Learned Helplessness and the
Acceptance of Aging
Life is purely subjective… However, one thing that we can probably
all agree on is that life is short. And it feels shorter the older
you get. The more we experience and learn, the more we want to
achieve and solve, and the less time we have to accomplish our list
of expanding goals.
I doubt there is anyone who has left this earth who can honestly
say, “I did every single thing I ever wanted to accomplish.” Humans
always want more. Sure, we all have bucket lists, but we make those
lists based on the parameters of our forecasted timeline and
capabilities. What if we could expand that list based on our
imaginations and creativity?
Yet today, there exists some people who take what is called a
pro-aging trance. A very good example of this is the objection to
inequality of access: this reasoning assumes that rejuvenation would
not be available to everyone who needs it, for economic, political,
or whatever reasons; understandably, this is perceived as a profound
injustice, which pushes a fair number of people to make a leap and
conclude that the best way to avoid this injustice is to never
develop rejuvenation to begin with.
It’s hard to believe that they would still reason this way if
“rejuvenation” were replaced by something else. Suppose I lost my
mind and said, “Plumbing is not available everywhere in the world,
and that’s unjust! They should never have developed it in the first
place, and we should take it away from those who already have it to
put an end to this injustice!”
The example becomes even more effective if we replace rejuvenation
with human rights. Not all fundamental rights are respected, or even
recognized, everywhere in the world, in spite of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and the work of the UN, UNICEF, and so
on. Even slavery, though theoretically abolished in all recognized
countries, is still a thing. Who in their right mind would ever
argue that human rights should be taken away from people who have
them, or should never have been thought up in the first place, for
the sake of equality? “Equal” is not the same as “just” or
“desirable”, and being equally in trouble is a rather cold comfort.
We want to exist. We all popped into existence, in a sense out of
nowhere, into a world full of marvels and pleasures as well as
dangers and sorrow, but the former induce in us a desire to stay
that, in most cases, is far stronger than the desire to leave that
might be caused by the latter. Yet, at some point, all of us had to
come to terms with the fact we can’t stay here forever. We will have
to give up on everything and everyone we’ve come to know and love,
our memories, our passions, and ourselves. Realizing that your own
life is finite is terrible, especially if it happens during your
childhood, when you’re likely to be very enthusiastic about
everything in your life.
This seems unjust enough as it is, and it would hardly feel better
if you were one of only some people who’re doomed to oblivion. We
can get over, and even used to, really unjust things, but could we
ever get over the fact that other people could go on living, maybe
forever, but not ourselves? If, as some people fear, rejuvenation
were really to become a privilege accorded only to people with a
certain socioeconomic status, and you were left out, you would
probably experience a crushing, absolutely understandable resentment
for people who, unlike you, are entitled to keep existing; the
thought of your own mortality would become more imposing and
difficult to bear.
It may be that some people are so afraid to end up in that situation
that they’d rather have rejuvenation never come to pass—even if it
means giving up on whatever chance they’d have to benefit from it
themselves. Maybe, in this particular case, being equally in trouble
might be preferable to finding yourself in a position where your
deepest desire is achievable in principle but not in practice. After
all, as long as rejuvenation doesn’t exist, it’s easy to tell
yourself that you don’t want it, because the object of your
temptation simply isn’t there; if it was there, it would arguably be
much more difficult to cope with your inability to get it.
When you’re repeatedly subjected to an unpleasant or painful
situation over which you seem to have no control, there comes a
point past which you simply give up on the very idea that you could
possibly escape your predicament. Once you learn that you’re
helpless in the face of circumstances beyond your control, you could
end up simply accepting what is happening to you, even when the
circumstances have changed enough to offer a way out.
Learned helplessness, is exactly what it sounds like—learning that
you’re helpless to change a certain situation and therefore learning
to accept it as it is, no matter how bad it might be and whether it
is actually true that you can’t change it—humans experience it in a
variety of circumstances and with a range of possible effects on
Martin Seligman ran an experiment to demonstrate learned
helplessness in people. Test subjects were asked to perform mental
tasks with an annoying background noise playing. Some subjects had
the power to stop the noise, while others did not; the people who
had control over the noise performed better than the ones who
didn’t, even though they rarely took the trouble to actually turn
off the noise—an indication that simply the knowledge that they
could eliminate the disturbance if they wanted to was enough to
positively affect their performance.
Learned helplessness plays a role in the pro-aging trance—or, at
least, what happens in people’s minds because of the pro-aging
trance is very much reminiscent of learned helplessness. The
conviction that aging is a blessing in disguise and that the fact
that people age to death is actually good,. (To be fair, there are
also many misconceptions and concerns—often poorly if at all
addressed—that contribute to this conviction.)
It’s not a coincidence that older people have far worse health than
young people, and it’s also not a coincidence that it’s far more
common to die at age 80 than at age 20—the frailty and ill-health of
old age increase your vulnerability to death from all causes, and as
if dying wasn’t bad enough, spending the last decade or two of your
life powerlessly watching as your health problems, big or small,
keep piling up isn’t any better; aging wreaks terrible emotional and
financial costs on you and your loved ones, and society is having an
increasingly difficult time with it.
