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Episode 232: Ageing


And hello to you, and welcome to the Richard Nicholls Podcast, the personal development podcast series that's here to help inspire, educate, and motivate you to be... The best you can be! I'm Psychotherapist Richard Nicholls, and this episode is titled Ageing! And if you're ready, we'll start the show! Hey there!

It's December already. This time next month... Christmas will be done and dusted for another year, so if you're getting stressed over everything, just remember that. Although it really doesn't seem very long since last Christmas, does it? Well, it doesn't to me. Maybe that's a time distortion thing because I'm getting older.

But 2023 seems to have flown by, and what with it being my birthday next week as well, I do get a sense that I'm running out of time, despite still having, hopefully, decades left of life in me. Maybe I'm only halfway through? But however much time I've got, there's still so many more stories to hear and tell.

Now, I'm 48 next week, but it doesn't seem 30 years ago when I was 18 and all I wanted to be was older. And if I cast my mind back to December 1993, when Meatloaf was at number 2, knocked off the top spot by Mr. Blobby. Never going to forgive Noel Edmonds for that. I became 18 years old. It was a Wednesday.

I worked in a steel tube warehouse back in those days in Coventry. And when I mentioned to one of the guys on the shop floor that it was my birthday, he asked me how old I was. And when I told him I was 18 today, he stopped what he was doing. And he looked at me and shook his head and said, God, you've had a hard life.

And I thought, well, no, not really, not compared to some. But he said he'd always thought of me as much older, which I'd never really considered before. Being not quite 5 foot 5, I'd always been a bit shorter than most people around me. So my school age self, when I became who I am, because that's who, that's how we start with life, innit?

I always felt like... Everybody thought I was younger than I was because I was shorter than them and that they might have done Certainly they didn't think I was older. So I carried that feeling with me I think so it became a bit of a a surprise when this bloke can't remember his name. Sorry, mate don't know if you listen. Something McBride Can't remember. He shouted over to a few people that it was my birthday and asked everybody to try and guess my age They all put me in my mid 20s Which went some way towards explaining why I'd never been asked for ID in a pub, ever. Not before I was 18, and not after either. And this sudden realisation, aged 18, that people assumed I was older, unless I told them, forced me to stretch my comfort zone a bit. I saw that people expected more of me, expected me to be a bit, to be a bit more...

I dunno, articulate? Coherent, at least. Which did two things, at the time. Increased my already blossoming fear of judgement from other people into a mushrooming one. But also gave me experiences I wouldn't normally have... Having the trait of worrying about what other people thought of me, and then combining that with the idea that everyone expected me to be more adult, more responsible than I really was, made me more adult, more responsible.

Anxious about it though! But it made it happen. I was also involved with some little local radio stations, so I would present at these outside broadcasts, at fetes and charity events and stuff. Not the sort of thing that 18 year olds usually did. So I began to feel older than I was. Not in a painful way, but in a skill set way.

So... Fast forward a few years, and I finished my therapist training, still only in my mid twenties, but with both an older attitude and an older looking hairline, which I think now suits me. I think I look strange with hair. I put a wig on not so long ago and I looked ridiculous. But when I was 24, I was cursing the myth that baldness is passed down through the mother's DNA, because that's not always true.

Not if your dad's DNA is full of bald men aged 30. Which it was. So I was 24, wanting to be a therapist, but also knowing that my clients are going to be mostly older than me, and they're expecting me to be older as well, so... I lied about my age. If they asked, I was 30. And I kept on being 30 all the way through my 20s till I actually got to 30.

And then I thought, crap, now I've got to actually start ageing now. I spent my whole life feeling that people think of me as older. I spent five years wanting people to think I was older so I could help with rapport building in the therapy room. Now I am older and I'm wanting to be younger again. Oh, sorry mate, not going to happen.

So I needed to start getting my head around the idea that ageing is a good thing, that it's not only a part of life. But it's a part of living, as in experiencing, that it's something to embrace rather than to fear. And I think I'm probably there now because I do want to age. I want to grow older. The alternative doesn't seem a very attractive option at all, so hopefully we're all going to grow old and have all the benefits that it brings.

But I guess... Problems come when we don't notice the benefits. We only look for, and therefore only see, the negatives of it. And I know it's hard to see a different perspectives to stuff. If it was easy, I wouldn't have a job. But it's worth putting the effort in. And I'm quite excited about it, actually.

