Article from

First presented to The Developing Group, 3 April 2004

Learning to Act from

What You Know to be True

Part 2

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley

Following our model of  Self-deception, self-delusion and self-denial (described in part 1) many people have asked for some guidance on what they can do once they have acknowledged when, where and how they self-DDD. Below is our take on how to learn to act from what you know to be true.

[We revisited this topic in 2009 resulting in a part 3: Modelling How We Act From What We Know To Be True.]

To get you into the topic, we will start with a list of common metaphors related to truth-telling:

  • I'm living a lie.
  • Face up to reality.
  • Come clean.
  • Whistle blowing
  • Washing dirty laundry in public
  • Honesty is the best policy
  • Exposing the truth
  • Transparency
  • Open government
  • Open book accounting
  • I can’t hide my head in the sand anymore.
  • Many a true word spoken in jest (i.e. a Freudian slip)
  • Opening up a can of worms
  • The truth shall set you free
  • Own up/Face up to the truth
  • Getting down to brass tacks
  • Bearing all
  • Brutal honesty/truth/facts
  • The Shield of truth.
  • Illuminating dark places
  • Shining the light of truth
  • The undeniable truth
  • The truth will out
  • You can’t hide from the truth
  • I can't kid myself any longer
It is interesting how many of these metaphors are about revealing something that was hidden (face up, expose, transparent, open, can't hide, bearing, illuminating, will out).

Some Antidotes to Self-DDD

The first thing that is very clear from our modelling of people who have learned to act from what they know to be true, is that it required them to consciously apply multiple principles, skills and behaviours at multiple levels. It is also clear that it is not a one-time process but requires due diligence over a long period of time (i.e. for the rest of their life).

Warding off self-corruption

The following is an example of one man's recognition of the potential for self-deceit, and the steps he took to "ward it off". It is Harry Belafonte and Stanley Levison's tribute at the funeral of their friend, Martin Luther King Jr.:

"He drained his closest friends for advice; he searched within himself for answers; he prayed intensely for guidance. He suspected himself of corruption continually, to ward it off. None of his detractors, and there were many, could be as ruthless in questioning his motives or his judgment as he was to himself." (p. 347, My Life with Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, 1969)

What we fail to notice

And Daniel Goleman catches the paradoxical (and binding) nature of confronting the ways in which we self-DDD when he puts it in the form of one of R D Laing's Knots :

The range of what we think and do
is limited by what we fail to notice.
And because we fail to notice
that we fail to notice
there is little we can do
to change
until we notice,
how failing to notice
shapes our thoughts and deeds. (p. 24, Vital Lies, Simple Truths, 1998)

Using this as a guide to action gives three steps:

- First you need to acknowledge you may be failing to notice something.

- Then you need take steps to discover how you may not be noticing.

- Then you need to recognise how failing to notice has, and will continue to, influence you – given that not noticing will have a value, or be beneficial in some way.

But that is not going to be enough, you will need a fourth step:

- To set an intention to set up opportunities where you can choose, in-the-moment, to act from what you know to be true.

(And you can be aware that setting such an intention will produce what Robert Fritz calls "structural tension" that will encourage you to revert to your previous pattern of self-DDD. We call this tension-building process "turning up the heat under the pattern".)

And a fifth:

- Put yourself in those situations and see if you act from what you know to be true.

And a sixth:

- Whether you do act from what you know to be true, or not, repeat the whole process adding in the experience gained from previous attempts.

How to counter failing to notice

Although we have represented the process a circular, if looked at over time the aim is that it will be an iterative process, i.e. become a learning spiral. With each iteration producing a little more self-awareness, a little more determination, and a little more clarity of purpose. And the recognition that through this process of trial-and-feedback there is increasing value of being able to look "current reality" squarely in the eye; of knowing one's truth; and of accessing the personal resources required to counter in-the-moment 'forces' in favour of a mind, heart and soul that are at peace with themselves, long-term.

