My colleagues and I are excited about the new research that our brains can be re-mapped for the rest of our lives. It's a whole different ball game to think that, as we age, it isn't about being on the down side any more, but knowing that we can keep the momentum of living a fulfilled life all the way to its end.
The caveat is that it's neither automatic nor simple to make that happen. Making "act three" the best of all requires two major changes in thinking and acting that can program the brain for continuous innovation.
The first change is the acceptance that our resources are going to diminish. Limitations come with changing bodies, financial restrictions and the potential loss of beloved and treasured relationships. The second change is finding new motives for continuing to love a future that is understandably less reliable. That change in thought patterns is not only possible, but even likely -- if people are willing to meet very specific criteria.
These two major changes in thinking are closely interrelated and are separate from the important commitment to keep your body healthy. Most people already know that physical movement is important to keep the body breathing and functioning as best as it can. They are also becoming more aware that a healthy sex life can be a helpful and renewing aspect at any time in our lives, even if it isn't the lust-filled experience we once knew. They also know that overloading the body with substances or harmful foods make the recovery process harder and longer, and that mental stimulation is a requirement.
What is less known is what people must do to re-map their brains for innovative emotional experiences. Brains often get lazy as we get older. Repeated patterns and known habits take so much less energy. The emotional music that keeps us listening to our hearts and minds becomes background comfort noise.
It takes only one goal to change that whole process: the unwavering commitment to spend every remaining day of your life rediscovering something new. That commitment means avoiding behaviors that do not rejuvenate us. Those patterns take away precious energy from our real goal, which is to continue to excite ourselves in the constant discovery of what can't yet be seen.
To continue living a life of excitement and possibility, we have to clear out our mental and emotional storage units, make room for new and unforeseen moments and give up any energy drains that create barriers to those goals.
Here are eight examples that my patients have shared with me, but always trust your own personal commitment to discovery.
The Use of Memories
Memories are ways we recreate a time that is gone. Some have given us amazing lessons. Others remind us to take greater risks. Some help us to relive earlier, more joyful times when our present life is hard. Those are all helpful. But those memories that make us feel diminished in the present are supporting brain storage units that need to go.
The Damage of Limitations
As life plays itself out, real limitations that did not exist before may come our way. Many people begin to focus on what is lost, rather than what still may bring joy. Some have been disappointed so much that they feel too discouraged to risk anymore. That does create the illusion of more safety, but will not lead to the fulfillment you deserve.
No matter where you are in your life stage, you can still use your mind to conjure up and savor the images that bring a smile to your face, a song to your heart and a lift to your step. They will encourage you to trust again, to take more chances and to believe in possibilities. Your mind is an amazing tool that can be used to counter disillusionment or to re-enforce it, but it has to be consciously instructed to avoid falling into habits that support destructive thinking.
There are certain commitments we make in life that make us feel worthy and give us self-respect. Others leave us less able to regenerate. Listen to your body, mind and soul, so that you consciously give up those that diminish your energy. For many, these are unresolvable conflicts, outrage that does not change outcome, guilt for things that are not changeable, unproductive worries or useless relationships that leave you diminished.
Open your heart again. Broken dreams and unfulfilled promises can justify losing trust that we can change outcomes. Many people, as they grow older, become too adept at protecting themselves from "anticipation disappointment," too sensitive to what new interactions may cost them. Afraid to risk anymore, they live life avoiding potential costs. That protective shell may give you the illusion of safety, but can become an emotional prison.
As life happens, people become more aware that control of the future is an illusion at best, but many avoid that awareness because of the anxiety it may create. In reality, each new moment is the beginning of something we cannot know. Sadly, the openness to new discovery is less likely to happen when we try to control what may come next. Learning to be still in your heart and quiet in your soul will allow you to see more options as each new experience unfolds.
Please become a rascal, ready to create mischief when the opportunity arises. Maintaining order can be dangerous because the safety it promises has boredom as its bedmate. The goal of mischief is not to irresponsibly wound others, but the absolute joy of deliberately turning mundane experiences into unpredictable frolic, turning over every new rock just to see what might be underneath.
Repeating Useless Patterns
There is no greater way to destroy your present experiences than to turn them into repeated patterns that have never worked in the past. If those patterns have predictable, unsatisfying outcomes, ask yourself why you are participating in them at all anymore. Be willing to break those patterns even if the outcome is scary. Repeating them should, hopefully, be more frightening than changing them. The people who really love you will welcome your authenticity. Those that count on your unconscious participation might not, or might surprise you by welcoming the change.
You can drop the ballast that limits your own discovery and sever the ties that keep you from that wonderful liberation that can make your own act three the best so far. You may have to use up some of your important energy to change those directions, but the outcome is more than worth those initial commitments. Try some offered here, and think of those that might be more personal to your own journey.