Why You Need More Yuck in Your Life

Attuned to research about aging well (for no obvious reason), I am often struck by the fact that the recipe for “super aging” has much in common with the one I am always promoting to you younger folk. The basics of living well — sufficient sleep, daily exercise and meditation, good food, meaningful work, and quality social interactions — apply for all of us. But if you want to preserve the vitality and flexibility of a young brain, if you want to continue to get better and more skilled at physical, mental, or emotional abilities, then you have to get down and go into the Yuck.

Continuing to comfortably do what we are already expert at, feels great. Learning a new skill, or pushing ourselves into the margins of an established skill set feels, well, yucky. But it is this that actually enhances our abilities. This means targeting a part of your activity that you are not good at, or immersing yourself in a new endeavor— a language, a sport, a new role in your job, a musical instrument — which actually feel awful. When people do things they are bad at, or when they push themselves to physical, emotional, or mental limits, they usually feel frustrated, fatigued, even ashamed. This is the Yuck. Do it! Do whatever it is, until it feels bad, and in that zone, take comfort in knowing that you are revitalizing the limbic system of your brain, making it more dense and resilient. It is the quality of this region of the brain that is associated with better memory, higher capacity for focus and attention, and a more vital experience as we move through life. This sounds pretty good, no matter your age. After all, we are all aging, and the earlier you establish this approach, the farther it will take you.

The old adage of neuroscience is “Use it or Lose it,” and that certainly applies here. Do not cede real estate of your brain to the seductive placidity of comfortable. Remember that early life is all about new learning. Anyone who has ever watched a child learn to walk has seen someone immersed in the Yuck, and the rewards that follow. Challenge yourself to take old skills to a new place, and bring new skills in. Pitch yourself into something new and hard, and suffer gladly. Bring some Yuck into your life!