Life’s journey and the psychology of ageing
This week I am going to tackle a topic that some might argue I am not old enough to write about — the psychology of ageing.
My response to this would be: “Of course I am, I’ve got 55 years of experience!”
Ironically this one statement neatly sums up everything that there is to know about the psychology of ageing. At every phase of life, each person’s outlook on life is framed by their experiences and their reaction to those experiences.
Yes, we change over time, and at any given point in our journey we are only an expert on the phases of life that we have already been through, but our view of life as a whole (and therefore our outlook on the various stages of the ageing process) is also greatly influenced by what we believe our time on earth to actually be.
View life as a meaningless, purposeless, free-for-all and you are less likely to value your time here or learn much from your experiences, making it less likely that you will look forward to being older or maintain a positive outlook as you progress through life.
However, if you view life as a limitless journey filled with endless opportunities to learn and grow, then you are more likely to value your opportunity to live and crave the longest life possible in any form.
If you doubt this statement, consider the visionary theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking who lived more than fifty years with a progressive motor neuron disease that slowly paralysed him to the point that he was only able to communicate through a speech-generating device that he activated using a single cheek muscle.
Was he initially depressed by this devastating diagnosis when he was in graduate school? Of course, he was young and human after all.
Did he allow this setback to end his passion for science and thirst to learn? Not at all.
One might argue, in fact, that it was not until he realised that he had nothing to lose by pushing forward — every day, as boldly as possible — and not a moment to waste, that the extent of his true genius really emerged. In fact, his passion to continue exploring and learning for as long as possible may well be his greatest legacy.
What Hawking has shown us, beyond his theories of the origins of the universe, is that if you fight for original thought and learning and new experiences every day, they will come to you regardless of your physical or financial circumstances. If he managed to change our understanding of the universe with nothing more than pure thought and a cheek muscle, think what the more able-bodied among us might achieve if we lived long enough?
What then, would I say to a person of any age who is struggling with any aspect of the ageing process?
Take heart that whatever it is that is getting you down will only remain an obstacle to your growth as long as you decide to allow it to. If you focus your mind on the road ahead, your body may well continue to age and decay, but your mind will reach places that your body never dreamt of travelling.
• Robin Trimingham is an author and thought leader in the field of retirement who specialises in helping corporate groups and individuals understand and prepare for a new life beyond work. Contact her at www.olderhoodgroup.com, 538-8937 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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