You know the expression, “Mind over Matter,” and did you know you can literally slow down your aging by thinking new thoughts? In fact, it begins by changing one little word. The switch from thinking and saying “no” most of the time to shifting into thinking and saying “why not?” or, even more powerful, “yes,” will enhance your brain functions, slow cognitive decline and keep your body movin’ and groovin’ for extra years.
Studying the science behind positive emotions has become a hot topic in the last few decades. Gerontologists, psychologists, and neuroscientists have documented how changing your mindset—from rejecting new ideas to being open to them, positively affects your level of emotional well-being—can improve your memory, and translates into a happier and healthier, longer-living, you.
From those decades of research, experts found that when we reject an idea by thinking or saying “no”—because at some level we perceive a threat or danger—our vision literally narrows to focus on what is in front of us. Our body constricts, as do our organs and we enter the “fight or flight” mode.
Dropping into “fight or flight” causes our stress hormones, chiefly cortisol and adrenaline levels to shoot up. A lifetime of saying “no” keeps those hormones constantly elevated as we live in a perpetual state of fight or flight. Continual high levels of cortisol in our bodies lead to chronic inflammation, organ damage, and cognitive impairment, all of which can contribute to dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The good news? We can change that projectile and slow down our aging in several ways. While responding “no” eliminates consideration of other possibilities or new options—a state of openness and curiosity—the “why not” or “yes” response allows us to absorb more stimuli. We see the wider view and discover more options. When we push out of our comfort zone and expose ourselves to new experiences, we develop spiritually, mentally, and even benefit, physically from that challenge.
In research done in 2020 at the University of California, Riverdale, seniors selected three new skills from a list of five: Spanish, drawing, iPad usage, music composition, or photography. For three months each participant devoted fifteen hours per week to learning their chosen new skills. When the seniors challenged themselves by learning several new skills simultaneously, they all experienced, by the mid-point in the process, performance levels similar to those of adults thirty years younger.
By saying “why not” to the challenge, and then “yes” to learning new skills, they became “fearless” in embracing new learning challenges, and challenges of all kinds. By the end of the experiment their self-esteem and emotional well-being—that measure of life satisfaction and happiness soared. The benefit of learning new skills translated into experiencing less physical pain, slowing down their rate of physical decline, and enjoying longer, more productive lives.
Additionally, they laid down new track in their brains and created new neurological pathways and connections, which preserve memory. These pathways give us easier and faster retrieval of information from our vast databases of knowledge and life experience. If the seniors in the study continued to challenge themselves in similar ways after the experiment, those new connections became permanent and their level of cognitive function improved.
This red-hot minute you can change the course of your aging. Your mindset can change how you age. Every time you hear yourself saying “no,” inside your head or out loud, pause, take a breath, and change that to “why not?” Or, if you dare, go straight to “yes” and make it your default. Then, tackle some focused learning. In no time at all you will experience more joy in your life and have whole lot more fun.
Embrace becoming fearless with a single word— “Yes!”
Until next time…Be Vibrant!