Are you ever too old to change?
Updated: Aug 12, 2021
How old is too old when it comes to changing anything significant about ourselves? If we’ve always been selfish, can we start to be less self-centered and more generous once we hit our 40s? Is there any hope for someone with a short-temper to be more patient and mellow out in old age? What about the person with a history of being a flaky friend, spouse, or parent? Is anything over 50 too old for them to clean up their act?
The answer to these hypothetical questions is never straightforward. Is change possible? Yes. Probable? No. What is clear is that making any kind of material changes to our personality or character is hard, regardless of how old you are. But it becomes exponentially harder when you’re older, set in your ways, and fighting to overcomes decades of behavior and thought patterns that have become cemented over time. As we age, our routines become more rigid, energy levels decrease, and we are more likely to seek the comfort of what we are already know; all of which works against our ability to change.
So how can you do the improbable and change a significant part of your persona as an older adult? For starters, you should first identify what it is you actually want to change about yourself. Ben Franklin was famous for the list he kept of 13 virtues that he wanted to improve upon in his life, and even gave himself a daily score so he could track his progress. You don’t have to be that extreme, but it does help to have something written out to provide motivation and hold yourself accountable. Once you’ve identified what you want to change, then the real work begins. This means reminding yourself constantly of what you’re trying to accomplish, and then putting that to use in real-world practice. Just telling yourself how much you’re going to change while enjoying some wine at home won’t be enough; you need to get out there and actually do it. Every day we are faced with situations that test our patience, honesty, capacity to be generous, etc., so there won’t be any shortage of opportunities to make improvements. This method of change may feel a bit strained and mechanical at first, and there will be plenty of setbacks, but that shouldn’t discourage you. You’re trying to overcome years and years of ingrained behavior, and there are no short cuts. It’s going to take a consistent effort, and a great deal of time, to wean those undesirable traits out of your system and form new habits.
Again, this won’t be easy, but think about what it would mean if you’re able to accomplish this type of change. The benefits are immeasurable. Not only will you become a better person, but now nothing will stand in your way of growing and experiencing new ways of being at any given age. And the more improvements and positive changes you’re able to make throughout your life, the closer you’ll get to reaching your full potential.
This issue is important to me because there are still several things I want to change about myself. I want to be more giving and less selfish, more patient and less anxious, more spontaneous and less rigid. For years (decades really) I’ve kept putting these changes off, thinking I’ll eventually get to them someday. But someday is just procrastination and wishful thinking. There is real work that needs to be done now if I have any hope of making these long-overdue improvements. And the longer I wait, the harder it’s going to be. I don’t want to be on my deathbed wallowing with regret that I never made a real effort to change and fulfill my potential as a person.
This effort to change yourself for the better could be the fight of your life. You’re up against the forces of entropy that get stronger and stronger as we age and keep us stuck in our ways. If there are things about yourself you would regret never changing in your lifetime, you have to summon the will power, energy, and discipline to put these changes into place now and see them through. It will undoubtedly be hard, but it can be done, despite your age.