What we believe about aging influences how we age. If we doubt this, there are numerous scientific works proving the role of belief in aging, including Ellen J. Langer’s Counterclockwise, and Bruce Lipton’s The Biology of Belief. Both books offer convincing evidence about the pivotal role our beliefs have on the way we age, develop illness, recover from illness, and live life as glass-half-full or glass-half-empty people. Once we become convinced that our beliefs influence our lives we understand that to live with greater energy and joy, we simply need to shift our beliefs about our bodies and our world. However, we quickly learn our beliefs are often resistant to change.
This is because, according to Lipton, only 5 % of our beliefs are conscious. Most of the programs running our lives come from early childhood experiences when, like little tape recorders, we simply absorb messages about ourselves and the world. Well meaning parents describe us as homely, disorganized, cute-but-dumb, thick, fat, or poor at sports, all of which, when repeated often enough, unconsciously become the final word on who we are. Because these beliefs are unconscious, we become flummoxed when we decide to make a change and then, despite our resolve, find we have slipped back into the same old negative patterns we want to change.
We’ve all had the experience of setting a goal – quitting smoking, losing weight, limiting computer time – only to discover that after a day or two of success the habit returns with breathtaking virulence. What is going on here? Are we not really committed to changing the habit or do we simply lack the will power to make the changes?
According to Lipton, what prevents the transformation of our habits are our unconscious beliefs about ourselves and the world. Let us take our beliefs about aging as an example. No matter how good we may feel in the present moment, our family and cultural unconscious beliefs may be telling us that aging inevitably means decline, sickness, frailty, a loss of independence, and impotence. Perhaps when we were very young we had an older relative who told us frequently, “It is horrible to be old.” Perhaps we lived with parents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents who told us aches and pains were inevitable after forty, or fifty, or sixty.
Think of Maude in the film Harold and Maude. That gorgeous old Babe, full of vigour because her earlier Holocaust experiences taught her to value every moment of life as precious, kills herself on her eightieth birthday despite the wonderful time she is having with her new young friend. When the heartbroken Harold learns of her plan to commit suicide and asks why, Maude tells him matter-of-factly that once you hit 80, it’s all downhill.
This may be true for some folks and not for others. It all depends on what we believe about ourselves and our chronological age. Take Doris Haddock, for example, a New Hampshire political activist affectionately known as Granny D. When Haddock was 88, she raised awareness regarding the need for political campaign financing reform by walking more than 3000 miles across the US and giving lectures in the places she stopped. A couple of years after this incredible feat, she ran for political office. She obviously wasn’t worried about turning 80 or even 90. In fact, she lived to be 100 and was engaged in living, and politics, until she died.
Ellen J. Langer’s Counterclockwise contains many studies illustrating how we can influence our lives by becoming more conscious of the beliefs we hold. In the study for which the book is named, several older men in various stages of infirmity were taken to a “resort” in which everything – clothes, music, décor, magazines, personal photos, TV programs, and the like – transported them to the 1950s, a full 20 years before their participation in her experiment. Langer and her students wanted to see if turning back the clock would help the men reclaim their youthful vigour. During this experiment, their environment encouraged them to identify with the people they had been 20 years earlier.
Langer’s results were conclusive. Those who needed and expected assistance with their luggage upon arriving at the resort left after their two-weeks of “1950s therapy” carrying their own bags and even playing a little touch football before getting on the bus that would return them to the lives they were living before they were invited to participate in the study. Various tests for blood pressure and the like proved the men were functioning as if they had entered a time machine. Sight, hearing, and energy levels improved. The vigour of their middle years returned simply because their environment suggested they were 20 years younger than they actually were.
Langer’s experiment also suggested that older adults who lived on their own and were responsible for themselves had far more vitality and autonomy than those who lived in nursing home settings where the medical model that pathologizes aging encouraged residents to believe they were frail and needed help with everything. Relatives also had this effect. Fear of injury, illness, or mental incompetence actually made people deteriorate.
Langer’s discovery of the importance of mindfulness in all that we do as well as how the mind influences the outcomes of situations supports Lipton’s conclusions concerning the importance of our beliefs on the quality of our lives. What we believe about our circumstances, whether positive or negative, becomes our truth. Langer’s Counterclockwise and Lipton’s The Biology of Belief are important sources of information about why we need to understand our beliefs about aging. I recommend these books along with Spontaneous Evolution, a work Bruce Lipton co-authored with Steve Bhaerman, a satirist who performs as Swami Beyondananda to help free us from our limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world. Once we understand that our beliefs are very much influencing our health, happiness, and culture, we can use EFT to alter any negative beliefs and thus make space for positive ones.
EFT’s ability to alter our negative beliefs about aging is related to its efficacy in changing our unconscious programming. Tapping while telling ourselves that frailty is inevitable as we age, or that at fifty we’re used up, or that the only people of value are in their twenties (yes, many people believe this, hence the determination to look perpetually young through Botox, liposuction, and cosmetic surgeries) actually releases the negative emotions these beliefs activate, freeing us to formulate new beliefs that generate positive emotions regardless of our age. Many of the EFT manuals and websites describe how this process of transformation works and so I won’t go into detail here. Please remember, if we’re dealing with life threatening habits, such as a drug addiction, alcoholism, or domestic violence, we need to engage a therapist to help reveal and change the beliefs supporting these habits, work that should take place in a safe and protective environment.
If, however, we are challenged by a few or many extra pounds gained after menopause or divorce or the death of a partner, a dream deferred because we believe we’re too old to start a project or because, like Maude, we think it’s all downhill after a specific age, EFT can help us to make conscious the limiting beliefs so that we can alter our circumstances and feel zestful and optimistic regardless of our age. Telling ourselves the truth as we tap (being honest about our negative feelings), or asking ourselves what it is we believe that is supporting a habit we want to change but can’t, is the beginning of an amazing relationship with our older, wiser selves. As soon as we begin to change our beliefs about aging, the upside of the aging process impacts our lives and we find ourselves moving forward with real joy.
Until next week