Creating a Positive Senior Mindset Part 1

Article by Dr. Michael Tobin

Who hasn’t heard the expression, “Age is a state of mind?”

Part I

Come on, is it really? Can I just pick any number younger than I am and say to myself, “I’m not 72, I’m 52,” and bingo, I start producing all sorts of happy and youthful hormones like endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin.

Wow, wouldn’t that be great? I’d be able to run a mile in 5:30, instead of 8:00 at best, could manage with 2 hours less sleep, wouldn’t wake up 3 times to pee, and I’d have a full head of thick, wavy hair.

So, is the mind really the illusive Fountain of Youth? If so, Ponce De Leon should have taken up meditation and self-hypnosis instead of wasting his time searching the swamps of Florida for the answer that was literally a few inches above his nose.

Only if it could be so simple.

Only if we could think young and be young.

So, if the mind can’t reverse the aging process, then is “Age is a state of mind,” a meaningless expression that gives us no more information or direction than some bumper sticker aphorism like “Don’t worry, be happy”?

So, what’s the answer? Is Age a state of mind? Here’s the good (or maybe the bad) news: It is! But, to understand how, we have to be a bit Socratic and first deconstruct the statement until we understand exactly what each and every word means. Let’s do this by raising a number of questions:

What IS a State of Mind, Anyway?

Is it a mindset, i.e., if you think of yourself as old, then automatically you’ll feel lethargic, achy, and stuck in the past, or the corollary, if you think of yourself as young, you’ll feel energetic, adventurous, and focused on future goals?
Is it the net result of our positive or negative self-talk? In other words, if you give yourself enough “I can’t,” “It’s too hard,” “I’m too old,” messages, then you’ll create a negative mindset? Or again, if you’re constantly giving yourself encouraging affirmations like, “As long as I’m alive, I can grow,” or, “I can contribute; I have experience, knowledge, and wisdom,” or, “I may go slower, but I can and will move,” will that create a youthful state of mind?
I’m just about 72. Is there anything about that age or any age that should determine how I feel? Does any number have an attitude or a set of feelings and behaviors associated with it? Is the only significance an age holds is what we and society ascribe to it?

Think Beatles, “When I’m 64”:

…I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside

Sunday mornings go for a ride
Doing the garden, digging the weeds
Who could ask for more…

The Beatles, When I’m Sixty-Four

Well, f**k that s**t, I climbed the highest mountain in the Himalayan Stok Range when I was 64.

From Fear to Flow

Seven months ago, my 68-year-old life partner of 43 years and I were trekking in Nepal. We were descending a steep slope of steps, rocks, and dirt. I was behind Deborah, an experienced trekker, yogi, and meditator, and I noticed she was descending like an old lady, tentatively and slowly using her trekking poles for balance, as if she suddenly expected to fall. As every experienced climber and high-altitude trekker knows, a subtle fearful thought immediately materializes into an action. Think fall; you’ll fall. Why? Your body will start tensing and you’ll lose the fluid feeling of easy, competent motion – that exhilarating experience of trusting your innate physical intelligence.

So, I said to her, “Deborah, stop. Don’t use your poles. You’re over-relying on them. Trust your natural balance and coordination. I promise you won’t fall.” Following a bit of resistance, she agreed and started to descend somewhat carefully at first until the natural athlete in her kicked in and she began to fly down the mountain, jumping from rock to rock, springing like a youthful gazelle.

What happened? How did she transform fear into flow? How did the Body/Mind of a slow, nervous, senior citizen suddenly shed its skin and morph into a graceful, ageless woman, filled with fluid movement, confidence, and an exquisite sense of the moment?

A miracle – no! An anomaly – perhaps, but far from the impossible. It’s all about the poles. It’s all about a state change – not New York to California, but state like: Is Age a State of Mind. See, she wasn’t using the walking sticks to enhance her natural power and balance; she was using them as a crutch, literally and figuratively, as a statement about her mental state – fearful, and insecure, believing that the next step might be the one when she slips and falls.

Remove the sticks – change the context – and the body/mind readjusts. It’s called a state change. You may not climb mountains, but you may know it when you drink just enough to feel like your real, unencumbered self comes to life. Or, when you distract your two-year old grandchild from his temper tantrum by saying “Who would like to feed the birds with me right now?” Or, at 65 when you decide it’s not too late to be healthy and you lose 20 lbs., – reveling in the fact that this same mind that could never say no to another piece of chocolate is now experiencing the exquisite pleasure of abstinence.

Changing Your Mind

So, let’s review what it takes to create a state of mind, or more accurately, to change a negative (or old) state of mind into a positive (or youthful) one. Here’s the recipe:

Take action – Do something that might be somewhat scary or difficult, like joining an exercise group, training for a challenging competition, enrolling in a course, traveling to a place you’ve never been, in a way you’ve never experienced, or resolving an ongoing relationship conflict that’s been weighing you down. In other words, get rid of your sticks and get out of your comfort zone. Growth only comes when you don’t let fear and resistance control you.

Think positively – you just threw away your trekking poles, so you need to replace them with positive self-talk, encouragement, and acceptance.  Remember, on the other side of fear is a state of confidence, competence, and energy. An old state of mind is fearful and excessively conservative, constantly trying to convince you that you’re too old to change, or that it’s not “you” to think you can take a yoga course in India.

Remember this – you’re young if you have a future, and you’re old if all you have are memories. If you’re my age and you’re thinking about starting a business, travelling to an exotic location, volunteering at a hospital, training for a competition, creating a project with your grandchild, learning calculus at Kahn Academy, or writing your memoir, I assure you that you’ve found the Fountain of Youth and cracked the code on Is Age a State of Mind.

In Part II of “Is Age a State of Mind?” I’m going to explore what a Premium State of Mind is. At Gurfein & Tobin, if you’re over 60 and you love to move, learn, create, connect, and play, then you’re deserving the title Premium.

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