My lying brain

In a few weeks I turn 68. These days I’m only too aware of how this 68 year old body doesn’t always meet my expectations. Of course, it’s my expectations that are at fault, not my body which has actually served me very well these last many decades.

Yesterday while I was walking along Sledge Track I found it harder going than the claimed “easy route”. I needed to watch my footing on the narrow trail by the river where every downhill had an equal but opposite uphill. There were many steps up and down on this route and I needed to take frequent rests.

That’s when my brain started on its “Other 68 year olds can do this easily” lies.

My brain was quite persistent about how inadequate I was, as if it was some kind of a race or endurance test rather than a simple walk for pleasure in the bush.

One thing this 68 year old brain is though is smarter than it used to be. While that critical sub-brain continued its jibes my more logical brain countered: “What 68 year olds exactly? I know a bunch of people my age who couldn’t do this walk at all.”

J1, for example, has had both knees replaced in the last couple of years and a poor sense of balance. This trail is not for her.

Or J2 who had a bad motorcycle accident a few years ago, crushing one leg. She tripped on a flat boardwalk when she visited a couple of years back. This steep in parts, narrow, rough-surfaced trail wouldn’t be for her.

And other friends about my age who have various ailments, who wouldn’t have made it up the first set of steps.

So, who are these other older folks who would walk this trail so much “better”, according to my critical sub-brain, than I was doing?

Well, there’s my friend L, a decade older than me. But then L has regularly gone tramping throughout her life. She’s spent thousands of hours walking trails.

I’ve spent thousands of hours sitting down honing my computer skills.

What is it that encourages this critical sub-brain to speak up, unashamedly, with its commentary on what we’re doing?

I thought about those many many thousands of hours I’ve spent learning about computer stuff.

I get a great sense of pleasure when I do something “clever” on the computer. I think “I love that I can do this.” What I don’t think is “Hey, other 68 year olds can’t do this”, even though that would be at least partly true, in exactly the same way that some folks my age would have an easier time walking a trail in the bush.

I’ve recently been reading writings by Stoics. Funnily enough, just the day before my walk I’d been pondering on these words by Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations (I’ve modernised the translation):

Practise the things you despair of accomplishing. Even the left hand, in effectual for all other things for lack of practice, holds the bridle more vigorously than the right hand; for it has had more practise.

And more:

Think less about what you don’t have and more about what you do have.

One of the things I’ve learned from listening to episodes of The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos is that our brains routinely lie to us.

Thanks to knowing that my brain can lie to me, I understood that the “Other 68 year olds” criticism just needed to be put aside. It wasn’t true. When it came to walking on the Sledge Track, I was just an average person. Some may walk the trail ’better“, others ”worse". And anyway, it wasn’t a competition. There was no better or worse. It was just a way for my critical sub-brain to try to wound me.

“Hah! Your barbs are harmless! Be off with you!”

I enjoyed my walk, and the frequent rests were wonderful opportunities to breathe the fresh air, listen to the birds, look at the greenery.

Abandon your old foolishness like you abandon tattered clothes. You don’t have to think what you thought last year. — The Stoic Emperor

A tree branch across the ground, with light and shadow, vegetation, evoking subtlety.
Miraz Jordan @Miraz