Growing up my mom used to make a classic joke anytime one of us was living too much in denial. “Denial isn’t a river in Egypt” she would say.
Growing up I heard that phrase a lot. I mean a lot. It’s probably why I have such bad jokes.
If you don’t know what denial is than you most likely grew up in a much healthier household. So, for those of you with semi-normal childhoods let me explain.
Denial is in laymen terms, the rationalizing or ignorance of any external reality that we don’t want to hear. For instance, if you were to tell me I eat too many Peanut Butter M&Ms I would deny it. I mean sure you could argue that any Peanut Butter M&Ms for someone try to lose weight is too many, but even if I was eating a bag a day I would still deny I have a problem. I would refuse to accept the reality that I was eating too many Peanut Butter M&Ms and thus I would be living in denial.
Ignorance is similar to denial in the sense that we don’t have full awareness of what is going on around us. There is an old adage that “ignorance is bliss”. After the first time I watched the movie Forest Gump I thought that there was nothing truer. Forest lives a life full of hardship but is continually joyful and full of grace because of his ignorance. We all face some degree of hardships in our life but the people who are thriving through those hardships are the ones who have perspective on them, are completely ignorant to their situation or in denial. Well perspective is hard and doesn’t just come over night and denial is unhealthy, so ignorance always seemed better to me. But in all honesty Ignorance is the farthest thing from bliss. Ignorance impedes progress. Ignorance is bliss only when there is physically nothing you can do differently in your life.
If you were born onto an island where there was no modern technology and every morning you had to wake up and hunt for your meals. You lived in a shelter that was handmade and you slept on a pile of leaves. If this was all you knew about the world and you were destined to die on this island, then ignorance might be bliss. But if you are not in these circumstances then ignorance is your mortal enemy. Ignorance doesn’t stop progress by telling you no it’s not possible, ignorance prevents you from even knowing you need progress. Ignorance stops the conversation of change before it ever starts. Ignorance is misery.
Denial/ignorance are enemies that we constantly have to face. We live in a world that wants to blind us to our vices so that others can profit from them. Have you ever wondered why fast food commercials always show incredibly thin people? Have you ever seen an honest casino commercial, you know one where the casino is full of retired people spending their life savings? Have you ever seen an honest Corona commercial, one where the people holding the beer are dumping it out trying to order a different drink?
The answer to all of these is of course not. Every casino commercial is full of beautiful young people having the time of their life winning. Every Corona commercial is full of beaches, sun and fit people holding beer. Remember those Rally’s commercials with the super models on cars holding burgers? The culture we live in is setup in such a way that encourages denial. Advertisers for decades have taught us to deny things we fundamentally know as true so that we spend our money. We all know eating too much Rally’s will make you fat. We all know Casinos are lifeless pits where your money goes to die and we all definitely know that Corona tastes like sewage. Yet, advertisers teach us to deny these realities and substitute their own. The teach us to live in denial.
Denial is all around you. You are probably living in denial about something right now. If you think you aren’t then you’re in denial about being in denial. In all honesty I am still in denial about how unhealthy I eat. When I arrive onsite at a client that has snacks laying out I grab handfuls of whatever is there without even thinking about it. It isn’t until I step on the scale a week later and don’t see a change that I start to think back to the times I have “slipped up”.
There is hope to denial though! It is called honesty.
Most of the time we think of honesty as it relates to our interactions with other people. Like telling your friend their fedora “definitely doesn’t make them look like a tool”. However, we can be dishonest with ourselves as well.
All of denial is based on dishonesty.
The way that I started to lose weight and conquer my M&M addiction was to be honest with myself. For losing weight that looked like tracking everything I ate regardless of how it made me feel. That raw honesty started to show me patterns that I needed to change in order to accomplish my goal.
The only way out of denial is raw unfiltered honesty.
Whatever the situation you are currently trying to “downplay”, deny or ignore, just know you are way too smart to be living in denial.