- Keep active
- Stay social
- Challenge yourself
- Think positive
- Don’t write off problems to “old age”
Getting old and staying a vibrant, contributing part of society is actually a long tradition, contrary to any stereotypes of aging.
Benjamin Franklin was 77 when he served with the U.S. commission to complete negotiations and sign a peace treaty with England; invented bifocals at 78; at 81, served as the oldest delegate to the Constitutional Convention and became president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.
Florence Nightingale contracted Crimean Fever visiting hospitals during the Crimean War when she was 35 and was periodically chronically ill for years afterwards. But she went on to consult with the British army on improvements to the military hospital system, founded nursing programs, wrote, advised and mentored into her 80s. She was appointed a Lady of Grace of the Order of St John at 84; became the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit in 1907 at age 87, was given the Honorary Freedom of the City of London at 88 and at age 90 was presented with the badge of honor of the Norwegian Red Cross Society.
In more recent times:
Dorothy Davenhill Hirsch of 89 years and 109 days visited the North Pole while aboard the Russian Nuclear Ice Breaker Yamal.
Simon Murray, 63 years 309 days old trekked the 1,200 km journey from the Hercules Inlet on the Zumberge Coast, Antarctica to the South Pole; a journey that took him 2 months to complete. Murray became the oldest man to reach the South Pole unsupported.
Smoky Dawson was an Australian country music performer who at the age 92 years and 156 days released a collection of original songs in an album entitled “Homestead of My Dreams” making him the oldest person to release a new album.
Dr. Leila Denmark was an American pediatrician who earned the title of “oldest practicing pediatrician” until her retirement on May 2001 at the age of 103.
Gladys Burrill at 92 years old became the Guinness Book of World Records’ Oldest Female Marathon Finisher.
Tamae Watanabe became the then oldest woman to climb Mount Everest at age 63. Ten years later, in May 2012, she broke her own record, when she, now at the age of 73, again scaled Mount Everest.
The oldest person to be awarded a doctorate is Emeritus Professor Dr Heinz Wenderoth (Germany), who was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science by the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz University of Hannover on 29 September 2008 at the age of 97. The subject of his dissertation was “Cell Biological Studies in the Morphology and Physiology of primitive marine Placozoons Trichoplax Adhaerens”.
At 80 years Jessica Tandy became the oldest actress to receive the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Driving Miss Daisy (1989), for which she also won a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.
When he was 70 years old, Edmond Hoyle was the first to write down and copyright the details of the rules of many card games, chess, backgammon, and other games of his time period. His name appears on hundreds of books.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 years old when she started writing the Little House on the Prairie series.
At 70 years old, Golda Meir became the 4th prime minister of Israel while Ronald Reagan became President 16 days before his 70th birthday.
We have the ability and tools to live longer, healthier lives than ever. Add a positive attitude and getting older becomes a lot more fun and a lot more productive.
A Mind is a Hard Thing to Change
Can you trust your mind? Maybe. Maybe not. It really depends.
Our natural inclination is to cling to our beliefs, particularly if recent experience has reinforced them. The problem is that when we run into something that contradicts our beliefs, our mind works to reject the conflicting information even when we know it’s true. Scientists call this cognitive dissonance. MRI studies have shown that the reasoning side of the brain can actually shut down when presented with information that conflicts with an established belief. But in refusing to recognize a truth, we may also be missing opportunity.
How can you be more open to new ideas? It starts with understanding the power of beliefs and accepting that we may not always be right.
Like so many things in the nature of mankind, cognitive dissonance actually has some survival benefits. It keeps us from continually second guessing decisions, and suffering pangs of regret. It helps us sleep better at night and simplifies decisions. But it can also block our ability to see our own errors, much less correct them.
Being more open to change starts with understanding that our minds predispose us to the status quo. Unless we deliberately turn on our thinking circuits, our mind will shortcut to existing beliefs. Charles Darwin maintained that when he came up against a fact that contradicted something he believed, he had to write it down within 30 minutes. If he waited longer than that, his mind would reject the information.
It is most difficult to change our minds when we often most need to. Unhappy with your life or feeling threatened by changes around you? These emotions actually make it more likely that you will cling to existing beliefs even if they are the cause of your misery. Happiness facilitates change. People who feel good about themselves are more likely to be open-minded. We are also more willing to consider new ideas if we are feeling secure. “The more threatened we feel, by economic uncertainty, or threats of terrorism, or environmental doom and gloom, the more we circle the wagons of our opinions to keep the tribe together and keep ourselves safe...and the more fierce grow the inflexible ‘Culture War’ polarities that impede compromise and progress.”
The problem with sticking with our beliefs and not asking whether or not we are right is that when you think you're right, you don't go looking. Overconfidence and complacency are the investor’s greatest liabilities, leading to missed opportunities and the failure to see market dangers.
The fact is that everyone wants something to change when what they're currently trying to do isn't working. We want change when it fixes our problem but unless a deliberate effort is made to change the way we think, old patterns tend to dominate.