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Is Longevity the Goal?

Is Longevity the Goal?

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they are finished” (Daniel Gilbert)

Have you been caught up in the net of the longevity craze yet? Perhaps “craze” isn’t the best choice of words, realizing Greek historian Herodotus wrote about the Fountain of Youth a few years back (5th century BC). However, the trendline on the concept of longevity has certainly spiked in recent years, with a multitude of books, podcasts and blogs pointing the way (typically to money-making supplements, but I digress) and Google searches for “living longer” growing exponentially (400-500%) over the past two decades.

But is longevity actually the goal? Are we wanting to simply live longer? Or LIVE… longer? With the life expectancy in the US doubling (from 39.41 years to 78.94 years) between 1875 and 2015, perhaps many of us have the sense we’re playing with house money in terms of the years we now have available (in contrast to prior generations) and thus desire to live more fully within those years? The World Health Organization referenced the hollow nature of longevity alone 25 years ago in saying “increased longevity without quality of life is an empty prize.”

More moments or enhanced meaning? Augmented length or relevant depth? Expanded range or boosted power?

Perhaps the answer is… yes – to both. Maybe you’re not forced to choose between the dualistic extremes of depth vs breadth but instead have the option to merge the two. What if we exchange “longevity” for “impactevity” (greater impact within an extended lifespan) or lean in on “present longevity” (contrasting words highlighting the now across additional years)? Adam Grant, in his exceptional book Think Again, discusses three potential mindsets we generally adopt when facing new alternatives: Preacher, Prosecutor or Politician. Our preacher mode kicks in when our beliefs are challenged and we must protect them. Prosecutor takes over when we feel a need to correct the reasoning of others. Politician lobbies for the approval of those around us. While natural, these mindsets lock us into a dualistic way of thinking. In fact, we don’t think at all! We’re too busy preaching that our current way is right, prosecuting others who are clearly wrong, and politicking those around us for support to think!

The essence of the weekly Catalyst Compass encourages adopting a non-dualistic 4th option: Scientist. No chemistry textbooks required. Rather, it involves a curious mindset, an awareness that new (and different!) information is consistently coming to the forefront, and a desire to update our current views as new information becomes available. Additionally, in some cases, it involves creating our own, personal case study to test out a new insight.

Where might we start this journey to (fully) live…longer this week? Let’s begin, as Stephen Covey reminded us, with the end in mind: The 88-year mentality

Anchoring is the way in which our mind digests one thing and then “anchors” to it. Retailers use this to their advantage, listing a supposed price for an item (creating your pricing anchor) and then immediately noting a special lower available price. The higher priced anchoring increases the odds we’ll see it as a good deal! This phenomenon is also related to our preacher/prosecutor/politician tendencies noted above, making it difficult to rethink something we “know” to be true (like the artificial initial pricing). When it comes to our goal of (fully) living… longer, anchoring to inaccurate data drags our perspective on life underwater. We see endless headlines about life expectancy (including in this column!) being between 72 (for those growing up in the 1990s) to 79 (current data) years. We anchor to that and make a long list of decisions (finances, relationships, living arrangements, fitness pursuits and more) based on that anchor.

However, it – and here’s where we benefit from taking on the scientist mindset – doesn’t apply! Life expectancy includes a plethora of data points detailed here, that (fortunately) don’t apply to you. If you’re in your 30’s-60’s, every single item affecting children, teens and young adults is off your list. Based on this study, a healthy 80-year-old will likely live an additional 8+ years. As a result, the (at least) 88-year mentality just might create a seismic shift in perspectives! (“at least” because as you’ll note from the chart, a relatively healthy 90-year-old can expect to live an additional 5 years). Obviously there are no guarantees and many variables are involved in lifespans. But “average” makes for a reasonable baseline from which most of us can begin to ponder. With this new discovery/mentality, this pair of questions may be worth careful consideration:

  1.       How accurate was my prior life expectancy anchor compared to the latest data?
  2.       How does that adjusted anchor affect the way in which I approach my health, finances, relationships, and potential life plans?
  3.       For example, if I’ve (born in 1966) anchored to a life expectancy of 72, that puts me approaching the last decade of life, a time to slow down and avoid any big changes. If, on the other hand, I shift to what the data indicates (88+), I’m barely into the second half of life. In that case, let’s keep “dreamin’ with eyes wide open!”

13 years ago was the first time I tried what has now become an annual personal exercise of creating a clear, personal vision. That first vision was six simple, yet powerful words my (then 15-year old) daughter Danielle then turned into a visual I still have today: “Treasure this Moment… Optimize the Next.” In the weeks to come, we’ll continue to build out both sides of the evidence-based, practical elements of the (fully) LIVE… Longer approach to this journey of life. Thanks for joining us along the way.

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