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For Growth and Happiness After 60, Stretch Your Limits

Sometimes you have to put yourself out on a limb to move forward


By Ginny McReynolds

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Childfree

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(Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Sixty and Me.)

As we age, it’s easy to sit back and leave it to others to make the world around us an interesting place to live. In reality, though, inspiring ourselves and creating our own stimulation can mean the difference between a humdrum existence and a lovely life.

If you’re feeling stuck or bored — or if you just wish you had something new on which to focus — personal challenges just might be the trick.

There are countless ways to get yourself going — everything from push-up challenges to reading a book every week — but here are six alternatives that might be exactly what you need to break the boredom:

Music and the Mind

1. Learn Something New

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Whether it’s a new language or a new skill, there’s nothing like challenging your brain to get you going. The Association for Psychological Science says that engaging in an activity that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging can invigorate us mentally and socially.

Taking up photography might be fun because of the beautiful subjects you’re shooting, while learning a new technology can stimulate your brain. Learning to play a musical instrument does the same thing. Sometimes the change itself is what makes the difference.

Passport

2. Travel Alone

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Traveling alone doesn’t mean heading out solo into the jungle. Going alone on a weekend trip to a nearby city can also build your confidence and your interest.

You can make all of the arrangements ahead of time, so you don’t have to be intimidated by an unknown city. Using your own wisdom and creativity to make decisions can be good for you.

Taking off on your own gives you plenty of opportunity to reflect on your personal thoughts as well as the world around you. Ironically, traveling alone can also increase your social interactions because you’re more likely to make conversation with other solo travelers.

Last year, I traveled to Paris for a week by myself, and it was wonderful. It was definitely a quieter trip than when I go with friends or family. I loved the long, leisurely walks I took on my own, and the time I had to relax and read in cafés without worrying about someone else’s schedule. A weekend away by yourself can change your whole outlook.

3. Do Something That Scares You

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Fear is relative. For one woman, joining a local choir may sound exciting, but way too scary, while another has always longed to skydive, but doesn’t feel she has the nerve.

Choose something that only your fear is keeping you from doing. Train for that marathon you would love to finish but are afraid to start. Apply for that fellowship that you always dreamed of when you were working but were convinced you could never get.

Try something that makes your knees knock, and you’ll realize you are a much stronger person that you can imagine. There is nothing more empowering than really knowing how much strength we have inside us. Face your fears and do something that scares you.

4. Have a Long Overdue Conversation

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Most of us are waiting for the right time to have that long conversation with the neighbor, husband or sister. It’s the conversation in which you tell them something that really bugs you or some truth you want them to know about you.

It’s not healthy to keep things inside of us, and it’s definitely not good for any relationship to hold onto unspoken truths. What’s surprising is that these conversations usually open up the relationship between you, and they give both parties room to be truthful.

The intimacy of honesty can make a strong relationship even stronger. It’s definitely a challenge to get up the nerve to tell your brother that it bugs you when he never returns your phone calls, but it’s the truth. Why not tell it like it is?

Stop Worrying

5. Abandon an Old Story

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For many years, whenever a situation was chaotic and unpredictable, I explained my nervousness by reminding people that my family growing up was always on the edge of turmoil.

This story allowed me to be grumpy and anxious if things weren’t going smoothly. The kind people in my adult life nodded supportively and told me everything was going to be fine.

Although this had been true about my childhood, I’m nearly 66 now, and the only living member of my birth family. This is a very old story and one that really has no value today. When I realized this, I began to let it go. Instead of panicking, I allowed myself to relax in the face of disorder.

No one knows what’s going to happen next, but it’s getting easier for me to live with this truth. Part of that is because I let the old story go the way of the past.

Confident retiree

6. Live a Truth You've Been Denying

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I don’t really like to go to the movies. I don’t like having to find a place to park, being on a schedule and sitting next to people who talk all through the movie. But it took me many years to admit this. Who doesn’t like a great movie in a lovely old theater?

Yet once I could tell the truth about it, no one cared, of course. Netflix has alleviated much of the problem. However, being able to be who I am and feel what I feel has given me confidence and has let me feel stronger about facing any tests that come my way.

Personal challenges are one of the best ways to remember the substance we have inside ourselves. If we’re just going along with the regular daily routine, we forget how strong we are, how creative we can be, and how interesting our lives really are. Find a way to challenge yourself in the next few weeks, and see if you’ll agree with me.

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Ginny McReynolds
By Ginny McReynolds
Ginny McReynolds is a longtime writer. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College, and writes about communication, retirement, reinvention, self-concept and creativity in The Washington Post, Curve magazine, and Together.guide. Please visit her blog called Finally Time for This: A Beginner's Guide to the Second Act of Life. 

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