Whether I am working with stressed out managers, helping busy mums to find a way to manage their weight or assisting kids to overcome exam anxiety the one thing I can guarantee is that sooner or later, with every client, I will run into a self-limiting belief.
So I got to thinking about beliefs because it is not so much whether a belief is true that matters but more whether it is useful to you in what you are seeking to achieve. One of the commonest beliefs I come across is ‘It’s too late, I’m too old. I am never going to be able to do that at my age’. And we are not talking about people in their eighties here. I frequently get this from people in their forties. Another common belief in the West is that, ‘if I do not drive myself hard and force myself to achieve, I will get left behind and be written off as a failure’.
So I started thinking. I am 56 and I do not really feel any older now than I did when I was 26. In fact I drink less, I quit smoking 25 years ago and I exercise more. My one real vice is sugar, especially in chocolate. So what if I could actually trick my body and mind into believing that I am actually getting younger, or at the very least, radically slow down the ageing process? What if I could eliminate the sugar and at the same time eliminate the deeply ingrained and wholly unsupportable beliefs about having to hurry up and achieve, achieve, achieve? What if I just assume that I am going to live if not forever, at least to be 120 years old?
I actually started this process on my 50th birthday. I announced to my kids that when you hit 50 your age starts going backwards. By this reckoning I am now only 44. They knew and I know, as you do, that it isn’t true but that is the odd thing about the power of beliefs; it doesn’t matter whether they are true or not, in this context. All that matters is whether the beliefs are useful. Just to be sure, I have also adopted the belief now that when I reach 25 I will start growing older again. Being somewhere between 25 and 50 but with all the accumulated wisdom I have now seems like a pretty cool place to be to me.
How often do you hear people say, ‘if I had known when I was younger, what I know now, my life would be so different’?
Well, as Captain Picard would say in Star Trek, ‘Make it so’.
Of course there are always things you can do physically to help keep you young and healthy and there are also things you can do mentally.
As I went on thinking about ways of stemming the ageing process, I decided to have a look at the brand new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness (DSM-V). This is the bible of US and UK psychiatric diagnoses and highly controversial. Surely, I thought, they must have made up a mental illness called ‘senilophobia’ or Obsessive Age Attribution Dysfunction Syndrome (DSM contributors love syndromes, acronyms and Latin)
I could not find anything although I was amused to discover a new sexual disorder called ‘absexuality’, which is a tendency to get excited about being appalled by overt displays of pornography and which to my great delight has now been dubbed ‘Mary Whitehouse Syndrome’.
There is also one which probably accounts for people like Tiger Woods and Russell Brand called ‘hypersexuality’:
- An overwhelming urge to have indiscriminate sex.
And as I thought about this it did occur to me that an overwhelming urge to have indiscriminate sex was a feature of my own youth.
What if doing what I did in my youth made me youthful again? Could it possibly work like that?
It was at this point that I came across another new mental illness. That’s what the American Psychiatric Association does in the DSM. They make up new mental illnesses. There is a great and amusing critique of this insane process on the Community Care blog by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick.
Anyway, this new disease was called Sluggish Cognitive Tempo.
Symptoms include: being day-dreamy, mental fogginess, becoming easily confused, frequently staring into space. This all sounds a bit like ‘old age’ to me, but I cannot also help thinking that when I was 15 years old, at school, I had a tendency to day-dream, I was constantly confused, I had a foggy feeling that nothing was that important and I certainly used to stare out of the window; mostly at the girls on the school playing field.
In my relentless search for articles on how to stem the ageing process I then came across this article in the New York Times Magazine:
What a brilliant idea for a useful belief! What if we simply didn’t remember that we are ‘supposed’ to get old and die?
This is the story of Moraitis who, suffering from terminal lung cancer in his mid-60s returned from the US to his native Greek island of Ikaria and proceeded to outlive all 8 of his US doctors. Moraitis is now 97 years old. The cancer long since disappeared. He never did the chemotherapy and in the last 30 years he has built up a wine business producing 400 gallons a year.
