Old people are boring — truth or myth?
While you can split hairs and say “it depends on the individual,” it’s certainly a broadly accepted stereotype that old people lead boring lives.
Here’s why: Humans fall into a serious habit of doing the same thing repeatedly.
You could even say a part of us is designed to be boring.
Here’s what I mean. It’s a natural instinct for us to not spend our energy making conscious active decisions throughout the day. In fact, we make about 35,000 decisions per day on autopilot. They take place in your basal ganglia instead of your prefrontal cortex.
The reason is we were built to reserve our energy for fight-or-flight mode to survive in the wild. What’s more, we’re designed to procrastinate to avoid any stressors in life.
The glaring problem? We’re not living out in the wild anymore (most of us anyway, particularly if you’re reading this article from your computer’s internet).
So, if our species is designed to reserve energy and procrastinate on those adventurous plans you dream about, imagine doing that for decades. Put another way, the longer you repeat your boring habits the more stuck you become in those habits.
And when you’re stuck in a habit of doing the same thing repeatedly (for decades), you’re more susceptible to other outcomes that make you even more boring.
That’s right. Like not having anything new or interesting to say.
When you stay within the cozy walls of your comfort zone, you don’t have anything new to talk about. Your experiences and stories remain the same and you end up lacking something stimulating to add to a conversation.
This leads to that classic stereotype of “old people repeat themselves.” Pretty boring on the receiving end, right?
What’s more is your brain craves new experiences. To create new neural pathways (which you can do until the day you die), you need new experiences. Your neuroplasticity and cognitive health depend on it.
Another side effect of being stuck in rut is you become accustomed to your opinions — and only your opinions. You limit what your mind is exposed to, which is also another way to not have anything interesting to say. Who wants to hear your same opinion over and over again?
Not to worry, though. These characteristics aren’t applicable to all seniors and are, largely, misconceptions spread by culture.
The truth is: You can be boring at any age.
In fact, a study by Airbnb claims that women reach a “peak boring” age at 35 (for men it’s 39). Supposedly, age 35 is when women are least likely to do things like staying out late on a weekday, trying a new hobby, making a new friend, or booking a spontaneous trip.
If you’re a woman in your 60s and ready to make the most of your golden years, these activities are exactly what you should be doing if you want to live your ideal exciting and purposeful retirement lifestyle.
The problem? Here’s where culture comes in. Culture trains you to be more sedentary as you age and pushes you to fear the aging process altogether.
Take, for example, the sheer number of TV seniors watch per week – a staggering 47 hours and 13 minutes each week for people aged 65+. Not to mention all the anti-aging messages broadcasted on TV.
Basically, culture trains you to stay boring — which also means further procrastinating on your biggest dreams and continuing to reserve your energy by living on autopilot.
If you take a look at the root cause of boredom, professor John Eastwood and team conducted a study out of York University in Canada that revealed there are two very different personality types that suffer from boredom:
- People who are mentally impulsive – Those who are chronically under-stimulated and always looking for new experiences but don’t think the world is exciting enough.
- People who are afraid to step out of their comfort zone – Those who aren’t satisfied with being comfortable, yet they’re chronically bored because they’re too afraid to try something new.
For seniors, culture pushes you into the second category. But, you don’t have to stay in that category.
Here’s what you can do: Simply get out of your comfort zone.
In other words… Seek new experiences. Learn something new. Immerse yourself in new activities. Meet new people. Be open-minded.
There are so many benefits to creating new growth experiences for yourself, including:
- It’s good for building neuroplasticity and maintaining your cognitive health
- It’s exciting and gets you out of a rut
- It increases your chance of meeting new people
- It’s good for your mental and emotional health
- You’re more likely to find something fulfilling and purposeful by challenging yourself
- You’re less judgmental
The gist of it is: The good stuff – including not being boring – happens outside of your comfort zone. And if you do ever feel bored, here are a couple of tips from successful retirees to help you overcome it.
What can you do (big or small) to step out of your comfort zone? What autopilot routine or habit can you break to develop a growth mindset and create a growth experience for yourself?
(This post has also been published on Sixty and Me)