Twenty years from now, I’ll be in sight of the average life expectancy for Americans. That’s a daunting thought, especially when I review the last 20 years which have flown on many levels. There were days that felt interminable, but years wrinkle in hindsight, making 1999 seem like last Tuesday. Yesterday in the customer service lounge at Heritage Toyota, I leafed through a magazine and read a short essay of a 42-year-old woman writing to her 22-year-old self. It was sweet and funny as she imparted advice to her younger self. It got me thinking about what I’d say to my mid-30s self, and, moreover, what do I want to get right for my mid-70s self?
Research shows that when we mindfully imagine our lives 10 or 20 years in the future, we are more inclined to make good decisions now that will positively impact later years. The research focused on allocating savings for retirement, finding that when people concentrated on images of their own faces 20 years in the future, they allocate more money towards retirement. I bet you a dollar, at 3.5 percent APR, those findings would apply to health behaviors too.
When I look at people in their mid-70s, I see a vast range of quality of life. We see the ranges at any age, but the standard deviations swing larger later. With any luck I’ll be retired by 70 and looking forward to a decade or two of decent health, sound mind and an interesting, social life. We know we have to save economically for that. We also have to invest in health behaviors now to optimize the chances of being strong and healthy to have fun doing the things we want to do. Starting at 65, we can get a mid-week season’s pass at Sugarbush for $129. At 90, we can ski free. We’ll have the time in retirement to do the things we cram into weekends now, let’s make sure we can do those things.
Every year, I question downhill skiing, saying to myself, “It’s a dumb sport. It’s expensive, time consuming, cold, risky and not great exercise in comparison with its cross-country counterpart.” But, every year, I get up on the mountain and re-fall in love with the sport. When I see people in their 70s and 80s skiing, I am impressed and inspired. What do I need to do now to invest in my health and strength to take advantage of the $129 at 65 ski pass? I want to amortize all the expensive skiing I do as a middle age adult!
Maybe you’re smarter than I and skiing is not your sport. Maybe it’s not a sport you look forward to, but certainly you want to feel strong, energized, and healthy to spend time doing whatever it is you love, with the people you want to be with.
Can you imagine your 2039 self looking back on your 2019 self? Would there be a “dear me” letter with words of advice? What’s lurking in your mind as something you need to do, but haven’t found the motivation or time to do it? Chances are you can think of something; we are each works in progress.
There’s a word in Yogi philosophy, abhyasa, that means steady progress in the direction you want to go. To me, abhyasa speaks to the ideal intersection between consistent, determined effort, and self-compassion. It’s not a sprint of 100 percent effort forsaking all rest and indulgence, but it’s a continued focus on forward movement.
Looking toward myself in 2039, I want to walk toward that 72-year-old woman who is still skiing with friends, and maybe eyeing the free pass that starts in 2057. Your older self needs you now. See you out there.
Heather Hewitt Main, M.Ed., of Main Wellness Works, is a certified Personal Fitness Trainer and has worked as an instructor and presenter on public health education since 1989. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.