Looking at how aging is different from other negative situations can
be useful to see the connection between learned helplessness and the
pro-aging trance. The human experiments were focused on an
unpleasant situation that was happening at the time, while, for some
of us, old age—may still be decades away and not necessarily
something that affects our daily lives; aging begins pretty much
since conception, the effects of aging don’t really become
debilitating or life-threatening until very late in life.
However, even though you don’t spend your entire life with worsening
eyesight, diabetes, cancer, or heart disease (to name but a few),
you—like everyone else on the planet—were brought up with the
notions that aging is inevitable and that one day it will kill you
if nothing else does it first. You’re accustomed to the thought
that, as you age, you will lose your health to at least some extent,
and you have an idea of what you might be like in old age—weak,
hunched over, easily fatigued, and with feeble senses and, if you’re
unlucky, even more serious health problems. This idea is weaved into
every fiber of our society, arts, and institutions; even if you’re
not exposed directly to the ailments of aging for most of your life,
you are exposed to the unpleasant thought that your clock is
ticking—a clock that measures not just the time you have left but
also your remaining health—and that there’s no way that you could
ever stop the clock.
In other words, you spend your entire life with the knowledge that
your health is slowly declining, a decidedly unpleasant thing that,
ultimately, you have no power to prevent. Therefore, you learn to
accept it and make your peace with it, perhaps whimpering about it
every now and again. Once the effects of aging manifest themselves
in your old age, the feeling of helplessness gets even more real, as
your health problems are no longer hypothetical and your doctor can
essentially only help you manage your symptoms. This overall
situation has much in common with the definition of learned
What’s interesting about learned helplessness is that, once you’ve
learned that you’re helpless, you hold that conviction even when
you’re no longer really helpless and could exercise control over
whatever negative circumstances you’re facing; learned helplessness
blinds you to any opportunity to improve your situation. With aging,
the situation is different because, up until very recently, you were
helpless. While tweaking your lifestyle and diet might yield some
benefits, you cannot seem to stop or reverse aging; there were
previously no options that you may be aware and therefore was
nothing that you could do about it. In such a world, learned
helplessness acted as a useful psychological defense mechanism that
helped to keep the thought of aging out of your mind—there’s no
point making yourself more miserable by dwelling on that which you
This moment in history is somewhat awkward, because while it is
still technically true that you can’t avoid aging, it is also true
that our current scientific understanding of aging puts us in an
unprecedented situation in which bona-fide rejuvenation therapy to
reset our biological age is real. While it’s not yet set in stone
that aging, disease and death will soon (or ever) be history, in the
current circumstances, the notion that aging is inevitable,
unchangeable, and cannot be fought is false.
Some people adopt a conviction that you can’t escape aging as an
excuse to justify self-destructive behavior—say, smoking—which
inevitably leads them to miss the rejuvenation train.
With a bit of a stretch, you could say that humanity as a whole
suffers from learned helplessness about aging; over the course of
millennia, it has learned that its fate is to be wiped out by aging
if by nothing else, as nothing could be done about it. Worse still,
humanity has learned to consider this belief a sign of wisdom, and
now that an opportunity to turn the tables is finally in sight, a
great many members of our species might miss the opportunity if we
keep believing that we are helpless before aging.
It really doesn’t help that humanity has been fooled time and again
by more-or-less honest attempts to achieve rejuvenation, which have
always utterly failed (simply because they didn’t have access to the
neuropsychological science that we have today). There’s also the
fact that nobody wants to get their hopes up only to be hit by
burning disappointment that they cannot control aging. It’s
understandable if people still think that aging is an undeniable
We all fear the thought of losing our health and life. In the
meanwhile, we would all benefit from keeping in mind how our own
psychology might get in the way of our future.
Just because you can’t understand the exact science does not mean
you should dismiss the possibility that you can in fact extend your
lifespan. This similiar scenario has happened many times in the
past, where the general public does not understand a technology,
resulting in the assumption that something is impossible. Here are
“The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have
plenty of messenger boys.” – William Preece, British Post Office.
“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a
fad.” – President of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s
lawyer, Horace Rackham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Company.
“There is practically no chance communications space satellites will
be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television or radio
service inside the United States.” – T.A.M. Craven, Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner.
“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” –
New York Times in 1936.
That last quote is of particular interest. Not only have we left the
Earth’s atmosphere, but we’ve put a human on the moon and landed
space craft on different planets within our solar system.
Can you imagine if we could travel back to the 1800’s and tell
people that we have been into space? They would probably think we’re
insane. Perhaps we’re now those people who can’t see beyond our
The underlying factors that govern our health and longevity are positive versus
the negative attitudes and emotions attached to beliefs, contained in our mind-set.
What are we telling ourselves?
Are your clients telling themselves that they are young, smart, full
of energy, and healthy?
Or do they find most of their self-talk about how awful they feel,
how they are losing their memory, and how their body is not like it
used to be.
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2. The second part of the Brain-Mind-Body Formula.
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We now also have scientific proof from many randomized trials that
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Longevity Therapists are engaged in the practice of Longevity
Longevity Therapists work within the Operational Domain of the
Our Brain’s capacity can be stimulated to upgrade itself to fit the
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The Mind’s operating system (Mindset) contains a suite of programs
eg; Emotions, Attitudes, Beliefs, Selves, the Stories we tell our
- affect our ability to repair and reverse aging of the Brain and
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- affects our well-being (the quality of our present state as
expressed through our health, performance, happiness and life
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