Time flies as the saying goes. One minute you are graduating from high school, the next you are starting your first real job, getting married, having kids and then fast forward to the time when you actually start thinking about retirement and yet another phase in life.
And it all goes faster and faster and you start wondering where all this time went.
There is this little voice in your head that starts creeping in reminding you of your age. You can’t run as fast, you feel stiffer in the morning, you can’t stay up as late or enjoy multiple glasses of wine without totally destroying your next day.
Age has become your crutch.
You stop doing things because of your age. You don’t have as much fun because of your age. You slow down because society tells you that that is what you do. You and your needs and aspirations become invisible.
You accept it. The harsh reality, right?
You start questioning your own mortality. Maybe because a dear friend has passed away (here’s looking at you Scott). Maybe your doctor has put you on Lipitor. Your daughter has become a mother.
You realize, time does not expand, it only shrinks. Every day the only certainty is that you are a day closer to your last one.
No longer can you afford to sit back, moan about what should and could have happened, and endlessly wait for that moment of inspiration or luck to propel you to the life you always dreamt of.
All of a sudden you realize that time has become your enemy whereas before you thought of it as a friend.
When I get my masters in English Lit I will start writing, when I get that bonus at work I will hire a personal trainer to get my 20 year old body back, when I retire I will start wood working again. Lots of talk, no action.
The excuses are endless because you do not attach enough value to your dreams — you think that you have all the time in the world and that things will eventually fall into place.
You lack urgency because you see time as a friend. Once you have X, you will have Y and become Z. Sound familiar?
“Just Do It”, you hear in your head. This is your year. Plow through.
You have heard and tried it all, but invariably you get to the point where you don’t even try anymore. No more New Year Resolutions for me — I am too old. Why try, why fight against nature?
But, do you really accept that this is all there is to life or do you still have that nagging feeling that you could do better?
What happened to all those dreams you once had? You took a stab at them for many years but you could not quite get to the finish line.
So many false starts, and unfinished half-projects. Many of us would have no trouble coming up with our top ten list of unfulfilled dreams!
Next month becomes next year. Next year becomes next decade. As you get older your dreams and aspirations only seem further and further out of reach.
Time is now really working hard against you. What can you do, you have accepted that this is the way it goes. But is there really no way out?
You already know the answer — taking action is the only way to make a change in your life. It does not matter if you are 20, 40 or 70!
So, “Just Do It”? From zero to 60 and don’t look back. Unfortunately we have all tried this advice and it has not stuck.
What you need is to create lasting change. Change in how you view your possibilities in life, change in the intensity of your focus and finally change in your own behavior and actions.
First, stop framing your expectations of what your life should look like by what society expects. Don’t accept a fixed path from birth to adulthood to death. Don’t buy into what the commercials are selling.
Life is not linear but society often wants to put us in a fixed place based on our chronological age.
As Deepak Chopra says, your chronological age is simply a count of how many times your body has revolved around the sun. What’s more important is your biological age — how well your body is currently functioning.
Besides all the myths about age and physical health, what is even more important is your mental health.
Think for yourself. Adopt a growth mindset where artificial constraints imposed by society are removed or at least questioned.
Ok, so the first step is to think for yourself. Now what?
The second step is to intensify your focus on what truly matters to you. As Stephen Covey used to say, “Put First Things, First”.
Clarify your goals and aspirations to the point where you can close your eyes and see the movie of your life. Visualize the finish line.
What will they write in your obituary? The average length of an obituary is 200 words. What will they say really mattered to you in those 200 words?
Figuring out your must-haves is the key to action. Be skimpy — time is not your friend anymore. Decide for yourself what you really value.
Asking why you want to achieve specific goals will buy you clarity. In some cases you will find out that the “why” is weak and not worth wasting any of the 200 words in your obituary.
In other cases, you will find your “why” so strong and intimately tied to your core that you will want to put all your available energy into making sure that these are the things that will be written in those 200 words.
Figuring out your purpose will give you the crystal clarity that will allow you to navigate through the inevitable ups and downs of life.
Too many goals and you will get stuck in mud. Not a clear vision of what you want to accomplish and you will become more focused on the bumpiness of the ride rather than the destination. Indifferent to what goals you want to achieve and you will end up with a bunch of half-finished projects in your attic.
Without a clear purpose you will only find hurdles in the way and the goal line will remain elusive.
Narrow down the choices to what you truly want and value. You can’t be all things to all people.
Finally, the third step to achieving lasting change is to take action. Adopting a growth mindset and getting clarity on your “why” are the prerequisites to your success, but with no action you will only end up with the blue prints to your life and nothing more.
Taking that first baby step, followed by the next and so forth is critical. Walk, jog, run. Nothing happens overnight.
The common wisdom is that it takes 21 days to develop a habit but scientific research does not back up this claim. That is unless all you are doing are very simple tasks such as drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning. Exercise habits, for example, have been known to take much longer to become automatic.
Research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology finds that it takes between 2 and 8 months to build a new behavior into your life.
Habits should be viewed as a process rather than an event. You are not done after 21 days. The hope is that by consistently changing your behavior you reach a state called automaticity. The behavior goes from new to automatic.
If you attach a high value to your goal who cares if it takes 2, 8 or even 18 months to create the lasting change you are looking for? Your payback is forever.
Malcom Gladwell popularized the notion that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. Did those 10,000 hours just happen by chance? Can you become a sprinter by just running around the block every day? No sweat, blood and tears?
As Thomas Edison said “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. A boulder does not move on its own — conscious action is required.
Come Up With Your Own Call to Action
Achieving your goals and aspirations is up to you. Don’t use age as a crutch.
Think you are too old? Vera Wang did not start designing clothes until she was 39, Sam Walton started Walmart in his 40’s, and Colonel Sanders started KFC in his 60’s.
I recently listened to an interview on NPR with Jonathan Terrel who is running 7 marathons, in 7 days, in 7 continents. Sounds impossible, right? Especially when you find out that Jonathan is 55 years old, had major health issues in his 40’s, and only ran his first marathon six years ago.
Part of his preparation — finding a cause or his “why” (supporting pediatric mental health), exercising his belief and visualizing the end line in each of his seven races, and of course a steady amount of training (20 to 25 hours a week).
You cannot will your way to achieving lasting change. First, think for yourself. Second, think about what truly matters to you. And, third take persistent action and create new lasting habits.
Think of those 200 words in your obituary. Do you want those 200 words used on Census data fluff? Or do you want those words to be so vivid, so you that they figuratively bring you back to life? A postmortem role model of how to achieve your dreams!
Time does not expands, it only shrinks from day to day. Every day the only certainty is that you are a day closer to your last one.
Make your time on earth matter on your own terms. Age has nothing to do with it. Get going.