There is an old saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The older you get, the more you have a tendency to believe this to be true about yourself. Where does that mindset come from? Who gave you the idea that you’re too old to learn something new or to change the way you’re living altogether?
When you’re young and it seems you have the whole world in front of you, the sky is the limit, and you believe you can do anything you set your mind to. You’re full of confidence, passion, and motivation. Once you set your sights on where you are headed and what you intend to accomplish, nothing can stand in your way. You are fearless, ambitious, and full of life.
Falling Into Monotony
Then, somewhere along the line you got distracted and fell off the path. Something happened that took your attention away from your goals and your dreams. You promised you would come right back to it once you paid off the house, raised the children, or overcame a health challenge. But you never did. Life got busy, your aspirations were put on the shelf, and you fell into a monotonous routine.
As you get older, you begin to feel defeated and unable to access the ambition and vigor that was once so strong. That voice in your head says you no longer have what it takes, you’ve lost too much time, or that you’re too old. This is where many people give up on their dreams and settle for whatever is in front of them. They learn to live in complacency and celebrate the occasional highlight; their unlived life and what could have been lingers in the recesses of their mind.
The story sounds so dismal—and it can be for those who never pull out of it. But the story can also have an exciting, fulfilling, and joyful ending. There are countless success stories of people who quit their chosen career in their 40s to start over in a new line of work, go back to get a degree in their 50s, hit their stride in their 60s, and remarry in their 70s.
Why Learn Something New?
Turns out, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks and it’s never too late for you to do the same. Before you run that old loop in your mind that you’re too old or there’s not enough time left, consider the following six reasons why you would want to learn something new or go after something long forgotten.
- Improve your self-esteem.
- Enhance your quality of life.
- Cultivate and strengthen meaningful relationships.
- Feel joy and fulfillment every day.
- Achieve a sense of greatness.
- Live your life with intention and purpose (without regret).
Why Do You Want to Learn?
First things first, you need to have a basic understanding of the adult cognitive learning process. According to an article on the adult learning process, “the best way to motivate adult learners is simply to enhance their reasons for enrolling and decrease the barriers.” In other words, you need to know your “why” for wanting to learn something new and it needs to be connected to a vision of how you would like to see yourself living in the future. Understanding your motivation for wanting to achieve something is what stimulates your drive to reach for it. At this point, you can implement a new strategy for removing the barriers and going after the thing(s) you want to accomplish.
Start Your New Strategy
Once you’ve identified your reasons for wanting to change and the new strategy you would like to run (instead of the old one), you have to install it. The new strategy must be positively focused and it must be applicable to what it is you want to achieve. Once installed, the new strategy requires daily repetition, like forming any new habit. This is done in two ways: mental rehearsal (visualization) and taking the physical action of doing it. Taking action is where many people derail because people have become too programmed for the quick fix (no matter how much we continue to look and hope for it). When something doesn’t happen overnight or after one or two tries, you stop doing it. Action and maintaining your focus is what is required to create change.
Patience and self-compassion are your best friends on this journey. Cultivating and practicing both on a daily basis will be useful as you are learning and training your mind in new ways. As a young child, you may have struggled with learning how to ride a bike, calculating mathematical equations, or how to speak a foreign language. This will be no different. The key is to show up every day, remember your motivation—your why—for what you’re doing and stay committed to going the distance.
5 Steps to Change
To make this process work, it’s best to first let go of any limiting beliefs you may have about your ability to make changes in your life, regardless of your age, and also any negative emotions associated with these beliefs. You can do this easily on your own through the process of Mental and Emotional Release®. Next, you need to install the new habit or thing you want to achieve through visualization through the following five steps.
- Close your eyes and think about the thing you want to learn or achieve in your life. What is it, specifically? Perhaps do some journaling about it.
- Connect with your why for wanting to make this a reality. For what reason do you want to do or have this thing? Make sure it’s a positive reason—fulfillment, happiness, achieving a sense of greatness, etc. When you know the reason you’re charting a course, the entire journey becomes more meaningful, and the destination is everything you hoped for—and so much more.
- Identify the action steps you need to take. What can you do today to take one step closer to making your vision a reality? Taking action and maintaining your focus are two critical pieces for making this a reality.
- Next, begin to visualize yourself in the process of taking action toward learning something new and see yourself enjoying it, thriving in the energy of newness. Watch yourself achieving the end result and focus on the positive feelings and emotions (excitement, inspiration, and gratitude). Who is there with you (friends, family, your spouse)? What are you hearing in the environment (cheers, applause, and celebration)?
- Play this visualization over and over—rehearse it in your mind every day while following through with the action you need to take out in the world to accomplish whatever it is you’re setting your mind to. Golf pros imagine the perfect swing over and over again in their mind. When they step onto the green, they practice their swing repeatedly until they feel they’ve entered the perfect state. Then, they step up and take their shot.
Of course, the reality is there may be some things you’re no longer capable of doing physically or mentally. Certain variables may dictate what you’re able to do from a cognitive or physical perspective. The point of this conversation is more about training your mindset to believe you can still choose to connect with your purpose in life and find your unique ways of living it.
I once coached a woman in her 70’s to help her save her marriage of 50 years. She had developed an attitude problem as she got older and it was threatening her relationship. Her husband told her if she couldn’t find a way to shift her attitude he was going to leave her. She knew it was her behavior that was creating the trouble and she didn’t believe she could change. Within six months, their relationship had improved 10-fold. They had regular date nights, their intimacy had been rekindled, they navigated difficult times with conscious communication, and they treated one another with loving kindness. I received a two-page typed letter from her husband at the end telling me he’d gotten back the woman he married over 50 years ago and they’ve never been happier.
The one thing you can’t release is regret. So, choose to take back control of your life now—today! What is one thing you would like to change about yourself that you believe you’re too old to do?
Create new habits to lead a healthy, happy life with The Chopra Center’s Discover Your Purpose Toolkit, which includes a free e-book, worksheet, 1:1 discovery session, and guided meditation. Get your free toolkit now.