A considerable amount of research has been conducted to determine when a person is lying. Cues generally fall into three categories:
Verbal Language: The pace or timing of the words seems slightly off. The words don’t match the expression, or the timing will be delayed. For example, the person may say, “I like you a lot” and then smile afterward instead of simultaneously with the expression. Another cue is a mismatch between the words and the physical expression.
Body Language: Hand and leg movements will be limited and will involve movement back toward the body, as if to make the liar smaller and less visible. Eye contact may be avoided. The liar’s hands may touch his or her face, throat or mouth but won’t touch the chest or heart.
Style of Interaction: Liars tend to be defensive—they may turn away, turn their eyes away or push an object, such as a book or pen, between the interviewer and them. Because liars are uncomfortable with silence, they may fill in the space with unnecessary details. Liars may also use humor or sarcasm to avoid an outright lie.
This research is directed at others lying to us. However, equally important (or maybe even more so) is learning how to detect the lies that are the most damaging to our health and fitness—the ones we tell ourselves. Self-deception is dangerous because it enables us to ignore symptoms that can develop into chronic or nonreversible life-threatening medical conditions.
If we are to make changes that will improve our chances for a healthier life, we must be able to detect and confront self-lies. Here are three diagnostic cues to help you decide if you are lying to yourself:
Verbal Language: Your words don’t match your actions. That is, each morning you say, “I really want to lose weight,” yet by suppertime, you give yourself a second helping of meat and potatoes, and later you raid the freezer for a bowl of ice cream. You tell yourself that you are going to exercise an hour each day, yet you postpone beginning.
Body Language: Despite your assurances to yourself that you really are making changes, the numbers on the bathroom scale continue to climb. Other measures, such as blood pressure, cholesterol readings and blood sugar levels, are not improving. You underestimate the impact of poor lifestyle choices, whether they involve excessive drinking, smoking, overeating or lack of regular exercise.
Style of Interaction: You dread the visit to your doctor, especially the moment when the nurse asks you to step on the scale. You are defensive with family members when they express worries about your health. You provide all sorts of plausible explanations for not losing weight or becoming more fit. You may joke about your weight as a preemptive effort to keep others from doing so.
I became an expert on the topic of self-deception because for years I was living in a body of lies. I wasn’t obese; I was simply short for my weight. But my reality changed in an instant. When I weighed myself one fateful morning, the numbers climbed to 183, and the scale broke. Standing naked on the broken scale in the harsh morning light, I was forced to admit the truth. I was obese and woefully out of shape. By telling the truth, I freed myself to make changes.
I was lucky. I made the changes before I suffered any permanent damage to my health.
about you? If you want to have a relationship with yourself based on
respect and trust, you need to be willing to have a candid and frank
discussion with yourself about the state of your health and
more big fat lies. You need to swear to tell yourself the truth, the
whole truth and nothing but the truth. In addition, you have to
commit to a lifetime of Stephen Colbert’s enlightened state of
You’ll find the effort fun, rewarding, exhilarating and
enlightening. Trust me.
Would I lie to you?
"The cruelest lies are often told in silence." Robert Louis Stevenson