Some people say getting old is a choice. I used to think that was big, fat happy load of…ahhh… self-deceit. Now, I don’t.
Yes, you can be young again. Young with a spark in your eye and spring in your step. Young in the way you remember feeling as a kid. Really. You just need to know what to do.
If you’re at a point in your life when this idea seems foreign – impossible even — I get that. And you may not even be what is, chronologically anyway, considered to be ‘old’. In fact, a lot of people seem to be ‘old’ when they’re in, say, their mid-thirties, while other people seem to be ‘young’ when they’re in their mid-eighties.
Let’s unpack that a bit.
When you’re a kid, everything’s new. Everything. It’s the nature of being a kid, and new to the world. Which is why you can spend hours looking at, and playing with, the simplest toy. Because it’s new to you. Completely.
Which means you don’t know what it can do. And that means it can maybe do anything.
And, when you’re a kid, you move on. Quickly. Without thought or consideration. To explore the next thing you’ve never ever seen before.
And the wonder begins anew.
Again. and again. And again.
Never ending, always exploring. Time falling away and lost in joyful discovery without assessment. Until…
One day you circle back to something you’ve already seen. Explored. Become familiar with. Even loved.
But because it’s no longer fully and completely ‘new’, when you come back to it this time, you bring experience too, and with that just the slightest knowledge of its limitations.
This thing, let’s say it’s a red-and-silver shiny rocket ship, is no longer unlimited as it once was. Maybe you’ve learned something that it can’t do – just one thing is enough to create a corral for the possibilities. Maybe it’s still a huge space where your imagination is free to roam, but now it’s walled in just a little bit. This is inevitable; neither good nor bad it is simply the natural order of things and the progression of learning.
But the net result of this progression is that your imagination has become limited — just a little — by experience.
How? Well, when you first came to it, you came to it not knowing anything, and in not knowing anything, that rocket ship could do absolutely everything. So you became lost in the possibility and the joy of exploration without even realizing it.
And that is where you were most young, and in the best way.
But with experience, you lose just a little bit of wonder. It’s okay, and it’s natural for this to happen. But each time, with even more experience with the same thing – and that part’s important – your initial blissful unthinking wonder ebbs away a little more. Now you’re more familiar, maybe more comfortable, likely less excited but soon you may find that yourself getting pulled into a routine.
And you can’t spell routine without ‘rut’.
The first time you grabbed that rocket ship without thinking or knowing you let out a whoosh and in your mind you were going to Mars and there’d be aliens and lasers and things and maybe your carpet was the Earth, and you discovered that your rumpled blanket and pillows were the perfect Martian landscape, and who knew what creatures lived in the cracks?
But when you go back, maybe not the first time, but over time, now you start out with your pillows and blanket as the default Martian landscape. You now set up based on what you already know, rather than create anew each time from the now. Sure you play, but you’re playing within parameters now, even if you don’t realize it.
Repetition may be the mother of learning, but if that’s all you do it becomes the father of aging, too.
While that seems sad it is not. It is Life. And it is not a perpetual downward slope because in understanding how it works, there is actually Hope.
And that is quite wonderful.
Fast Forward to Today.
What Fully and Completely New Thing have you Experienced for the First Time Today?
For many of us, the answer is Nothing. In fact, if we’re honest with ourselves and take stock, our Today is pretty much our Yesterday. And the day before that. And our Year, possibly, the same as the Year before that. Ad Nauseum.
Think about it: it’s Sunday as I write this, and if I look ahead to my week, I pretty much know how it’s going to go. I know what clients I need to take care of, largely what I’ll eat, when I’ll work out, what shows I’ll watch, what time I’ll go to bed and so on.
Could you imagine doing that as a kid?
Of course not! In fact, for a kid that’s the worst possible thing about being an adult.
It’s soooo Boring!
It’s the cliche of an adult’s life from a kid’s perspective. And they’re right.
