Tapping into our inner child can help free our rigid adult minds.
When we were born, we were tiny, blank slates that were yearning to experience this amazing journey called life. Our minds were free — free from anxiety, fear, self-doubt, excessive anger, addiction, shame, negativity, and that feeling that we’re not good enough. We were free from bias, discrimination, and other things that divide our world and lead to senseless violence and injustice.
And then life slowly began dumping its baggage onto us. Friends, family members, co-workers, the media, and other entities began to unconsciously taint our minds with fear, low self-esteem, negativity, bias, anger, and other negative things. These negative things became mental prisons — those self-defeating mindsets and beliefs that limit our growth, cause a lot of problems and stop us from achieving our dreams.
A great way to become better adults is to focus on being more like those young, free-minded human beings we once were. Here are some ways we can do that.
Don’t Let Fear Run Your Life
If you want to see what fearlessness looks like, just watch kids play. They jump randomly on almost anything, run into the unknown, and climb in ways that make many of us cringe. Yes, they sometimes get hurt or scolded by protective adults, but they remain fearless.
As adults, we’ve lost a lot of that fearlessness. Past failures, criticism, abuse, bullying, and other negative events have made us overly fearful. I lived most of my life in fear. I was terrified of public speaking. I was afraid of trying things that tested my competence. I was afraid of being my true self.
As adults, we intelligently understand that we have to take risks and make mistakes to grow. Yet, ironically, we’re oftentimes afraid of taking those necessary risks and making mistakes.
A simple way to conquer fear is to slowly start doing uncomfortable things, starting with the easy ones first and then working your way up to the harder ones. I overcame my fear of public speaking by first speaking in front of small groups of people and then speaking at increasingly larger events over time. Eventually, I was able to speak at prisons, universities, and companies.
To stay motivated when things get tough, make sure you’re doing something you really love. When I spoke about the things I really love, like personal development and my own journey to success, I was still nervous, but I was better able to manage the fear and nervousness.
Finally, keep in mind that the biggest thing you should fear is the regret of not trying at all.
Stop Being Biased
The amount of bias in this world is appalling. We’ve witnessed black men brutally killed by biased cops. We’ve read about or experienced racism, sexism, homophobia, and other terrible forms of discrimination.
Now contrast this with a big group of young children playing in a schoolyard. They play with each other in a joyful, open-minded, bias-free manner. Life hasn’t yet corrupted their minds with stereotypes, biases, and false assumptions.
Be like those kids who welcome other kids with open arms. When you see people who are different from you, do the following:
- Take the high road and go out of your way to get to know them. Be the first one to strike up a conversation.
- Learn a little about their culture or their life.
- Focus on some things you have in common with them.
- Hear some of their stories.
- When I see people who are different from me, I try to engage them in conversation. I try to learn a little about their culture, and sometimes even learn a few phrases from their language if they’re from another country. Doing this has allowed me to connect with people on a deeper level, improved my relationships at work, and made me less biased.
And I’ve also gained some new friends along the way!
Express Your Feelings
Watching the emotional reactions of a 2-year-old is almost like watching a mini-drama series. Their emotional spectrums run the gamut — from laughing to anger to bewilderment to crying — and then back to laughing again. They let it all out.
Sometimes as adults we don’t let it all out. We’re afraid of “losing control,” appearing “unstable,” or we’ve just been conditioned to always act calm and not get emotional. Sometimes we just don’t want to deal with our emotions, so we suppress them, which can have bad consequences.
Not expressing our emotions actually makes us feel worse. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin conducted a study that showed that not letting emotions out actually makes people more aggressive.
I saw this first hand my entire life. My dad was an abusive alcoholic who never talked about his true feelings. He numbed his feelings with alcohol, and then later acted out with violence.
As I suppressed my feelings of anger, guilt, and shame, they became stronger. I really saw the destructive effects of not expressing your emotions while I was incarcerated in prison. I witnessed some of the worst violence, domination, and toxic masculinity — from men who were obsessed with hiding their feelings and protecting their egos because they didn’t want to appear “weak.”
To avoid this problem, first, accept that feeling and expressing dark emotions is actually a healthy part of our human condition. When you feel really high levels of stress, let it out by talking to a trusted friend, family member, co-worker, or someone else who will understand what you’re going thru.
Don’t be afraid to cry or openly express painful emotions.
You can also journal or write about how you feel. Your dark emotional state could be an opportunity for you to write a therapeutic Medium article.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” — George Bernard Shaw
Recently, I was at my best friend’s house for a pool party. One of the highlights of that party was playing Jenga Giant. I hadn’t played an actual game in a long time and I realized how much I missed it.
When we were young, we were some of the most playful souls in the world. As we became more entrenched in advancing our careers, started families, or struggled with the demands of life, we lost sight of that fun and excitement.
A study done by the U.S. Travel Association revealed that 768 million U.S. vacation days went unused in 2018. 236 million of these days were actually forfeited, resulting in a loss of $65.5 billion in vacation benefits. 55% of workers said they didn’t even use all of their vacation time.
Most people in developed countries spend way too much time working and not enough time playing. It’s not surprising that a lot of people get sick or even die prematurely from job stress or extreme burnout.
We have to work to make ends meet, but we need to spend more time relaxing, going on vacation, and doing other things to unwind from the stress of daily life.
Here are some ways to play more:
- Find a fun exercise class that helps you stay in good physical shape.
- Go to an amusement park with friends or family. Get on those rollercoasters and other rides!
- Hang out with fun people. Hang out with adults who still have that child-like tendency to joke and play.
- Play fun, competitive outdoor games. There are a lot of exciting outdoor games, like Cornhole, Frisbee Golf, Jenga Giant, Spikeball, or Horseshoes.
- Play more board games and card games. Cards Against Humanity is one of my favorites.
- Play with animals.
Do What YOU Want to Do
My mom ran a small daycare center out of our trailer when we moved out of our motel. One of the things I remember most about the kids in the daycare center was that they did what they wanted to do.
She’d tell them not to climb on the fence and one minute later, they did it again. She told them to stay out of the trash and within minutes, they were scavenging again, like little raccoons. As kids continue to do what they want, they usually find things they’re naturally good at and love to do.
As we get older, our families, society, the media, and other entities begin to pressure us into doing what THEY want us to do. As we’re unconsciously programmed to follow the herd, it’s easy to lose sight of what we actually want to do.
We need to be more like kids and defiantly do what WE want to do — not what others want us to do.
Don’t be afraid of transitioning into your own business if you don’t like traditional “9 to 5” jobs. Realize you don’t have to go to college. And if you do go to college, know that you can major in something you like instead of something someone is pressuring you into majoring in. Don’t feel like you have to get married or have kids unless you really want to.
Carve out your own path in life. Do those things that are aligned with who you are and allow you to use your gifts, strengths, and talents. When I got out of prison, I started a career in technology because that’s what I thought society wanted me to do. Working in technology served me well for years, but I later realized there were other things that made me much happier because these things are aligned with who I really am.
There are a lot of good aspects of being a responsible adult. We have life experience and intelligent brains that help us navigate the world so we can have good, stable lives.
But our experiences and brains also work against us when we’re adults. Our experiences can make us develop rigid, self-defeating mindsets that transform our minds into prisons that stop us from reaching our potential and achieving our dreams.
Tapping into our inner child allows us to get the best of both worlds. We get to combine the maturity, common sense, insight, and intelligence we gained as adults with those valuable qualities we had as children.
Embracing that inner child allows us to free our minds from those rigid, self-defeating beliefs and mindsets that we acquired in life.
Once our minds are free, we’re on our way to reaching our true potential and achieving our dreams.