12 Nov How to Stay Young & Youthful | Inspirational Podcasts
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Today’s podcast has been edited and adapted from “The Road to Seventy Years Young or The Unhabitual Way” by Emily Bishop, published in 1916.
The man or woman, who daily lives up to the habit of the unhabitual, will never become dull, uninteresting, prejudiced — nor as old, in any sense, as they otherwise might be. There is an everlasting struggle in every mind between the tendency to keep unchanged, and the tendency to renovate, its ideas.
To wage warfare against this tendency to keep not only our ideas unchanged, but our physical actions, our associations, and to ally ourselves enthusiastically with the new and unexpected, is to take the safest road across the intervening years from Now to Then — to the future kingdom of “Seventy Years Young.”
At his seventieth birthday party, Mark Twain explained how he had (quote) “beaten the doctor and the hangman for seventy years.” He said: “Since forty I have been regular about going to bed and getting up — that is one of the main things. I have made it a rule to go to bed when there was no one left to sit up with; and I have made it a rule to get up when I had to. That has resulted in an unswerving regularity of irregularity.”
“Unswerving regularity of irregularity” are only other words for the habit of the unhabitual. What a swing of the pendulum is Mark Twain’s doctrine from that of Poor Richard’s Almanac! “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” said Benjamin Franklin.
However, farmers are “early to bed and early to rise” people, yet they are not (as a class) wealthy, especially healthy — or long lived — nor are they noted for their exceptional wisdom. Proverb and platitudes that sound well but do not prove well in reality, make for the habitual, for oldness.
Many people become victims of the habitual through subservience to artificial, conventional codes. Their ideal is always to dress, act, and speak in strict accordance with some societal standard. To live according to such an ideal — if ideal it may be called — results in the sacrifice of individuality, of simple sincerity of expression, and of youthful spontaneity.
Customs tyrannize persons of average endowments, but much less so those of great natures. Perhaps that is one reason why they are great. Life with them is less a calculation of petty social and politic accounts than it is with others. They are more nobly spontaneous and true. They are, and do not have to seem to be.
Conformity to convention means to be calm, to repress, to inhibit, to be formal in manner. It means to dissemble, to affect an indifference and immobility that is known as the (quote) “correct thing.” In time, pretense becomes habit. Then it is no longer pretense, it is the person. He or she is as old, as set, as unresponsive, in mind and body as their lifeless habits. Thus do they blindly make the doom they dread — premature old age.
“Sow a thought, reap an act; Sow an act, reap a habit; Sow a habit, reap a destiny.” Dreading decrepitude, infirmity, senility, we hasten their advance by this “thought-act-habit-destiny” process. William James says that it is the old fogyism element that tends to keep ideas unchanged. This old fogyism tendency, which according to his estimate begins to gain mastery over the majority of people by the time they are twenty-five years old, resents the new — the new fact, the new idea, the new methods — while genius, in truth, means little more than the faculty of perceiving things in unhabitual, unexpected ways.
Unless we offer self-protective resistance to the neural tendencies of our beings, we shall become with the passing years tiresome repetitions of our former selves; each repetition being less vigorous, capable, and attractive than the previous one. Our bodies and our minds will become less buoyant and mobile, less capable of responding to new stimuli; we shall yield more and more to inertia. We shall become “set in our ways” — in a word, unquestionably, old.
On the other hand, if we continuously offer a counter-force to the inherent tendency that makes for automatism, we may keep our world and ourselves young. The habit of the unhabitual is not akin to fickleness, irrationality, or irresponsibility. Unquestionably, in every well-balanced character there must be what is called a “permanent center.”
No dependence can be placed on a person’s attitude toward love, friendship, work, patriotism, religion, morality, and truth whose character is not based on such a center of stability. But tenacity of purpose, sincerity of motive and diligence, are altogether consistent with a marked variety of expression.
The great people of the world have always had this large versatility. Take for example the tremendous sweep of Caesar’s activities. Or Michaelangelo’s work painting Madonnas, building bridges, frescoing ceilings, and sculpting David. In Goethe, we have the poet, philosopher, statesman, scientist, artist, and man of letters. In Benjamin Franklin, we have a man who was distinguished in at least eleven different fields of endeavor.
The habit of the unhabitual means newness in our everyday relations: First, new habits in our bodily actions; second, new habits in our relation to people; third, new habits in relation to our work and environment; and fourth, new habits of thought and feeling.
No general revolution in one’s mode of living is necessary in order to form the habit of the unhabitual. One need not give up one’s present occupation, or move to a new country, or part company with old friends — although radical changes in one’s life sometimes does work wonders.
