Over the past few years I have been going through what I can best describe as a second childhood. I’ve had a ton of time to explore my interests and discover the facets of the world which fill me with wonder. I’ve relearned how to think like a child.
Throughout this time I have discovered the enormous benefits which come from approaching life like a child would: without expectations, with a thirst for discovery, a flood of enthusiasm and a disregard for failure. In this article I seek to convey how we can all be more childlike in our thinking and why doing so is worthwhile.
My Second Childhood
To read about “how” I happened to stumble into a second childhood you can check out this series of articles. To read about what it means to live a second childhood keep reading.
I want to leave one thing clear up front; living a second childhood does not mean throwing all responsibilities and cares to the wind. Nor does it mean reverting to a state of ego centered decision-making.
Living a second childhood can only happen once we are adults. It means rediscovering our childhood dreams and taking action to manifest them in the world. It means taking the time to discover the novelty in life. It’s observing with fresh eyes and renewed curiosity.
Over the past three years that is exactly what I’ve been doing. And this article is going to show you why this experience has been so profoundly transformative.
How Children Think
I’m not a child psychologist, so please bear in mind that these are my own observations.
Children are new arrivals into this world. As such, evolution has equipped children with an enormous toolkit which they use to figure out the ropes of being a human being. Some of these tools are:
- An insatiable curiosity
- A lack of expectations
- A fascination with everything
- An abundant enthusiasm
- A Fearlessness in the face of failure
- Unmatched learning capabilities
There are probably more tools than these but I don’t know them and they don’t matter to this article because these are the ones I want to focus on.
Between the ages of 0 to 5, children are exposed to an absolutely bewildering array of first experiences. Everything adults take for granted, children are experiencing for the first time. Moving our bodies, tasting food, seeing other people, looking at the blue sky, the green grass. To a child, all life is a novel experience. This sense of absolute novelty begins to express itself in language as soon as a child is capable of asking questions:
- Why is the sky blue?
- Why do I have toes?
- Why is the sun warm?
- Why do I have a bellybutton?
How often do we ask ourselves these things as adults? Rarely. Yet these questions are incredibly profound and point to whole fields of human inquiry! The fact that children ask these questions (and so many more) is a reflection of how new everything is to them and how supercharged their curiosity is.
Children Are Master Learners
Not only do children have to learn how to use their newly acquired bodies in this new environment, but they also have to learn how to communicate and how they fit into the social fabric of their communities. Any psychologist or anthropologist would tell you that this is an astounding feat, one that most children are totally capable of handling.
Try to imagine for a few seconds what it would be like for you if you were to find yourself where you are now with absolutely none of the experience you have access to now. Imagine that each and every stimulus you are now experiencing is novel.
How would you feel?
Probably afraid. I know I would. You’d be a blank slate. You wouldn’t even have the spoken language to communicate how you feel!
Yet children don’t experience fear in the face of the unknown. On the contrary, they revel in it. They jump right into it.
This is one of their most powerful evolutionary adaptations. It’s because children are so curious and fearless that they can go through the process of quickly learning most of what they need to know in order to thrive in their environment.
And it’s why going through a second childhood is such an empowering experience.
Living Like A Child
Newborns and young children have robustly plastic brains. This means that their brains are undergoing rapid neural reorganization. In babies and children, new neural connections are forming rapidly while unused ones are being trimmed back. This is one of the reasons babies are so adept at learning languages.
I’ll be upfront. As adults, our neural plasticity is puny compared to that of children. And every day we remain alive our neuroplasticity and our rate of neurogenesis decay. So we adults can’t compete with babies and children when it comes to our brains rewireability.
BUT, we can always cultivate our curiosity and fascination with the world, no matter how old we are.
In other words, we can always live like children.
And doing so allows us to discover new ways of being in the world. Look at a child and you’ll see how effective they are at making models of how the world works. They then rely on these models to make their choices. Babies and children are constantly forming models and restructuring them as they go along. They live in a constant state of reinvention.
Adults, on the other hand, are prone to sticking with the models which have worked for us in the past. We are convinced that because a model served us well in the past it will always serve us well. But that’s not at all the case.
The World Is Always Changing
Cliches get a lot of hate, but there’s truth in some of them. One such cliche is “Change is the new normal.” Our civilization is becoming more complex by the day. It is no longer the person with the best schooling who will succeed. The persons who succeed are those who can best reinvent themselves in response to the demands of their changing personal circumstances.
In other words, the successful of today are those who can update their outdated models effectively and efficiently.
In other other words, it’s the people who behave more like children, who will find their success today.
See what I did there?
Reinvent Your Models
Today’s ceaseless reinvention of models applies to every facet of our lives. How we work, how we learn, how we relate to others, how we eat and move, how we spend money, how we invest our money, et cetera. Every aspect of our lives is wide open to disruption by cultural, technological, scientific and artistic innovations.
As an example, it was only within the previous decade that the concept of the “selfie” became culturally accepted. Before the 2010s, taking selfies was seen as an egotistical practice at best. Now, selfies are a common part of our every day lives, with the 2013 song “#Selfie” by the Chainsmokers marking the concept’s breakout into the mainstream music scene.
