Yet another new year… Instead of sighing and wishing time wouldn’t keep marching on, consider this. Judging from advice on making the most effective new year’s resolutions, it seems that we of a certain age are doing a lot of things right.
Which means that we can happily ignore all the exhortations to reinvent and reinvigorate ourselves just because it’s a new year. We can avoid those lists of things to start and stop doing that will supposedly make us healthier and wealthier. And we can roll our eyes at anything that calls itself an Anti-Aging New Year’s Resolution.
After all, we’ve made and broken enough new year’s resolutions in our time to know there’s only one thing that’s certain about what the new year will bring: if we survive it, we’ll be a year older.
So we can rather sit back and watch others make resolutions to do things differently this year. And we may be amazed to see that many of those younger than us are resolving to be more like us.
One popular new year’s resolutions I commend is: Stop multitasking!
Multitasking is overrated. Here are some surprising ways it can make you less – not more efficient. When University of California Irvine researchers measured the heart rates of employees with and without constant access to office email, they found that those who received a steady stream of messages stayed in a perpetual “high alert” mode with higher heart rates. Those without constant email access did less multitasking and were less stressed because of it. And it’s not only the physical act of multitasking that causes stress; it’s the consequences as well.
Doing many things at once is not something that older people are noted for. It’s young people you see walking while texting or tweeting while making tea. We’re the ones trying to figure out the (one) thing we meant to do when we got up from the couch and went to the kitchen. Older people are poor at multitasking because our aging brains find it trickier to switch between tasks. This is according to recent scientific studies, as well as my own anecdotal findings.
Young people may be great at multitasking, but it’s a habit that many are trying to kick. The goal of this particular new year’s resolution is to replace fast-paced multitasking with a slower state of mindfulness, a total focus on being present in the moment. This is yet another thing that older people are good at – especially as remembering recent past moments becomes more challenging. And not only are we more mindful now, but we get even better at it as we age.
Interestingly, some of the advice on implementing this particular new year’s resolution links mindfulness to eating. Or rather not eating – while on your computer, tablet or cellphone. This is something older people have already mastered, since most of us have roots in the era of eating at a table rather than with a tablet. Admittedly we eat our share of TV dinners, but at least that often involves other people sharing the same screen.
Another of this year’s recommended new year’s resolutions is to go outside more – not necessarily to exercise (another popular if predictable resolution) but simply to experience nature. “Get some fresh air!” are words we heard a lot as children. Now people of all ages are being encouraged to “find a place in nature that speaks to you, whether it’s a spot in your backyard or a bench at a local park”.
All those older people sitting on park benches obviously made this resolution long ago. So young people will again be copying us, in seeking a bench with a view.
Another resolution high on many lists of Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions is to spend less time on our devices, whether computers, tablets or phones. Studies show that too much staring at these screens can make you put on weight, struggle to sleep, have trouble focusing and get depressed. Older people tend to be less comfortable on digital devices so young people can take another leaf from our book – literally, in turning pages instead of tapping screens.
A new year’s resolution that’s become more common in recent years is to get more sleep. The latest recommendation is 8 hours per night – as opposed to the 6 or less hours many try to get by on. This extra sleep apparently works like a wonder drug in burning fat, lowering stress, boosting immune systems, lifting moods and sharpening minds.
Again there’s an aging angle. Since every bit of sleep, even napping during the day, can contribute to achieving optimal hours, this means there’s nothing shameful about nodding off while sitting, reading or watching a movie. Intermittent daytime snoozing is yet another activity we do more and more of as we get older, so it’s good to hear that it’s such a healthy habit, and one we are advised to continue to cultivate.
So it seems that what we could resolve to do in 2016 is more of the same. Because slowing down has its merits. That’s what’s happening to us anyway, so why fight it? And if the youth are imitating us, that must mean we’re pretty cool – for our age.
(Full disclosure: this post is based on one from a year gone by.)