5 Childhood Traits to Relearn
Self-improvement implies that as you get older you get wiser. You read and learn more, you form better habits, you strive, thrive, and better yourself in every way. It’s at the essence of a growth mentality.
But maybe as we grow and improve ourselves, we’re losing some important traits along the way. Remember the feeling of being a kid? The world was so big, as were our dreams, yet at the same time so much excitement, happiness, and joy came from the little things around us. We truly saw the world differently, and that world view seems to have been replaced with our growing cynicism and struggles.
Our former little dreamer selves could teach the big us a thing or two. Perhaps part of creating a better life involves doing some relearning, some ‘growing down’ as well as growing up. And what better way to learn from our inner child than books we used to know and love.
Here are 5 ways we can learn from our childhood selves, and the children’s book quotes that show us how it’s done.
1. Simplify Life
‘If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.’
— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
We’ve made life really complicated for ourselves, haven’t we? Toxic relationships, stressful jobs, an obsession with money and material objects, and constant fear of ‘what will they think’. Life has become something so serious it’s masked a lot of the simple joys.
But children, they rarely take themselves seriously. They laugh uncontrollably, love intensely, and are free to simply be themselves. Without inhibitions, they can experience joy in its purest form.
We need to rediscover this simplicity in life. Let’s take time for a life clear-out and make room for the things that really matter. Whether its calendar space, physical space, or mental space, we all need a little room here and there to take ourselves less seriously, to temporarily rid ourselves of inhibitions or responsibilities and enjoy the simple things.
Let’s value ‘food and cheer and song’ — the sensory experiences that are always there for us — and allow ourselves to be silly now and again. Our inner child needs to come out to laugh and play.
2. Keep The Big Dreams
‘The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.’
— J.M Barry, Peter Pan
You sit cross-legged for carpet time, the teacher goes around the classroom asking what you want to be when you’re older, and the answers vary from astronaut to ice-cream man. You could be anything you wanted, it was all in front of you and how to get there was an issue you’d only have to deal with when you’re older.
Fast forward a few years and, inevitably, we all reduce our dreams with the knowledge that we need a clear path to get to them. Sometimes we reduce them so small that the path we’re on comes to feel tight and restrictive.
Now I’m not saying I’m ever going to be an astronaut (unless a B in high school science can get you there), and an ice-cream man isn’t a great job for a vegan, but maybe there is something in the act of dreaming itself? Maybe we should stop reducing ourselves so much?
If you never envision achieving ‘big’ things for yourself, then you’ll never have the ambition, motivation, and drive to achieve them. If they don’t ever cross your mind and if no energy is given to them, then it is only logical to say they will never be achieved.
Just like Peter Pan says, if we stop dreaming about things, the possibility, even if it is a small possibility, ceases. So let’s keep the big dreams.
3. Try New Things
‘’We can all dance’, he said, ‘if we find the music that we love’’
— Giles Andrae, Giraffes Can’t Dance
Why aren’t we allowed to try new things as an adult? It seems like if we’re not already experts we’re not allowed in the club.
As a child I had a new hobby every week, I gave it all a go. I wasn’t particularly good at anything, but that wasn’t the point. I enjoyed doing it.
But as an adult, a hobby is often synonymous with talent. How often do you learn something new purely for the enjoyment of learning, without the pressure to be perfect or fixating on the end result? I imagine the answer is very rarely, if at all.
For something to be good for you, however, you don’t necessarily have to be good at it. Neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of The Brain: The Story of You, describes trying something new as a way to make your downtime seem longer and more valuable. He considers how, as children, ‘everything is novel and you’re laying down new memories about it’, and so the summer holidays seem to last a life-time because ‘you remember this and that, this new thing, learning that, experiencing that’. When we try something new, we spend more time collecting new memories, and so it becomes something more valuable to us.
When we’re older, our experiences fall into familiar patterns, and life can become monotonous. So abandon the ‘I can’t do this’ mentality, find the right ‘music’, and give something new a go.
4. Value who loves you
‘And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.’
— Maurice Sendak, Where The Wild Things Are
Kids are obsessed with their parents and their friends. Adults are obsessed with their work.
Okay, so that’s a very abstracted and pessimistic view, but it largely stands true. Just think about how we dedicate our time and energy, and it reveals a whole lot about what we value the most. The time we dedicate to the ones we love is squeezed around our other priorities, the things we deem more important in becoming successful. Whereas for children, the ones they love are their whole lives.
The longest study on human happiness revealed that wealth, fame, and working harder and harder aren’t the keys to happiness. Good relationships are. People who are more socially connected to family, friends, and the community, are happier, physically healthier, and they even live longer than people who are less connected.
So, as Maurice Sendak tells us, you can be ‘king if all the wild things’, but you should never forget to value the ones that love you ‘best of all’.
5. Feed your Imagination
‘Imagination is a wondrous thing to keep in life, if we lose it then the world would be boring.’
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in wonderland
Dr Stephanie Carlson, an expert on childhood brain development, reveals that children can spend up to 2/3rds of their time in non-reality, engaging in imaginary play. They’re creating a world entirely for themselves — isn’t there something so magical in that?
Childhood imagination has long been associated with creativity, as Albert Einstein famously said, ‘To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play’. Feeding our imagination helps us escape limits and boundaries, and come up with entirely new ideas.
And the value of imagination isn’t just restricted to creative work. Dr. Stephanie Carlson says that if we practice pretending, we get better at thinking of alternative ways of being, and alternative ways of seeing an issue, which in turn can help us solve complicated problems.
And so I have to agree with Lewis Carrol here, without imagination the world truly would be boring.
Back to the Adult World
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed being re-introduced to your childhood self and remembered the bed-time story lessons you may have forgotten.
While the world of adulthood is waiting to be returned to, and undoubtedly, contains a whole lot more to worry about than it did when we were little, remembering these traits can make it a little bit easier to navigate.
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