The way we think is a combination of different patterns we have developed.
Everything we believe, conceive, do or act upon is something we have done so much that it’s become second nature to us. Because of that, it is ingrained within ourselves and forms a structure of who we are. Good part about it is that with enough dedication and willpower, you can change every aspect of yourself and create a new version of “who you are”.
But can anyone do it?
We are all born in different places, into different positions in life and differ in many aspects. From race, wealth and country of origin to height, hair color and genetic predispositions, most of it doesn’t really affect our ability to change. Sure, some may have an advantage over others, but keep in mind that the most successful people in this world didn’t come from successful families.
WHAT ABOUT AGE?
Age is peculiar aspect and can actually have an influence over your ability to change. A 3 y.o. child, 28 y.o. young adult or a 79 y.o. elder will not have the same capabilities to change their personalities.
That much is obvious, but let’s dive in and see how exactly can a certain age improve or decrease the ability to change yourself for the better.
From the beginning of your life until the end of your teen years, main focus is on develop a certain persona. A person is still young, learning new things and changing drastically. As infants, we are focused on learning the basics.
During teen years, we are strengthening our core beliefs and acting accordingly, while often changing our mind and gaining more experience. In the end, we enter adulthood with more or less a firm structure of ourselves – our “first persona” as I like to call it.
Sadly, most people never change their first persona because they believe it’s “who they are” and that changing yourself in any way is blasphemy or peer pressure. Quite the opposite, that’s a loser’s approach.
Your first persona is your first try. You developed yourself the best you could based on the position you were given. If people in your environment weren’t supportive, you look down on life. If you come from an argumentative family background, you are used to talking loud and yelling.
Those things are who you currently are, but your first persona is simply your first shot at forming a personalty. And like with anything, your first try is never the best. As a matter of fact, it’s usually the worst.
INFLUENCE ON CHANGE
Young adults have the best chance at shaping a new personality and a fresh way of thinking. You overcame your test shot and instead of giving up, you are free to change and work on yourself until you are more or less satisfied with who you are. Your cognitive abilities are at their peak and change comes more easily than when you get older.
If you want to dress better, learn about style.
If you want to quit smoking, make it a priority.
If you want to stop talking loudly, consciously work on lowering your voice.
Psychological Science published an analysis which showed that younger adults (average 25 y.o.) performed much better than elders (average 71 y.o.) in cognitive skills such as general memory, working memory and perception. However, elderly people showed much less variation in their results.
As we age, it becomes more and more difficult for us to adapt new ideas and change our way of thinking. It’s the same principle we applied when talking about changing habits – the longer you repeat the same action, the more it becomes a part of who you are.
At age 20, you’ve had about ten years of making habits that have become a part of you (assuming that for the first 10 years of your life you were simply learning about the world around you). At age 50, you have been repeating the same actions for 40 years and hence, it’s going to take 4 times longer to reverse them.
When you become an elder, it becomes significantly more difficult to adapt to change. In addition, you cognitive abilities are spiraling downwards making it harder for you to understand, let alone adapt, new or foreign ideas.
That’s why it’s relatively easy for younger generations to interact with the Internet while it’s harder for your parents and near impossible for your grandparents. It doesn’t have anything to do with intellgence, simply with habits.
Internet has become a part of your life and you have been developing actions related to Internet for 10-20 years, while your grandparents fall into the laggards category.
Besides that, many others factors can be an influence. Take, for example, most countries from the Balkans. Up until 1990s, there has been a heavy influence of many totalitarian regimes. As a consequence, many people who are currently adults or elders had the disadvantage that a certain way of thinking was imposed on them.
It’s not their fault, but for most of their lives, they were told what they can or cannot do, what they can or cannot say, what they can or cannot think. When democracy came around, their way of thinking didn’t change much, because they have already developed a strict outlook on life.
Now they can say and do things they couldn’t in the past, but still choose not to. They have more possibilities than before, but still rely much on the government. Further on, they pass on that way of thinking to younger generations and make them believe that you actually can’t do anything you set your mind to, just because they couldn’t.
In The Matrix (spoilers ahead), Morpheus tells Neo that they “never free a mind once it’s reached a certain age”. That’s totally understandable – the shock of realizing you’ve been living a lie would be unbearable for most people. My great grandmother is 95 years old, and if I somehow managed to convince her that some of her core beliefs are wrong, it would probably give her a heart attack.
As an observer, you sometimes wonder how can some people believe something that is so obviously and fundamentally incorrect. Here’s a short clip to illustrate what it’s like from the other side.
WARNING: Contains spoilers for Doctor Who S07E01
Imagine living your whole life with certain notions only to find out they were all wrong.
It’s devastating and most people couldn’t handle that.
With everything in mind, ages 18-30 are the best for changing the way you think. You stand the best chance as you have the highest possibility of realizing that your first persona is simply one of many (like many faces of Doctor Who).
Does that mean that change is impossible if you’re below or above that threshold? Not at all. It simply means that it’s going to be harder the more you move away from that age line.
The “aha” moment comes in different stages life so don’t get unmotivated if you don’t fit in the “perfect” group – most people never even reach that enlightenment and simply live with their first persona, wondering why they’re not as happy as they could be.
In fact, according to Michael Ramscar, the reason why older people are so slow is because they know more. They have decades of experience more than us and will, on average, know more than a younger person.
Who knows, you might even be better off in your old days. Don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it.
The beauty of change is that you’re never done. You are never complete. Don’t despair if you don’t reach perfection – you never will. And that is perfection. Get it?