We're an ageing population now, and so there is a cultural shift happening. We used to say, people don't say it so much anymore, life begins at 40, because it was then that children would move out, mortgage was paid off, and people had a bit more freedom. Now, there are very few people aged 40 that are mortgage free nowadays.

Mine goes up to when I'm 69, and that's becoming commonplace, as is being 40. and still having your kids live with you. Very few 40 year old parents have children old enough to move out. So things are very different now and hopefully it's going to help us to challenge those cultural ideas of things like age and beauty as more and more people are able to gain Better insight into what real beauty is, not fashion magazine beauty.

Hope I'm not being naive, but I think we're all beginning to see through the image manipulations, the Photoshop stuff now. And even if the youngsters have still got a lot to learn, by the time we're old enough to worry about being old, we hopefully have the wisdom to understand true beauty in people and in ourselves.

What I want is that ageing is less of a decline and more of a transformation. It's just different. It's a change, but not a change into something bad. It's just different. We're not who we once were and we need to embrace that. Not fear it. We're growing older from the moment we conceived, aren't we? And we embraced it.

When I was 10, I wanted to be older. I didn't want to be 10. I wanted to be a teenager. Now when I was 13, I wanted to be 16 so I could get a motorbike licence. Then I wanted to be 18 because I wanted to get a job. I wanted to have a life. Well, every step of the way has its benefits. Now, it's not easy to see them.

At times, they might be clouded by other things. I mean, you try telling a woman who's having a hot flush about the benefits of the menopause, but they do exist, and some people, a third of women, genuinely sail through it. And it's a few hot flushes and then it's gone. That's only a third, the other two thirds not so good.

But there are other benefits. No more periods, no more painful breasts every four weeks, no need for contraception. And I know it's easy for me to say that. Difficult as the menopause is though, it isn't only bad. And there is a lot of research into sex that shows that apparently older couples have a far better sex life than they did when they were younger.

Genuinely. With each decade, satisfaction with our sex life goes up. People in their 70s are happier with it than they were in their 50s. It's just different. Maybe it's more emotional, more secure, less judgmental. Dunno. Whatever it is, don't care! Embrace it! There's an interesting statistic that grabbed my attention, because until recently, the happiest point of our lives, when people were surveyed, was at age 18.

In all the surveys over the years... 18 has been the peak. It was the perfect mix of not too much responsibility and not too little independence. But recently, aged 65 has overtaken it. And 18 hasn't dropped any happy points. But 65 has gone up some. And I do think it's because we're changing the way we think about age.

And that's really important, obviously. Because if you've listened to me for even a short while, you'll know that the way that we think about things, creates the way that we feel about things. There's been dozens of replicated studies into the effects of thinking old versus thinking young. The most...

Famous? The most talked about, I guess, is probably Ellen Langer's 1979 counter clockwise study, where eight elderly men spent a week at a residential retreat, and they repeated their life from 20 years earlier. They were only allowed to talk about things that went on 20 years previously. The TV only showed them programs and events from 20 years ago.

They had a virtual time travel trip. but Quantum Leap style into their younger lives. It's only a small study, just eight people, so it's been criticised a lot for not being proper peer reviewed study. But some of it has been replicated showing similar outcomes, and in the original study... All eight men showed marked improvements in both their physical health and their mental health.

They were happier, their memory was improved, their hearing was improved, their dexterity, their appetite. When photos of them were showed to people, their estimated age was older in the before photos. than afterwards. It was like the film Cocoon. Some of them threw away their walking sticks and started playing football.

The BBC replicated it back in 2000 with a TV show. They had people like Lionel Blair, Liz Smith and Derek Jameson, you might know those, reliving 1975 for a week in the same way as people did in the original study. And they had cognitive tests and physical tests before and after. And even though all they did was just spent a week talking and thinking about being 35 years younger, but their physical and mental health improved wonderfully.

Liz Smith had had three strokes. She was living in a retirement home. And, arrived in a wheelchair, less than a week later, she's having dance lessons with Lionel Blair, and not using her walking sticks. She walks out of the house at the end of the experiment, instead of using the wheelchair. And I know that this is TV, and I know that these are studies with small groups, but elements of it do stand up to scrutiny.

