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An Honest Man’s Guide to Lying

Illusionist Karl Germain (allegedly) once said that magic is the only honest profession. A magician promises to deceive you, and he does. Or, at least, that’s what Google says he said. Maybe the search results are lying. How could I possibly know?

Most of the time, lying gets a bad rep, as it’s usually used for deception and extortion. But in its essence, it’s nothing but a skill – a very useful one. Whether we like to admit it or not, all of us will be forced to tell lies throughout our lives. So why not be good at it?

Learning how to lie can give you an advantage over others, help you better your life, and make people around you more honest – all without doing any sort of damage to anyone. In the broadest sense, here’s how we can define a lie.

Lie: An intentionally false statement to a person or group made by someone who knows it is not the whole truth.

Lies can be told for various reasons and with various amounts of success. As an activity, lying is frowned upon because a common perception is that the liar is trying to harm you in some way. This is an understandable assumption and I wholeheartedly agree – nobody likes a liar.

But think about this paradox for a moment: I personally enjoy lying, I’m pretty good at it, I do it often, and I usually admit it. Yet, somehow, it’s not a deal-breaker and people still like me and (hopefully) don’t think I’m a psychopath.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the concept of Honest Lying.


Honest lying is telling an intentionally false statement without trying to fraud or harm anyone in any way. It is a term I coined to describe practicing the activity without any heinous motives (not to be confused with confabulation, a medical disturbance in which you lie but think you’re telling the truth).

For most of you, this concept is going to be a little hard to grasp; how can lying be used for good? Well, for starters, I’m going to pull a classic quote from Dr. House you’re probably familiar with:

It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only variable is about what.

Can you imagine how messed up the world would be if everybody always said exactly what was on their mind? It would be horrible. And in case you can’t imagine it, take a look at the movie The Invention of Lying. The movie takes place in the world where lying wasn’t invented and everybody is brutally honest. The outcomes are hilariously terrible.

It’s good to be honest. Honesty really is the best policy. But knowing how to effectively lie is not just decent at certain times, it’s expected of you.

Do you know how you call people who are actually honest and direct all of the time? As arrogant assholes. People say they wish everyone was honest, but those who actually are usually completely piss you off. They call it exactly how they see it and most people don’t like it.

A: Do you like my new dress? How do I look?
B: I hate it, it’s really ugly. And you look ugly in it.

Everybody lies and we are all aware of that fact. Sometimes, we do it to blend in. Other times, to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. But every now and then, you just get sick of being nice and tell somebody the brutal truth. At that moment, they pull back astonished at how candid you’re being, then call you an insensitive douchebag.

So it’s safe to say that there are many valid reasons to lie when the situation arises; the question is, why would you want to lie? Furthermore, why do I find it so entertaining if I’m not extorting people in some way?

Lying Sucks If You Suck At It

Even though all people lie, most of us suck at it; and since you know you’re going to be doing it for the rest of your life, you might as well become good at it and use it to your advantage. Otherwise, you’re just going to get stuck in uncomfortable situations time and time again.

The concept of “honest lying” is used to practice the skill and to get acquainted with it without actually harming anyone. Not only that, being a good liar can make it harder for other people to harm and deceive you. Here is a true story which perfectly illustrates this point:

I was talking to a friend of mine when, pretty much randomly, I said something weird off the top of my head. It was a nonsensical collection of words formed in a rhyme, which roughly translated into “remain, don’t fall behind”. It wasn’t supposed to mean anything, but my friend laughed and asked: “How did you come up with that phrase?”

Still grinning, I told her it’s actually a quote from Gandhi, assuming she would realize it was an obvious joke. However, she thought I was seriously trying to pass that off as words of wisdom uttered by a notorious freedom fighter, so she told me: “That’s not a real quote. You’re so full of shit.”

Man holding a board with evil smile
Game on, sucka!

At the moment, I thought: “Yes, I am full of shit, but she doesn’t know that. Let’s have some fun with this.” Swiftly enough, I hatched a plan to convince her that it actually was a genuine quote.

I put my game face on and acted all surprised about how she wasn’t familiar with “one of his most notorious phrases of all time”. Then, I proceeded to explain how it was a statement of his non-violent struggle, his message to the oppressors, and an expression of his core beliefs. Finally, I expanded on how he was trying to say that the world should “remain” in a state of peace, rather than worrying about “falling behind” with upgrading weapons for war and mass destruction.

When I finished portraying my thesis she was completely mesmerized by the amount of information I threw at her. She finally conceded and accepted that I was telling the truth. As soon as she did, I came clean and told her that everything I said was utter bullshit, then proceeded to sip my juice without gin with Geto Boys’ “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta” playing in the background.

“A lie is just a great story that someone ruined with the truth.”

Barney Stinson, How I Met Your Mother

This story is a perfect example of honest lying; I didn’t intend to harm of fraud my friend, I didn’t cause any damage, and most importantly, I ultimately told her I was lying. So why did I do it in the first place? If I ended up telling her about my deception, then it was a moot point from the start, right? Not at all.

Think about it. Telling a convincing lie requires:

  • High level of confidence
  • Fast thinking and fluency
  • Control over oneself (voice, body language, emotions)
  • Diverse knowledge
  • Ability to read people

Would you like to acquire or improve these skills? Of course, you would!

Lying: The ultimate experience for developing and improving various social and cognitive skills, as well as strengthening personal confidence.

That’s why I love to regularly practice this skill. My goal is to convince someone of something untrue simply to see if they would believe me. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. I learn, adapt, evolve, and use it to improve my skills. Ultimately, I tell them I lied, thus preventing them from believing, sharing, or using wrongful information.