Confronting the brutal truth

Jim Collins wrote up his modelling project of how good companies became great in Good to Great. One of his eight conclusions is the need to "confront the brutal facts":

When you start with an honest and diligent effort to determine the truth of the situation, the right decisions often become self-evident. And even if all decisions do not become self-evident, one thing is certain: You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts. The good-to-great companies operated with this principle, and the comparison companies generally did not." [p. 70, 2001]

Reality is not the enemy

Collins is following in the footsteps of Robert Fritz. In The Path of Least Resistance, Fritz starts his chapter on 'Current Reality' with the statement "reality is not the enemy" [p. 139, 1989] and goes on to say:

There is a difference between passively learning reality because life forces you to and actively teaching yourself reality. When you seek to know reality and learn what there is to learn, you can best create what really matters to you. Like art for art's sake, this is truth for truth's sake — the desire to know reality because it is real, and for no other reason. [pp. 145-146]

Fritz recognises that part of the process is accepting that "Your concept of reality may not be reality" [p. 146]. That is, you need to check your perceptions and interpretations against external evidence. It is not that anyone has the 'right' concept of reality, rather if several people (you respect) have significantly different perceptions and interpretations to yours, then you need to question the value of accepting your view of reality over theirs. Of course you may end up doing what you were going to do anyway but you will be doing it not from Margaret Thatcher's infamous "There is no alternative" but instead you be doing it with "There is always an alternative" ringing in your ears.

The Journey to Self-Truthfulness

We have modelled the journey many people have taken on their road to self-truthfulness.   The journey is represented in the diagram below. In some cases it can be taken in months, but for many it takes years.

(In the diagram we make use of Ken Wilber's distinction between the three P's: Peak, Plateau and Permanent experiences.)

  1. Acting with self-delusion, deceit and denial.
  2. The process of becoming aware of what is true for you.
  3. Acting out of what you know to be true.
  4. The process of self-deluding, deceiving, denying.
  5. The process of permanently becoming truthful with self (i.e the ‘last straw’).
  6. The process of maintaining self-truthfulness while knowing you have the capacity to self-delude, deceive and deny.
This model and the Levels and Feedback models (described in part 1) offer different insights into how we can intervene to change our own patterns. Below we look at how each model can be used to guide our work in the area of self-DDD and acting from our truth. Following the more theoretical description we provide a practical summary of '21 Ways to Learn to Act from What You Know to be True'.

The Journey to Self-Truthfulness metaphor suggests you can increase your chances of acting from what you know to be true if you identify (self-model):

The sequence of the transitions from one state to another:
  • start of becoming aware of what you know to be true (1>2)
  • start of acting from what they know to be true (2>3)
  • start of the process of self-DDDing (3>4)
  • start of acting from self-DDD (4>1)
And, what needs to happen to encourage the conditions for:
  • an upturn (1>2)
  • turning awareness into action in-the-moment (2>3)
  • extending a Peak into a Plateau (3>3+)
  • heightened awareness of your long-term self-DDD pattern (1>2>3>4>1 ...)
Note you can only know in retrospect that an experience of self-truthfulness is a Peak state, a Plateau or Permanent way of being – each one requiring more time to have elapsed (from seconds to decades). One of the ways self-DDD operates is when people believe "That's it. I've cracked it. This will last forever."

Using the 'Feedback Model'

In part 1 we introduced a model of a feedback loop as a way to understand the systemic nature of self-deception, delusion and denial. That very same model can be used to set in train an self-sustaining process of "confronting the brutual truth" of our interior and exterior behaviours and the effect they have on the world around us. In other words, using  "current reality" as our friend.

The Feedback Cycle model suggests you can increase your chances of acting from what you know to be true by using the six A’s:

Become aware of your reaction (3), and others' reactions (2), to your self-DDD actions (1).

Acknowledge that those reactions contain valid information (4).

Avow to do something different as a result of that information (4).

Act on your awareness, acknowledgment and intention (1).

Admit the continuing potential for further self-DDD.

Apply the above process to itself so that you learn from the feedback loop over time.

Using the 'Levels of Knowing Model'

The Levels of Knowing model formed the centre piece of our self-DDD model presented in part 1. And not surprisingly it plays a similar role in learning to act from what you know to be true. Below we reproduce the diagram of the model, followed by a summary of how operating at each level requires a different approach. Following that we use the four levels to organise our 21 examples of 'How to Learn to Act from What You Know to be True'.

The Four-Levels model suggests you can increase your chances of acting from what you know to be true if you:

Level 1 — self-model both:
  • The misleading representation (A) and how you know that.
  • What you know to be true (B) and how you know that.
Level 2 — self-model both:
  • How you accept the misleading representation.
  • How you self-DDD what you know to be true.
  • How and why what you know to be true keeps returning to your awareness.
Level 3 — self-model both:
  • When you know you are misleading yourself, how you continue to do so (i.e. how you maintain the pattern over time).
  • When you know you could mislead yourself, how do you not (ie. how you have countered the self-DDD pattern).
Level 4 — self-model
  • What needs to happen for you to regularly review whether what you are doing is working long term?

