How Some New Thinking Could Help You Live Longer

Critical thinking and becoming open to change could be the key to improving your physical and mental health, helping to change your perspective, your life, and maybe even increase your life span.

As a health professional, it was my role to discuss healthy lifestyle changes with my patients. They usually had long-term conditions such as diabetes and getting them to accept any change was challenging. Earlier in my career, this was called ‘health education’, essentially telling people what they could do to improve their health. Then it became ‘health promotion’ and in the National Health Service in the last few years, we have used techniques of motivational interviewing to support people in making changes to their lifestyle.

It has been proven that tapping into people’s own motivation to make changes, such as stopping smoking, and supporting them to discover their own ways of achieving these changes, is more effective than simply telling them what changes they should make and how to make them.

But one of the most common reasons for cynicism towards personal change is the claim that the advice is always changing. We are told to eat the latest superfood and then, a little later, we should stop that and eat something else instead. Or we are advised to take some medication because it has been proven to help, but then later, that it has been found to cause unwanted side-effects.

Even expert advice can seem confusing.

But perhaps the real problem is that we dislike change and we get used to our habits and find them comforting. And maybe we find advice confusing because we generally have a poor understanding of how science and research work.

It is the nature of science that things move forward as the technology and available equipment improve and existing knowledge is used to build upon discoveries. The development of aviation is a good example of the incremental steps taken over the centuries, from Da Vinci’s sketches of artificial wings to supersonic aircraft. Imagine if any of those pioneers had not believed that progress was possible. It is our human nature to wonder and have the desire to move things forward that has defined our modern times. It is all about change.

Research and scientific discovery don’t stand still and individual research studies (the results of which are often reported in the media) do not necessarily give us an accurate picture. Most of us only read snippets of research findings in the news or on social media in the attention-grabbing click-bait headlines.

Often a clearer picture emerges from a meta-analysis that combines the results of many studies that have asked the same question but may not be statistically valid on their own.

How many of us understand how to appraise a piece of research, and can check whether the results are statistically valid or whether there is any bias? And why should we be? It’s not a skill that we are often taught or learn.

We may not be aware of our own confirmation bias and we look for evidence that supports the views we already hold, mostly choosing to follow people on social media who hold similar views to ours.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions but sometimes they are formed just from instinct or gut-feeling. We should be mindful of what lies behind our opinions, where they have come from, and ask whether we have good evidence, have we really thought the issue through?

So why change your perspective?

Many people claim that maintaining independence in older age is important to them, but how many of us consider that maintaining the independence of our thoughts and opinions might be just as important?

We should actively seek personal change, for the simple reason that nothing around us stays the same. In order to keep up with the best advice we need to be prepared to change in all manner of ways — how we eat, sleep, exercise, breathe, speak and think.

Many of the ways we think and our points of view were formed early in life. We have held them for many years, and that’s why they seem dear to us. But when you look back at photographs from your teenage years you realise the world was very different then. I know I’m quite different now and I don’t think or behave in the ways I once did.

Being open to new knowledge and having a willingness to change will not only keep you young at heart, but it might also lead you to healthier ways of thinking and being. This change of perspective could change your life!