Cortney Warren is a board-certified clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and research consultant. She is the founder and owner of Choose Honesty, LLC, a company created to help individuals live more fulfilling lives by confronting self-deception. Warren is the author of Lies We Tell Ourselves and has written chapters in various books, including Behavioral Addiction.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew in primarily in Minnesota as the only child of two professors. Although many things shaped my life (as they do for all of us!), two experiences dramatically shaped my adult life because they fundamentally changed my perceptions of myself and the world around me.
The first is that my parents divorced when I was about 4 years old. It was a very chaotic, unstable home environment leading up to and following the divorce. As a child, I believed (at some level) that it was my fault and that I was somehow fundamentally flawed. I falsely concluded that, if my parents really loved me, then they would stay together and be more available to me. That belief—albeit a flawed one—followed me into my adult relationships in ways that I have been working with ever since.
The second is that I traveled a lot as a child—nationally and internationally. Exposure to people from different cultures and countries with diverse beliefs, values, lifestyles, political realities, and norms greatly shaped my perceptions of human nature. It also exposed me to diversity in a profound way that made me contemplate who I was and what I believed was important in life.
Together, living through a divorce with complex family dynamics along with exposure to people from diverse cultural contexts shaped my passion for Psychology. I was intrigued by people and wanted to understand us from a multi-lensed perspective—starting with the internal/person and expanding out into the familial, communal, and cultural factors that shape who we become.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I would have known at a deep, internal level that I have the power to determine the course of my life. That independent of life circumstances, we all have inherent value simply because we exist. What we do with that existence and how we ultimately develop and use our power is a choice that each of us must make in an ongoing basis over the course of our lives.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
One topic that has received considerable attention in the last decade or two in the field of Psychology (and mainstream Western culture) is happiness. People want to be happy! There are many books and ongoing discussions that promote the ultimate goal of “finding happiness” and “being happy.”
While I am a huge proponent of creating a meaningful life based on honest self-awareness and choice, I actually think focusing on happiness as if it is a trait that one can achieve as a goal is a mistake. For happiness is an emotion—like anger, fear, and sadness. While we all have personality traits that affect the quality and degree of emotion we generally feel in life, ‘encouraging a belief in people that it is reasonable to be happy or expect happiness as a daily baseline is unreasonable’. It fuels a mistaken assumption that humans are capable of being happy 100% of the time and that if you are not happy, something is wrong with you.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
There were periods of time when I was in college that were particularly challenging for me emotionally. I was grappling with understanding myself at a deeper level, which I found incredibly painful. I was struggling to understand my emotional reactions to people—from friends to dating partners to my family of origin. It was a time of intense reflection, social, and emotional processing.
I came through this period with a dedication to study Psychology in graduate school because I had more questions than answers. The most important thing I learned through this period was that the truth can be very hard to admit to yourself. But that it is essential to understand yourself at a deep level and is the only way to facilitate lasting change.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Hard work and courage. It takes a great deal of dedication and bravery to explore yourself and become vulnerable. It is also a long-haul to earn a doctorate—if you are not willing to work hard, it is unlikely that you will reach the end!
What is your morning routine?
I am generally woken up to snuggles from my 5-year-old son around 6 am. After a few minutes, we roll out of bed and move to the couch in our living room. I get a cup of coffee and my journal. With the rest of the house still quiet, we get a blanket, and he watches a show while I journal. At around 7, we make breakfast and wait for the rest of our family to join us.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I journal almost every day and have since I was in college. Not only does it give me the opportunity to express myself in a confidential way, but it helps me process the information I am holding in my mind. Now, I have years of journals. From time to time, I go back and read what I wrote. It offers me great insight into myself, what I have worked through, and how much I have changed over time.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I like to be productive and have structure in my day. I work best in the morning, so I schedule my most intellectually-intensive tasks (writing, editing) early in the day. When I am working, I try to turn off distractions (e.g., no phone, checking email) and focus as much as possible on the task at hand.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Probably at the top of the list is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. As a holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, and existentialist, Frankl argues each of us is responsible for creating meaning in our lives. That in the face of ultimate darkness (including being in a concentration camp), one can still find meaning and purpose in life. For it is the meaning that you create in your life that will give you a reason to live and become the best version of yourself through whatever adversity you face.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
So many! I actually love quotes. Here are a few of my favorites:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” ― Viktor Frankl
“There are 2 mistakes one can make along to road to truth… not going all the way and not starting.” ― Buddha
“An unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” ― Carl Jung
“Belief in the truth commences with the doubting of all those ‘truths’ we once believed.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
“You will either step forward into growth, or you will step back into safety.” – Maslow