Health & Wellness

Building Your Personal Resilience Step 3 – Locus of Control

As announced in previous issues of Vermont Maturity, we are devoting the entire 2024 year to helping readers build a Personal Resilience Plan. If you missed our last article, we invite you to review it via this link. We encourage all our readers to participate.

Our focus for this month’s article is Locus of Control. Readers may be familiar with the more well-known concept of Personal Agency. Do you believe that you are in control of your personal destiny or are you more likely to think that your fate will be determined by factors beyond your control?

People who believe that they control their own destiny are said to have an internal locus of control. Those who expect that forces beyond your sphere of influence will determine your fate are said to have an external locus of control.

In general, as we age, the trend tends to move in the direction of an external locus of control as we lose cherished friends and chronic illness becomes more prevalent. These factors present stark realities that we are not likely to change.

However, important outcomes remain in play and our beliefs and attitudes exert a powerful influence on priority dimensions of the aging experience. For example, mature adults with an internal locus of control live longer.

Locus of control plays an important role in personal resilience. Seniors with a robust sense of resilience:

  • have fewer chronic health conditions 
  • are more independent in daily living skills
  • have a lower incidence of depression, and,
  • are more physically active.

As readers of my past articles know, regular physical activity has a major impact on the quality of life for mature adults.

Building and maintaining regular activity routines is an excellent way to develop a stronger internal locus of control. Former Director of the Center for Disease Control, Tom Frieden, M.D., stated that “We know that … being active is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.”  Regular physical activity routines tilt the odds in favor of better health.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development has what is likely the best data set on aging anywhere. They conclude that the state of our friendships and relationships stands out as the most important dimension of mature adult adjustment. Here again, seniors have a very direct opportunity to impact their personal experience. We offer a strategy for seniors to strengthen their relationships by asking friends and family relations for feedback on their own resilience profile. Engaging members of your social network in such a dialogue creates an outstanding opportunity to enrich the quality of interaction seniors have with their social connections. Of course, seniors can reach out to friends and family with their own inquiries and updates to maintain a robust communication channel.

Believing that you can shape your physical activity habits and your social relationships can play a powerful role in boosting your personal resilience. Despite the painful loss of cherished friends and the struggle many of us have with chronic health conditions, there remain extremely important dimensions of life that we can influence for our advantage.

Maintaining cognitive acuity may be the most important outcome we can impact. Regular physical activity habits and a willingness to take on challenging mental exercises will shape the odds of sustaining cognitive health. Getting out and taking a brisk walk will fire up new neuron growth in your hippocampus – a central switching station in the human memory process. You can make that happen today and tomorrow.

Take charge of outcomes that you can influence.

We devote this article to a review of prominent research findings in the neuroscience field. Every single person fortunate enough to pass the 65-year milestone worries about their mental acuity and, specifically, their memory function – with good reason. The National Institutes of Health report that almost half of adults over 65 report some kind of memory impairment.

Every mature adult wants to sustain their memory function and mental clarity for as long as they possibly can. We bring good news to this discussion.

Brain Plasticity

The ability of our brain to learn new things and adapt to various challenges – does not diminish with age. Each person has the capacity to maintain your learning ability. The catch here is that many senior adults don’t exercise the option. Sustaining our brain’s plasticity requires putting it to work – in the form of learning something new. Look into the offerings at Coursera and explore hundreds of topics that will challenge you to build new neural circuits in your brain.


For years neuroscientists held the belief that human brains are born with the same number of neurons that they will have as mature adults. In fact, human brains prune unused neurons throughout our life – kind of like cleaning house – so that adults have fewer neurons than babies.
Humans still pack something like 85 billion neurons into our skull and each neuron may have 1,000 connections to other neurons. Do the math. Pretty amazing.

Recent research however has revealed that the hippocampus, a seahorse shaped component of our brain tucked away in the middle of our head, is capable of neurogenesis – the formation of new neurons. The hippocampus is the central switching station for memory. The bottom line is that you can generate new neuron growth to support your memory function today by going out and taking a brisk walk.

Our memory can also be fortified by mnemonic exercises as detailed in this article. On your next trip to the grocery store, make a list of things you need. Put the list in your pocket and go through the aisles relying on your recall. Before heading for the cashier, check your list to see if you forgot anything.

Physical Activity

Physical activity causes the brain to generate proteins, like BDNF, that John Ratey M.D. of Harvard Medical School calls Miracle Gro for the brain. Check out this terrific video featuring Dr. Ratey. Get out and pump up some BDNF to bathe your brain in beneficial, invigorating chemicals.       

The human brain is the most amazing creation known to man. Senior adults have a very important role to play in how well it functions in later decades. You have the capacity to keep your brain in good shape and sustain your mental acuity. Our brain defines who we are. Take excellent care of it.

Richard Houston, Ed.D., is an aging baby boomer who is ramping up his productivity rate in his mid-70’s. He swears that his brain has never been more productive. Check out his web sites at and Resilience-Advocate.

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