If you’re going to lie, tell a whopper

It’s surprising how many limitations and lower expectations are placed on people as they age. Setting our own expectations about what we can and should be able to do is a good first step to destroying those limitations.

If you’re going to lie, tell a whopper by Nancy Knowlton

A couple of years ago, I decided to have a personal trainer give me a tune-up and get me onto a good path to a fitter lifestyle. While I had been very active for years in many pursuits, over time work and responsibilities had crowded out exercise to the point where I thought that I was too sedentary. I reasoned that an expert in exercise could give me a good assessment of where I was and how best to proceed. I met the trainer at the gym and he asked me a few baseline questions about my normal activities, he had me do a few things to check my flexibility and then he took down a few details. When he asked my age, I told him I was 15 years younger than I was. He didn’t bat an eyelash at my age, and he put me through the assessment process for about an hour.

Aging well

Then we sat down to discuss my results and at times he was literally gushing. He kept saying that for a woman my age I was flexible and strong and that I had a great baseline from which to build. He put a bow on his comments by saying that on several of the tests I scored better than women more than 12 years younger than I (in actuality, more than 27 years younger). Then he gave me an outline of a workout program that would get me back into shape over time. I asked him how he would have tested me if I had told him my real age. Would the tests have been easier and his expectations lower? He paused a bit and then told me that, yes, he would have scaled back the tests and the recommended program, expecting fewer reps and lighter loads on the weights.

I give him top marks for honesty and a failing grade for low expectations. I had quickly assessed when we met that I would be wasting my time if I told him my real age. There was something about the engagement that told me he was going to downgrade everything if I didn’t give a fictitious age, that there would be age bias. Instead with a lower declared age, he allowed me to prove myself and he upgraded his expectations through the session accordingly.

Lower expectations

Subtle and overt societal messages abound about what getting older is all about. I have come to the conclusion that the worst message is the lowered expectations – lower or failing health, less rigorous activity, less participation. This messaging starts very early on in seemingly benign ways – a few pounds added here and there and some good-natured ribbing from friends about the belly (for men – women would never discuss let alone joke about weight gain). Team sports are dropped with nothing added in their place. Then the talk starts about the aches and pains and getting old (and these conversations are often with people in their forties and fifties). A partner can be a bad influence, insisting that the other spouse act his age or some similar statement about slowing down.

Forever young

There is such interesting research into how a person’s outlook and deliberate actions shape the aging process. What might be expected slowing down can be counteracted and delayed, and we all can take tangible steps , early on and throughout our lives, related to diet, exercise, skin care and sleep. But the biggest key is our outlook, setting the expectation early on in our minds that we are going to live long and live well.

If we are going to fool someone, maybe we should start with ourselves by taking 10 years off our ages mentally. With a younger outlook, would we do more and expect more? They say that 50 is the new 40, 60 is the new 50, and so on. I suspect that this could be a good thing. But why stop there? What if we took 20 years off our ages? Could 50 be the new 30 and 60 the new 40? Bob Greene certainly thinks so, as he outlines in his book 20 Years Younger.

Worth a shot to tell ourselves a whopper. It just might work.


Just to be clear, I am not recommending or condoning lying, but in this instance with the trainer, it was harmless and relatively quickly clarified. Plus it makes for a humorous and catchy title.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.