Use It or Lose It:
Maintain Your Competitive
Edge As You Age
By Roger Seip
“I have short-term memory loss, though I like to think of it as
presidential eligibility.” – Paula Poundstone
believe that accelerated loss of your mental acuity is inevitable with
age, and that the loss of your competitive edge is certain to
accompany that memory loss, you’re not alone. But you are
wrong. Age does have some effect on memory, but it’s not an
especially significant factor. Nonetheless, people tend to use their
age as an excuse for poor or weakened performance. In fact, the
opposite is true: For most people in business, the prime earning years
are their 40s and 50s because they have invaluable maturity and
experience. However, sometimes people in middle age enter a very
self-defeating cycle, doubting themselves and losing confidence in
Be Like Mike…With Your Brain: No matter what your age, developing
or training the memory is, in many ways, like playing a sport.
Consider basketball: Although certain individuals are undoubtedly
genetically more gifted ballplayers – they’re 7 feet tall,
extremely strong, very fast, and have great hand-eye coordination –
anyone can learn to play basketball reasonably
well, with training and a lot of practice, even if you’re 5’2”
and not much of a jumper.
commonly misperceive memory as a talent, not a skill. While some
people do possess the genetic gift of a brain wired for superior
recall, the truth is that everybody can make major improvements in
their memory function with training and practice regardless of age,
education, IQ, or any other factor. You’re not going to be a
superstar professional athlete without some God-given talent, but most
people, when it comes to using their brains, don’t need to be
superstars; they just want to lead productive lives. And that is
Older Really Can Mean Wiser: Age is a factor in training your
physical body, and it’s no different when training your brain.
Although few people can run a mile faster at age 40 than they could at
age 20, if you’re motivated and committed, you can still run a
pretty darn fast mile at age 40. Your results will be quicker and more
dramatic when you’re younger, but a very inspiring key difference
between athletic training and brain training is that while you can’t
get stronger, faster, and more coordinated as you get older, it’s
totally realistic to expect to continue to grow wiser – more
effective mentally – in later years.
fine, but doesn’t everyone inevitably get more forgetful when they
age? Yes, hormonal changes as we age do have some impact on our
memories, but people tend to blow this factor way out of proportion
and make it way more of an issue than it really is. In most cases,
you’re actually not more forgetful than you ever were; you just notice
more when you are forgetful.
the phenomenon where you walk into a room and then you can’t
remember what you walked into the room for? That’s known as
‘walking into the hereafter.’ Because you walk in and you think,
“Now what was I here after!?” You don’t walk into the hereafter
any more now than you did when you were seventeen, but you’re more
aware of it now when you do. Why? For one thing, you hear doctors say,
“Vigilantly watch for short term memory loss, because if it starts
happening more, you may need a check-up for Alzheimer’s.” We’re
hyper-aware, therefore, of every time we have a “hereafter”
moment, and this fearful mindset about getting Alzheimer’s disease
in turn makes us notice even more every time it happens.
reason you may feel more
forgetful, even though you’re not, comes from the power of negative
thinking. Many people create a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy in
which they subconsciously create their own forgetfulness, actually
starting to forget more because they believe
aging will make them forget more often.
Six Steps to Sharpen Mental Function: As with sports, having a good
memory is a matter of conditioning, commitment, and positive thinking.
When you realize that you
create the notions that your mental faculties decrease and you grow
less effective as you age, then you have the power to change that
idea. Once you’ve accepted that, you can keep your brain in top
shape as you age by taking the following steps:
forgetting is no big deal:
Because the language you use has
been proven to become your reality, choose positive self-talk. You
can convince yourself that anything is possible just as easily as
you can talk yourself into believing that something is
when it’s really not. Don’t use language that makes a
catastrophe of something that’s really not a big deal. When you
lose your keys for five minutes, for example, don’t tell
yourself, “Oh my God! I obviously have Alzheimer’s!” when
really you just lost your keys, a meaningless and common
phenomenon you’d not have thought twice about a few years
positive attitude…within reason:
Zig Ziglar has famously
said that a positive attitude will not help you do anything that
you want to do. A positive attitude will not magically transform
the talentless into superstars, nor will it make basketball great
Shaquille O’Neal into a good horse jockey. But a positive
attitude will help you
do everything better than a negative attitude will.
changes for a big difference:
the words “forget” and “forgot” from your vocabulary.
Instead of saying, “I forgot her name,” try saying, “I
can’t recall her name right now.” It may sound like a silly
little change, but you’re actually re-training your brain. When
you say, “I forgot,” your brain processes, “Oh, I’m old
and getting stupider by the second.” But when you say, “I
can’t recall,” you cut yourself and your brain some slack,
making it much easier to recall the information later. This
perception change will have an immediate effect on your ability to
recall the information you’re seeking.
stress in the moment: Stress is the number one killer of
your recall. If you can’t immediately remember something, don’t freak out.
Just take a deep breath and think positively that eventually you
will remember. Tell yourself, “I know this. It will come to
your brain and body: Research shows that a combination of mental and physical
activities can protect your memory and help keep you alert.
Overall physical health will translate into overall mental health,
better memory, and sharper mental faculties all around. Exercise
maintains heart health and opens blood vessels; in turn, brain
cells get the nutrients that ensure peak performance. Exercise
your brain, too, by doing crossword puzzles, solving brain teasers
or playing Sudoku. Mental games and exercises have been proven to
have a definite effect on mental agility as people age. Reading
good, challenging books that make you think is also an essential
mental exercise to stay sharp. Also get sufficient sleep and take
a vacation every once in awhile.
brain: Exercising a muscle means you’re using it, but not
pushing it beyond its limits. Training involves going beyond where
you’ve ever gone before. To train a bicep to be stronger, for
example, you have to lift a weight that’s heavier than one
you’ve lifted before, or you lift it more times than you
previously have. You must push it beyond its current limits.
It’s the same with your brain; you must continuously challenge
your brain by learning new things. It doesn’t really matter what
you learn: cooking, a foreign language, history – anything so
long as it’s new.
With the Brain, It’s No Pain, No Gain: While it may be
uncomfortable at times – just as when you’re training your body to
be stronger – you must choose the pain of discipline over comfort if
you want to maintain a competitive edge. Growing pains aren’t nearly
as bad as losing out to your competition or feelings of decrepitude,
uselessness, or regret. If you can endure a little bit of pain every
day as you take the steps necessary to add mental acuity to the wisdom
and experience you’ve acquired with age, you will find that old
advertising slogan is true: You’re not getting older. You really are
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