Besides improving my own skills, having the ability to tell convincing lies gives me a huge advantage in everyday life – I can spot liars more easily.

Most of the time, I can simply “guess” if someone is lying to me by observing their body language, the tone of their voice, details of their story, and/or possible loopholes. It’s not that I consciously make note of all these elements, but accumulated years of experience allow me to subconsciously notice and use that information when forming judgments or making decisions.

In any case, I have an edge over others. I don’t use it to harm people, but to defend myself from those who try to harm me.

How to Get Better At Lying Your Ass Off (When Needed)

There are four elements that make you a good liar and all of them are equally as important.

1. Be Confident in Yourself

Believe in what you’re saying, no matter how ridiculous it may sound. If you don’t believe it to be true, why should anyone else? Portraying information with confidence won’t give anybody a reason to doubt your actions. If someone tries to heckle you, keep this in mind – how would you react if you were telling the truth?

Our first instinct springs us to defend our position wholeheartedly and make sure others believe us. However, a confident person doesn’t care what others think and doesn’t make overt efforts to convince people in the truthfulness of their story.

Best liars don’t rely on words and arguments to convince people; instead, they win through actions. Lies should never feel like lies. They should be told just like any other story you tell, without giving people any reason to even think twice about it.

2. Keep Your Facts In Check

The fastest way to blow your cover is by getting caught up in false logic. You should be aware of the general structure and logistics of your story, and make sure not to say something contradictory. This is where diverse knowledge and fast thinking come together. I was able to convince my friend of the false Gandhi quote not only by knowing (or at least seeming to know) relevant information, but also by relating it to my made up saying on the spot.

The rule of thumb is, if your target doesn’t know much about the subject at hand, they can be fooled very easily. As long as you pretend to know – not assume, know – things about it, you can easily supply them with false information. Don’t go over the top though; people may be easy to fool, but don’t count on them being complete idiots.

3. Think Fast, Speak Slowly

In most cases, you’re not going to have the time (or the will) to prepare a detailed backstory covering all scenarios and filling in all the plot holes. Hence, you’re going to need to improvise a lot. Being prepared helps, but preparation can only get you so far. You can never be completely sure how someone will react or respond, so it’s up to you to adjust to the situation and make the conversation seem fluent and natural in any scenario.

4. Once You Start, Don’t Stop

Lying is like playing high stakes poker – you need to be prepared to go all in.

In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, two characters decide to lie to their best friend. The project he is working on is doomed, but since he’s on a creative streak and is getting paid for the following few months regardless, they decide to keep him in the dark for a while longer. However, one of them knows how to lie, the other one doesn’t.

Check out this sample conversation from the show:

Barney:  Marshall, what you’re suggesting is an elaborate, long-term lie that requires tremendous commitment. A nice guy like you can’t pull that off.

Marshall: Sure I can.

Barney: Lie to me right now.

Marshall: Okay. I have a spaceship.

Barney: What kind of fuel powers your spaceship?

Marshall: Okay, I don’t have a spaceship.

Barney: No! Stand your ground! If someone questions you, distract them from the original lie with more lies. Here, let me demonstrate. I own a pony. Ask me a question.

Marshall: Okay. Um, what color is your pony?

Barney: Well, when I first got Dandelion, she was a deep, chestnut brown, but, sadly, her stable is located near a chemical plant, which contaminated the drinking water. So over time, she’s turned a sickly, grayish-white color and there’s nothing that the vet can do to fix her.

Marshall: My God! I’m – That’s horrible. Is Dandelion going to be okay?

Barney: (winks)

This conversation captures all four points;  think fast, keep your facts in check, be confident, and never quit lying.

Another great example of these elements is the movie Catch Me If You Can, where Leonardo DiCaprio plays a con artist-turned-FBI consultant Frank Abagnale. It’s based on a true story about a person who had stolen millions via check fraud and had successfully impersonated teachers, doctors, lawyers, and pilots – all before the age of 19.

In the clip below, Frank has just been caught red-handed in a hotel room full of evidence with nowhere to run. Game over, right? Wrong.  He adapts to the situation and uses more lies to get himself out of it:

Character’s motives were deceptive and selfish in nature, but a skill is a skill and by this point, you can hardly deny that lying is a tool that can be used for both good or evil. It all depends on the person, situation, and agendas. Many popular fictional investigators, like Patrick Jane or Sherlock Holmes, constantly use lies and deception to bring out people’s true nature.

Poker, one of the most popular card games in the world, is based on the premise that you need to be a good liar. To be a good poker player, you need to be able to read other people, lie about your cards, and spot whether other players are telling the truth.

“In poker, you never play your hand. You play the man across from you.”

James Bond, Casino Royale

Lying is a natural human condition. We cannot change it or avoid it.

And you know what? We shouldn’t. Nobody likes a liar, but that doesn’t mean we want people around us to be completely honest all the time. Like everything else in life, no extreme is a good thing.

I’m an honest man and I never purposely aim to inflict harm on anyone. But other people are not as enlightened as me. Understanding how deception works enables me to see through people who wish to use that same tool against me or people around me.

Strangers, friends, and family members are going to try to scam you no matter what… isn’t it wiser to know when it’s coming? You can be an honest man in a liars’ world, but knowing how to lie and choosing to be honest is much more difficult, but also much more rewarding in the long run.

One of the most notorious con-artists of all time, Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil, once said: “I never cheated an honest man, only rascals. They wanted something for nothing. I gave them nothing for something.”

You can be a horrible person by being brutally honest, just like you can lie and be kind when needed. It’s all about walking the fine balance.

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