I have been writing about pushing ourselves to do things that may seem impossible but that are actually just difficult or unpleasant. There is another side to this. What happens if we consistently allow ourselves only to do what is most comfortable? My friend Jonathan tells me he intentionally pushes himself into uncomfortable, unfamiliar places so that he doesn’t become fragile in a time of actual acute need. The idea is similar to muscle building: strength is gained in the small tears made in the muscle from exertion. This is something people in our group understand in a way that previous generations didn’t — total comfort leads to fragility and decay.
Pushing the Boundaries
Since we are entering the busiest travel season of the year, I am going to make a case for the benefits of pushing the bounds of what you have experienced. We all love a fantastic luxe hotel, they’re great for a nice relaxing break, but what did you really get out of it? Maybe try something else. Go somewhere with people that are not at all like you are. Go full Anthony Bourdain-strange food, odd ways, languages not understood. Eat street food in Asia, take a local bus in South America. If you live in an American urban center go somewhere that is not that. Sure, it may be a bit risky, but how risky is it really and how much of it is not wanting to look foolish? One of the often-true stereotypes about people as they age is that they become behaviorally inflexible. My belief is that they are fearful of novelty because they feel fragile. I know I can get like that. My dismissive judgmentalism is usually a cover for unreasonable self-protection.
All of life is either expanding or contracting. Expanding is risky only superficially; it is contracting where the actual danger lies.
Contraction Feeds on Itself
Contraction tends to feed on itself; our worlds become smaller, our self-imposed guard rails get tighter, and our latitude for acceptable new experiences reduced. All of the sudden we are looking at a fossil in the mirror. If you want to know what old is, that is it. And it has nothing to do with age.
We Are Stronger Than We Think
What is the solution? First let’s understand that we are much stronger than we think we are. Humans are a robust species. We in the AGEIST community are by definition more resilient than others — we’ve made it this far, after all. Owning this resilience and strength is another matter, as most of us naturally tend towards caution with anything new — an assumption of fragility.
What Can You Do?
What is the most powerful, easiest thing you can do today to push those guard rails out? Easy. Reach out to a person you know nothing about, have never seen before, and have nothing obviously in common with. Maybe in an elevator, or some other confined space. Do this: “Hey, great shoes. Where did you get those?” Or jacket or whatever. Smile when you say this, mean it, be genuinely curious. What happens? Are you still alive? Do you sense any grievous injuries? No? Then you may have made a connection with someone completely different than yourself, which for most people is terrifying.
When I feel strong, my curiosity and capacity for discomfort increases; when I am fearful it contracts. Get out of the house, get away from the television and social media. Make a habit of connecting with people you don’t know, going places that seem inappropriate (says who?), and expanding those self-imposed guard rails.
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