Owning an old brain is rather like owning an old car. It is profoundly misleading to look at the average old person as it is to look at the average twenty-year old car. Careful driving and maintenance are everything. Old cars become rattletraps, eyesores, and junkers not because of aging but from accidents and misuse. So, too, with humans. ~ George E. Vaillant, Aging Well, 2002
I’ve decided to live to 110. If Jeanne Louise Calment of France lived to 122 smoking French cigarettes, why shouldn’t I? After all, I don’t smoke or drink, and at 65, I’m in great shape.
The paint’s chipping, I’ve had a little body work, but the engine’s purring. As for my brain, everything I read says that I need daily exercise for it to stay healthy.
Twenty minutes of heart pumping cardiovascular activity per day will slow your brain from losing neurons and aging prematurely.
Which leaves the BIG question… how do you get motivated and into action? I decided to try out a few tips. I don’t want to say too much, for fear of jinxing it, but so far, my brain exercise fitness program is working…
A Year of Excuses…
I don’t have to tell you how hard it is to adapt a new habit. Anyone who’s struggled with weight or exercise or smoking or any New Year’s Resolution knows.
I’ve “tried” to get on the bike for the past year. No, scratch that: I’ve “wanted” to, but I’ve let other more compelling things interfere, like email…
I want to walk my talk. I’ve written how important it is to get your heart rate up in order for your brain to stay healthy.
Knowing Isn’t Doing
Knowledge is important, but it doesn’t work for motivating people into action. If it did, then all smokers would quit once they looked at a few medical articles and x-rays. So then, what does work so that a person is compelled to take action and fix a problem?
It’s well known that a life-threatening illness will motivate people to change. So will an emotionally upsetting event. But if you’re in good health and nobody’s mad at you, how do you muster up enough motivation to quit making excuses and “JUST DO IT?”
Use Your Friends
I remember how I quit smoking 30 years ago in Paris. I announced my intention to a group of friends and made a bet: I promised to take them to dinner at Chez Maxim’s if I smoked in the coming year.
So last week I announced to my girlfriends that if I didn’t get on the bike 20 minutes a day for at least 5 days a week, I’d take them to Super Burrito’s.
This method works because the brain finds it hard to lie. It’s uncomfortable for most people to say one thing and do another (unless they’re heavily into denial or have sociopathic tendencies).
It also works because we are social animals. Our ancestors survived because as a species we’re able to organize and help each other out.
21 Days to a New Habit
It takes time to grow new neurons and neural connections to form a daily habit. During the first three weeks, you must be strict about doing the desired new behavior on a regular basis.
Here are a few tips for breaking an old habit and replacing it with a new one:
1. Decide wisely what the new behavior will be
a. Be specific (ride bike daily)
b. Be minimal (20 minutes)
2. Enroll friends
a. Announce it and ask for support
b. Make it a game or a bet
3. Pick a start date
4. Chart it, write it down
5. Celebrate each small victory, each day
6. Persist. If you fail or forget, just start over