Can your mindset keep you young at heart?

Can your mindset keep you young at heart?

October 17, 2021 0 By Rick

Staying young at heart is not as complicated as many people think. The first step involves your mindset. The person who coined the old expression, “You’re only as old as you feel” may have been onto something really big. Despite my nearly 75 years roaming this planet, I don’t think of myself as being old. I don’t think of myself as being a pensioner. In my mind, I don’t work in my old profession anymore and have, instead, joined the “gig economy.” I’m always looking for new gigs and new challenges (Swedish “Survivor” at 70 and Swedish “Alone” at 73), for that matter. I try not to associate with “old” people. By that, I mean people who act and think “old,” regardless of their age. I have good friends chronologically younger and older than me but who remain young at heart. They are the people who inspire me. I like what Clint Eastwood said when asked how at 91, he can still direct and act in movies. Clint said, “When the old man comes knocking at my door every morning, I refuse to let him in.”

Be positive about aging
Instead of repeating you’re only as old as you feel, it might be more correct to say you’re only as old as you choose to be. Why you might ask? Well, the big question has always been this: If the mind can heal the body, can it also make it measurably younger or slow the aging process? The answer seems to be yes. New research indicates that the way you look at life, your personality, your resilience and how optimistic you are, impact not just how you feel but also how your cells age. Maintaining a positive attitude about aging is also essential. After all, getting old certainly beats the alternative, so why not be positive about it?  But here’s the best reason why. Past research has found that people with a positive perception of aging are likely to outlive negative thinkers by 7½ years. Positive thinkers are healthier, score higher on cognitive capabilities and remain independent longer than negative thinkers.

Decide to live “younger”
We all know (or should know by now) that our journey through life is filled with challenges. What’s important is how you view and respond to these challenges. You’re only powerless if you think you’re powerless. Exercise is vital, and you should get some form of it every day. If you can’t run, walk. If you lack energy, get some exercise. You may think you’re too tired to exercise. Rubbish! If you exercise, you won’t be so tired. Don’t allow the aches and pains you’ve accumulated through life to slow you down. Create a list of all the things you say you can’t do, then set out to see how you can do them. Don’t listen to people who say, “you’re too old to do that.” Maybe that’s true for them, but you don’t base your life on other people’s thinking. Ignore deflating comments and embrace life, no matter how old you are. In the end, aging happens to us all. It’s time to get over the fear of it and move on with living. Your quality of life depends on it. “It comes down to daily behavior and the choices we make,” according to Elissa Epel, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), who studies stress and aging. “We have a growing set of studies of people from around the world showing that aging isn’t just an aspect of genetics but of how we live.” Deciding to live better could well be the same as deciding to live “younger.”

 Understand that perception is reality
A recent gerontology analysis found that wisdom was an essential factor in successful aging. People who others consider to be “wise, experienced and knowledgeable,” i.e., those identified to possess superior judgment, insight and spirituality (however you wish to define that), are mentally healthier and experience more well-being than other people because they tend to participate in meaningful activities. When it comes to aging successfully, perception is reality. If you feel you’ve aged well, then you have. If you feel young at heart, then you are. But – and this is key – if you don’t believe you’ve aged successfully, then you haven’t, regardless of objective measurements and the opinion of others. According to a recent study published in Gerontologist, “elderly people who self-reported successful aging, despite a high level of physical disability among the population evaluated, used adaptation and coping strategies to align their perception of successful aging with their own experiences.”

Be resilient
Resilience is a key to staying young at heart. Resilience is the ability to absorb, cope, adapt and bounce back to the “new” norm. You build resilience by taking responsibility for who you are, for your life, for the consequences of your actions – good and bad. Remember, you’re not responsible for everything that happens to you, but you are responsible for how you deal with what happens to you. Building resilience starts with this choice. Resilient people focus on the positive aspects of their lives and “incorporate the details of any incident into the complexity of positive, negative and neutral facts of life.” When something stressful happens to non-resilient people, they discount all the positive experiences, focus on the negative details and dwell on them, which distorts their perception of reality even more. Resilient people adapt to changes when something goes wrong. Instead of getting upset, they start focusing on making things better. They are optimistic and action-oriented people who make realistic plans and take initiative to execute these plans. 

Use “hacks”
Tell yourself each day, “Today I’m as young as I’ll ever be. How do I want to spend the rest of my “youth?” Learn new things and travel, travel and travel. As I wrote in Forty Tools For Life, “traveling as a young-at-heart person is no less worrying than traveling as a young-of-age person and certainly a lot safer than getting naked and drunk on Ibiza and hoping that nothing terrible will happen – but probably not as much fun.” Remember, you’re no longer what you eat, do or think. You are what you believe you are. Do crazy things, seek new challenges and go to your edges. Keep a warrior spirit in an aging body and you’ll remain young at heart. Don’t ever regret growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many! The trick is to die young as late as possible and to make sure you’re still alive when you die.

Stay optimistic
Optimism is very important. Challenges, setbacks and even tragedies are part and parcel of life. We can’t do anything about them, but we can choose how we respond to them. Let’s face it, unlike Ferrence Bueller’s father’s Ferrari in the cult film Ferrence Bueller’s Day Off, the “aging odometer” never runs backward, i.e., you can’t take years off the clock. The 75-year-old will always be 10 years older than the 65-year-old – chronologically – but not necessarily biologically. But if you want to talk about the quality years both these individuals have remaining, bet on the happy, active 75 over a cynical, couch-potato 65. Yes, all lives must end at some point, but being optimistic and having the right mindset means that not only can you enjoy the time you’ve got left, you just might get more of that time to enjoy.