I was struck by an October article published in the New York Times entitled, “What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?”, highlighting some of the research conducted by well-known psychologist and Harvard professor, Ellen Langer. My mother (a long-time advocate of promoting mindfulness in your daily life) had sent it to me because its suggestion – that your mental perception of yourself and your life stage could potentially alter the way you age – is something that she promotes in helping her clients be more mindful of in their health and wellness goals.
At ConvergenceCoaching, we often talk about perceptions – that you can generate negative interpretations about a situation or you can generate positive ones. Blogs like “Another Possible View” by Tamera Loerzel and “We’re All Selfish – Why Hide It?” by Jennifer Wilson, describe how the way you interpret a situation, such as conflict, greatly affects how you approach and solve it. All three of these articles allude to the idea that you determine your own reality based upon the way you perceive yourself and the outside world and then how you behave because of it. The newspaper article provides several case studies that Langer has conducted throughout her career about perception versus reality, and they question many common or traditionally accepted ways of thinking, especially in the medical world.
It seems that the outcomes of the research are pointing to the effects that societal expectations have on us. For example, society places a lot of emphasis on your birth year – that the number of years you’ve been blessed with also determines what the physical state of your body and the mental state of your mind should be. While everyone ages, the way you age can be affected by your choices and your mentality. You might know some people who view their own aging as something they have no control over and that each ailment they experience physically is because their body is on a slow path of deterioration. On the other side of the scale, you might know those who are committed to aging well and are exercising often, eating nutritiously, keeping a positive outlook and maintaining fruitful relationships with the people in their lives.
What this means is that you have a choice in the way you view yourself, others and the world. We encourage clients to practice listing as many hopeful/positive interpretations in a conflict situation as they are able to list negative ones, which we all seem to automatically generate. This is because we know how easy it can be to react poorly when focusing on just the negative perceptions. Usually, thinking of the hopeful interpretations allows you to “drop your shoulders” a little and take some deeper breaths. It’s easier to think more clearly and rationally toward a solution this way. That’s why it’s so important to take this idea into other areas of your life. Think positively of your relationships, of your body and its ability to carry you through daily life, of your faith, of your path in life and be open to ways that you can feed these areas and help them grow and improve.
When you take the time in your daily activities to be attuned to what’s going on around and within you, you start to notice changes over time and are better able to respond accordingly. Striving to view the happenings in your life from a more positive outlook will at least better your mood, if not influence the choices you make. For starters, try this: when you go to bed each night, think of three things you’re thankful for in that particular day. Ask your family members to do the same. It’s a simple way to start generating positive feelings and making it a practice so that you become more focused on the very things you want to keep in life.
I encourage you to read the New York Times article, and then both of the Inspired Ideas blogs I referenced earlier and let us know what you think about positive interpretations, displaying gratitude, and perception vs. reality – we’d love to hear your comments!