Positive thinking plays an important role in our self-perception as we age. In fact, research shows that we often become the people we expect ourselves to be.
Now it’s important to understand that when I talk about the power of positive thinking, I don’t mean a simply “Believe in yourself and you’ll succeed.” As I explained in my earlier post about confidence, a person can spend all day imagining that he is a successful NFL quarterback, but if he doesn’t actually train, he’ll be lucky if he can even throw a complete pass. While self-belief and confidence are important for success, if our confidence isn’t earned, our self-belief can be little more than self-deception.
Now let’s apply these principles to the reality of aging. Elderly people need to put themselves in situations where they will succeed. Confidence by itself is insufficient if it is not matched with competence, including the type of competence that only comes after methodical, rigorous training. Confidence requires competence, and competence requires mastery, and mastery is derived from doing right things repeatedly. Practice only makes permanent; perfect practice makes perfect permanent results.
If we embrace an age fatalism based on a narrative of decline, or based on a spurious cyclic view of life whereby old age is an inevitable return to childhood (the, so called, ‘second childhood’) then these assumptions may actually block us from being able to realize our full potential.
On the other hand, if we come to expect growth as we age, we can focus on specific positive goals and nurture our development towards them. As Gene Cohen put it in his book The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain,
“Denying of trivializing the positive potential of aging prevents people from realizing the full spectrum of their talents, intelligence, and emotions. But when we come instead to expect positive growth with age, such growth can be nurtured.”