Actions speak louder than words. You've probably heard this expression a million times, when people who said one thing but did another were exposed as hypocrites. But have you ever tried applying it to yourself? Here's how you do it, and why you should.

Everybody has heard the saying: "actions speak louder than words". It's a timeless truism. And we apply it eagerly, unmasking hypocrites by pointing out that their actions are not congruent with their stated values.

It's fine and even necessary to have such standards for other people. But I actually think it's way more interesting to apply this scrutiny to yourself; and to see if you can unmask yourself as a hypocrite.  

Let me explain.

Predicting our own behavior

Have you ever wondered why, when a new supermarket comes to town, they never conduct a market survey to see what kinds of food people would want to be able to buy in that supermarket? Turns out there is a very good reason that they don't.

If a supermarket would go ahead and conduct such a survey, the results of the survey would always show that people in this town disproportionately value healthy living. Miraculously, the presence of a large variety of fruits and vegetables would turn out to be very important to almost everyone, whereas a large selection of potato chips and soft drinks would not.

But, when the store opens, it would find out that people actually buy way less of those fruits and veggies and way more of the soft drinks and potato chips than you'd think, based on the results of the survey.

Why is this the case? Are most people just dishonest in surveys?

No. The reason is that as people, we are notoriously bad at predicting our own behavior; because we easily fall pray to wishful thinking.

We tend to answer these surveys based on what we would like our behavior to be. But when faced with the scarcity, incentives, and tradeoffs of the real world, we make very different decisions than in the world of hypotheticals.

Seeing that a supermarket has no use for information about what you wish you would buy, only for what you will actually buy; no supermarket will conduct a survey to determine what foods it should have in its selection.

Surveys and interviews around a product launch are of very limited value for the same reason. Lots of people will say they would buy something at a certain price; but then when it's time to actually part with their money, they often decide differently after all.

There is a difference between stated and revealed preferences.

Actions speak louder than words.

Self-knowledge through self-observation

So, being human, you're notoriously bad at predicting your own behavior, because you easily fall prey to wishful thinking. Knowing this provides you with a great opportunity to learn some more about yourself and who you really are.

What revealed preferences do you have that are entirely different from your stated preferences?

  • Maybe you always say that your family is the most important thing to you, but in reality you work 80 hours a week pursuing money and social status; and you rarely make time for your family.
  • Maybe you always say you want to be a writer, but you never make time to write. Instead, you're spending 4 years and untold amounts of money on getting a college degree; and you spend your free time partying and drinking with your friends.
  • Maybe you always say that you value healthy living, but your grocery bills tell an entirely different story; and nobody at your gym knows who you are.

Don't get me wrong, here. I'm not trying to make you feel bad by trying to get you to expose yourself as a hypocrite. I'm trying to do the opposite. I'm trying to help you liberate yourself by introducing some brutal honesty.


Now that you've examined your own behavior, and concluded that you're somewhat of a hypocrite, you need to dive a little deeper and see why this is the case. There are three possible answers to the fact that your stated goals don't match your behavior.

1) These aren't really your goals

So you keep saying that you should really visit your brother more often. But you don't do it. Why not?

Maybe you don't actually want to. Maybe you only tell yourself that you should really go see him, because you feel the emotional pressure from your mom. But deep in your heart, you don't feel bad at all about not having been over there in over 6 months. Maybe you don't visit your brother because you just really don't like seeing him, and you never have.

In this case, your stated preferences weren't really your preferences anyway; and you don't have to feel bad about not acting according to your stated preferences. This is liberating, because you don't have to keep chastising yourself about it anymore.

2) These goals are not worth their cost

Somewhere, you would like to be the girl that has her own podcast on the side. That sounds really cool. But in practice, it's just so much work to create content every week; and there are other things you would rather spend time on, like pursuing your interest in art.

Somewhere, you would like to be that dude who travels to remote places and climbs rock formations others can only dream of. But in practice, it would require you to give up a huge chunk of your already scarce free time, and you would just rather spend that time hanging out with your girlfriend.

So you have to admit that in practice, these goals are just not worth their cost to you right now. There is no shame in admitting this at all!

You don't have to see yourself as a failure if you make the conscious decision that this goal is not worth pursuing at this time. It's liberating!

3) You've set yourself up for failure

If you really want to be a surfer, but you never surf, you don't have to conclude that this proves you don't really want it after all. Part of the reason may be that you live 4 hours away from the seashore, for example.

If this, or something similar is the case, you've set yourself up for failure. You're fighting an uphill battle because you've set your life up in such a way that it disincentivizes you from living according to your preferences.

Move closer to the sea if you want to be a surfer. Invest in a home gym if you can't find time to go to your local gym. If you have trouble not eating crap in front of the tv late at night; make sure you don't have junk food in your house in the first place. And maybe toss your tv!

Make sure you confront yourself with the right incentive structures so that you can set yourself up for success.

The basis of all personal growth is when you start to carefully examine yourself, trying to expose the hypocrite you are, every now and then.

If you make it a habit to look at your own life and behavior this way, you will learn so much about who you really are and what you really value. And through this, you will become a better, truer version of yourself.

So cut through the rhetoric.

Unmask yourself