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Working with kids fresh out of college at Microsoft in my 40’s, I felt old and slow. I remembered working at Allied Signal in my 20’s and having a razor sharp brain that learned things lightning fast. I was known for my memory and could recite military spec part numbers and recall conversations from meetings word for word.

Working with these super smart “kids” at Microsoft reminded me how much I had changed. I felt like my best years were past. My spark was gone, I struggled to adapt to new versions of Office and Windows, and my memory worked about as well as a sieve holding water.

The problem was, I bought the lie. Years ago they believed that our brains deteriorated as we aged and there was nothing we could do about it. And because I believed it, I didn’t look any further.

Luckily for me I later found myself in a more relaxed circumstance where I felt my brain get fired up again. I was generating ideas and solving problems so fast that others couldn’t keep up with me. Seeing that glimpse of my younger self helped me to see that I wasn’t sliding down a one way slope – my brain was just temporarily oxidized and rusty.

A quick Google search will tell you that common effects of prolonged exposure to stress are “difficulty focusing and concentrating, difficulty learning new things, memory problems, and reduced problem solving abilities.”

If you still think getting older is a certain sentence to a feeble mind, just look at Warren Buffet. In his 80’s he is still sharp as a tack. He doesn’t live the common stressed life. He didn’t upgrade his home to meet his income. He keeps his schedule clear. He exercises. He maintains work life balance.

If you have been living a fast-paced stressful life and you’ve been feeling what you thought were the effects of old age, I invite you to clean the rust off your brain. Start with a simple mindfulness exercise that takes the brain out of “fight or flight” mode.

Find a comfortable place to sit where you won’t be disturbed. Set a timer for 5 minutes, with a gentle sound for the alarm. Focus all of your attention on your breathing. As any thought comes into your mind, and it will, just allow it to float away. Return your attention to your breathing. Do this practice twice a day and you will start to remove the rust from your brain.

You can’t do anything about getting older but you get to decide what it looks like.

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