mature woman doing pottery on a wheel

Turning Back the Clock (The Power of “As If” Thinking)



Issue #397 – Monday, Nov 6th, 2023

By Marc Gilson

As Bette Davis famously said, “Getting old ain’t no place for sissies.” And while I’m not quite a senior citizen myself just yet, I’m becoming ever more aware of my own aging journey and have recently faced some of my own age-related challenges.

So I can appreciate Bette’s keen observation about aging. And I can also see why the global anti-aging market is valued at over 65 billion dollars and is expected to almost double by 2030.

From creams, injections, and cosmetics that promise fewer wrinkles and unsightly skin blemishes, to nutraceuticals and supplements that claim to slow down aging on a cellular level, to hormone optimization, laser body sculpting, blood plasma transfusions, plastic surgery; an almost infinite list of options are available today, all aimed directly at fighting off that ancient nemesis:

Aging.

human brain artistically made out of clocks

Is Aging Bad?

Now, some say these treatments are feeding into an unhealthy fear, and that aging is getting a bit of a bad rap. They say that our culture doesn’t understand or value the aging process and instead has consistently overvalued youth and become addicted to vanity.

“Aging is a natural process,” they point out, “and nothing to fear!”

I think this is an encouraging take, albeit one that’s often expressed by much younger people who aren’t quite speaking from personal experience.

Me? I guess I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m not especially eager to turn into an “old man.” But I’m also averse to wasting my remaining years worrying over some wrinkles or thinning hair. So I have to wonder if it’s possible to accept this “natural process” of aging while still working to retain as much of my youth as I can, while I can.

But I’m not really into creams, pills, and surgeries unless absolutely necessary. So what I really wondered was how much of aging is natural entropy at work and how much was mindset?

Is it possible to actually think yourself younger?

Age Is Just a… Thought? 

I believe in positive thinking. Yet the notion that something like aging could be mitigated by simply altering your thoughts seems like nothing more than wishful thinking. Sure, our thoughts are powerful, but it’s asking a bit much to believe that how we think and act could somehow slow down or even reverse aging.

Or so I thought.

Let me introduce you to Dr Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychologist who not only wondered the same thing I did about whether mindset could affect aging, she actually conducted a remarkable experiment to find out.

For over 40 years, Dr Langer has studied the power of mindfulness. If her name sounds familiar to you, it may be because she’s often referred to as the “Mother of Mindfulness,” and for good reason. Her work has established a powerful and undeniable connection between the power of one’s mindset and their physical health.

Now, it’s worth noting that Dr. Langer’s version of mindfulness is not specifically attached to meditation but is rather a simple way of applying one’s attention and focus. It’s “a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things, and sensitive to context,” she says.

Back in 1981, Dr Langer wondered whether aging was really purely mechanistic, or whether one’s environment and mindset played a role. To find out, she recruited eight men, all in their 70s, most with standard-issue problems of average men in their 70s: some joint stiffness, back pain, arthritis, and mobility issues. Some walked with a cane or were slightly hunched over. Others had eyesight or hearing trouble. 

A Time Travel Experiment

On a crisp New Hampshire autumn day in 1981, these men were driven to a converted monastery which had been renovated to be a communal living space for the eight subjects. But this was no ordinary renovation. As the men entered their new temporary home for the next five days, they felt like they’d just stepped through a time portal.

In the living room, The Ed Sullivan Show was playing on an old black and white TV. Somewhere in another room, Doris Day was singing from a vintage radio. The books, newspapers, and magazines were all from the late 1950s, as was the furniture and decor. They were given clothes they might have worn in 1959. Even the food was 1950s cuisine. Nothing of the present-day world was evident.

It was as if these men had time traveled back some 20-plus years into the past.

But the subjects quickly learned that this was no nursing home or hotel. Nobody was going to haul their luggage up to their rooms for them. They were to do everything for themselves, from the cooking to the cleaning.

The men were not just there to reminisce about “the old days,” however. For the duration of the week, they were instructed to adjust their mindset, to effectively turn back their clocks by twenty-two years, and to live, speak, and act as if they were over twenty years younger.

They played 1950s games, watched 1950s TV, and read their 1950s magazines. They were not to talk about the politics of 1981, but could talk all about events of the 1950s, and to treat such topics as if they were present day events. They decided when to eat, when to go to bed, and when to get up. Oh and one more thing: no mirrors.

For all intents and purposes, these men spent a week living in their own past, as if twenty years younger. This would become known as the “counter-clockwise experiment” and it would challenge much of what we’ve come to believe about aging.

The results?

Almost “too good to be true,” said Dr. Langer.

At the end of the week, the participants showed better posture, stronger grip strength, more mobility, less pain, more energy, better mood, and greater manual dexterity. Some even showed improvements in both their vision and hearing.

mature couple riding in bumper cars

Two-thirds of the men scored higher on intelligence tests. Independent volunteers who were asked to judge the ages of the men both before and after the experiment consistently assessed the “after” photos to be at least two years younger than the “before” pics.

Maybe most importantly, the improvements did not immediately fade away. Follow up assessments showed that the subjects continued to feel healthier, stronger, and more rejuvenated even months after the experiment ended.

And if that’s not enough, on the day Langer arrived to end the experiment and pick up the subjects, she was surprised to find these same men “who had seemed so frail only days before, were playing an impromptu touch football game on the front lawn.”

Somehow, these men had effectively grown younger in five days, leading Dr. Langer to conclude that, “many of the consequences of old age may be environmentally determined and thereby potentially reversed through manipulations of the environment.”

Rethinking Aging

While it seems that we still have much to learn about aging, Langer’s work certainly suggests that we seriously rethink not only how we age, but how we treat and care for our elderly.

Mindset matters. Environment matters. What we think and how we act matters (regardless of age!).

So is aging all in the mind? Well, probably not.

But Dr Langer’s counter-clockwise experiment presents us with a fascinating twist in the story of how and why we age. She demonstrated the undeniable power of “as if” thinking and the pivotal roles played by mindset and environment in the way we age.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to some 1980s music and then watch Cheers!


Check It Out!
Beautiful Brain

Did you know that most people have a brain that has a “Brain Age” that’s OLDER than their body?

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You see, “anti-aging” isn’t just for your skin.

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Wise Words

old man looking at map

This Really Happened

WOW! Life-changer. Grateful. I wish I had holosync years ago. I feel free, strong, empowered, calm, in control, and much more endurance. Thanks Centerpointe.

~Theresa M.
5-Day Challenge Participant


In Case You Missed It - Listen to It!

Check out our audio recording of the Mind Power essay:

youtube video cover image

By David Bardes
October 16, 2023


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