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Training yourself to extend life span by a positive mental attitude

Horizon: The Truth about PersonalityStudies including the one in Oxford Ohio, have shown that people who are optimistic and look on the bright side of things can expect to live an average of seven and a half years longer than their more pessimistic counterparts. A BBC Horizon programme with Michael Mosley explored whether anything could be done about this. First they plotted Mosley’s left brain/right brain balance by seeing how fast he responded to dots shown behind faces, some happy, some sad. He came across as negative and pessimistic, with dominant right-side activity.

Mosley then practised 7 weeks combining meditation with cognitive bias modification (CBM). The meditation involved breathing exercises while allowing thoughts to drift in and out of consciousness, while the CBM had him picking out the smiley face in a group of blank or angry ones. After the 7 weeks a new test showed that Mosley had a much better left-right balance. He also reports he is sleeping better, worrying less about things, and is generally more optimistic. The statistics say he might have a longer, happier life.

I practise techniques to keep myself happy, but not meditation and CBM. I tend to avoid looking at things that will upset me or put unpleasant, hard-to-get-rid-of images into my memory. I avoid sad movies and novels, seeking out more uplifting ones in preference. I seek out the company of friends whenever I can. In general I try to think about things that will improve my life, and then set about making them happen. Rather than limiting my desires I try to make them happen. It seems to work. When I am asked for a word that describes me, I say “optimistic.”

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The Horizon programme is available here for a time on BBC iPlayer.

To try the faces test go to tinyurl.com/lv5njmn

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One Response

  1. Slightly off-topic but I suppose still related, what is your opinion on ‘nootropics’ such as pirecatam and noopept, or on ‘brain training’ programs such as Lumosity?

    No, I haven’t seen ‘Limitless’ or looking for a shortcut to becoming something like the Mekon (showing my age, there!); in fact, I believe that activities such as trying to learn a new language, having new experiences and continually expanding your skill set are probably the key to maintaining a healthy brain.

    I just wonder if there might be some value to these programs or taking these supplements, not as a shortcut, but as an adjunct.

    I find it interesting what you said about sad novels. I quite like reading something that moves me to tears (which might sound strange!) – suppose it’s because I like to have empathy with the characters, and most such stories carry the message that despite there being so much tragedy in life, there are still things to value, such as loyalty, friendship and self-sacrifice.

    On the other hand, I might just be some kind of a literary masochist.

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