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Life is a Journey

Did you get away this summer? Travel to new places and meet new people? Maybe you are one who packs up each May and leaves the desert for cooler climates. If so, I admire you. Packing up your life and setting up camp in a different location takes a lot of motivation. It also takes a certain mindset which, as we age, is often harder to come by.

I grew up in a family that traveled quite a bit. We also moved every few years, so preparing for the next journey was second nature. I am grateful to my parents – especially my mom who made each trip an adventure. I took the love of travel with me and married a man with the same sense of exploration.

However, when we moved to the desert eight years ago, we stopped traveling as much. “Every day is a vacation” we often say about our beautiful new surroundings. Season is full of festivities, and summer is the time to chill.

This year, we decided to pack up home, office, and pup and head north for the month of July. And for the first time in my life, I found the preparation and transition challenging. It was strange. This wasn’t me. Was it my age? Had I become that set in my ways? What happened to my sense of wonder?

Turns out scientists have been studying this phenomenon for years, and yes, it’s true for people all over the world and from all different cultures: our openness to new experiences starts to decline in our 20s and continues to do so until our 60s.1 The jury is still out as to whether this is something in our genes or just simply the shared responsibilities that come and go with age.

In his 2007 book Personality, Decision, and Behavior brain researcher Gerhard Roth of the University of Bremen, Germany writes, “The brain is always trying to automate things and to create habits, which it imbues with feelings of pleasure. Holding to the tried and true gives us a feeling of security, safety, and competence while at the same time reducing our fear of the future and of failure.”2

So over time, we become “creatures of habit” finding pleasure in the same old routine, and comfort in the familiar.

In the world of psychology, openness to new experiences is one of the “Big Five” personality traits (along with extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism) and changes with age are observable.

“People tend to become more reliable and agreeable with age, but their openness to novelty drops at the same time,” says psychologist Peter Borkenau of Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany.2

Although people typically lose their true desire for newness and change as they age, many (including me) continue to claim a passion for it.

Nikolas Westerhoff wrote in his Scientific American Mind article Set in Our Ways: Why Change is So Hard, “As the years wear on, novelty becomes less and less stimulating, and the world outside someone’s own private and professional sanctums becomes increasingly less attractive. New experiences may bring innovation and awakening but also chaos and insecurity. And so most people dream of novelty but hold fast to the familiar.”

The good news is that 60 seems to be the turning point. “Only after we have fulfilled our life obligations (retired, raised children) are we able to once again become more open to new experiences.”

Problem is, I don’t know many 60-year-olds without life obligations, and I certainly won’t be one of them, which brings us back to mindset.

I am not happy with this current mindset and the unsettled feelings that now accompany the thought of an extensive journey. I like to travel. I always have and don’t want my “declining openness” to stop me. None of us should give up on the opportunity and sheer joy of seeing new places and meeting new people.

So how do we get out of our comfort zone?

According to Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra, a little quiet time and “conversation with self” is a good place to start.

In their meditation series Getting Unstuck: Creating a Limitless Life, they remind us that we are in charge of our minds, not the other way around, and the secret to changing your mindset is to be aware and to listen to your true self.

“Our minds want to hold on to the familiar and the belief that change will happen to us. You will have a richer and more powerful path to the life that you want if you allow yourself to be open to all that is in you – far deeper and truer than that which your thoughts can reveal. You become freedom and positive momentum itself when you shift away from your thoughts and feel your own essence.”

In other words, sit quietly, clear your mind, and see how you feel when you think about going to that exotic destination on your bucket list. When I think of that trip to Cesenatico, Italy (which is eight years overdue), my true self feels butterflies. That is the person I want to listen to; not the one who can’t imagine all that goes into planning such a trip and taking time off work.

Oprah and Chopra refer to this as rising above your old conditioning. “What releases the energy of positive change? A sustained sense of calm that comes from your truest core self; assurance that allows you to be open to new possibilities fueled by a connection to what really matters in life.”

Take a few minutes each day to sit quietly and listen to your true self. Don’t let the conditioning that comes with age keep you from traveling the world both near and far. There is so much to see and so many interesting people just waiting to meet you.

Remember life is a journey, and it begins at the end of your comfort zone.3

Editorial by Lauren Del Sarto, Publisher, Desert Health®

References: 1) Costa, P. T. & McCrae, R. R. (1992). NEO personality Inventory professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources; 2) Westerhoff, Nicholas, Set in Our Ways: Why Change is So Hard, Scientific American Mind, Dec. 2008. 3) “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Quote by Neale Donald Walsch, author Conversations with God.

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