The adult usually defends this choice of non-existence by saying, ‘Well, that’s the way it is. I’ve got bills to pay and responsibilities and yada yada yada…” knowing even as they say it that it’s a lie. But the most effective lies are based on partial truths, which makes this particular one especially dangerous.
The reality is that, as we get chronologically older, I think most of us yearn not to have better indestructible limbs and joints and the smaller waistlines of our youth, but instead for the unbridled, unthinking joy of possibilities without limitation. Of exploring and having hope and being driven by that energy toward the new so that time falls away and we don’t know in advance what’s coming later, or tomorrow. Or next week or next year.
That’s what being young is. And you can be young again starting right now.
Here’s how you do it:
Fear is going to be your biggest enemy. It always is. Fear will try to drive you back to the comfort of the routine, so you need to solve the fear equation first.
The fear-driven stories you make up in your head in the middle of the night are never accurate. Fear, as always, is something you create. Why? Because Fear is simply an anticipation of the worst case scenario that which has not happened.
Fear is paralyzing, but it is unnecessary pain in advance. And it is a lie. Every time.
Because in reality, if that wholly unlikely scenario — that imagined worst result of whatever change you need to make that you’ve painstakingly created in your head — actually does begin to happen, then something you haven’t anticipated will also happen: you’ll immediately begin responding to the situation. You become lost in the moment, not thinking, just doing. And because of this, not only will it not turn out the way you fear, but you’ll likely be so focused in that adrenaline-pumped state of survival that fear will cease to exist because the moment is here, and that is what we do automatically. It is our hard-wired survival instinct.
When we take action, fear — imagined or otherwise – immediately dissolves in the face of reality. Every time.
So, first, put Fear right out of your head. It ain’t gonna happen the way you think. It never does,
And second, start small. Baby steps.
Take a chance. Do something – one thing – different. One thing outside of your routine.
Take a different road to work. Go see a movie you know nothing about. Order something different off the menu. Miss your usual train, or get on an earlier one.
Say yes to the next opportunity you’d normally say no to.
Go talk to someone you’ve never met. Join a pickup game. Ask that question, or speak up and say you disagree, instead of nodding and thinking about what else is on your plate after the mid-afternoon meeting.
Or skip the soul-sucking meeting entirely. And don’t tell anyone. Leave your phone behind and go for a walk instead.
The world will not end if you do any of these things. And you’ll begin to see things for the first time. Again.
You need to find that child’s sense of Wonder again. And Wonder comes from experiencing something entirely new. Wonder is the fuel of childhood.
Your day-to-day environment is key. When you go home, throw some crap out. You’ve got too much stuff just accumulating like barnacles on the ship of your life, and it’s slowing you down.
PIck something. If you haven’t used it in 6-months, toss it. Just pick one thing.
Maybe that’ll get you going. Momentum makes everything easier. The thing is, you’ve got to make it a practice, not a one-off.
If your rut is more serious, you’re feeling ancient and dead inside and you’re dying to feel alive again, try this:
Set aside an entire day and do NOTHING you’ve ever done before. Get up and go and retrace none of your usual steps.
Get in the car and drive somewhere completely new and unscripted. Pick a direction – don’t go to Google maps first – and drive for 2 hours. That leaves you plenty of time to get back, and it’s far enough away to be unfamiliar. Stop whenever you see something that looks interesting. Find a place far enough away where you can be anonymous, so that you can decide how you want to present yourself and what you want to do based on your immediate impulse without fear of judgment. Order the exact opposite of what you’d normally order or, better yet, order something that you have no idea what it is. If someone catches your eye, go talk to them, because who knows?
And that’s the point. Entirely.
As soon as you lose track of time, you’ll know you’re on the right path. You’ll be so immersed in the moment that you’ll start seeing things with new eyes. Perhaps finding new directions. Hopefully walking new paths.
Stop living the rerun and start living the new.
And before you know it, blog posts like this won’t attract your attention anymore.
And wouldn’t that be the Best Thing? 🙂