Techno-nerd turns absolutely fabulous

Hester Lacey goes 'attitude jogging' with Thomas Blakeslee, ex- engineer and partner of Lynne Franks
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Indy Lifestyle Online
"Put on some old clothes and have fun destroying them. Doing this with a friend or lover is particularly delightful. Roll in the mud, squirt each other with a hose and even tear each other's clothes." Practise something called the matador walk - "hold your shoulders erect, and take your steps with confidence and authority. Watch John Travolta in the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever for a good example." And then go out for a long walk and "urinate into the ground and feel your connection to the earth as the fluid from your body flows back into the earth".

All good fun, no doubt, but, erm, why? Because such behaviour will help you live longer, according to Thomas R Blakeslee, author of The Attitude Factor, a new book that claims to "extend your life by changing the way you think". He says that "attitude jogging" - techniques to exercise the mind in the same way that jogging exercises the body - are the key to long life.

Blakeslee, 59, who already has two best-selling self-help books, The Right Brain and Beyond the Conscious Mind, under his belt, is the partner of ex-PR guru Lynne Franks - herself the author of Absolutely Now! A Futurist's Journey To Her Inner Truth. Franks has embraced Buddhism and new-age philosophies with a vengeance since 1992, when she sold her phenomenally successful PR agency and left her husband of 21 years. She and Blakeslee met at a "spiritual event" at Alexandra Palace, north London, last year. Franks says of the thrice-divorced Blakeslee: "I put it out to the universe that I wanted someone who was happy with himself, loved travelling, was intelligent, fun and sexy. Someone who could cook, already had grown-up children and was practical enough to know what to do when the washing machine packed up. The heavens found Tom for me." She invited him to stay and within ten minutes of him turning up she abandoned her commitment to celibacy, according to one interview published earlier this year.

As a former engineer, hardly the most spiritual of callings, he is living proof that one can change one's life. So, how did his latest book come about? "The book is dedicated to my mother," says Blakeslee, from his home in Mallorca (he and Franks also own houses in London and California). "She is 85 years old, completely healthy, but in a decline that's based on her attitudes. I don't want that to happen to me, so I started researching ageing." The key fact he discovered is that health and longevity are directly influenced by attitude - happiness and pleasure lead to long life. The Attitude Factor shows how to cultivate a positive frame of mind. Blakeslee's mum, however, has resolutely refused to start rolling in mud, walking like John Travolta or weeing on the ground. "I think it's probably too late for her," he says regretfully. "It's easier when you're younger."

Using his methods, he says, means one is less likely to become a cranky old prune in later life. "Being happier is a way of living longer, but one of the results is that you are also healthier, there is quality of life as well," he says. "Lots of people feel guilty about enjoying themselves, but, in fact, we need to have pleasure in our lives. It really is a matter of life and death."

The notion that state of mind affects physical health is not new, but Blakeslee has drawn together a wide range of diverse studies on the subject. "The separation of mind and body is completely arbitrary," he explains. "People accept the use-it-or-lose-it principle for the body, but they don't accept that the same applies mentally. In fact, you need to push yourself mentally, just as you need to push yourself when you exercise physically. The idea is dismissed as crackpot, new-age stuff, and a lot of self-help books are like that. But everything I'm saying is based on solid science." The book certainly features an impressive battery of scientific references, charts and diagrams, which show that a positive mental attitude means resistance to disease, increased quality and length of life, even that one is less prone to accidents.

It also makes some controversial claims on some pleasures that are considered naughty rather than nice, namely drinking and smoking. "Enjoying life is the most beneficial health habit," says Blakeslee. "The health habits people fuss over are minor. Public health scares that frighten everyone to death have a negative effect. People who allow themselves to relax and have an enjoyable time are more accepting of the idea of pleasure, and that is extremely healthy." Cheers, then.

So, how does one make a start (apart from cracking open a bottle of Chardonnay)? The book contains a couple of lengthy quizzes, the "Pleasure And Well- Being Test" and the "Self-Regulation Questionnaire", that assess current state of mind, and a number of exercises that are at least as daunting as an exercise manual. Just as for physical exercise, getting started is the big hurdle, says Blakeslee. "It's just the same. You might find that you start by tackling something that's too difficult. You need to pick a goal you can accomplish, and take it from there. As a first exercise, I would recommend making a list of things that you used to enjoy, picking a simple one, and re-introducing it - perhaps you used to go swimming when you were younger, really liked it, but haven't been swimming for a long time."

From here, one can steadily progress to the more complicated exercises. "I heartily recommend that you try intentionally sleeping in your car in a strange place as an attitude-jogging exercise," writes Blakeslee in the chapter on "Expanding Your Comfort Zones". "Life is full of mundane and forgettable experiences but the memory of a real adventure endures for ever and adds richness to your life," he adds.

Formerly a self-confessed "typical techno-nerd", the turning point for him was learning how to ski, at the age of 38. "It changed my life. I learned something non-verbally and realised there was a whole new way of thinking I'd never considered."

He certainly sounds absurdly youthful over the phone, for someone who is pushing 60. And he has learned to dance. "When people started dancing, I used to be embarrassed and sit on the sidelines. Now I can switch off my conscious mind and join in. Most people don't dance that well anyway, you know."

The Attitude Factor is published by Harper Collins on 15 September (pounds 8.99). There is a website which offers a personalised attitude-jogging programme at www.attitudefactor.com

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