This post seeks to do two things for you:
- Inform and inspire about goals and resolutions so we include at least one about challenging ourselves to improve mental capacity so we not only can live closer to our best-selves now but also live longer with sharper faculties.
- Share a New York Times article entitled “How to Become a Superager” to add more research findings and discussion to support your thinking.
I pulled a few excerpts from the article that get to the point on definition and action to succeed. The full article is provided at the end. This is a summary of the core.
Superagers” are those whose memory and attention isn’t merely above average for their age, but is actually on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds….
How do you become [or remain] a superager? Which activities, if any, will increase your chances of remaining mentally sharp into old age? We’re still studying this question, but our best answer at the moment is:
work hard at something.
Many labs have observed that critical brain regions [discussed in the article] increase in activity when people perform difficult tasks, whether the effort is physical or mental. You can therefore help keep these regions thick and healthy through vigorous exercise and bouts of strenuous mental effort.
The road to superaging is difficult, though, because these brain regions have another intriguing property: When they increase in activity, you tend to feel pretty bad — tired, stymied, frustrated [at first]. Think about the last time you grappled with a math problem or pushed yourself to your physical limits.
Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment. The Marine Corps has a motto that embodies this principle: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” That is, the discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline.
Superagers are like Marines: They excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort. Studies suggest that the result is a more youthful brain that helps maintain a sharper memory and a greater ability to pay attention.
This means that pleasant puzzles like Sudoku are not enough to provide the benefits of superaging. Neither are the popular diversions of various “brain game” websites. You must expend enough effort that you feel some “yuck.” Do it till it hurts, and then a bit more.
In the United States, we are obsessed with happiness. But as people get older, research shows, they cultivate happiness by avoiding unpleasant situations. This is sometimes a good idea, as when you avoid a rude neighbor. But if people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain. All brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
So, make a New Year’s resolution to take up a challenging activity. Learn a foreign language. Take an online college course. Master a musical instrument. Work that brain. Make it a year to remember….
Think of “senior-age” people you know. Some likely are purposeful, healthy, and self-reliant, while others may be inactive, obese, fully or partially dependent, with little purpose beyond their “doctor visits.”
Sure, genetics, injuries, and more can happen to us, though we should admit, we create most of our circumstances. Or, at least, we can create our plans, actions, and responses.
Now, think of yourself. Do we want to live fully, ever growing, and self-reliant as long as we can or do we want to take it easy, do as little as possible, focus on pleasure instead of purpose, expect others to take care of us, and lose our mental and physical faculties due to lack of use?
There is plus side to needing to work hard and stay engaged when older just as there is a down side for succeeding so much you don’t need to work anymore. If you achieve the latter, your best-self will find new purposes to add value for society and keep yourself engaged with energy. If you are facing tough challenges, you have opportunity to grow to meet the challenge to not only make your “Goliath” go away but also to expand your capacity for doing more and responding better.
Writing goals, resolutions, and actions is not a guarantee of success though it is a guarantee that you have done one of the steps required to do your best. In my work with Veterans Making Comeback from homelessness and professionals with high and low levels of commitment, I have found, there is a correlation between a person having a written plan and having a sense of calling as well as a high degree of commitment, courage, and confidence.
What callings do you feel led to fulfill?
What choices will you make for goals and resolutions?
If you “look in the mirror” for an honest assessment of what you seek, as well as where you are, and write goals and resolutions you will be more likely to live as a superager.
After reading the article linked below, I felt compelled to share this post with you and to add more to my goals and resolutions to expand my mental and physical capacities. I hope you do, too. May you Plan and Lead in Life, David
To read the article:
Author of the article:
Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, is the author of the forthcoming “How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain.”