: see part 1

21 Ways to Learn to Act from What You Know to be True

One cannot speak the truth; – if one has not yet conquered oneself.
One cannot speak it – but not, because one is still not clever enough.
The truth can be spoken only by someone who is already at home in it;
not by someone who still lives in untruthfulness,
& does no more than reach out towards it from within untruthfulness.


Level 1

1. Acknowledge that at times:

(A) you act from what you know to be misleading
(B) you do not act from what you know to be true.

2. Seek evidence of "Current Reality"
Use the Systemic Reflective Principle to examine your life and relationships. Ask yourself: If the patterns and structures of my personal environment and my relationships reflected the patterns and structures of my thinking, what does that tell me? See our article Thinking Virtually Creates your Reality for more on this principle and an exercise of how to apply it.

3. Identify:

(A) your misleading representation
(B) what you know to be true.

You'll know when you have identified these because they will likely be accompanied by strong sensations. With (A) the sensations are likely to be unpleasant, often accompanied by embarrassment, and sometimes a sense of ludicrousness [be careful of disbelief at this point!]. With (B) there will likely be both a pleasant feeling of acknowledging what you know to be true and an unpleasant feeling of having denied this for so long.

4. Make public what you know to be true
Make an announcement. Tell someone you respect. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous start by saying "My name is X. I'm an alcoholic and my life has become unmanageable."

5. Consciously act based on the misleading representation.
This is a 'Paradoxical Intervention' designed to enhance your reaction to the misleading representation, bring the process more into awareness, and help you realise you have a choice.

Level 2

6. List ways you self-DDD.
This will involve ways that both:

- maximise what you know to be misleading
- minimise what you know to be true.

Everybody we have modelled so far has had multiple ways to self-DDD. Identify as many as you can. For people with substance addition, apparently the "big 5" denial patterns are:
1. Outright denial "No, not me!"
2. Avoidance "I'll talk about anything but the problem."
3. Minimising "It's not that bad."
4. Rationalising "I have a good reason."
5. Blaming "It's not my fault."
An article by Terence T. Gorski, 'Denial Management Counseling' in Addiction Exchange, Volume 3, No. 6:
April 16, 2001 about the "big 5" and the other "small 7" can be read at:

See also Prochaska et al’s seven “defences of precontemplators” (pp. 82 – 86):
1. Denial
2. Minimization
3. Rationalization
4. Intellectualization
5. Projection
6. Displacement
7. Internalization

7. Identify a metaphor for your self-DDD processes.
Your metaphor should describe how you both:
- accept the misleading representation
- reject what you know to be true.

8. Externalise that you deceive yourself by:
both believing your misleading representation; and not believing what you know to be true:
  • Write notes to yourself (Penny puts notes on her make-up mirror).
  • Draw your metaphor and display it in a context where you self-DDD.
  • Get others to remind you.
  • Tie a knot in a handkerchief (the ancient equivalent of using a Palm-Pilot).

9. List counterexamples
When and where have you not self-DDD? How did you (in any context):

(i) go from self-DDD to acting from what you know to be true?
(ii) continue to act from what you know to be true despite temptation to do otherwise?

10. Attend to how you keep becoming conscious of what you know to be true.
The self-DDD pattern is proof that what you know to be true still exists — if it didn't you
wouldn't need to self-DDD! Consider:
  • External - What triggers you to become aware of what you know to be true?
  • Internal - What signals let your know that you are self-DDDing?
  • How else can you become aware of what you know to be true — other than through pain?
(Carolyn Myss says "We learn by wisdom or we learn by woe." This is a way to learn by wisdom.)

11. Identify metaphors for having acted from what you know to be true for
(i) changing from self-DDD
(ii) maintaining truthfulness when you are tempted to do otherwise.

And what needs to happen for you act out of these metaphors more of the time?

12. Ask for feedback — What do others observe about how you do (and don't) self-DDD.
In organisations 360° feedback processes can provide a structured way to get this kind of
information. When you get feedback the key is to:

Acknowledge the validity of the information from the viewpoint of its originator
Find, what James calls, "the boulder of truth" in what is said.

