It’s that time of year again. The time when one of the most beautiful examples of mass psychology and sociology occurs in the world.
New Year’s Resolutions.
In a swoop of tradition, culture, and marketing, more people will be motivated to want to change something than any other time of the year. People will be more comfortable contemplating their shortcomings than they were a month ago. An entire fitness industry will float its annual budget on this phenomenon. However the other side of that coin is that the same fitness industry is counting on you to fail. Their fire code requires it. In two months the throngs of new members will be gone. They will have forgotten their motivation. They will return to the same saturation of daily routine that allows them to forget that at one point this routine was intolerable.
This isn’t an indictment of the fitness industry. They would love to operate in a space where 90% of their membership utilized their service at least once a week, 12 months a year. Rather their current business model is an intelligent reflection of how limited our culture of change is as humans.
This is quite ironic because one of (the one?) unique aspects that sets humans apart from all other species is our capability for imagination and innovation. George Combe inadvertently touches on this in The Constitution of Man. Humans are hard-wired to change, discover, and innovate. To not do so goes against our “constitution”. It is akin to an ant deciding it doesn’t want to ferry whatever it is that ants ferry in those long lines across my kitchen counter. As Combe put it, to not make use of your constitution leads to death.
If the ants don’t ferry the colony dies. Food is not resourced. Dirt is not moved to create a home. Reproduction halts. Queen dies. Colony soon follows. If you think about what an exterminator does, it is the eradication of constitution.
If humans don’t change we experience a similar path. On an individual level we experience our culture of stagnation in age. There is also a species-wide stagnation that tends to be the driving force behind natural selection identifying a species for extinction. All living species today are the net gain of effective changes accumulated over time. Without change, Homo sapiens will go extinct.
Today however I would like to focus on the individual rather than the species. Mainly the relationship between change and the aging process. As children we are utilizing our constitution at a higher rate than we ever will again. We embrace dreams, fantasies, and imagination. Our constitution promotes this behavior as it does in all mammals- we find the experience fun.
With age we perceive a decline in that rate of constitution utilization as we become specialized. “I am an adult who builds houses so I surround myself only with house building knowledge until I know enough to NOT NEED TO LEARN ANYMORE.” We cast off our childish ways. They become derogatory terms like “child’s play” and “head in the clouds” or “lacking commonsense”. Oh the irony. If we had any commonsense we would ask our children to teach us their ways. For with the acquisition of maturity comes the slow decline.
This decline is best exhibited in its most extreme form- retirement. As one accepts the looming end of life there is less motivation to do much more than rest. As our constitution for change goes dormant our mind has less need for short-term memory. We retain long-term memory which our family experiences as all of our “back in my day” stories. We rationalize our decline by attacking newness (“people these days”) and accepting “I can’t”. Our culture promotes this decline with things like social security, retirement communities, and taglines like “The Golden Years”. This culture of stagnation with age and time creates a disincentive to oppose the aging process. We give up on hope or need to maintain maximal functional capacity. Aging is what is supposed to happen. It is written in the subconscious and conscious language of our society.
Not all humans subscribe to the assumption of decline. Some rebuke the notion by choice, electing to maintain a growth mindset their entire life. Others are forced into constitution-maintenance by financial needs, the call to raise grandchildren, or a trade that has less physical demands. We all probably have a story or two about a senior citizen who “worked until the day she died” and “will sleep when he’s dead”. Have you noticed they tend to maintain their cognitive function longer? Their lifestyle demanded they protect their constitution. High fat diets, alcohol, and genetics aside, they also tend to live longer. Just like Combe said.
As you sit down to consider your resolution this year, I would like to sit down with you. In this blog I will be diving through how to develop a culture of change and a growth mindset. To do this I will work my way through the new Tim Ferriss book, Tools of Titans. We will use it as a sort of textbook. I will explain why in a later post.
So if you have a goal of extending your life, maintaining a high level of functional ability through your later years in life and tapping into that joy we had as kids when we believed anything is possible please join me in this exploration.