The power of ‘I can’

Do you want to have more energy, be more alert and feel more capable?  Well, as Professor Ellen Langer would tell you, you can.  Simply let go of any notions of what’s not possible, drop the beliefs that constrain you, and open your minds to what may be. 

This message was beautifully demonstrated in the recent BBC programme The Young One’s when six famous faces, now in their seventies and eighties, participated in an experiment that enabled them to live as their more youthful selves.  The experiment which sought to replicate the Harvard Professor’s 1970’s research, showed that in just one week the celebrities improved their mental agility, memory, confidence, mood, stamina, flexibility, and balance. 

During the experiment the celebrities participated in daily exercise classes, laughed a lot, became more sociable, and took more responsibility for their own lives.  And they were reminded of a time when they had been filled with vitality.  Most importantly this prompted them to challenge the limitations that they and society had placed upon them.  Instead of conforming to the view that they were old and incapable and things were impossible, they changed their mindsets and adopted a ‘can-do’ attitude.  The physical and mental benefits of this were inspiring – Dickie Bird’s mood was transformed, his memory improved and his confidence soared.  Liz Smith arrived in a wheelchair and within seven days managed to walk unaided and balance on one foot.  But the benefits didn’t end there, following the programme she had taken up painting and ballroom dancing again.  Derek Jameson addressed his feelings of social isolation and struggles to put his socks on, and after the programme he was found lecturing trainee journalists.  Kenneth Kendall reduced his risk of falling and learned he wasn’t too old to own a puppy.  Sylvia Sims found she shed about twenty years and became an ambassador for the charity, Age-UK.  And Lionel Blair who was a catalyst for many of the positive outcomes in the house, went off to spend time dancing with ‘Tap Dogs’ in the West End of London.

Why the experiment produced such wonderful results is partly due to a placebo-type affect, but we shouldn’t ignore the other factors too:  Exercise is known to be beneficial for both body and brain.  Laugher can reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that impairs cognitive function, suppresses the immune system and leads to weight gain.  Laughter can also help increase social bonds.  Living in a house together took away the celebrities’ self-imposed social isolation and replaced it with shared experiences to talk and laugh about.  The participants encouraged each other to work towards their goals, they inspired each other, and gave feedback on each others’ progress.  They also learned to be more autonomous again, to take self-responsibility – starting with dressing themselves, cooking, cleaning, and even carrying their own heavy suitcases up flights of stairs, to taking control of children, dogs and choreographing a troupe of dancers.

As Professor Langer states: “It is not our physical state that limits us” — it is our mindset about our own limits, our perceptions, that draws the lines in the sand.  Or as a twinkling Dickie Bird remarked after his week in the house “Growing old is only a number, it’s only a number…. get that out of your mind, get it out and think, think, and think young.  Go out into the world with confidence and belief and you’ll conquer the world.”

Now just imagine, if a ‘can do’ mindset can turn the aging process back by twenty years, what could be achieved by a workforce with this same ‘can do’ attitude.  To discuss how to tackle self-limiting beliefs and nurture the attitudes which will stimulate your staff’s motivation and determination to achieve, please contact gill@unisonmedia.co.uk



To view the BBC series ‘The Young One’s’:



For further information on Professor Langer’s research:




And for additional reading about mindsets:

Dweck C.S. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success.  New York: Ballantine Books.






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