by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, May 21, 2017
Recently I told a friend they were letting things slide.
“What a horrible phrase,” they replied, “it sounds like I’m in a death spiral.”
“I didn’t mean you were going down the drain,” I said. “But you do keep pushing deadlines back.”
Psychology Today defines “letting things slide” as procrastination. Dictionary definitions include, “to ignore something, to not pay attention, put aside, write off, negligently allow something to deteriorate, allow something to go without punishment, to not do anything about something or someone when you should try to change or correct that thing or person.” Evidently, it’s a widely used phrase. By the last definition, if I hadn’t said anything to my friend I would have been letting things slide by not telling them they were sliding.
Often, offering helpful criticism means getting a foot stuck in our mouth. I then pointed out that one of the side-effects of getting older is letting things slide. My friend hates any suggestion that they’re getting older. They got even more annoyed with me. My wife tells me I’m too happy to accept aging. She says if I’m not going to fight getting old, I should at least not admit it.
I started thinking about causes of sliding not related to aging. I remembered that I started letting things slide more after I retired. I assume it was because I was getting older, but what if retirement causes sliding? What if not having a 9 to 5 structure promotes procrastination and delay?
When all your time is free its very easy to reschedule obligations. It’s also easy to choose pleasant activities over annoying tasks. I’ve known this for a couple years since I’ve been retired longer than my friend, so I was trying to pass on that bit of wisdom. Maybe people have to discover it for themselves.
I even wrote an essay, “Overcoming Inertia in Retirement.” I guess my friend didn’t read it. I often study older people when I get a chance to see if I can spot trends I might be following as I get older. And I do think letting things slide is an aging issue. Older folks generally do much less than younger people. We assume that’s because of health and energy, but what if it’s mental too? Life is about making an effort to get what we want.
What if the wisdom of aging is learning that some things aren’t worth the effort? Or is that a cop out? Maybe we just get tired of making an effort. I know I dream of arranging my future life so it requires much less effort. To put a positive spin on things, maybe we just streamline living as we get older.
Unfortunately, I think it’s more insidious than that. As we age our brains shrink, and we lose neurons and neural connectivity. Exercise, especially aerobic exercise can counter that trend. We actually grow new neurons and make more connections with exercise. I do very little aerobic exercise according to my FitBit. And I do feel I’m in a cognitive decline. That’s why I do things like write essays and solve crossword puzzles to keep what little brain matter I have oiled and active.
If we chart our activity levels across our 40s, 50s and 60s, we can probably plot a line that will show our activity levels for our 70s, 80s and 90s. Research shows we can tilt the slope of that line up if we exercise physically and mentally.
If other words, slowing the slide now means we’ll let things slide less in the future.