Robi Ludwig Psy.D.: The Hidden Brilliance of Acting Like a Teenager in Midlife

Reading: The Hidden Brilliance of Acting Like a Teenager

The Hidden Brilliance of Acting Like a Teenager

Turn the tables and ask "What could my younger self teach my older self?"

By Robi Ludwig, Psy.D.

We know from the multitude of twin studies that lifestyle and life experiences can not only affect genetic expression but also physically age us and our outlook. When identical twins leave home, their lifestyle choices affect both the way they look and how they perceive themselves. According to Brandeis University professor Margie Lachman, people who consider themselves younger are overall happier. This research shows that we have the power of choice. If we choose to live more aligned with our adolescent selves, we can make choices that work for us that will then positively influence our life. When we remove ourselves from the adolescent way of thinking, life runs the risk of becoming boring, isolating, dull, and routinized. Could this distancing be another reason behind the stereotypical midlife crisis? It’s very possible. Just at the moment when we are finally “all grown up,” we let go of our adolescent energy, and we mourn that loss.

Losing our adolescent oomph makes us feel stuck and bleak about the future, which is such a depressing outlook. Who wants to experience this feeling, especially when we don’t have to? No one! We all want to feel joyful, excited, recognized, and alive. If feeling grown up forces us to view our lives so harshly, we need to turn this unflattering light off and try a new approach.

Now, you may be thinking, Great idea, but when I see my friends acting and dressing like teenagers I’m appalled. Maybe your friends have taken things too far, but if you ask me, there’s some kind of hidden brilliance in their actions, even though it has taken a slightly misguided turn. You want to borrow from the energy and enthusiasm of adolescence, as long as you can also accept that your best age is now, not back when you were eighteen. The goal is to be in sync with your adolescent energy without making poor, short-sighted, or immature decisions about your life.

I was once asked by the producers at Entertainment Tonight if there was a psychological reason celebrities acted immature as compared to their real age. Celebrities are inherently creative individuals who choose to present an image that feels eternally fresh and new. They often look young because they probably feel youthful. The fact that they can achieve this ageless state gives the rest of us the license to follow suit and shoot for our own eternal youthfulness. This doesn’t mean you’re allowed to go all “actors gone crazy,” but you can get in touch with your inner artist, which creatively encourages you to be more and do more. In fact, a longitudinal study published in the journal Developmental Psychology in 2015 found that the behavior of rebellious, rule-breaking teens was the greatest predictor of those kids growing up to earn more than their peers. It’s interesting that a characteristic typically considered negative for teens has been found to have a positive outcome. Perhaps it is a greater willingness to stand up for themselves and the status quo that leads to a more financially favorable outcome.

The study suggested that this type of youthful, defiant behavior could benefit both teens and adults in right contexts. You can trigger your teen spirit any time you have a midlife moment — whether you’re facing an obstacle, gearing up to meet a goal, or plotting your evolution. These tools allow you to be mindful of your intentions rather than just live in a constant state of reaction.


Adopt a Teenage Perspective

Today’s adolescents are noticeably delaying their entry into adulthood. They are taking life slower and being more thoughtful. After all, what’s the rush? They’ve figured out they have many more years to accomplish their goals. If we are going to mirror the healthy aspects of adolescence, can we take midlife more slowly? As I’ve explained in the previous chapter, we already do. That’s why we’re all at different stages in our lives, if we are the same chronological age.

Think about your options with a teenage perspective, and use a teenager’s powers of curiosity, tenacity, and spontaneity to increase your own:

• The power to speak up, question authority, and shake things up a bit
• The power to try new things and ask for help if you need it
• The power to adopt a sense of possibility and optimism
• The power of relying on your peers
• The power to stay current
• The power to say no
• The power to be a little naughty and rebellious


Cue the Music

When we were teenagers, many of us were very attached to music. Songs that were popular when we experienced key moments of our adolescence often left a lasting impression. The romance, symbolism, and mythology of music speak to us when we’re emotional, creative, or looking for answers.

You can create a playlist of your favorite songs from your high school years to get in touch with your inner teen. Pick songs that make you move or bring a smile to your face. Think about the personality you would like to have or the attitudes you would like to adopt. Consider the qualities and attitudes of your younger self that you liked, or ones you wish you’d always had. Choose songs that symbolize these qualities or make you feel them. Create the time and space to listen to this music regularly. See what new insights and feelings come up for you. Think about how this music influences the way you think about yourself, your emotions, and your goals. Then switch up your playlist to reflect your evolving sensibility.


Tap into Your Past

Instead of the time-honored question “What wisdom would I share with my younger self?” turn the tables and ask “What could my younger self-teach my older self?” There’s so much we can learn about ourselves in midlife by revisiting our teen years.

Your younger self might remind you about your original goals and dreams. She might encourage you to be true to yourself and your journey, and to fight for what you want until you make it happen. She might remind you to believe in yourself and your future because you’re worth it. She would definitely teach you to fight for your yeses and not take no for an answer, to live in the moment and follow your fun, even if you have to rebel and break some rules. She just might help you find your path to feeling happy, fulfilled, and successful again.

Excerpted from YOUR BEST AGE IS NOW by Robi Ludwig, copyright 2016. Reprinted with permission by HarperOne/HarperCollins.



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