How to Crush Regret and Recreate Yourself At Any Age
You can relaim your life even when you feel like it’s too late
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be.” — The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Not long ago, my grandfather quit smoking, cold turkey, at the age of 90 — after 60+ years of smoking more than a pack a day.
My family had been after him for decades, trying to convince him to stop.
I still remember visiting my grandfather when I was a child — how my aunt would give me his cigarettes and tell me to hide them so that he could not smoke. She thought he’d be too ashamed to ask his own grandchild for his smokes. But instead, he just went out and bought another pack.
Eventually, we all threw up our hands and gave up.
He would probably smoke for the rest of his life, we thought. Smoking is simply too addictive, and “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
It’s impossible for him to change, we thought. It’s impossible for him to quit.
And then he quit.
You CAN change at ANY age
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” — 1 Cor. 13:11
We’re not entirely sure what caused my grandfather to stop smoking.
He was well aware of the health issues caused by smoking: He’d already weathered two bouts of cancer, not to mention our incessant nagging. But through it all, he did not give up his habit.
Then one day, my grandfather went to see a doctor who told him that he had a lesion on his liver, a side effect of the constant smoking, and that if he continued, the lesion would grow worse and kill him.
That was the day he came home and stopped. Smoking. Completely.
He did not use any nicotine patches. He did not go to therapy. He did not see a smoking-cessation doctor or join a 12-step program.
He just stopped.
It was miraculous. And mysterious.
I tell this story not to tell you why he did it. Like I said, we’re not entirely sure why he did it. Why now, after so many decades? Don’t know.
I tell this story to show you that IT CAN BE DONE.
If a 90+ year old man can quit one of the most addictive habits in the world, a habit he had indulged in for 60+ years, then whatever you are struggling with, whatever you know you need to start or stop, whatever age you currently are…
You can change, too.
It’s not just about stopping bad habits — you can START ANEW as well
People seem to think that learning, changing, and growing is only possible for young people. And that old people can only learn a tiny fraction of what young people are able to do.
So not true.
“Older” people are perfectly able to learn as much and as well as they want to. In fact, with the right strategies and in the right environment, they can learn FAR MORE than young people.
Scientists who study neuroplasticity (the ability for the brain to change) have shown that the brain does not stop learning at age 25. Or 50. Or 100. Rather, the brain continues to make and break new pathways and connections over our entire lives.
Which means that WE can change at any age.
People who started a new life after 30
- Grandma Moses taught herself to paint and got her big break in her late 70s
- My uncle who taught an 80+ year old how to play piano for the first time in her life.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t start writing until she was in her 40s and wasn’t published until her mid 60s
- Susan Boyle became a world-famous singer in her late 40s
People who are addicted to various substances (like my grandfather) regularly quit their habits in middle age to late life.
Adults regularly overcome immense obstacles and start their lives over after deaths, divorces, unimaginable losses.
I mean, just think about stroke patients whose brains are damaged and thus have to relearn even “basic” things like walking and eating and even speaking. Many of them recover, even completely!
We just don’t hear about such people often, so we assume they don’t exist.
But they do exist! They beat the odds — they changed their lives…
…And so can you.
You think it’s too late? Ha!
“Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain “ — Santiago Ramon y Cajal
New research in the field of neuroplasticity has shown that the phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is a lie.
You can EASILY teach an “old dog” new things — provided, of course, that the “old dog” wants to learn.
And really, that’s the only difference between “young” and “old,” learners and non-learners, people who change and people who don’t:
The things that cause people to appear to stop learning, growing, and changing are not hard incontrovertible biological barriers.
It’s a mixture of laziness, fear, lack of desire.
We get comfortable with what we are and where we are.
We DON’T WANT to change anymore, so we lie to ourselves and tell ourselves that we CAN’T.
How to crush regret
Yes, there are some things that are “too late” to do at certain ages or stages.
- Gymnastics, for instance, would probably not be the best thing for a nonaganerian to pick up.
- And having biological children may be impossible for a post-menopausal woman.
But here’s the secret to letting go of regret:
THOSE THINGS DON’T MATTER — at least, not to YOU.
They may be important in someone ELSE’s life, but not in yours.
Yes, you may want those things. You may regret not having possessed something or not being able to do certain things.
But if by now you haven’t obtained or done those things, then they are not meant for you. (At least, not in that specific form)
Your life meaning does not reside in the possession or experience of the things that have slipped away from your grasp.
For certain doors to open, other doors MUST close. And desires can be redirected, into even better channels. For example:
- Instead of gymnastics, the 90-year-old interested in fitness might take up Tai-Chi or running or ballroom dancing — making friends and teaching others along the way.
- The childless post-menopausal woman who wants kids might foster or adopt children — and in fact, by doing so she could make a far more significant impact on the world than she ever could have with biological children.
Aside from true physical barriers, pretty much everything else is possible for you, at any age:
Want to kick a habit? Learn a language? Start a business? Get out of bankruptcy? Rebuild a marriage? Restore a relationship? Travel? Write books? Make a million dollars?
