Progress toward your goals is never going to be a straight line. It will always be a bumpy line. You’ll go up and then come down a little. Two steps forward and one step back.There’s a good rhythm in that. It is like a dance. There’s no rhythm in a straight line upward.
However, people get discouraged when they slide a step back after two steps forward. They think they are failing, and that they’ve lost it. But they have not. They’re simply in step with the natural rhythm of progress. Once you understand this rhythm, you can work with it instead of against it. You can plan the step back.
In The Power of Optimism, Alan Loy McGinnis identifies the characteristics of tough-minded optimists, and one of the most important is that optimists always plan for renewal. They know in advance that they are going to run out of energy. “In physics,” says McGinnis, “the law of entropy says that all systems, left unattended, will run down. Unless new energy is pumped in, the organism will disintegrate.”
Pessimists don’t want to plan for renewal, because they don’t think there should have to be any. Pessimists are all-or-nothing thinkers. They’re always offended when the world is not perfect. They think taking a step backward means something negative about the whole project. “If this were a good marriage, we wouldn’t have to rekindle the romance,” a pessimist would say, dismissing the idea of taking a second honeymoon.But an optimist knows that there will be ups and downs. And an optimist isn’t scared or discouraged by the downs. In fact, an optimist plans for the downs, and prepares creative ways to deal with them.
You can schedule your own comebacks. You can look ahead on your calendar and block out time to refresh and renew and recover. Even if you feel very “up” right now, it’s smart to plan for renewal. Schedule your own comeback while you’re on top. Build in big periods of time to get away—even to get away from what you love.
If you catch yourself thinking that you are too old to do something you want to do, recognize that you are now listening to the pessimistic voice inside of you.
It is not the voice of truth.You can talk back. You can remind the voice of all the people in life who have started their lives over again at any age they wanted to. JohnHousman, the Emmy award-winning actor in The Paper Chase, started acting professionally when he was in his 70s.
I had a friend named Art Hill, who spent most of his life in advertising.In his heart, however, he always wanted to be a writer. So in his late50s, he wrote two books that got published by a small publishing house in Michigan. Then, when he was 60 years old, Hill had his first national release with I Don’t Care if I Never Come Back, a book about baseball published by Simon and Schuster. The book was a popular and critical success, and his dedication page is something I treasure above any possession I own:
"To Steve Chandler—who cared about writing, cared about me, and one day said, ‘You should write a book about baseball.’ "Nobody cares how old you are but you. People only care about what you can do, and you can do anything you want, at any age Dr. Monte Buchsbaum of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in NewYork has been one of many scientists conducting research into the effects of aging on the brain. He is finding that it isn’t aging that causes a brain to become less sharp, it’s simply lack of use.
“The good news is that there isn’t much difference between a25-year-old brain and a 75-year-old brain,” said Buchsbaum, who used his positron emission tomography laboratory to scan the brains of more than 50 normal volunteers who ranged in age from 20 to 87.The memory loss and mental passivity that we used to believe was caused by aging has now been proven to be caused by simple lack of use. The brain is like the muscle in your arm: When you use it, it gets strong and quick. When you don’t, it grows weak and slow.Research at the UCLA Brain Research Institute shows that the circuitry of the brain—the dendrites that branch between cells—grows with mental activity.
“Anything that’s intellectually challenging,” said Arnold Scheibel, head of the Institute, “can probably serve as a kind of stimulus for dendritic growth, which means it adds to the computational reserves in the brain.”
Translation: You can make yourself smarter.“Whoever told you that you cannot increase your intelligence?” asksDr. Robert Jarvik, inventor of the artificial heart. “Whoever taught you not to try? They didn’t know. Flex your mind. Develop it. Use it. It will enrich you and bring you the love of life that thrives on truth and understanding.”
Research shows that mathematicians live longer than people in any other profession do, and we never used to know why. Now, in further studies done at UCLA, there has been a direct connection established between dendrite growth and longevity. Mental activity keeps you alive.Lose your mental challenges, and life itself fades away.Don’t listen to the voice inside that talks about your age, or your IQ, or your life history, or anything it can slow you down with. Don’t be seduced. You can start a highly motivated life right now by increasing the challenges you give your brain.