Winter-issue-8

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Age is no Barrier

Age is no Barrier

The barriers to adventure collectively diminish as you get older and more experienced at life. It's a bold statement and counterintuitive to what you might think. As you get older, wiser and more in touch, your adventures only get grander, more sophisticated, more grounded and have greater depth.

Firstly what is adventure anyway? It's usually defined as an unusual, exciting or daring experience. Whether an activity meets this criterion is entirely a personal thing. What might be one person's idea of adventure will be another’s version of hell. Climbing the Himalayas is an adventure, unless you're a Sherpa risking your life on a day-by-day basis in order to be able to feed your family. Then it’s just a job. Adventure can't be defined as a specific event, pastime or task; in my view it's simply anything that takes you out of your comfort zone.

We get older and die that's the truth, that we can't deny. Everything dies in the end including ideas and organizations. The idea that people should concede or even forfeit their right to be adventurous as they get older, must be challenged and is clearly not the case. The idea itself of being adventurous into older age is not following the norm. 

The proof is in the numbers, it always is. If you were to take a measurement on sheer numbers of older Australians who are living large and seeking out adventure, some on a daily basis, what you'd find would amaze you.  Minding the grandchildren, playing bowls and taking naps are all part of the great adventure. But we're taking naps because we're walking the Camino de Santiago and it’s siesta time in Spain. Then there are the grey nomads reinventing the whole stereotype of what it means to get older.

However, there are barriers to adventure. It's undeniable and it's worth having a closer look at these 'alleged' barriers to see how they play out as we get older - to show you how in most cases those barriers disappear gradually as we get older.

One barrier to adventure is access to resources of time and money. With the 'accumulative years' done and dusted, the kids gone, it’s now about making the hard decisions on how, where and what to spend the kids’ inheritance on.  As C.S Lewis writes, "you are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream'. Thus, if anything, as we get older we are advantaged from having more time and if we have played our cards correctly, blessed with more disposable income.

Of course the second and main barrier is fear - fear of failure, fear of appearing stupid, fear of being different and the fear of getting hurt.  Aside from the fear of injury, none of the other fears sustain any impact on the individual as you age. This is because as you get older you give up on the notion of caring what people think of you.  You begin to subscribe to Dr Daniel Amens’18/ 40/ 60 rule. ‘When you’re eighteen, you worry about what everybody is thinking of you; when you are  forty, you don’t give a darn what anybody thinks of you; when you’re sixty, you realize nobody’s been thinking about you at all’.  In fact older people will testify that many of the made up fears we experience are more intense in our younger years, shadows of events that were never going to happen in the first place. They see their drama clearly and are liberated by it; there’s no need to impress anymore. There's another factor as well. As you get older, there's literally less and less peer pressure. You feel liberated to do what you want, when you want and who cares what you look like doing it, the very antithesis of the straitjacket of youthful peer pressure.

It's becomes easier to step out and try some new adventure without the weight of expectation.  As we relinquish our grip on life's demands and relax, we're rewarded with an enormous amount of freedom from a psychological perspective. We're freed up to challenge ourselves on a completely different level than we could have done as a young adult. Let me throw in some interesting detail. Several studies have shown that older people have more and better sex than you might think. A survey of people over the age of 60 found that 74% of men and 70% of women reported a greater sexual satisfaction than when they were in their 40s. Why mention this at all? Well if sex is not an adventure, then it's probably not good sex. A healthy sexual appetite can be attributed to having a good imagination, which goes hand in hand with other appetites such as the one for learning and adventure.

It’s the fear barrier on the physical plane where many of us become unstuck with age. But get this, research has shown that with right diet and right exercise, you can stymie the demise that aging has on your body. A good example of this was Josef Pilates. Up until his sudden death at age 84, he possessed the same physical prowess as he did in his 50's. He's not on his own, there are now millions of people out there defying aging. It may be a bit more work to maintain good health but clearly, it is well worth the effort and is achievable.

Realistically the 'how' of maintaining good physical health as we get older, is not a recent discovery. It's our modern life-style of bad posture, inadequate diet, over eating and inefficient breathing that are the roots of our poor health. Overall health, stamina, fitness and agility are a barrier for some people as they get older, but largely it's out of choice, bad ones, but choices, none- the- less.

Society often equates being adventurous with youth and often assumes that sorrow, quiet desperation, bad health and hopelessness go hand in hand with getting older. None of this has to be true. Emotional pain or a feeling of numbness, the spiraling out of control downwards, physically and mentally, are symptoms of living the wrong life, not a long life. As George Bernard Shaw says, ‘we don't stop playing because we grow old: we grow old because we stop playing’.

If there is a barrier, it is largely to do with people's mindsets and individual and unforeseen circumstances such as accidents, which has little to do with getting old. 

We have come full circle to people's mindset or the fear factor. This is another one of the nice surprises I was talking about. It's not just our attitude to fear that improves, it's also our approach.

Fear informs. It's our sensory feedback system that keeps us safe from things like falling or not being eaten by a tiger. But fear can also be harmful. The balance between what is healthy fear and stress and unhealthy fear and stress is something that we learn from experience. The older you grow, the better you get at coming to your learning edge, knowing what's good for you and what's not. People develop a greater perspective of what’s important; the ability to problem-solve is streamlined after years of practice.  Your understanding deepens, you can see what connects and you can weave stories of experiences and apply this to real life adventures and as a result, fear recedes. The accumulation of this type of knowledge is what’s called crystallized intelligence. It's this type of intelligence that you can apply to taking on new challenges or adventures that you can't possibly fathom when you are younger.

To be truthful, it feels as though there's actually a barrier to adventure when you are young. The younger brigade might take the view that hyper exciting, risk-taking activity is what characterizes adventure. A random string of ecstatic heart pumping adrenalin charged experiences is what it’s all about.  To be scared shitless may be a valid step in the path but it's not the final outcome and as adventures go, it ends up being a pretty shallow experience. Interestingly that's something that women seem to work out more quickly then men. For most people, there's a real disconnect with this type of experience and those that are in complete denial are from my experience, the most disconnected of all.

Nevertheless, ‘out of the comfort-zone’ type adventure does play an important role in that it forces us to be in the moment and is worthy of further scrutiny.  During adventurous activity, there is no room for dwelling in the past or dreaming of the future. Our mind has to concentrate on the present moment. It's when we are fully present that we feel the most. Buddha says "the foot feels the ground when it feels the ground" or "the thousand mile journey begins beneath your feet".  The simple translation is that the importance of touch and sensation cannot be emphasized enough.

Adventurous activity is a powerful conduit to connection if we choose metaphorically to feel the ground beneath our feet. It also strengthens our body and sensory system and a precursor to being able to keep our minds strong and clear.

It's the adventure of life as a whole, building something, having it knocked down, building it again and again, taking calculated risks, learning and investing yourself in ideas and loves that is the true adventure.  And the biggest adventure of all is doing all of this and trying to remain connected whilst all this is happening. It's all about arriving at our true self, one adventure at a time. 

You know you're getting older yourself when you feel that the supermarket music is getting louder and that everyone seems so young looking. But regardless of what music is playing, it doesn't seem to be stopping people from taking on new adventures, regardless of age. 

Today is the youngest you're ever going to be again so continue to hop into it and get out there and be the best you can.

Article By: Brett Neagle - Walker & CEO of Auswalk

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