How Young Are You?

Is chronological age simply a construct?

Posted Jan 18, 2018

By Neil Gershon

Our guest blogger—Neil Gershon—has a novel approach to Mind-Body Health.

We all have a journey in this life, and a narrative of that journey. Some of us rewrite what happened in childhood or make changes in work, career or how we perceive the sacred in our lives. Neil is urging us to consider that the mind can recalibrate the body in some way that feels better, healthier—and younger.

It has to do with deciding that one is younger, in a playful, yet serious way.

See what you think.

Chronological Age—A Construct:

Is chronological age an artificial construct?  

Do we let society and our peers determine how we should feel and act based on our chronological age? Unfortunately, I believe both to be the case.

Mind & Body:

When you are 35 and forget something, you simply shrug it off.  When you are 50 and forget something, you question if it is the start of cognitive decline.  When you are 35 and wake up sore from a hard workout, you pride yourself on your intensity the previous day.  When you are 50 and wake up sore from a similar workout, you question if it is the start of physical decline.  As you can see, this can apply to so many aspects of our lives.  

Unfortunately, these perceptions are reinforced by our peers since, as we know, we typically socialize and surround ourselves with people in the same age group. Together we perpetuate these perceptions.

After reading numerous books on the mind-body connection over the last twenty years, and working to integrate these theories about the interrelationship between our mental state and physical state and the power of positive energy, I began to appreciate that the mind has similar effects on aging.  It was then I decided to experiment by selecting an age I liked and felt comfortable with (within the realm of possibility of course, e.g., at 47 you can’t tell yourself you’re 28, but why not 43?) I then decided to stay at my selected age for a number of years, followed by selecting another age to hold onto for another several years.   

Aging, Affirmations, and Slowing Time:

Today this brings me to the age of 48, which by the way I have “been” for several years. Through repeated positive affirmations, I began to convince myself, and therefore my body, that it is 48. For example, after a good workout, I would say, “not bad for a 48-year-old.” When someone asks how many years until I’m going to retire, I respond that I am way too young to even contemplate retiring – who contemplates retirement at age 48?

In fact, having been “48” now for a number of years, it has become so integrated into my mindset that when people ask my actual age, I actually need to hesitate and calculate. So integrated that each year my kids inquire before my birthday, “Dad are you still going to be 48 again or have you selected another age?”   

Breaking a Norm:

When I relate this theory of mind over body, translating to defying the aging process dictated by our society, I have been met with a variety of reactions.  Some have been intrigued and inquired further how to implement, like a relative that recently turned 60 and was open to instead being “53.” Others are skeptical and others even view it with a bit of scorn.  A few have responded, “but I am comfortable with my age.” This misses the point- the objective is not acceptance; it is to change mental perceptions about aging to achieve healthier and positive outcomes.

For my skeptical friends, I shared a study I recently read about, although it was conducted over thirty years ago. I felt the study validated my approach. The study was conducted by psychologist Ellen Langer in 1981 where eight men in their 70’s spent five days in a time warp—they were instructed to behave as if it were 1959, including discussion of politics and world events, and the setting replicated the year 1959 such as black and white televisions and magazines of that era.

After five days, testing showed that characteristics such as dexterity, flexibility, hearing, vision and memory improved. The men were actually “younger.”

How Old Are You? How Young are You?

We, however, do not need an organized retreat to go back in time to teach us about how the mind can affect aging, although doubtless it would be fun. I believe it is achievable on our own.  

For those skeptics, I invite you to give it a try for six months. Select a younger age, continuously repeat that age to yourself and act that age, even socialize with people that age and then try to deny you don’t feel healthier, happier, energized, and perhaps even look younger.

And for me, I have another birthday coming in May and since I’ve been enjoying being 48 for quite some time, I think I’ll repeat it.

Neil Gershon is a patent attorney in Stamford, Connecticut specializing in the medical industry.