How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?

Satchel Paige

This is no regular question, and it got me thinking. You might be a lot younger OR older than you think…

When someone asks you how old you are, the natural thought or answer that comes to you is a number. This number is always the number of birthdays you had since your inception – the day you were born – also called your calendar age. The older I get, the more I realise the insignificance of this number. Since I started school, I was younger than my peers. My parents decided to send me to school before my 6th birthday – possibly because I was driving them crazy at home, but I choose to believe that they thought I was too clever NOT to be in school at the time. This resulted in me competing against the previous grades when it came to sports throughout my twelve years at school. I went to university younger than my peers, started my teaching career younger than my peers, and when I entered the corporate world I was appointed as the youngest staff trainer ever in the company. Today at the calendar age of 54, in most conversations I find myself, I still “feel” the youngest… all too regularly turning out to be the oldest.

When one thinks of a typical 25-year-old person, one tends to have a certain “picture” in your mind – the same with a 75-year-old. But there is a more significant way to look at the age of your body, also called our Biological Age. Our lifestyle determines the age of our bodies:

  • What we eat and drink and how much of it.
  • How regularly we exercise.
  • How much we stress.
  • How well we sleep and rest.

A very good friend of mine has a guest house in a small town in the Western Cape called Paarl. Every year in March cyclists from all over the globe visit Cape Town for the largest individual cycle tour (race) in the world – The Cape Town Cycle Tour (historically called The Argus Cycle Tour). About ten years ago, a particular cycler checked into his guest house a week before the race. He had a small travel bag on his back and cycled down from Durban to Cape town 1700km’s to compete in The Argus Cycle Tour. This in itself is an amazing story, but to make it even better is the fact that he was 74 years old. I think we can safely say, that this gentleman’s biological age is not 74 and that many 30-year-old individuals are physically “older” than him.

Although I know you’ll probably agree that our biological age is more important than our calender age; this is not the most important age to consider. The most important age to consider is our Psychological age. Several factors are impacting our psychological age, but I’d like us to consider one very important part of it that impacts how well we relate to people. How we well we do as leaders. How happy and fulfilled we are. How much growth we experience in our lives. What I’m talking about is How open are you? I’ve seen people in their twenties and thirties that always has an answer to everything. They’ve seen it all. Been there, got the T-shirt. Their stories are bigger and better and you can’t teach them anything (let’s exclude teenagers for this argument – at this age, they know it all). I’ve seen and heard people in their 50’s and 60’s complaining about technology saying I prefer the tried and tested methods  – it worked for my parents it works for me… But then I have seen gr andparents in their 80’s and 90’s sitting with their gr andchildren asking them to teach them how to play a game on their cell phones in order to spend quality time with them. The first group is undoubtedly psychologically much older than the second.

Dr Joe Dispenza tells about a study that took part in September 1981. A group of eight men in their 70s and 80s took part in a five-day retreat where they were asked to pretend that they were young again—or at least 22 years younger than they were at the time. The retreat was organized by a team of researchers, headed by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer, PhD. They were asked to play games, listen to the music of their youth and participate in a host of activities, cleverly designed to make them “feel” young again. The results were astounding. The researchers discovered improvements in height, weight, and gait. The men grew taller as their posture straightened, and their joints became more flexible and their fingers lengthened as their arthritis diminished. Their eyesight and hearing got better. Their grip strength improved. Their memory sharpened, and they scored better on tests of mental cognition. The men literally became younger in those five days, right in front of the researchers’ eyes. Langer reported, “At the end of the study, I was playing football—touch, but still football—with these men, some of whom gave up their canes.”

When last have you

  • tried a different route to work?
  • read something you’ve never read?
  • gone somewhere you’ve never been?
  • done something you’ve never done?
  • met someone you’ve never seen before?

How often do we “play”?  Someone recently shared with me this anonymous quote: “We don’t stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing.”

The question is: “How old are you?”

Stefan Lessing