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Relax – youre not going through useless living hell at work. Instead, youre building up cognitive templates in your brain which will be valuable to you in the future. Theres a good side to everything.

Sharon Begley wrote an interesting article recently in The Wall Street Journal entitled The Upside of Aging. In it, she makes the following points:

Most research has concentrated in the past on the negative effects of aging, such as Alzheimers disease or short-term memory loss, but scientists are now beginning to examine the plus side of growing older. And there are some positive qualities which distinguish healthy oldsters from their younger peers. Baby boomers take note; theres hope for you.

Certain skills are not diminished, and some may actually improve with age because of the way data is stored in the brain. Semantic memory resists the effects of aging, which explains why older people often excel at crossword puzzles and word-oriented games. Vocabulary and verbal ability improve for those who continue to read.

People acquire emotional wisdom as they mature, enabling them to better control negative reactions. They are less likely to become impatient, impulsive or angry. They are more skilled at sorting out irrelevant information when judging another persons character, and they relate better in mentoring situations with subordinates.

Older human beings also develop cognitive templates through a lifetime of experiences. These templates enable them to recognize similar situations and then instinctively come up with the best solutions without having to go through each problem step by step. They unconsciously process if this type of situation exists and that event happens, then the following might also happen, unless we do this. The presence of such cognitive templates is one of the most fascinating conclusions of current scientific brain research.

Cognitive templates enable older people to quickly cut to the heart of a complicated matter, discard unimportant data, and decide on the best course of action. An example was given of older air-traffic controllers who didnt do as well in simulated tests but who equaled or outperformed their younger peers in real-life, complex traffic situations. Their previous experiences, formed into gray-matter templates, gave them the advantage.

Attorneys in their 80s often find themselves able to look at a document, skip through unimportant verbiage, and capture its essence with less effort than when they were younger. And what about those ancient bridge players, barely able to walk to the card table, but consistently triumphing over younger adversaries?

Who can forget the television coverage of 81-year-old pianist Vladimir Horowitz returning to Moscow in 1986 for one of his last concerts? As that worn, shrunken old man walked slowly across the stage, it looked like he might not even be able to mount the bench. But his performance was incredible – no, fantastic – and the theater erupted with deafening applause, while some wept with emotion. When he played the piano that evening, Horowitz seemed 30 years younger – and he was.

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