Ikarian men are 4 times as likely to reach 90 and will also be in much better health. There are no clocks. If you ask someone to lunch they will turn up somewhere between 10am and 6pm. The air and the water are very clean. They make their own herbal teas and they have types of honey not available anywhere else. There is a real sense of community where people pool money for religious festivals to pay for food and wine. They have no word for privacy and no real crime. Everyone takes responsibility. They garden and look after livestock and at the end of the day, instead of sitting on a sofa alone, staring at a TV or a laptop, they socialise and drink modest amounts of wine and coffee.
Not surprisingly a lot of the longevity on the island is attributable to a diet high in olive oil and plant foods and low in saturated fats. They eat fish twice a week, very modest amounts of meat and little dairy produce.
What they also do on Ikaria is sit staring out to sea and take a lot of naps. One survey found that when naps are taken regularly, heart disease is reduced by 37%.
This sounded to me a bit like ‘Sluggish Cognitive Tempo’. So what if SCT is a healthy syndrome – a kind of healthy, natural response to Western madness- rather than a mental illness? Clearly the pace at which we lead our lives does have an impact on health. Taking daytime naps and staring at the sea does take time and daydreaming may even seem counter-productive, especially if you are a politician trying to create an economy based on low wages and unlimited working hours for poorer people.
But if you are going to live for an extra 20 or 30 years then who cares?
I notice also there has been a rush of articles recently on reducing calories and especially on fasting as a means of increasing longevity and improving general health. New Scientist and the Guardian recently suggested there was evidence that fasting could reduce risk from Alzheimers. There does seem to be something in all of this. New Scientist also says that ‘People who substantially cut their calorie intake develop some of the traits associated with longevity’.
People in a low calorific intake study showed a significant reduction in DNA damage. This is noteworthy because some of the chemical by-products of food metabolism, especially sugary foods, attack DNA which might contribute to cancer and accelerate the effects of ageing.
If like me, you find all of this a bit too much to take in, then perhaps you are mentally foggy or easily confused.
But I do think we all have a choice, even and perhaps especially if money is tight for you personally. We could go to our doctors and try to convince them we are suffering from Sluggish Cognitive Tempo. We could go on eating and drinking tons of sugar fuelled crap and try to go on kicking ourselves into action in a desperate attempt to find the energy in a low wage economy to make enough money to live on before we are forced to retire through ill health and then sink into dementia.
Or we could begin to explore the possibility that there is nothing wrong with us that we ourselves cannot fix. All we need to do to live longer is slow down, listen to our bodies, become more mindful, more community oriented and spend a lot more time staring out to sea. Oh, and have more sex too.
Mindfulness is the foundation of all the work I do. It is something I am slowly beginning to develop for myself. The less I hurry, the more I follow a path to health, longevity and meaningful productivity. The sugar fuelled chocolate is still occasionally a problem for me, but I have lost 19lbs using Paul McKenna’s simple, natural system of mindful eating since last year.
And as a hypnotherapist and a man rapidly regressing towards his teens (if I ever really left them), I am an expert on daydreaming.
Developing mindfulness in 21st Century Western society is a challenge. As the 17th century poet Andrew Marvell said, ‘ever at my back I hear, time’s wingéd chariot hurrying near’.
If this is you, if you suffer from the great Western ‘hurry up’ driver I have a piece of advice for you: stop bloody paying attention to time’s winged chariot and take a nap. The one belief that will kill you more quickly than any other is the belief that time is running out!
Our mission on Earth is not to cram as much as possible into a limited amount of time. I believe that at least one of our jobs is to transcend time. And we will not achieve this by rushing around in a sugar fuelled, self-flagellating, work-obsessed fug.
Contributing to and building our own little communities, socialising and looking out for each other, burning energy evenly and being mindful might just add a few more positively spent years. And it certainly seems like a whole lot more fun.
If you would like some help in developing the mindfulness to live to a ripe old age, to manage your weight, to be more serene, to contribute more without really making anything like so much effort, give me a call on 07974 228396 or make contact here.