It's been said that honesty is the best policy. It sounds like the simplest thing in the world, but being truly honest with others and with yourself can be a real challenge. Political correctness, being sensitive of other people's feelings, and facing uncomfortable truths about yourself usually requires lots of patience, vigilance and hard work.
Understand the workings of dishonesty. Most of us learned to be dishonest as children. The process often began with the realization that different behaviors result in different outcomes. For example, saying certain things (or not saying certain things) garnered desirable approval and praise, or the undesirable disapproval and censure, if not punishment. Indulgence in dishonest behavior to get desired results was just a small step away. With time the thought processes behind such actions get so entrenched in our subconscious mind that one is not even aware of them. A time comes when one loses the capacity to know when and where to draw the line and how negatively does dishonesty affect our lives (see Warnings below). Dishonesty often becomes a tool to:
Pretend that there is nothing wrong with us.
Shift blame to others.
Avoid responsibility or work.
Fess up. Be willing to address issues where you have been less than honest in the past, whether you took a cookie and then denied it, or blatantly lied about whose fault an automobile accident was. While reviewing your past transgressions can create discomfort and guilt, recognizing where you have been dishonest in the past can help you identify patterns and stop them from continuing.
If you feel guilty for having been dishonest in the past, apologize to the person you lied to and/or find a creative way to make things right. For example, if you kept money that you knew wasn't yours and didn't make a good faith effort to return it to its owner, make an effort to locate the owner and return an equivalent or greater amount or, if you cannot locate the owner after trying, make a donation to charity for an equivalent or greater amount. If you've lied to a person who plays an important role in your life (a significant other, relative, or friend) the best (but most difficult) thing to do is to come clean.
List the areas where you may have a weakness. It may be as simple as a tendency to make up excuses for failures, or as complicated as a penchant for stealing. Remember that dishonesty is rooted in fear, so you must look for and face those fears. By listing areas where you have a problem, and then working to deal with them, you can consciously battle these habits. If you find yourself lying because you fear disapproval from someone, for example, perhaps you need to learn how to stop being a people pleaser and be yourself. Most importantly, admit your errors so that you can forgive yourself and use those experiences to reinforce your determination to do better. You can't fix what you don't acknowledge as a problem.
Think honestly. This may sound silly, but if you don't think honestly, you won't BE honest. Prejudices and preconceived ideas can make it difficult to distinguish what the truth really is. Don't take things at face value. When you read, see, or hear something, don't make assumptions. Offer the benefit of the doubt, and be skeptical if necessary. When you make a commitment to communicating and understanding the truth, it can be humbling to realize that most of what we think we know is actually just based on assumptions rather than facts. Keep in mind a Jewish proverb: "What you don't see with your eyes, don't witness with your mouth."
Practice being honest on the simple things. This is especially important in situations where "coloring" the facts would make no difference in the world, which covers a good bit of life (from speaking the truth, to avoiding simple thoughtless acts like picking up someone's pencil or grabbing an apple off the neighbor's tree to snack on without thinking about it). Abraham Lincoln became famous for going to great lengths to return a few cents that did not belong to him, hence the nickname "Honest Abe". By applying honesty to the little things, you will get in the habit of being honest in general.
Exercise tact. We all know that being literally honest can hurt feelings and turn friendships sour. It can also be misinterpreted as criticism or a lack of support. It's very tempting to tell a "white lie" when dealing with sensitive loved ones (especially children), but you can still be honest by being creative in how you express the truth.
Emphasize the positive. Shift the focus away from what, in all honesty, you think is negative. Instead of saying "No, I don't think you look good in those pants" say "They're not as flattering as the black dress—that dress really looks amazing on you. Have you tried it on with those stockings you wore to my cousin's wedding last year?"
You have the right to remain silent. If you're pushed into a corner and don't know how to respond, say "Can we talk about this another time?" or "I really don't feel comfortable talking about this. You should really address this with..." Don't say "I don't know" if you really do know—it can come back to bite you in the rear later on. The person might catch on and realize that you know something, and they might get pushy. Repeat yourself and leave the conversation as quickly as possible.
When all else fails, be honest—but gently. Wrap the potentially hurtful truth in appreciation, praise, and, if applicable, affection.
Find a balance between full disclosure and privacy. Just because you're honest doesn't mean you have to air out all of your (or anybody else's) business. There are some things that we don't talk about because it's not information that the person asking may be entitled to. On the other hand, withholding information that you know should be disclosed is lying by omission. For instance, not telling a romantic partner that you have a child or that you've been married in the past is objectionable by most. Deciding what information a person should or should not know is a personal decision. Just because you believe a person is better off not knowing something doesn't mean you're acting in their best interest by hiding that information. Follow your gut, and put yourself in that person's position: "If I was in their shoes, would I rightfully feel betrayed if this information wasn't shared with me at an appropriate time?"
Remember that being honest isn't easy. At its core, being honest is difficult because it makes us vulnerable. It shows people who we really are and that we make mistakes, which gives them a chance to criticize and reject in a more hurtful way than if we'd hidden the truth or lied to begin with. And sometimes, the truth just hurts. But, honesty develops character, as well as credibility and trust, all of which are the building blocks of high self-esteem and healthy relationships. Being honest isn't a goal that you check off a list—it's an ongoing process that will both challenge and benefit you throughout your life. Nothing is as liberating as having nothing to hide