To be IN or OUT of the Box

How do we claim our strengths and share what we are really good at without appearing as though we are coming from a place of ego – without “bragging.” This results in a tension that I believe we have all experienced.

So, what does authentic, confident claiming of our gifts and and talents look like? Sound like? I was told to be humble without really knowing what that looks like in confident authentic people.

Over the years as a nurse, therapist, teacher and coach I developed an image of who I thought I was and how I was in relationship with others. My ‘self-image’ was blown out of the water the deeper I dove into my studies of Self-Deception. I found that I became masterful at rationalizing my ‘positions’, with a spot light on them, my blind spots were exposed. I was left with a choice – continue along as I had for years with the ‘self-image’ that I liked, or change and do the work to become more authentic.




I have studied with the Arbinger Institute, authors of the best book written on leadership and self-deception. This is a common problem that leaders or us humans have. Being ‘right’ with your relationships becomes exponentially more imperative with each promotion to greater responsibility. Your ability to be an inspirational and influential leader largely depends on you being ‘right’ with your relationships. This is something my clients can choose to focus on in our executive coaching sessions.

Leadership and Self-Deception, a book written by the Arbinger Institute, features a metaphor about an executive who is facing challenges at work and home. He exploits the blind spots that we all have, those that hide in our subconscious motivations and intentions, that trap us in a “box” of endless self-justification and judgment of others. Most importantly, the book shows us the way out.

When you are in the box, you are speaking from your perspective, interests and goals. You deny responsibility for the problems and fail to identify your part in perpetuating the problems. Through the lens of self-justification, you will find external factors and other people to blame. In your interactions, you will try to persuade other people to your way of thinking about an issue.

When you are out of the box, your heart feels open and at peace; you are authentic, interested in and have empathy for other people. You will seek the true basis for problems, including your own participation. You are no longer interested in assigning blame or judgment. You can let go of delusions that trap you and force you to defend yourself. Your energy and focus can be channeled into becoming self-aware, identifying needs and achieving results in relationship with others.

This struggle between being in or out of the box is exacerbated by the fact that our brains are hardwired to zero in on our strengths and needs. When we are unaware of our strengths, their needs and how to leverage them from a place of confident vulnerability we often default to a place of over or under use of our strengths, which is not helpful.

The Lake Wobegon Effect

In Garrison Keillor’s fictional community of Lake Wobegon, “the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

As it turns out, this depiction is not limited to Lake Wobegon. One of the most documented findings in psychology is the average person’s ability to believe extremely flattering things about themselves. We generally think that we possess a host of socially desirable traits and that we are free of the most unattractive ones.

Most people — some high-achievers, more often than others — deem themselves to be:

  • More intelligent than others
  • More fair-minded
  • Less prejudiced
  • Better drivers

This phenomenon is so common that it is now known in social-science circles as the “Lake Wobegon Effect.” This natural human tendency to see ourselves as above average, is a perfect example of a self-deception trap.

The question remains what to do about it. While there does not seem to be anything wrong with high self-esteem, when it is based on delusions or self-deception, the amount of energy required to defend it creates relational problems. Next week I will explore these issues further.


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