RETIREMENT COACHING – DEBBIE DRINKARD GROVUM –
For your age…How do you feel when you hear these words before or after a statement such as “You look great” or “You played well” or “You accomplished a lot”? Is it a compliment or an unintentional limitation on your possibilities? Whenever I complain about an achy muscle or being a bit tired, my husband’s usual response is something like, “Well, you biked a long way for someone your age.” I know he is being supportive, but inside I rebel a bit, thinking, “How far should someone my age bike?” When I bike on the Legacy Trail by our home I consistently see older bikers going farther and faster than I ever do.
Certainly there are times when it is wise to consider age when making decisions. The advice about not wearing a new fashion trend if you wore it the last time it was hot (think mini-skirts and bell bottoms) may be helpful, but heeding that good advice feels limiting. I loved the mini-skirts with matching tights and sweaters of my adolescence but acknowledge that is no longer a good look for me. However, if we think about our lives in terms of what is age appropriate, we may miss out on a lot of good fun and great adventures.
Numerous studies have demonstrated how expectations influence behavior. How we expect to feel and act when we reach a specific age subtly and powerfully affects how we actually do feel and act. One notable study by Harvard professor Ellen Langer looked at how turning back the clock psychologically affected people’s physiological state. In 1979, Langer took a group of men in their 70s and 80s who were living in a nursing home to a monastery that had been designed to look like it was 1959. The men were expected to talk and act like it was 1959. When they arrived at the monastery, many of the men could not carry their own suitcases, but by the end of the week, they were playing touch football. I’m pretty sure during the study no one said to them that they were doing a good job for their age. At the end of just one week, they showed improvement in many dimensions including joint flexibility, manual dexterity, gait and posture.
How can we live fully and transcend age-related expectations?
- Don’t act your age. How do you think a person your age acts? Are age-related expectations limiting your life?
- Do what you love. When do you get so caught up in what you are doing that you lose track of time? University of Chicago professor Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this “flow” and knowing what creates this for you is key to living without limitations.
- Try something new. What have you wanted to try but didn’t because you weren’t sure it was appropriate for someone your age?
- Identify true physical limitations before taking on a new activity. It is always wise to consult with your medical professional before engaging in new physical activity.