By Dr. Ron Cruickshank, Golf Mind Coach & GGA Director, Canada
A few years back I had the privilege of studying with a group of Aikido martial art masters in Tokyo at a legendary Dojo (training center) in the heart of the city. All of these men were over 60 and several over 70 years of age. What became immediately apparent, and of long lasting imprint on my mind, was how fresh and dynamic they all were. Not of just of body, but of mind, energy and spirit.
This made an enormous impression on me that has lasted for many years. Each master constantly had a calm smile on his face. When on the tatami mats (and off), they exuded a sense of confidence and wellbeing. To a man, they were funny and constantly finding things to laugh about. However, mostly I noticed they seemed incredibly flexible in their approach to things around them. It was a palpable and observable phenomenon. Later I came to think of this energetic as ‘no resistance’. They didn’t seem in resistance to “things” around them. I’ve come to believe this is a major component to maintaining our vitality as we age and in our ability to take on and master new things.
My impression of these men began with their physical carriage and manifested in their approach to things around them. These guys weren’t all crouched over; bent of spine and looking like aged steaks. They walked upright, held their shoulders back, glided when they walked. They had a sense of dynamic tension in their bodies and one had the sense they were highly attuned to things around them. In other words, these guys didn’t match societal norms for being “older”.
While admitting the stereotypes might be changing, I find most people still have a diminished personal representation of what it means to be ‘older’ or to age. Try a fun experiment to discover the societal archetype of an older person. Ask anyone to stand up and demonstrate what it looks like to be ‘old’ by walking 5 feet across the room. In most cases your respondent will adopt a stooped body position, their shoulders bent forward and be a bit off balance in their carriage and stance and move with a halting gait across the 5 feet. THAT demonstration is their internal representation of what it means to be old and I believe is the pattern they will adopt as time passes.
What would happen if we had a different and more empowering representation of what it means to age? This is worth exploring, because it is my position that all these mental and physical representations require energy to maintain in both your mind and your body. Ultimately, your body will manifest into reality your imagery of being old and aging. Remember, every thought requires energy and all this energy must be accounted for and maintained.
My mentor, and model of positive aging, was Dr. Jim Farr. A brilliant psychologist and lifetime martial artist, he was vibrant and active to the end of his life at age 84. He was still teaching at the University on a part time basis, still going to the Y a few times a week and maintained an inquisitive and probing mind till the end. On the day he died, he spent the morning weed eating the ditch on the long driveway into his farm, and then worked in his garden. He came in and had lunch, took a walk and then came in for a late afternoon libation. At some point he told his wife he didn’t feel great and he went in to his bedroom and left the planet. I can only aspire to go out the same way.
So what characteristics did both the martial arts masters and my friend Jim have that made them so perceptibly different in the way they aged? The following observations are taken from my journal writings on this subject, many going back over 25 years. In fact, the first entry on this subject was in 1977.
- Negative aging is associated with energy being spent in maintaining a particular view of the world and how it ‘should be’, as opposed to how it is. People that want it “different” spend enormous energy trying to rearrange things to fit their world-view. This seldom works and is a big energy drain. It also produces anger and frustration when expectations aren’t met. The chemicals within your body that are released from anger are correlated with aging and stress related diseases.
- Individuals that age well don’t seem to express or hold a lot of judgments about things. They aren’t spending a lot of their life energy seeking to organize things ‘the way they should be’.
- Anytime you hear yourself or others utter the words “should”, “shouldn’t”, “must”, “have to”, “got to” or “ought to”, you should become aware you are expressing a judgment that is energy draining. Ask yourself. What would happen if I didn’t…(fill in your judgment statement)?
- These judgments require enormous energy to carry around and manifest in your life. Positive older people recognize that if you can’t change something, the best avenue is to accept it and move on.
- Vibrant older people want to Wear out, not rust out. They keep their body moving. The single greatest reason old people get frail and fall, thus starting the inevitable decline, is because the muscles in their legs and body core are underutilized and they can’t maintain their balance under movement and duress.
Research published within the last three years show that falls and loss of balance in older people are correlated with three issues.
o The inner ear balance mechanism degrades with time.
o Due to inactivity, the body core muscles are not strong enough to hold a person upright when leaning in a particular direction or balance is lost and they don’t have the strength to recover
o The small muscles of the feet and ankles are so depleted as a result of people’s sedentary life style, that their balance is compromised.
With some basic exercise you can absolutely control two out of three of these variables. Exercise like yoga and Pilates are particularly helpful.
More good news! Regardless of your age, a significant body of research has shown you can grow and develop muscle at any age. Strength or resistance training has shown to develop lean muscle in people of all ages. In one study, a group of elderly people that were restricted to wheelchairs were all able to walk within three months just by doing weight training and balance exercises. It is never too late. Your body will respond and you can get stronger or more flexible or have better balance regardless of your age.
Hardening of the Categories
Most people think about hardening of the arteries when thinking about aging. From a mental perspective I suggest that the rigidity of both body and mind that is associated with aging is more a result of hardening of the categories.
By the time you have reached 50 years of age, you have made millions choices in your life. Imagine that each time you have had a negative experience you decided to not do that behavior or make that choice again. From one perspective that is the voice of experience (don’t stick your hand in a blender – good choice). From another perspective, you are vastly limiting your options or choices for any given situation.
If your automatic reaction is to not consider an option because of a previous experience, then by the time you are 70 years of age you have a greatly diminished selection of options. Less options means less chance of system survival. I wrote about his phenomena, called the Law of Requisite Variety, a few blogs ago. Essentially, the system with the most options wins and the converse is also true.
What do these thoughts about aging have to do with playing better golf or achieving a higher level of performance in your game? Quite simple. Many people won’t even consider making a change in their game or adopting a new approach because they have a belief that that they are too old to change, or that making a change is too hard at this stage of the game. This is not supported by the facts. You can make a change at any stage and it is never too late to learn and get better. All it takes is your decision.
One year I was with Todd, Moe and Larry Olsen in Titusville, Florida on the driving range. Moe was in his 60’s at the time. As usual he was hitting balls with unerring accuracy. On this day there was a stiff breeze into our faces and Moe was working on trajectory into the wind (he hit the pin four times from 180 yards in the first 15 minutes by the way). However, what I most remember was Moe telling us how excited he was about a swing change he had made recently and he kept telling us with much animation that he had ‘finally learned how to putt”. The lesson was clear, if Moe was learning in his 60’s, then what a great example to follow.
For me, what the martial arts masters, my professional mentor and Moe all demonstrated was a joy of learning and full engagement in life. They all knew or discovered that age is just a number and that you can be ‘aged’ at 20 and ‘young’ at 80. Let’s all reverse the aging process this year and challenge the self-imposed archetypes of what it means to grow older. What do you have to lose?
About the Author: Dr. Ron Cruickshank recently opened the GGA – Moe Norman Golf School as part of our expansion program into Canada. We are headquartered at the Royal Ashburn Golf Club in Whitby Ontario, a top 50 Canadian course. He is currently seeking to age well while simultaneously accepting applications for a limited number of students this year. If you are serious about getting better and owning your golf swing you can reach him at 647-892-4653.