole lying thing, but I never go through that never have, I was a natural. Instinct you could say. I got an A in a class I failed just from saying the words “you saw me doing it, I had that work.” or get off with speeding just from saying “believe me please, I thought I was going the normal speed, i’ll get it fixed” I am and always have been a professional. I need no pointers I helped my brother out of jail once with my magic tounge.

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