The Great “Old Dog – New Tricks” Hoax

Nearly 500 years ago an English fellow named Fitzherbert initiated the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” and it stuck ever since. We say it regularly, related to situations that have nothing to do with the canine species. It’s come to be spoken of as gospel for our belief that it’s too hard for older people to learn new skills or develop new habits. So they don’t.

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is "gospel" for the belief that it’s too hard for older people to develop new habits. I call B.S.
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

Guess what? Not true! MythBusters proved it wrong, saving dogs everywhere from low expectations. But, what about us?
The mind is amazing and will believe anything, good or bad. We have the capacity to change no matter our age. My mother-in-law, having smoked since she was a teenager, gave it up when she was in her mid-sixties. She’s 81 today, tobacco-free. I regularly meet Medicare-eligible folks who are learning to use technology, change their eating habits and try new activities. They are not the exception. They’ve just chosen a different belief.

I encounter a variety of assumed truths that hold people back, like:

  • It’s too late to…
  • I’ve tried before and it hasn’t worked, so what would be different this time?
  • Small changes won’t make a big difference so why bother? (read my blog on the all-or-nothing mindset)
  • If I can’t do it right (perfectly), I might as well not do it at all.
  • This is just the way I am.

These are not facts. They are chosen truths. The brain operates off of what we believe to be true (e.g. I can’t change) not what is factual (e.g. we can change at any time we choose).

I admit that I sometimes cringe at the things I hear myself think. But when I use those moments as opportunities to challenge my thinking, I experience growth. And the biggest progress I’ve made has come from small, consistent steps over the long haul.

My challenge to you:
Today, notice one thought that keeps you stuck. Examine it and ask yourself what would be a more helpful belief. For example, replace “this is just the way I am” with “I can find resources and support to help me make a change.” Write down this new belief. Then, decide on the first step to take. It could be finding a book, making an appointment, asking for a referral…no step is too small. Finally, take that step in the next 48 hours.

Head over to Facebook today and share with me your new belief and your next step. Then, in 48 hours let me know it’s done! Use this opportunity for accountability to propel you forward.

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