Suddenly, selfies became a part of the socially acceptable range of behaviors. Whether you accepted them or not, selfies were here to stay.
That is just one example of how models of behavior spread through society. There are others which are way less visible than the selfie.
And unless we keep a childlike attitude towards the changes which are spreading through our civilization, we are liable to be hurt. Yes, remaining stuck to old models can hurt us.
How I was Hurt By Remaining Stuck To Old Models
Take the iPhone. First released in 2007, it was a revolutionary consumer technology which set Apple up to dominate the smartphone market to this very day. The iPhone’s success was such that it became a cultural icon within a few years. And for good reason, the iPhone’s functionality and sleek aesthetic was unmatched upon release.
Yet the iPhone’s success came with a serious drawback few of us were aware of at the onset. The iPhone was designed to be addictive. Apple engineers deliberately designed the iPhone to hijack our attention. With all of it’s pings, blips, bloops and vibrations, the iPhone is the perfect device to pull our attention away from what we are focusing on and towards whatever content app designers want us to consume.
In 2013, I fell full into the iPhone’s technological overlordship of my attention. My ability to focus for any length of time on a difficult work-related task plummeted. This trend continued for a couple of years.
And I wasn’t even aware of it.
If I had been observant, like a child, I may have been able to notice how my ability to focus on my work was steadily decreasing the more I used my iPhone. If I had been curious, I could have sought out information from other people who had gone through similar experiences.
But I was neither observant nor curious when it came to using my iPhone. I just used it, like I used the video games I grew up playing. But the video games of the 1990s were not capable of notifying you every few minutes the moment someone liked your keg stand picture. The iPhone could literally reach into my life and pull my attention towards it.
I Didn’t Question My iPhone Use
And that indiscriminate, unquestioning use of technology cost me a good deal of time and energy. Time and energy which I will never get back. It also trained my attention to be flimsy. Every time we do something you get better at it. So if our days are filled with iPhone-induced distractions, guess what we’re training our attention to do?
Be distracted. But I had no idea my iPhone use was doing that to me. Otherwise, I would have stopped using it the way I was.
This is why it pays to live like a child. It allows us to adapt in the best way we can to the ceaseless change going on in the world.
The more we think and act like children, the greater our adaptability and the higher our chances of success. Unless we take the time to observe our life circumstances; our choices, attitudes and beliefs, we allow ourselves to remain hostage to the ignorance of our past selves.
Being childlike is an antidote to our ignorance. It allows us to update our beliefs so we can make choices which reflect our own desires, rather than those of third parties who benefit from our ignorance.
How To Be Childlike
In short; try new things, experiment, let go of expectations and be fearless in the face of failure. Not to shamelessly self-promote, but if you read this blog regularly you will become more childlike. That’s how reading works, you take on the characteristics of the writers we read.
I’ll give you a concrete example of how I’m behaving like a child these days.
I’m learning how to ice-skate.
I grew up in Mexico. I didn’t see snow until I was 18 years old. And up until this year, I could count the number of times I had ice skated on one hand.
I’ve lived in Canada since January 2020. Here it gets cold enough in the winter that bodies of water freeze and you can skate on ‘em. So I’ve been learning how to ice-skate.
It’s like learning how to walk all over Again
I get on the ice with my skates on and I’m like a child giving his first steps. I inch forward, flailing my arms around as I try to keep my balance. All while my hips move back and forth in an awkward humping motion which my body is convinced it needs to do to prevent me from falling. I’m the only one on the ice going through such motions. That’s me in the photo flailing around.
Ice Skating Is Completely New To Me
Because of this I have no expectations with regards to what ice-skating should feel like.
I fall (fail) often
Ice skating puts me in child mode. It’s a completely new experience to me, so I have no other choice but to be a child if I want to learn how to skate. My model of walking doesn’t serve me in ice-skating. And if I were afraid of failure I would never learn to skate. So when I fail (fall), I get up and keep going. Just like a baby learning to walk.
Over my last couple ice-skating sessions I have progressed to the point where I can push off of one skate and glide on the other for a short distance. There is much I can improve on, but this experience of learning how to do something new and succeeding at it is unparalleled. It is ineffably satisfying.
Being Childlike In One Activity Carries Over To Others
We don’t need to make big changes to be more childlike in our lives. Tiny choices which put us into new, challenging (and potentially embarrassing) situations once or twice a week are enough. Like learning how to ice-skate, or how to dance tango or how to paint nude models.
Doing at least one activity a week in which we can embarrass ourselves is a great way to become more childlike. It allows us to deconstruct our adult seriousness and connect with our inner child.
If we do decide to behave like a child and take on challenges which are totally new to us we unlock new ways of being in the world. We regain our childlike wonder. This is something that no class in school or professional training course can give us. It is a priceless quality which too many adults have forfeited in their pursuit of economic and social security.
But it’s the one quality which is guaranteed to bring a sense of adventure into any life.
So I invite you to let go of your fear of embarrassment and be more childlike! Do you engage in any activities that make you feel like a child? I welcome your comments!
To our wealth and success.