[Note that any impulse to argue, justify, explain, "Yes, but ..." or blame is likely part of the way you self-DDD.]

Level 3

13. Set an intention or desired outcome to act from what you know to be true — given that you have the capacity to self-DDD.
When you set an intention you do not need to know how you are going to achieve it. The idea is to build a clear representation of the ways you want to act — based on what you know to be true — in contexts where that has been difficult in the past. Include what you see, hear and feel (both on the outside and on the inside). If this is beyond you at present, set an intention to create such a representation, and start from there. Regularly recommit to this intention. Anthony Robbins calls this "raising your standard" of acceptable behaviour.

14. Be specific about how you will know when you are achieving your desired outcome — and when you are not
Define undeniable evidence of acting from:
- what you know to be true
- the misleading representation (i.e. self-DDD having been in operation).

Make the evidence sensory-based, i.e. what behaviour you and others will be able to see and hear.

15. Devise a counter strategy to each way you self-DDD
(as identified in Number 6).

16. Start by taking small steps.
Be truthful with the little things first and those with undeniable evidence. Stephen Covey calls these "private victories".

Watch out for rushing into a dramatic display – can you sustain it? {The snag is that either rushing in, or not rushing in, could be self-DDD depending on your pattern – time will tell!)

Level 4

17. Put in place lots of reinforcement.
Avail yourself of support for acting from what you know to be true, e.g. friends, self-help books, mentors, therapy/counselling/coaching, etc. — any reminder that works for you.

18. Keep going Meta:
Get outside/above the pattern so you can hold in awareness more and more (apparently contradictory) components and how they fit together.  Consider larger frames, e.g. When Penny asked herself: "Is this the person I want to be for the rest of my life?" it had a profound effect.

19. Remember you are in it for the long-haul.
Even when you think you've mastered it, you will get chances to know the potential for self-DDD is alive, and living behind a group of neurons somewhere. However, some people do eventually "transcend and include" their self-DDD. Their detection and countering processes become sufficiently well-developed that self-DDD does not adversely affect their, or other people's lives.

20. Keep applying this process to whatever happens.
Recognise that whatever you do is evidence of how your system works — and use this to continually update your model of what is happening, i.e. learn how your system adapts to your desire to change, and adapt to that adaptation!

If all else fails ...

21. Surrender to a power greater than yourself.
e.g. "God as you understand God", or commit to a group or philosophy with a proven track record (e.g. AA), or put yourself in the hands of a reputable guru.

NOTE: We have subsequently added some notes on a related subject Accepting Acceptance.

Levels of Knowing Exercise [Note i]

EXERCISE    In pairs, 20 minutes each.

Client picks a context
(We recommend a situation where they sometimes act from their misleading representation and sometimes from what they know to be true — and they would like to do more of the latter.)

Facilitator says:

1. Find a space where you can:

1a.  Use your body to nonverbally represent or enact a metaphor for the misleading representation [=A].

[Wait until they have]

1b.  Use your body to nonverbally represent or enact a metaphor for what you know to be true [=B].

[Wait until they have]
[Note ii]

1c.  Slowly, slowly move your body from one to the other ... [wait until they have], and then slowly move back again ... [wait until they have].
[Note iii]

Continue to move between the two until you notice:
[Note iv]
- what happens when you start the movement in one direction?

- what happens when you start the movement in the other direction?

- what happens at, and either side, of the change-point or transition between one and the other?
[Note v]

Optional Question:
- What’s the last thing that happens before you fully enact A and fully enact B?

2.  Find a space that knows about all of this.

[When the client is in space 2]:

- What do you know from here about [gesture to space 1 (or to spaces 1A & 1B)] all of that?
- Is there anything else you know about that?
- What do you now know about how you do not act from what you know to be true and you do act from what you know to be misleading?”
[Note vi]

3.  Find a space that knows about all of this.
[When the client has space 3]:

- What do you know from here about [gesture to spaces 1 & 2] all of that?”
- Is there anything else you know about that?
- What do you now know about how you act from what you know to be true even when [gesture to 1 & 2]?

If you have time, go through all the steps at least one more time to see what difference the new knowings make.

