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The Ageless Mind
How to Stay Sharp No Matter What Your Age

By Christopher Knippers

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2007. Copyright 2007. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Roger had never thought about his age in relation to his position during his eight years at the company. Everything was fine until a wave of new hirings and promotions came through his division. He noticed for the first time that he was beginning to be the senior member of the organization, not only in his length of time at the company, but also in his age. This was unsettling. Roger noticed there was a certain youthful enthusiasm in the new hires, and suddenly it occurred to him that he had gradually lost that quality over the past eight years. He became a little insecure in his position for the first time. He wondered if he was going to be left in the dust of the energy that these new people were exuding. Roger wondered if he could somehow regain his vigor and vitality that had subtly faded.


Cultivating Your Edge
A youthful edge is an asset that will give you an advantage in life. There is no escaping it: our society is increasingly youth oriented. That's because the passion that is necessary to achieve greatness is associated with the attitudes that many young people still have, before too many disappointments come along in their lives. However, it's important to remember youthful is an attitude, not an age. Most anyone, of any age, can easily develop the attitude and stamina it takes to embrace a healthy outlook. In her classic work, The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand referred to that personal quality this way: "It is a sense of enormous expectation, the sense that one's life is important, that great achievements are within one's capacity, and that great things lie ahead." You, too, can have this perennial quality of being.

There are steps you can take to develop an attitude that is considered youthful, because it is an attitude that is associated with the passion, enthusiasm, and vitality of youth. Unfortunately, most people become more cynical and discouraged with age and experience; but cynicism and discouragement are unnecessary, learned perspectives on life that result from disappointments, losses, and extraneous influences that accrue over time. You don't have to give in to those things. You can maintain a fresh outlook on life that is full of possibilities. The more you believe in new possibilities, the more you will see new possibilities. As humans, we tend to find that for which we are looking. Look for what you are passionate about (or, perhaps what you once were passionate about) to happen in your life, then take steps to make those things happen. In the process, you will be living in a way that increases your stamina.

Here are some simple steps you can take every day to maintain a fresh outlook on life, a sharp mental acuity, physical energy, and the positive mood that draws people to you. With these qualities, and your experience, you can savor what life has to offer for a lifetime.

Examine your attitude. Look at your attitude toward the people in your life, the people in society (of all ages), and the situations in your life. Find the negativity and extinguish it. There is nothing that is more of a turnoff than a person who harbors ill will toward others. Drop the negativity. It's not getting you where you need to be in life. Look forward to your positive goals, which hopefully benefit others as much as they do you, and work passionately toward them.

Be passionate about your goals. Your experience in life may have been a bad teacher. It might have taught you that your fondest goals cannot be reached, because of a few disappointments. Don't believe it. You can get there. Put yourself enthusiastically into the things about which you are or were passionate. Along the way, lift up other people in the process of trying to reach their goals. Recent history has taught us the lessons of what happens when you strive toward a certain type of "greatness" while selfishly leaving others to suffer. On the other hand, we have many recent examples of highly successful people who are very altruistic and are becoming more successful in the process.

Give yourself mental challenges. Learn new skills, do the crossword puzzle (or sudoku), increase your vocabulary, read outside of your usual interests. Simply taking a different route to work or even wearing your watch on the opposite wrist can help you stay mentally sharp. New learning of any kind can increase your brain's capacity. It's just like building muscle by working out at the gym.

Treat your body to a boost. There are some things you can do to increase your mental acuity, boost your mood, and help your physical ability as well:

-- Avoid alcoholic drinks. Alcohol kills brain cells, speeds up the brain and body's aging process, and decreases serotonin.

-- Eat foods rich in antioxidant vitamins, such as blueberries and spinach. Also take in omega-3 fatty acids (found in cold-water fish and in capsules at the store). Your brain and body love these and will reward you by functioning more efficiently.

-- Perform some type of daily activity that increases your blood circulation. This will nourish your brain, build muscle tone, increase serotonin levels (body chemicals that are natural mood elevators), and relieve stress.

-- Sleep. Your brain and body need this restorative time.

Use humor daily. Develop and cultivate a sense of humor. Everyone loves a good laugh. Even if you are not the one full of jokes, join in the fun with those who are. If you develop the ability to laugh at yourself, you will be even more fun to be around. Laughter increases energy levels, increases serotonin, and relieves stress.

Take time to play. Make it a priority to do activities that you find fun. If you must, schedule time into your calendar to do the things you love. And make sure you follow through. These activities can increase another mood-enhancing body chemical--dopamine.

Be involved with recent events. Keep up with current trends in society, politics, culture, and style. You don't have to like the trends, and you certainly don't need to try to look like someone half your age, but just stay in the loop.

***

Following these simple suggestions will give you that youthful edge and help you feel happier and healthier regardless of age.

Christopher Knippers, PhD, is a psychologist and author living in Rancho Mirage, California. An evaluation specialist for the Betty Ford Center, Knippers has a wide range of expertise, especially in depression, addiction, and self-esteem issues. He teaches at Chapman University and is author of three books, including Cultivating Confidence: Your Guide to a More Fulfilling Life. For more information, call 760-408-9965 or e-mail dr.knippers@att.net.




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