Greetings all! We hope you are now mostly back in your groove as you have returned from any amazing trips, purged any pent-up frustration, and masks are mostly a memory. As you head outside, reconnect with your neighbors and do the things you love to do, we thought this might be a good time to share the work of a prominent scientist, Daniel Levitin, in his latest book, The Changing Mind: A Neuroscientist’s Guide to Ageing Well.
It’s All in the Genes… Or Maybe Not
In his book, the author compiles research from over 3,000 academic studies and distills it down to a few key ideas that he believes matter most as we attempt to get the most out of the rest of our lives. He points out that genetic variability only accounts for 7 to 50% of life outcomes when describing individual personality traits. In other words, he tells us that how our lives unfold is mostly under our own control. He states that, rather than genes, it is our mindset and the way we engage in healthy practices that make the greatest difference in where we end up in life.
Some Things to Aim For
Mr. Levitin tells us that as we take control over and begin to improve outcomes in our lives, we gain a sense of agency that allows us to become more effective in creating long-term changes.
Here are the personal characteristics he encourages us to foster and develop:
1. Conscientiousness. The author reminds us that when we are more careful and considered in our decision making, we are less likely to make poor choices. We also become more reliable and dependable individuals because we finish what we start. He calls this “stick-to-it-iveness”. These folks seek to be productive as they focus on doing their best and perfecting their technique. He also notes this trait can be learned at any age, especially via cognitive behavioral therapies that help us take practical steps toward developing the new mindset.
2. Curiosity. Curious people are most often looking for ways to make things better. They are lifelong learners. Whether it is a new language, sport, musical instrument or particular skill they are interested in, they get out and try new things. Both curiosity and learning are neuroprotective as they stimulate the mind to change and grow. This type of person tends to want to stay busy and accomplish things as they push their brains to new limits.
3. Gratitude. He tells us that being grateful is one of the best ways to increase happiness. As we become more thankful for what we have, we become less fearful of not having enough or not measuring up. It provides a sense of meaning and enjoyment in our lives as we appreciate being able to take care of ourselves and the people in our sphere of influence. It is important to be thankful for our freedom to do, to live, and to be our independent and resourceful selves.
4. Human connection. He notes that social interactions exercise the heart and mind and are especially protective as we converse with and relate to others. As we intentionally step out into authentic interactions with our neighbors and community, we become less lonely, gain a sense of shared experience and feel like bona fide members of the group. Our friends and families spur us on to higher highs with their encouragement and support. As we connect, we feel less isolated and can rest in the safety of community.
And the Really Good News…
Mr. Levitin emphasizes that, as we practice the above habits, we become more resilient individuals. Doing those things helps us bounce back from adversity, reduce the stress in our lives, and thrive as we engage in meaningful and purposeful activities. Indeed, contrary to common belief, as we exercise our minds, our mental function and memories can remain sharp as we age. We all (young and old) need to use our brains actively in order to have sufficient stimulation to enjoy peak performance and optimize function.
Looking ahead, he notes that the inevitable aches and pains that come with age actually tend to become much more manageable at 75 or 80 years old, and, to our delight, he says that 82 is the happiest age. He even believes that this age could be pushed out another decade or more depending on how we view our lives and treat one another. For most of us then… the best is yet to come!
So, we encourage you to focus on the healthy practices of good diet, rest, de-stress and movement (especially outside) as you gather again with friends and neighbors and try out these ideas. We wish you resilience, joy and productive endeavors at every opportunity.
Be well and take good care
Support Mr. Levitin (buy his book):