It's been done in lots of different ways and seems to consistently show that if you think about being decrepit, you're gonna feel decrepit. Think about feeling able and you'll stand a better chance of gonna feel able and be more able. In a long term study, once, um, 650 people were surveyed about their attitudes on ageing.

20 years later, those that had a positive attitude towards ageing had lived seven years longer, on average, than those with a negative attitude. And if you compare that to other research, into the things that we can do to extend our life, like doing things to lower blood pressure, reducing cholesterol levels...

You only get an extra four years, on average, but it's almost twice that, just because of attitude, perspective. And it doesn't take 20 years to see the results, and it doesn't take too much to see an effect. In one study, participants simply had to read a list of negative words about ageing, and within 15 minutes...

They were walking more slowly than they were before. So you can imagine what influence having negative connotations thrown at you every day by society is gonna do can't you. And I'm so glad that we can see people like Helen Mirren in moisturiser adverts now, rather than models that are only just a couple of years out of college.

If that, some of them still go! So, we can begin to get rid of the age related stigma that our society's developed. There was a really interesting study once... called Responses to Patronising Communication and Factors that Attenuate Those Responses. Such snappy titles, these academic people. Basically showing that being spoken to in a patronising way before you then do some cognitive tasks has a greater negative effect on the over 60s.

than it does to the under 25s. But, older adults, who already had more positive attitudes about ageing, with more positive interactions with people of other age groups in their life, were protected from the effect. Showing us that if we can create a culture, that treats older people with respect, it's not only going to help them deal with the people that don't show respect, but make it better for us when we get to that age.

Because we've taught the younger generation, through learned behavior, how to treat us when we're older. It might be true that our relatives in their 80s might not seem to have as much to offer the world as they used to. That doesn't mean we shouldn't value them, spend time with them. I look at it like this.

The way I treat my parents... Is the way that my son is going to end up treating me, and that's why, when she was alive, I would take my son along to see my wife's gran, and we'd help her with her Wi Fi router problem or whatever issues that she'd have. I'd listen to her stories, help buy her a new chair that could tip her out of it when she needed it to, even though she said, Oh, don't bother, cos she knew she only had a few months left to live, and oh, it's not worth it.

No, that's exactly when it is worth it! If we can reduce the stigma that comes with ageing, we can start taking advantage of the benefits that come from ageing instead. Did you know, for example, that because of exposure to viruses, people in their mid fifties catch half as many colds as someone in their mid twenties?

It's one of the reasons why some people didn't like the idea of 2020. Yes, we were protecting ourselves from a deadly strain of the common cold, but we're also preventing immunity from all of the non deadly strains as well. Good job it only went on for as short a time as it did, but even so, it's still a small price to pay.

I can catch up on that immunity as time goes by. And if you're listening to this in your mid twenties, and you tend to catch a cold every month, it's because you're too young to have developed the immunity responses. If you're 55, then you've had decades of your immune system learning how to fight it off before it catches hold. You might want to mention that at a job interview, or bear it in mind yourself if you're somebody that needs to interview people. Because yes, it's true that some mental abilities do decline as we age with what's called fluid processing, which are things like memory games, matching cards that you turn over, that sort of game.

Those skills start to decline at age 20. We don't really notice it because it's quite slow, and it is what it is. But what's called crystallized processing, things like crosswords, that doesn't even start to decline until we're 70. And procedural memory, things that mean going through some sort of procedure.

Cooking, playing a musical instrument, tying shoes. They seem to stay intact and emotional processing seems to improve with age. Life experience seems to help us deal with difficult people so that we can regulate our emotions better. We don't feel so angry towards people who are being rude or disagreeable.

Living and experiencing life and the ageing that comes with it is a good thing. Think of it as a transformation rather than a decline. Yes, your hair may change, your... Your body might creak, you probably find that your tennis scores go down, but your scores on a pub quiz might go up. You're likely to be happier, you'll probably have a better sex life, you'll have higher self esteem, better attention span, and an increased ability to focus.

All things that have been shown to correlate with ageing, with living, by experiencing life. So, go out and experience it, live and grow old, gain some wisdom and insight, pride and contentment, and acknowledge ageing as just a part of living, rather than of dying. So, enjoy your month then, Podfans. Have a good one, and don't eat too many mince pies.

Take care.