Vital. Healthy. Engaged. If you are interested in these qualities as much as I am, you need to know that they can be yours. It’s largely a matter of changing your mind and not getting stuck on numbers.
Ellen Langer, the Harvard researcher who wrote the book Counterclockwise, has completed numerous studies that show that our attitude, beliefs, expectations, and viewpoint can have a greater effect on how well we age than such things as smoking or our genetic background. In her most famous study, men in their 80s were able to walk faster, regain flexibility in arthritic hands, improve their mental responses, and become more physically active—after just one week of shifting their perspective. Over and over, Langer has demonstrated that the fountain of youth is between our ears.
It is critical that we become more mindful of what’s going on in our head. What we think about ourselves and the beliefs we unconsciously accept can keep us trapped. As Langer says, “It is not primarily our physical selves that limit us, but rather out mindset about our physical limits.”
As soon as we start saying “I’m too old for that” we begin to act as if we actually are too old, even if that’s total nonsense. Who said that older women lose interest in sex? Must we believe that after a certain age, our body will begin to stiffen and hurt? Never mind what you see happening to someone else. The differences between adults who are 65 is far greater than the differences among people who are 25. The older we get, the more varied our experience of aging becomes. So attaching yourself to a number makes little sense.
Think about the Satchel Paige quote: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” When you forget about the birthdate on your driver’s license, you are able to live from your heart and expand the possibilities for your life. There are 80-year-olds who climb mountains or run track. There are 90-year-olds who travel the world or are still working in their profession. So why are you limiting yourself?
Perhaps the problem starts with the pervasive messages received from society and the media. Limiting thoughts creep into our minds in the most insidious ways. For example, how many old-people jokes have you heard or seen on greeting cards? The more we share such seemingly benign jokes, the faster we buy into the stereotypes they reflect. And like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the sooner we find ourselves living a constricted life.
When you were a kid, an adult probably told you to act your age. They were trying to get you to show more maturity. That may have made sense back then, but when you try to act your age now you are shutting down your authentic self to conform to a meaningless number. Never mind how old you are. You are not your age. And you don’t have to act like it.