Adulting is definitely tough. The more life we live, the more trauma and stress we accumulate. Navigating the work world, juggling social and romantic relationships, and managing self-care can all require strenuous effort. We can get lost in routine. We can get bogged down. We can get stagnant and stuck.
The bad news: if we don't interrupt some of our habitual patterns, we can lose touch of our sweetness, optimism, silliness, and zest for life. The good news: there is always a way back to regaining these aspects of ourselves! The ANSWER: Give your Inner Child some attention.
Kids roll in the grass, play in the mud, scream at the top of their lungs and laugh until their bellies ache. Kids stumble and tumble and get right back up. They know how to be authentic, spontaneous, and adaptable. Each of us has a little child inside, a "free spirit" who can help teach us how to break our hum-drum habits and increase joy.
Let's take a look at the ways you can tap more into your very own inner child!
1. Increase your curiosity and sense of wonder
You may think you know what's happening in a situation, but...what if you don't? Rather than assuming you know what a person is going to say or predicting what will happen at that work meeting, see if you can invite a little "I don't know" into your attitude. Rather than getting stuck in a judgment mindset or writing a "fear story" about what will happen, meet the moment with possibility and promise. Curiosity lets us meet moments with non-judgment and helps up to be more open to an outcome. Let go of the control and let yourself be surprised!
2. Play outside: embrace nature and walk
Children love the outdoors. Sometimes, when I walk my dogs at the beach, I see little ones kicking the frigid water with their teeny toes, giggling, splashing, completely enthralled with the ocean and the sand. They remind me that nature is such a source of peace and humility. If I need to clear my mind, a hike in the trees or a stroll on the sand usually does the trick. Whether you have a yard, a nearby park, or even a small cactus in your windowsill, embrace the life around you.
3. Keep Learning: start a new book or hobby
Never stop learning. We're humans...we're wired for growth and continual adaptability. Find something you've always wanted to try...and TRY it. You'll push yourself, you'll find that you're way more artistic/creative/capable than you ever thought. And, you'll most likely meet other likeminded people and have fun in the process.
4. Be brave! Try some healthy risk-taking
Invited to a social gathering but afraid to go? Ask yourself what a three-year old would do. I'll give you the answer: THEY WOULD GO! I have yet to find a child who turns down the chance to attend a party because she is afraid of what others will think of her. She is going to enjoy that chocolate cake and bouncy house. Don't hold yourself back due to fear. Think about how things might go WELL! Maybe you'll meet an interesting romantic prospect, stumble on a networking connection, or just have an enjoyable evening outside of your home. Take the risk and put yourself in situations that push your edge. If you're really feeling like you don't want to do something, by all means, listen to yourself and don't do it. But if you feel like that voice is coming more from a place of fear and insecurity than authenticity, take a healthy risk and do the opposite of what it says.
5. Speak kindly - to yourself and others
A very wise client who struggles with self-criticism and negative self-talk taught me a new trick. She told me that her rule around self-talk is to now only say messages to herself that she would also say to a three-year old. Turn a shaming message like "OMG how could you do that?!" into "Oops. It's ok to make a mistake." Transform, "You're a mess today!" into "We all have rough days. Maybe today is one of them." This small communication trick can completely help us to shift how we speak to ourselves and to others. Try it out. I bet you'll like the outcome.
6. Know that it's ok to say sorry and to forgive
In my classroom, we had something we called "The Peace Corner." If a conflict occurred, children would go there to talk out their feelings with the help of a teacher. Usually, these conflicts resolved quickly, with both children saying they were sorry and that they were ready to return to the sandbox together with a renewed sense of harmony. Children teach us that, when we confront issues as soon as they arise, we can more easily move forward. As soon as conflict arises, see if you can quickly take accountability, talk it out with that person, and let it go. Forgiveness is a two-way street. What can you do to start that tough conversation and get the wheel rolling toward resolution?
7. Invite more silliness into your relationships
Children sing loudly, wiggle all the time, and giggle until their bellies hurt. This suggestion is quite simple: add a little more humor and spontaneity into your daily life!
8. Remind yourself it's ok to make mistakes
You're human. You make mistakes. Absolutely normal. Sometimes we say things we wish we could take back. Sometimes we make choices that have unintended, hurtful consequences. Sometimes we make quick and rash decisions that leave a lasting impact on others. It happens. What really matters is how you handle it afterward. Can you own your mistakes and learn from them? Can you find the lessons hidden in the obstacle? Can you find ways to release self-blame and defensiveness in order to move forward and grow from the situation? Children make mistakes and then move on.
9. Listen to your body and act on what it says
Hungry? Go eat a snack. Thirsty? Grab a drink. Tired? Rest. Need to potty? Take a bathroom break. Your body is always trying to communicate what it needs to you, but we frequently suppress its messages when they interrupt our intended schedule or plan. Trust your body's voice. It is looking out for you. If you're not taking care of your body, who will? Preschool was structured around bathroom breaks, healthy snacks to avoid "hangry" temper tantrums, and naps to reboot the system. In what ways might you add a little more of this structure into your daily schedule?
10. Ask for support. We all need teachers!
No matter how old you are, you can always reach out for support. This is important and necessary. We don't have to go at life alone. We're meant to be social and to feel supported. Reach out to your own mentors, friends, teachers, and trusted companions. They will most likely be thrilled to hear from you and to know that you value their perspective. They also may feel more open to sharing more of their lives with you. This is how vulnerability and intimacy grow!