4. Find another space that know something else about all of this.

- What do you know from here about [gesture to spaces 1, 2 & 3] all of that?”
- Is there anything else you know about that?
- What difference does knowing this make?


i. We designed this exercise using the principles of Judith deLozier use of 'Somatic Syntax' and David Grove's Clean Space.

ii. The client may either enact the two metaphors in one place, or in two spaces (one for A and one for B). There is no need for you to mention this. If the clients ask, just say "as you choose".

iii. The aim is for the client to move each part of their body bit by bit so they can notice what starts the movement from one state/metaphor to the other and to get a sense of the choices points that may be come apparent as they slow down the movement.

iv. The whole of stage 1 can be done nonverbally or the client can answer these questions as they go along. The key is to keep their body engaged in the process and their words just reporting on what is happening, i.e. no explanations or stories.

v. The 'route' from A to B may be different from B to A, and have a different change-point.

vi. The facilitator can use a few, just a few, Clean questions to develop any metaphors that may spontaneously arise.

Quotes about truth
We leave you to contemplate some wise words about this subject:
"To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day,
 thou canst not then be false to any man.
William Shakespeare

“To treat your facts with imagination is one thing,
to imagine your facts is another.”
 John Burroughs

“You can only find truth with logic
if you have already found truth without it.”
G.K. Chesterton

“Much truth is spoken,
that more may be concealed.”
Lord Darling

“It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible,
whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Sherlock Holmes

“A truth that’s told with bad intent,
Beats all the lies you can invent.”
William Blake

“The truth that makes men free,
is for the most part,
the truth which men would prefer not to hear.”
Herbert S Agar

“ ’Tis strange — but true;
for truth is always strange.”
Lord Byron

“Be so true to thyself,
as thou be not false to others.”
Francis Bacon

“True and False are attributes of speech,
not of things.
And where speech is not, there is neither Truth nor Falsehood.”
Thomas Hobbes

“It’s easy to make a man confess the lies he tells to himself;
it is far harder to make him confess the truth.”
Geoffrey Household

“There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths.
It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.”
A.N. Whitehead

“Truth has no special time of its own.  Its hour is now — always.”
Albert Schweitzer

Another view of how to act from what you know to be true

Extract from Nancy Kline’s Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind (Cassell, 1999), pp. 82-83:

Denial is the assumption that what is true is not true.  When something, for whatever reason, is too difficult to face, your mind can interpret it as something else.  A colleague humiliates you in a meeting, more than once.  Everyone around the table winces, but no one speaks.  No one, including you, stops it.  Almost immediately your mind interprets her behaviour as an aberrant outburst, then as ‘the way powerful people behave’ and then as nothing to make a fuss about.  By the next day you have begun to think it didn’t actually happen.  Sure, she got a little annoyed, but nothing dramatic happened, did it?  

This is denial. It is the antithesis of reality.  It is dangerous because thinking works best in the presence of reality.  Part of reality is correct information about what is real, even if what is real is very painful or disappointing or threatening.  Your mind does have the capacity to handle anything.  But it can’t do it if you present it with lies.

Questions help to punctuate denial.  A few powerful ones are:

        • What is in my face that I am not facing?
        • What is the worst thing that can happen if I face this?
        • What is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t?
        • What am I assuming that makes me turn away from this?

There is another good question we can ask that pierces denial.  It acknowledges the phenomenon of our being willing to deny difficulties at the beginning of something because we prefer a romanticized pastel view of what is ahead.  But in fact if we only ask the question early enough, and then face the answer, we can prevent heartache and failure which otherwise can trip us up because we lived too long in denial.  

What startled me about it the first time [I was asked it was the] astute recognition that we can usually go for about a year before we are forced to see what has been right in our face from the beginning.  The question is:

‘What do you already know that you are going to find out in a year?’  

This question requires you to supply and face your own information.  Ask it at the beginning of any relationship or enterprise or change.”


Penny and James are supervising neurolinguistic psychotherapists – registered with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy since 1993 – coaches in business, certified NLP trainers, and founders of The Developing Company.

They have provided consultancy to organisations as diverse as GlaxoSmithKline, Yale University Child Study Center, NASA Goddard Space Center and the Findhorn Spiritual Community in Northern Scotland.

Their book,
Metaphors in Mind
was the first comprehensive guide to Symbolic Modelling using the Clean Language of David Grove. An annotated training DVD, A Strange and Strong Sensation demonstrates their work in a live session. They have published over 200 articles and blogs freely available on their website:

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