Habits, aging, and entropy.
And the compounding effects of our choices.
Have you ever had the fear of looking back in your later years in life wondering “How did I get here?”
If you have, you’re not alone. It’s a common thought that’s regularly preached by writers, gurus, and coaches. That fear, when stoked, can be used to drive change, and so it’s used liberally by the personal development world at-large.
And it’s used because there’s validity to it.
When we’re in our 20s and 30s we tend to think that life will stay the same or improve as long as we keep doing what we’re doing. If we have the same health habits, eating habits, and relationship habits then life should continue improving, or at least stay at the same level, because that’s what we’ve known. Or so the thought goes.
But what that equation doesn’t factor in is entropy, and the compounding nature of poor habits as we age.
Entropy is defined as “a lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.” At a practical level, entropy is the increasing nature of chaos. As it builds, it compounds on itself until the chaos is unmanageable. Or put another way by Merriam-Webster, entropy is “a general trend of the universe toward death and disorder.”
And this is where we, in our own lives, get in trouble. We can get away with a lot of things when we’re kids, teens, and into young adulthood.
A 20-something year old can get away with a fast food diet because their metabolism hasn’t hit its point of natural decline yet.
A new relationship can get away with sloppy habits or less than ideal communication because the people are still feeling each other out (and crossing their fingers that these things improve).
A young parent can survive and enjoy the chaos of a newborn, because the daily discoveries of their new child can make up for their lack of sleep or neglect of their significant other.
But then things change. Entropy takes hold with chaos increasing, and what were once negligible poor habits become seemingly impossible obstacles.
The now 30-something year old starts to decline in health – gaining weight, losing their breath, growing out of their clothes – not understanding why because they haven’t been living life any differently.
The now mature relationship starts to decline in contentedness because the newness has worn off, and the once overlook-able habits have become glaring.
The under-slept, short-fused parents that now have a toddler barely recognize their relationship because they unconsciously drove a wedge between them in the name of parenting.
Life gets hard because entropy takes hold.
The most natural decline in life – the march toward death – gets exacerbated by poor habits that we didn’t know we needed to change, because we didn’t have the benefit of an immediate feedback loop at the time.
Our work and relationships have our flaws exposed because the further we get into them, the more important they become.
Our parenting habits (read: patience) become critical because it’s an 18 year marathon, not the sprint of a newborn.
But the beauty of habits, and in turn, entropy and aging?
They can be changed at any time. It starts with recognizing where we need to change, and then being intentional about doing what it takes.
Because none of us want to be that person that looks back on our life wondering “How did I get here?”