I’ll never forget when my beautiful girlfriend Emilia taught me the concept of The Truth Dial. She was trying to help me become a more impactful leader, and she gave me hard feedback I’ll never forget.
She said, “Alan, you’ve been conditioned to suppress your truth to protect others from their insecurities, but you can’t lead or help others grow without the courage to express uncomfortable things.”
Since then, I’ve realized I’m not alone. After thousands of coaching sessions with people all over the world, I know this isn’t just a problem I have but something everyone struggles with.
Whether it’s telling your child Santa isn’t real or letting your spouse know you disagree with their family’s religious beliefs, expressing uncomfortable truths is extremely challenging.
In the image above, you’ll see what I refer to as The Truth Dial. The Truth Dial is a gauge of how expressed you are. It’s like a light dimmer that goes from 0 to 10. 0 represents full suppression, and 10 represents full expression. The more you dial your expression up, the brighter you’ll become.
This is a great analogy for anyone living outside of their truth. Remember that time you wanted to express something uncomfortable to your boss but didn’t? Or that time you wanted to tell your mom how strongly you disagreed but didn’t? That’s the opposite of self-expression. That’s self-suppression, and that’s far more common than you think.
This happens constantly. We walk around suppressing our truth around others we’re afraid to offend. We’re afraid they won’t like us or that we won’t fit in. We’re afraid they’ll judge us harshly, make fun, or gossip behind our backs. So instead of trusting our truth and risking vulnerability, we suppress it and tell ourselves a story that we’re protecting them. We say, “It’s just not worth it”, or “They wouldn’t understand anyway”, instead of putting ourselves out there.
The truth is we’re scared. We don’t like confrontation because we’ve been so hurt in the past. So instead of being courageous and stepping into the person we aspire to be, we shell up and dim our own light. Instead of living in the truth even when it’s challenging, we slowly shrink ourselves to stay small and safe. After all, a dim light doesn’t challenge anyone or anything, and that’s exactly where we’re most comfortable.
Years ago, I came up with a specific phrase to help me remember the dangers of suppressing my truth, “The suppression of self-expression leads to depression.” Unfortunately, when we’re not expressing ourselves fully, we become deeply unfulfilled. If we’re not careful, this can catalyze a dangerous downward spiral.
Often we start seeking unhealthy behaviors like over-eating, drugs, or alcohol to compensate. This dims our light even more, and as we shrink further into darkness, we unconsciously start surrounding ourselves with others doing the same.
If we remain on this downward trajectory for too long, eventually, anyone living in their truth becomes too bright for us. It’s like leaving a dark theater after a long movie and stepping back into the sun. It can feel blinding and overwhelming. By this point, we’re so used to avoiding hard truth and constructive feedback that our ability to handle it has atrophied. We can’t handle much truth anymore, and now we’ve become the very type of person that others have to tip-toe around.
Above is a picture of my downward spiral. I didn’t fully understand this at the time, but I was avoiding all of my own truth. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t maximizing my potential or living my best life, but I avoided allowing that truth to surface. Instead, I kept pushing it down and surrounded myself with all of the wrong persons, places, things, and ideas to numb my self-disappointment.
I’ll never forget this one specific memory. I was in the theater watching the new Superman movie with a friend. We got dinner earlier that evening, and I’d been drinking. Instead of just having a few drinks with dinner, I decided to spike my huge theater-sized Mountain Dew with Captain Morgan. I knew I was miserable deep down, but it took one specific trigger for all of my truth to surface.
In the movie, there’s one scene where Superman gets out of a lake shirtless (see Figure 2 below). After seeing his physique, the feedback was too much. I had to leave the theater. I went to the bathroom by myself and started to cry. Looking in the mirror, the man staring back at me wasn’t who I aspired to be anymore. I didn’t see a bright, confident young man capable of great things. I saw a frail, cowardly, and deeply unfulfilled kid living outside of his truth. I cried alone for quite some time that day, and that changed my life’s trajectory forever.
Not long after that evening in the theater, I got in a car accident that had me questioning everything even more. This was another massive amount of truth all at once, where I once again faced how much I was not living up to my true potential. The car accident is a long story for another time, but the short version is that my father passed away in a car accident when he was 28. I was 26 at the time of my car accident, and I got the second chance to turn my life around that he never did.
After that, I went on a self-improvement spree. You know those movie montages where you see a character finally getting their act together? It felt a lot like that, but instead of a 10-minute scene, it was a several-year process.
I created a vision board, started working out again, and read every personal development book I could get my hands on. Instead of shrinking in fear of offending others, I started to face my fears head-on and express my truth. I started to behave boldly and with courage, and I even started tracking my habits in little black notebooks each day. I started putting myself out there again and chasing my dreams. I quit my full-time job and became a fitness model, fitness competitor, and fitness coach instead.
I did 3 fitness competitions over the course of 3 years, started my own business, created a personal brand, and started a podcast. Instead of shrinking when others were insecure around me, I did the opposite. I stayed bright and tried to be a bright light that could inspire and guide others instead, like the north star.
It wasn’t all great, though, and I need to make that clear. The transition into this new me had a lot of growing pains. It was a lot of hard work, and most of my friends didn’t like the new me. Some were very explicit and even harsh to me. My past colleagues and family weren’t always supportive either. In hindsight, the hard truth is that very few people really believed in me or what I was doing. There were a lot of lonely nights and days spent questioning myself and my path. Fortunately, I stuck with it and persevered. I stayed focused and stayed in alignment with my truth and my calling. Why? Not because I’m special or extra-courageous, but because I knew for certain the alternative was a life I wasn’t willing to live anymore.
It’s been over 8 years since that day in the theater, and I can still remember exactly what it was like to feel regretful and helpless. Maybe that’s how you feel right now, and my hope is that today you might decide to start dialing up your truth like I did.
Have you ever heard that incredible quote by Marianne Williamson?
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
I do believe that’s true, and just like me, I believe you’re capable of far more. I know you’re scared. I was too. I still am, honestly. Whether it’s coaching, speaking, training, podcasting, or even writing this blog, I’m putting myself out there every day. My hope, again, is that this article gives you the courage to start doing the same.
So where is your truth dial right now, and are you ready to start dialing it up? While I can’t promise it won’t be hard or scary, I can promise it’ll be worth it. The alternative is just too great of a price to pay.
Lastly, before I leave you to contemplate this further, I want to share what I end all of my speeches with:
“I do not wish for you to have an easy life, but a deeply meaningful one. I do not wish for you to take the common path, but the challenging and far more rewarding one, and I do not wish for you to do what makes you happy, but rather, to do what makes you great. Because what makes you great will make you happy.”