Cheaters Never Prosper... » Mind Tools Blog

Cheaters Never Prosper…

December 11, 2015


Have you ever done something that’s… well… a little bit naughty… ?

And then completely got away with it?

Can you remember how it felt?

I experienced this very recently. Someone bought me a scratch card as a birthday treat and I was delighted to be the jackpot winner of the grand total of… one dollar. I handed it over at the counter and waited to receive my fortune.

What happened next is a bit of blur really, because in a very short space of time I found myself having to think on my feet, envisage a number of scenarios, and deal with a variety of emotions, all while keeping a deadly straight, poker-like face.

The checkout assistant had handed me a ten dollar bill instead of a one dollar bill. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. But there it was. My thought process went something like this…

  • “I wasn’t expecting that.”
  • “She’ll realize her error any second.”
  • “Nope. She’s closing the cash register.”
  • “I should really say something.”
  • “She’s beckoning the next customer over.”
  • “I’m nine dollars up!”
  • “I’m a fraud!”
  • “I’m walking away – scot free!”

Before I knew it, the money was in my purse and I was back outside feeling slightly confused, a little bit smug, but, most of all, I was on a complete high!

Yes – so it may just have been a spot of good luck for me (and bad luck for the assistant!) but the fact that I’d decided – somewhat dishonestly – not to correct her mistake, and was reeling at the prospect of totally getting away with it, could be described as the “cheater’s high.”

The cheater’s high is an emotional boost that some people feel when they’ve lied or cheated – and not got caught. It doesn’t have to be a severe lie, or one that harms anyone, or one that even rewards you in any way – other than with the sensation of the high itself.

Think: making it to the end of a long train journey without having bought a ticket, “borrowing” a lifetime’s supply of sticky tape from your office stationery cupboard, or getting your shopping cart back to the car to find that one, very small item may not have been paid for. (All of which are completely random examples and not in any way reflective of the author of this post!)

The cheater’s high is the sheer thrill that you might feel when you’ve “cheated the system” and come out on top.

The famous con artist Frank Abagnale, who was jailed in 1968 for impersonating a doctor, a teacher, an attorney, and a Pan American airline pilot, describes the feeling in his 2000 book, “Catch Me if you Can.”

“I was heady with happiness. Since I hadn’t yet had my first taste of alcohol, I couldn’t compare the feeling to a champagne high, but it was the most delightful sensation I’d ever experienced.”

It’s a feeling that can be dangerously addictive – as also demonstrated by Abagnale, who cashed a total of $2.5 million in forged checks during his impersonations. Although the immediate “buzz” can give you an emotional lift, in the longer term the dishonest behavior can negatively impact your life.

OK – so there’s quite a big difference between my scratch card incident and Frank Abagnale’s six-year-long run from the law. But, whether you’ve told a relatively harmless white lie or whether you’re a serial impersonator, the cheater’s high is certainly something to be aware of.

Today’s article discusses possible reasons for this behavior at work, how you can identify it, how you can deal with it, and how you might be able to prevent it.

Confession time! Have you ever experienced the cheater’s high? How would you describe this feeling? Maybe you’ve recognized it in someone else? How did you handle it? Join in the discussion below! 

One thought on “Cheaters Never Prosper…

  1. Rebel wrote:

    When you’re honest you don’t have to remember exactly how and when you did “that” thing. And you also don’t have to explain / lie your way out of a tight spot. It’s not worth it!

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