Select Page

Re article in today’s NYT: What if Age Is Nothing But A Mindset.

In the paper issue of the NYT, a teaser subhead asks,”How far can positive thinking take us?”


Ellen Langer’s research is not related to positive thinking or even mindset. She creates interventions (scientists refer to “manipulations,” a word with neutral or even positive connotations in social science).

Langer just compares the results of those who experienced the intervention with those who did not. The people in the study were not asked to imagine or think anything; they just experienced.

Langer’s studies consistently suggest that these interventions are successful, but it’s another step to suggest that we can create our own intervention by mental gymnastics. That’s another research agenda.

What these results DO show is that people respond to environmental cues in ways that deserve further exploration.

This finding is important because people over 60 or 65 are exposed to negative cues every single day, even if they’re healthy and fit, simply by reactions of people they deal with. Doctors and most medical professions stereotype by age: in fact, many just use the age number to make recommendations, without considering the whole person and the context. (Just google “doctors stereotype aging patients” if you don’t believe me.)

Some young women in my gym have come up to say something like, “It’s nice to see someone your age…” or even the more subtle, “Did you enjoy this class?” – a question that the 20-somethings wouldn’t be asked. Even if the questioners mean well, I’m jolted out of my zone, where I’m just another person taking class, and reminded once again that I’m supposed to be “old.”

It’s always tempting to punch those people in the nose, thus demonstrating my lack of frailty. But I prefer to shock them with recommendations like, “Just stop going to doctors and you’ll age well, too.”