In this week’s spotlight I wish to focus on the idea of aging. Years ago I developed a strategy and technology for younging. I based my work and theories on the work of others who had shown the critical role perception and expectation have on aging. Let me unpack what I learned.
Living long and remaining healthy is something we all want. Ask the teenager if they would like to live to be 100 and the likely answer is an emphatic “No!” Unfortunately that is due to their expectation or attitude toward age and old people. All too often aging takes a toll that betrays our best and instead reveals the lack of attention we gave to our health when we were younger. This is the image that so many young people see and this is the image that they therefore put in their heads as the expectation for what will happen to them when they too grow old. Thus the statement, “Only the brave grow old.” Now, ask a 99 year old if they wish to live to be 100 and the answer is typically “Yes!” So what’s the lesson here?
There are at least two levels to be considered with regard to expectation or attitude. The first comes down to the fact that the hard research shows that our expectations often come true. Consider this by way of example. Years ago, I did some research regarding the role of the mind in wellness, and it eventually led to my book, Wellness: Just a State of Mind. One of the studies I came across was most interesting and relevant to the whole matter of my beliefs regarding aging and, for that matter, dying. In this case, the Chinese birth sign was used to compare death with the expectation factor. According to the Chinese system of astrology, each birth sign provides information about the individual in terms of their occupational proclivities, talents, interests, and even the eventual cause of death. According to researcher David Phillips, the data showed a clear relationship between the astrological sign and the cause of death. In other words, if you were born believing that you’d die of cancer because that’s what your sign said, then cancer is what you died of.
Attitude is part and parcel of expectation. Our attitude influences us on a daily basis. When our mood is down our body bears witness to it. It’s no wonder people approach us and ask, “What’s wrong?” when we are feeling blue. Our attitudes are telegraphed by our facial expressions, our body posture, tension and other physical characteristics as we go through life. Let me remind you that the body analogously has two budgets, one for growth and one for defense. When we keep the body in a state of vigilance, anxious or angry, sad or blaming, and so forth, we essentially spend our budget on defense. The body pays a very real price for this!
One of my favorite stories is about a friend of mine who played disk jockey for a 50-year reunion. He told me that he prepared all the music from around the year of graduation and only when he saw folks arriving with canes and limps, hunched over and moving along as though they were old and tired, did it dawn on him that the music he had selected was all dance music. What was he to do?
Well there wasn’t anything he could do to change his music, so he went on and played it. His smile can give away the ending to this story, for in his words, “They limped in and danced out!”
Our memory and expectation both play large roles in how we age. Dr. Ellen Langer of Harvard University demonstrated this years ago when she took a group of older people to a cabin in the woods where they were separated from everything modern. Indeed, they were surrounded with magazines, music, automobiles and more, all from the circa vintage of their early twenties. When the week was over and the subjects were returned, they were post tested for length of gait and more. By every measurable means, they had reversed their aging process and were leaving the cabin younger than when they arrived!
Maintaining an optimistic and positive attitude then becomes as important to our health as exercise and diet. Our attitude definitely impacts what we find stressful and how we desensitize stressful stimuli. Our attitude also directly influences our sleeping patterns.
From an overall perspective, we must understand that it is the thoughts in our head, our attitude if you will, that determines much of our health. With the proper attitude, we find exercise fun and rewarding. With a healthy outlook on life, we enjoy good nutrition and pass on the fast foods and fattening sweets. With an optimistic attitude we have every right to expect a long healthy life full of smiles and laughter. With the right attitude we find sleep easy and natural at days end. With an attitude of respect and love toward ourselves, we find our body remains young, fit and healthy!
Self-sabotage exists because of a belief. Our attitudes are mirrors, tiny examples of our beliefs. Our beliefs are intricately connected like spider silk forming a giant web–they do not exist in isolation. Touch any one belief and the entire web is disturbed and this can be why it seems so difficult sometimes to make a change. That said, new research confirms that of all the things a person can do to improve the quality of their life, nothing is as powerful as a personality change, but making this change unaided can be challenging to say the least.
Back to my own work—we conducted a ‘younging’ experiment in a pilot study with volunteers. The results were remarkable both from the written reports and the before and after pictures. My advice—cancel those old stereotype images you might hold about aging, and you might just surprise yourself at how young you become.
My thoughts—what are yours?
As always, thanks for the read.