7 Thoughts Not to Think as You Age—and What to Do Instead

Change the ageist narrative in your own head.

Posted Jul 18, 2019

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Ageist thoughts hold back our evolution and inhibit our development.
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Ageism is insidious. It’s everywhere. It looms in the spaces where we work, gets fed to us through advertising, and informs our economic structures. Ageism shows up in politics, is taught in schools, and influences our healthcare systems.

It also dwells inside of us. 

The ageist bias we carry within sways the choices we make and affects the way we feel about ourselves and others.  

Ageism shows up first in our thoughts. Sometimes we are aware of these thoughts, and sometimes we are not.

But ageist thoughts hurt us. They hold back our evolution. They inhibit our development. They fill us with shame.  

Who needs that?

Here are seven thoughts not to think, and what to do instead.

1. It’s too late for me.

It’s a bad thought.

OK, so maybe there are a couple of things we missed the boat for. Perhaps fertility, growing another five inches, or making out with John Lennon should be scratched off the list. 

But when you use “It’s too late for me” as a motto for living, you are poisoning yourself and damning your possibilities.  

It’s not too late to do so many things. But thinking this way closes doors to the imagination and stymies motivation.  

What to do instead?

When you notice the thought “It’s too late for me,” do something.  

When Mary thought about joining a bicycle tour with her friends, she had the thought, “It’s too late for me.” As soon as she noticed the thought, she got her bike out of the garage and rode around her neighborhood. “I can do this,” she said. 

Liz caught herself saying, “it’s too late for me,” when she thought about taking a business course. So she downloaded an article and read it word for word. “My brain is popping with ideas.”  

Instead of thinking, do something.

If the thought is poison, the antidote is action.

2. My best self is behind me.

It’s a bad thought.

This thought can only make us sad. It’s tragic to believe that you, as your best you, is gone, done, forever lost.  

Kate misses the body she used to have: “I was my best when I was 22.” Missy was adventurous: “My most thrilling life is over.” Susan loved taking care of everyone: “I was my best when I had my family all under one roof.”  

Of course, it can be hard to let go of something or someone that we loved being. But do you want to spend your time mourning parts of yourself, or do you want to keep on becoming?  

What to do instead?

Decide that you are getting better and better. Insist that the best is always yet to come. What is special, unique, and great about you now? Make a list. Make a collage. Write your positive assets on post-its and put them where you will see them.  

Don’t listen to other people. You say what’s better about you. 

Take charge of the narrative about yourself. And make it a story that feels good.  

Kate’s body is strong, and she is a good swimmer. Missy takes a trip each year. Susan hosts gatherings and nourishing rituals in her home.  

We have a life behind us, and we have a life to live now in this moment. Let’s make it count.

3. Nobody wants to hear from an old woman.

It’s a bad thought.

Is this true? How do you know? Have you tried to say something cool lately? Do you speak up? Or do you assume that no one’s listening, so you mumble? What do you have to say anyway? Do you know what’s important for you to convey? 

It’s easy to get swallowed into the ageist vacuum where we find ourselves without a voice. But it’s not an excuse to say that nobody wants to hear from you, especially if you aren’t saying anything.

What to do instead?

Tell stories. Give toasts. Write blogs. The most important thing is to say things that really matter to you. To figure out what matters to you, you have to listen to yourself. You have to discover what makes you sit up and pay attention

Once you know what grabs your interest, learn more about it. And then, when you tell others what you find fascinating, animate your voice, put energy in your body, and command presence.  

It’s so comfortable to succumb to a kind of small talk that lacks salience and spark. “Some weather we are having” isn’t enough to command attention. 

You’ve probably spent so many years listening to others that you forgot how to make your own voice known and heard. But it’s not impossible. In fact, it’s invigorating. Try things out.  

Get the attention at the dinner table by telling a gripping, informative and playful story.

4. Kids today…

It’s a bad thought.

Don’t think it. Never say it. It’s tiresome. It’s… old. 

It was said about you. It was said about your mother, and it was said about her mother. 

Here’s the truth: Kids today are fascinating. They always have been. Why? Because they are different than you were. They face different issues, new inventions, and live in diverse times. By judging them, you lose your chance to connect in meaningful ways. By dissing them, you miss the opportunity to inspire yourself with new learning, fresh energy, and unusual ways to be.

What to do instead?

Get curious about the younger generations. Make friends with them. Ask questions of them. Read their books. Listen to their music. Dance their dances. Listen to their ideas, politics, and attitudes with an open mind.  

The best way to age is not to try to stay young, but to be influenced by the young. 

5. The past matters more than the future.

It’s a bad thought.

If this is the case, then why invest in our future? 

If the future doesn’t matter, then we might as well be complacent, stay on the couch, drink more, isolate from the world, and stop learning. This thought, “the past matters more than my future,” keeps us stuck. And it makes us believe that our later years are just something to get through.  

If the future doesn’t really matter, then why do anything meaningful now.  

What to do instead?

Your future, whether you are 49, 59 or 99, matters. It matters a lot. Your future is important because you are here now, and as long as you are here now, you can make what’s next count.   

Who do you want to be? Who is your future self? Write about her. Design her. Decide that up until your last breath, your future matters, because it informs what you do, and who you are, now.  

6. I don’t have much to offer.

It’s a bad thought.

This thought makes me mad. Sure, we can blame ageism for taking away our relevance and potency in a youth-centric culture. But do we have to decide that we don’t have anything to offer? Because this thought might make you give up trying.

Contributing to others, making a difference, leaving a legacy are the qualities of generativity. Generativity, coined by psychologist Erik Erikson, is the concern and care for the next generations. Generativity is considered a developmental milestone in the aging process.  

According to Erikson, without generativity, we stagnate. And who wants that?

What to do instead?

Generate. Find some way and someone to contribute to. Make an offer. And then make another offer. Decide how to contribute and who to contribute to.  

Give of yourself in both big and little ways.

7. I can’t bear another loss.

It’s a bad thought.

You will experience loss again, because loss, like aging, is a part of life. You can’t stop aging, and you can’t stop loss. Also, we are made to endure all of what comes with this process. 

Every time we tell ourselves we can’t bear another loss, whether it’s a loved one, a pet, a material object, or a tooth, we set ourselves up for extra suffering. We inhibit the grieving process. We bypass the regeneration cycle. Dying and rebirth are part of nature.  

When we cling and resist loss, we deny our place in nature and diminish our role in the circle of it all.   

What to do instead?

Show up and be present in the evolution of life and your role within it. You are part of this mystical, magical universe. You are stardust. Take your perch and look upon all of it with awe.  

Feel your feelings. Make rituals to remember. Gather with others and reclaim your connection to the big picture.  

Remember, the feelings that come with loss show us what we love.  

So love deeply.

It’s time to start noticing your biased thoughts about aging. Recognize them as myths created by an ageist culture. Then, take charge and do things that will lead to new thoughts and better beliefs.  

By changing your thoughts, you change yourself. By changing yourself, you change the world.

Aging is a wonder. And so are you.