Our culture tells us that growing old, and even the mid-life years, are associated with cognitive decline. For many, words such as “decrepit”, “decline” and “senility” are practically synonymous with old age. In hundreds of different ways, we are basically told that growing older equals getting dumber.
These assumptions about mid-life and old age often have a self-fulfilling quality about them. This is because these assumptions unconsciously effect how we self-identify as we age. Consequently, as we get older we tend to cease putting ourselves in situations where we will be mentally stretched because we assume we can’t handle it. As a result, we cease having opportunities to earn the type of confidence that is a precondition to success.
The solution is a radical reversal of how we think of old age and mid-life. We need to stop thinking of age as a liability and start thinking of it as an asset. We need to realize that aging actually has many positives about it. As Gene Cohen shared in his book The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain,
“Some of life’s most precious gifts can only be acquired with age: wisdom, for example, and mastery in hundreds of different sphere of human experience that requires decades of learning. Growing old can be filled with positive experiences, and ‘successful’ aging means harnessing and manifesting the enormous positive potential that each one of us had for growth, love, and happiness.”
Cohen goes on to point out that there are aspects of cognitive functioning that actually improve with the years.
The point is that our perspective on aging needs to change. As our perspective changes, our expectations of ourselves can change. As our expectations of ourselves change, we will be more willing to place ourselves in situations where we will be stretched to realize our full potential. As that happens, we will gradually be able to earn confidence and have a positive, rather than a negative, bias towards the phenomenon of growing older.