I was watching Wimbledon over the weekend and in the mixed-doubles final a comment by a commentator got my attention:

No-one’s told Leander Paes that as you age your reaction times slow down“.

He’s 42.

It made me wonder about our expectations of age-related degeneration. Yes, there are mechanical, physical processes which take place – but when?

And clearly Paes’s reaction times were not diminished – hence the comment (and the match outcome, though Martina Hingis also had something to do with that).

In the Alexander Technique we work with people’s thinking. We find that we move in accordance with our ideas.

Many of our ideas, our thoughts can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

A great example is an experience my trainer Don Weed tells, of an adult organist who had had polio as a child and lost 80% of the ability to flex her right ankle.

After working with her for 30-40 minutes her range of flexion increased from 20% of normal to over 80%.

When he asked her ‘why in the world did you think that you could hardly move your foot at the ankle?’ he got the answer ‘because that’s what the doctors told me’ – an idea which she acted upon as if it were true – and in doing so had made it true (and which she changed, increasing the range of motion in her ankle).

I also recalled a piece of research done in the 1970’s by Ellen Langer:

“In 1979 psychologist Ellen Langer from Harvard University conducted a unique experiment to find out what would happen when a group of eight older men were given the experience of living 20 years earlier.

She and her team created a living environment complete with food, films, photos from the period. The group discussed news, politics and sport in the present tense as if they had travelled back in time.

Astonishingly the group became physically and psychologically younger. Their hearing, grip strength and manual dexterity improved. Memory and IQ scores also improved.

Because their minds were actively engaged in living 20 years earlier, their bodies seemed to follow.

Ellen believes this is a demonstration of how our bodies don’t let us down as we get older, it’s our minds that accept the labels of aging. Freeing ourselves from that state of mind can turn back the clock.”

(This experiment was also re-staged by the BBC where the participants also showed improvement).

It makes me think of the title of one of Don Weed’s books:

“What you think is what you get”

I wonder what would happen to our levels of performance over time if we operated from the idea that we improve with age?