You can do all of those things, and more.
As long as you take the first step: stop telling yourself you can’t.
If you CAN, why DON’T you?
“To grow is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable” — Madeleine L’Engle
Trust me, I’m not blaming anyone here.
If you know you ought to change, but aren’t doing anything about it, I get it.
I’ve had the same feeling before —
Like, 5 minutes ago.
And 15 minutes before that.
And the day before.
It ebbs and flows: the balance between motivation to change and the fearful desire to stay in place.
There isn’t one generic solution for all fears (If someone had a pill for that, they’d be richer than all the richest people in history, combined)
The real reason why people don’t change is not because they cannot, but because they do not want to. Change can be scary. Growth can hurt.
But not growing hurts more.
The story of the hermit crab
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” — Ecclesiastes 3:1
Hermit crabs have to regularly shed their old shells and find newer, bigger shells to move into as they grow.
During this search period, hermit crabs are completely naked and vulnerable to predators.
But they cannot stay in their old shells.
If they did, they wouldn’t be able to eat or move properly and will eventually die a horrible death. They can’t be pulled out, either — they’d be torn to pieces in the process.
No, the only solution is for the crab to gather his courage and venture out in faith that there is a larger, more suitable shell waiting for him.
Just like the hermit crab, we’ve got to grow:
It may be scary and painful to be naked and vulnerable while we grow, but we have to venture out in faith that there is a larger, more suitable identity or role waiting for us out there.
That is our challenge, and our gift.
How to Change: BELIEVE YOU CAN
“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” — Hebrews 11:1
I’m not going to tell you that you’re totally unlimited and can do LITERALLY ANYTHING you put your mind to. (Physical limits exist, after all!)
But even limited situations provide opportunities for us to change in other ways. As psychologist, author, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning:
When we are unable to change a situation, we’re challenged to change ourselves.
So I will say this: more than likely, what you think are insurmountable boundaries…are not.
More than likely, you are vastly underutilizing your true potential as a change agent, and as a human being.
How do I know?
Because if you weren’t, you would not be reading this article right now.
You may not be able to believe me right away. But eventually you must, in order to change.
And guess what?
Belief is not some esoteric skill that only a select few are lucky enough to be born with. You can learn to believe. How?
By repeatedly absorbing evidence of the truth until you fully accept it — deep in the core of your inner being.
How to Believe: Look Up More
“Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another” — Proverbs 27:17
There are two strategies:
- Personal experience
- Other’s experience
Number 1 is the most effective strategy. Eventually everyone who wants to change must put the pedal to the metal and TRY IT, and they will see that it WORKS.
But before you get there, you might need to use strategy #2 to clear away some of the cobwebs of fear and doubt.
Spend time with people, or read books about people, who have conquered incredible odds and done wonderful things with their lives.
Right now, you may think that people like Abraham Lincoln, Viktor Frankl, Nick Vujicic, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Corrie Ten Boom, George Washington, Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller, Florence Nightingale, etc., are superhuman beings who are way above your level.
Right now, they are.
They have (had) more humility, more tenacity, more courage than you. They have probably faced more suffering and accomplished more important things than you have (at this point in your life).
But they are human too.
They started out with not much more (and usually LESS) resources than you have.
The more you read their stories, the more you absorb the lessons they learned, the more your eyes are opened to the truth that they are just like you; and you are just like them, and you CAN be even more like them IF YOU WANT TO.
Of course, you will not be exactly like any one of these amazing people. Instead, you will be an amazing person in your own right.
You have a unique story, situation, background, gift(s), etc., and you are MEANT to shine your own light in your own way.
You see, people are like lanterns.
We may all be different shapes, sizes, and colors, but you bring a particular light to the world that you and only you are able to produce.
You can learn how to let your light shine, by looking up to other, brighter “lanterns” at first, but the light you contribute is unique to you. And the world needs that light.
“Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become…children of God [who] SHINE LIKE STARS in the universe as you hold forth the word of life” — Philippians 2:14–16 (emphasis added)
Life is long
We think centenarians (people who live past 100) are amazing, because they are so rare.
But honestly, if we all lived in the best possible environment, with the best possible health habits, and the most positive attitude, and did not have any accidents along the way, we should ALL be able to live to about 120.
With that in mind, 90 is not very old at all. Neither is 70–80. And if you’re only 30–50, you’re basically still a child.
In short: Life is long. So don’t choose to get stuck in any phase or stage.
If something in your life is not going well, remember: YOU CAN change. If you don’t WANT to (which is the only real reason for failure-to-change), figure out why, and work on changing that, first.
You are miraculous, beautiful, and irreplaceable.
You have so much potential, and so much to contribute.
You are meant to keep becoming a better and better version of yourself.
You are meant to change and grow, not only in your childhood or young adulthood, but throughout your entire life.
So shed your old restrictive shell: change, grow, and become the ever-more-brilliant light that you are meant to be.
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