Barrels of ink has been spilled over “be kind to yourself.” This one guy even wrote a new song about it. So how can we get a new twist on this ancient advice? I thought about this over the break while watching SuperWhy (ignore the haters) with my daughter Madison. In every episode, the characters change just one word in a story to change the whole story. Let’s try it here. Insert “older” between “to” and “self.” So “Be kind to your older self.” The self you are going to become. The old guy farting in the corner. The slow driver in front of you. The guy in the grocery checkout line digging for change in a wallet while you impatiently clutch your ApplePay iPhone, thumb hovering over the touchpad. Yea that guy. So here is how to do it
- Download one of the photo aging apps. I used the free AgingBooth.
- Take a picture of yourself, age it at least 30 years (the default in AgingBooth).
- Put this picture somewhere you will see it every day for at least 30 days. I put next to my computer monitor next to the Lucy skull (double whammy). I will likely move it around the house.
- When you see the picture, say or think something kind of the person. Initially, there will be revulsion. Get over it. It is you. Be kind.
I didn’t want to do this. My father is 30 years older than me. I don’t want to be my father. Ever. Getting old is scary. But that is why I needed to do this. It is very Stoic to face your fears. And the fear of getting old is one of the strongest in life.
I hypothesize that facing the fear of getting old will reduce the charge that fear has. I hope to be less fearful of getting old and more at ease with my place in the world.
It is Feb. 2 and I have done this for the last 32 days. Noticeable results include:
- Less emotional charge when I see the picture of my older self. Less revulsion. Less tilt.
- Meaningful conversations have been started. “What is that all about?” a couple of friends asked on seeing a copy of the “old” picture on my coffee table. I am always looking for smart conversation triggers and that picture has been a good one.
- A couple people saw the picture and shut down completely. Didn’t want to talk about getting old or the exercise at all. Upon reflection, these people are generally asleep, generally plowing through life with blinders on, generally adverse to contemplation. I didn’t try to prod them into anything, but it was an interesting confirmation bias test for a couple of people I thought were asleep to life. Show them this exercise. If they are asleep they won’t want to engage.
A fun exercise that reduced the emotional charge of a common fear in my life as well as energized my tribe with contemplative conversation. Worthwhile all around. I will keep the pictures around, but likely not focus on daily observation.
There is plenty of science on Kindness in general, usually focusing on being kind to others. There has been plenty written on random acts of kindness. I found far less relate to self-kindness. Some recent studies show self compassion can improve mental health (duh). I don’t know of any specific science studies around self kindness to your older self, but the general kindness research would apply.
The idea to practice self-kindness to my older self I must admit was not my own, it came from a Tim Ferris podcast with AJ Jacobs.
Also published on Medium.