Are you the same person you were at 16?
How about at 35?
Technically, no. Your cells are constantly regenerating and replacing themselves. By the time you hit 50, all the original neurons in your hippocampus (the brain’s memory center) will have been replaced with new neurons.
And yet it’s your memories that cause you to say you are the same person. Your persistent sense of self is a story your brain tells to connect the person reading this newsletter with the person you were in high school. It’s from those teenage years that we begin to engage in autobiographical reasoning, and that’s where your “life story” begins.
Interestingly, we tend to alter our narrative identity for the better as we get older, using the same autobiographical reasoning to rewrite our personal story. Around age 50 (coinciding with the upslope of the U-shaped happiness curve), we start to emphasize the positive side of our life story, while diminishing the bad or traumatic aspects of our past so we can focus on what matters now.
Dan McAdams, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, sees this as a midlife opportunity:
So you live your life and you collect material as you’re going along for your life’s story and you’ve always got this material, but you could reshape it — you can rewrite it. It could be a problem, but it’s also an opportunity.
So are you the same you or not? It’s a paradox illustrated by a thought experiment known as The Ship of Theseus. Some were exposed to this puzzlement in their Philosophy 101 class, others by the series finale of WandaVision:
If the ship on which Theseus sailed has been so heavily repaired and nearly every part replaced, is it still the same ship — and, if not, at what point did it stop being the same ship?
It’s a paradox in the same way the answer to the question of whether you’re the same person you were in high school is both yes and no. No matter how much time you spend with it, the answer remains self-contradictory. This philosophical question is simply designed to get you thinking about yourself from the outside.
From a practical standpoint, it seems smart to accept the conclusion offered in this TED video explaining the Ship of Theseus thought experiment:
I am a legendary hero sailing a powerful ship on an epic journey.
Now that’s more alluring, right? And that means it’s time to open your sail.
Retirement Run Rate
A portfolio stress test can help give you some peace of mind about whether you’ll run out of money while retired. But if you’re not careful, it could give you a false sense of security. To get results you can trust, make sure the parameters you’re using are realistic.
I usually eat twice a day: a late breakfast and then dinner. Since I started trying to add muscle, I’ve been eating a lot more, and I hate it. Truth is, there is no “right” answer to how many times a day you eat, as long as you’re eating well and it works for you.
Amino Acid Trip
Are you being taken for a ride with the ingredients of your preferred protein shake? Supplement manufacturers sometimes dump cheap ingredients in their powders to claim a higher protein content than they truly have to boost profits. Check your powder for the represented power.
A Seminal Moment in Anti-Aging Science
Spermidine exists in every cell of your body, decreases as you age, and was first discovered in that other substance you’re thinking of. Administering spermidine has anti-aging effects in mice, apparently through reduced shortening of telomeres — a common focal point that scientists think can slow aging.
Scroll down to find out how uncertainty can be your ally. And keep scrolling for the Flashback, where one of Lady Gaga’s many influences will have you questioning what words are for.
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Use Uncertainty to Your Advantage
By Trudi Roth
There are those who enjoy panning for gold in the waters of uncertainty: savvy investors, maverick entrepreneurs, and high-stakes poker players, for example.
Then there are the rest of us, who’d prefer to get an electric shock rather than endure the pain of not knowing. This is literal: a UK study showed those who knew they were going to be shocked were significantly less stressed than those who were told they had a 50-50 chance of it.
Having lived through a year of ambiguity and chaos, it’s understandable to crave certainty and simplicity. But playing it safe is also dangerous. You lose vital opportunities to create, grow, learn, innovate and lead without some degree of risk.
The good news is you don’t have to sacrifice all security for the sake of personal development. All it takes is a willingness to explore the edge of uncertainty.
Left to its own devices, your brain does everything in its power to convince you that uncertainty is the same thing as danger. This hardwiring, aka your amygdala, triggers your fight-flight-freeze-please response, pushing you into your comfort zone.
To counteract this natural reaction, Leo Babauta advises playing on the edge of uncertainty. As he explains,
It’s the place where you’re learning, but not completely lost. Where you are exploring, but not freefalling. Where you’re creating something new, but not without some grasp of what came before you.
Moving from drowning in fear to swimming with new ideas takes practice. And it also entails keeping most of your life stable as you dive into a daily routine of playing with uncertainty.
Livin’ on the Edge
As Babuta points out, we all have plenty of unpredictability in our lives, but that’s not the same as deliberately training yourself to withstand the discomfort of the unknown. Baby steps make it manageable and actionable.
First off, to identify the perfect practice topic, listen to your resistance. What have you been putting off? What scares you? From tackling new technology to redoing your website or writing a book, pick something around a 7-10 on the resistance scale.
Next, set a time each day with reminders, so you don’t “forget.” Start with a few minutes and build up to a half-hour.
As you’re dancing on the edge, be sure to check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling. Don’t condemn uncomfortable sensations; use them to help you consciously embrace curiosity.
Finally, let go of any judgment and be kind to yourself. And consider asking a friend to be your accountability partner. While you don’t know what you don’t know, it can be easier to explore the unknown with someone you know.
Staying at the Edge of Uncertainty (Zen Habits)
Missing Persons – Words
Spring Session M, 1982
Words by Missing Persons is the perfect song for forgotten Generation X: “No one notices, I think I’ll dye my hair blue.” Dale Bozzio was Gaga way before Lady Gaga. (YouTube)
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