Some natures are like certain kinds of quartz. They are so tenacious of what they possess, so repellent to everything that is different from themselves, and so reluctant to education and the larger life that it takes a shock like a dynamite blast to force them out of the aging rut of the habitual.
On the other hand, many persons are hungry for change in themselves. They are tired of their monotonous thoughts, feelings, and self-expressions. They are tired of playing the same old role, in the same old way, on the same old stage. They long to have a different viewpoint, to do something out of the ordinary, to feel the stimulation of new associations and environment.
They are stirred by the “divine discontent” that points to higher realizations. Their tendency toward the unhabitual is so well established that they turn toward whatever is new in thought, discovery, and opportunity as instinctively as the sunflower turns toward the light.
People who have passed their thirtieth year should not become despondent if they do not spontaneously respond to many of the appeals of life. Should the mind require spurring before it will pay heed, why, then, spur it on! In truth, the will must often spur us away from the ruts of indifference, indolence, pseudo-superiority, avarice, and all narrowing trends. Tussles between our inclinations and our will, indicate that we are still alive to our ethical responsibility in the fashioning of our lives. They are the “growing pains” of the spirit.
To keep the imagination fresh and active is to be childlike in spirit; to keep the will alert, sturdy, and reliable is to protect one’s self from senility at the hundredth year. If the will fails us, we fail.
Enthusiasm often enables us to make a startling half-back rush toward a desired goal, but it is only a resistant and persistent will that gives us the hardihood to gain ground and hold it against the opposing line of well-organized combatants; that is, our inherited tendencies and deeply ingrained habits.
“Always keep the stream of thought running,” says Matthew Arnold. Living according to the habit of the unhabitual allows this stream scant opportunity to become a placid pool or to stagnate.
The soul cries for moments of release from distressing details. It cries for inspiration from something unhabitual to our daily struggles. To bring moments of art, poetry, song, and spiritual aspiration into the content of daily life, would be to give unhabitual stimuli to thought and emotion, in the lives of many people.
Daily life uninspired by high ideals, tends to submerge people in the realm of the matter-of-fact, tends to make them selfishly appropriate the highest blessings of human association (love, one’s children, one’s wife or one’s husband) and to treat them as if they were just a customary part of the equipment for the business of living.
The young in spirit are those who are able to keep life above the plane of ordinariness. Some of the best protections against dull “low levels” of living are to cultivate varied and ever-varying interests; to make the area of contact with all phases of life as large as possible; to spread out in many directions mentally, sympathetically, physically, and to penetrate deeply in some, or, at least, in one.
A play-business is as necessary as a work-business. No man or woman who seeks self-realization can afford to be without one. A hobby is as profitable, ultimately, as a vocation. When any vocation whatsoever completely absorbs one, it is, in truth, a “getting that impoverisheth.”
I once knew a man who had gambled with his life in such fashion. One day, he said to me: “I have made money. I am now one of the millionaires, but I am poor and sick in spirit — and I know it. Things, people, books, bore me! Even my family — well, the whole truth is, I have lost the capacity for happiness. The only thing my brain responds to is some scheme for making more money! And my reason shows me the uselessness, the barrenness of such effort.”
Charles Darwin, late in life, deeply regretted that “his mind had become a machine for grinding out general laws,” and realized that if his devotion to his research work had not excluded other lines of interest, ” parts of his brain now atrophied would doubtless have been kept alive.”
When Dr. Alice Freeman Palmer was president of Wellesley College, she made some of the joys of housekeeping her hobby. Once, being asked what was the happiest moment of her life, Mrs. Palmer thought for a moment, then laughingly replied, “When the jelly jellied.” Whether it be making bread or jelly, reading or making books, running or inventing a machine, playing the violin or playing farmer, cultivating roses or teaching immigrant children, the spirit of youth requires that we should have lines of interest other than those that are habitual, or similar with our daily vocation.
Hobbies are good mental tonics. They give restful variety to the worker from their work and save many of the idle rich from the fatal occupation of “killing time” — killing time, which means killing one’s interest, enthusiasm, youngness.
The habit of the unhabitual can be fostered in a hundred little ways. It is fostered whenever we catch ourselves and refrain from telling some old story or stale joke, whenever we willfully direct our line of thought or reading into a new channel, whenever we express an old idea in an original dress, whenever we sympathetically relate ourselves to people who are not of our social set or clique, or to those whose experience is radically different from our own.
It is fostered every time we decline to take ourselves and our experiences too seriously, every time that we look an unkind Fate in the face and smile, every time that we can see the funny side of a perplexing situation. In short, it is fostered every time that we think, feel, say, or do anything that makes the “stream of thought” change its ordinary course.
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