Writing exercises for aging well

"write into life" written on notebook nestled in morning glory with one purple flower

Almost Old: Help yourself to a grand old age includes 12 writing exercises for aging well, one for each topic in the DIY programme. The writing exercises are optional extras, so they’re not in the workbook. Each exercise takes about 20 minutes. The purpose is to help you explore your ideas and feelings about your life now and as you get older and eventually old. Through writing, you may gain a new perspective or even change the story of your life.

Don’t sweat over them: you cannot “fail.” Just do them and see what develops. You have nothing to lose except a few minutes that you might have wasted anyway.

In all these writing exercises for aging well, your writing is private. Write for yourself alone: no need to show it to anyone. When you’re finished, if in doubt, destroy it!


Housing: facts and feelings

Write about your current home. Describe in detail any features that make your life easy and pleasant and any that make it difficult or unpleasant.

Write in detail about the feelings you have about your home.

Be as honest as you can.

Write for 20 minutes.

Alstromeria flowers and a pen on lined paper

Food & health care: your beautiful body

Write a love poem or a speech praising certain parts of your own body.

Say what you admire and appreciate about your body.

Don’t mention anything you habitually see as ugly, or any “bad” features.

Just love this body which has served you well for so many years. You’re still alive! That’s a miracle that you and your beautiful body have achieved.

Be positive and don’t hold back.

Write for 20 minutes.

This is private writing: no need to show it to anyone unless you want to.


Exercise: answering to your fitness coach

Write a dialogue between yourself and a fitness coach.

The coach is asking many blunt questions which you must answer fully and honestly.

He or she questions you about some of these things:

  • your history with exercising
  • what exercise you do now, and why
  • what sort of exercise you like, and why
  • what sort of exercise you dislike and why
  • what your feelings are about people who exercise
  • what sort of exercise you believe you need now
  • what sort of exercise you believe you will need as you grow older.

Write for 20 minutes without stopping.

This is private: no need to show it to anyone unless you want to.


Finances: a stranger observes you shopping

Write a detailed description of yourself going shopping, with three constraints.

  1. Write in the third person, as if you are a stranger watching you go shopping. Don’t use I or me but write about yourself as he or she.
  2. Describe every little thing the stranger can see or hear and nothing else. (This is hard.)
  3. Don’t mention any thoughts or feelings, because a stranger cannot know what you are thinking or feeling.

Write for 20 minutes without stopping.

This is private: no need to show it to anyone unless you want to.

Alstromeria flowers and a pen on lined paper

Hobbies & special interests:  100 possibilities

STEP 1. Make an extreme list of 100 interesting hobbies. Start a numbered list as a .doc or .xls or use lined paper. Start naming hobbies and don’t stop until you reach 100. It’s easier than it sounds. If you run out of ideas just start again, or do variations on a theme (knitting, knitting socks, knitting hats…). Your ideas can be silly: don’t worry, doesn’t matter.

STEP 2. Analyse the extreme list. Look for themes and pick 4-6. Colour code them. Calculate percentages, e.g. if one theme has 20 items, that’s 20% of the total.

STEP 3. Any action required? It’s your call. Mostly you’ll just absorb the data. Sometimes you may want to act on the data, do something big or small. Over to you.

Morning glory flower on a notebook

People in your life: easing an awkward encounter

Write in great detail about an awkward outing or visit with a friend or family member. (Don’t choose anything traumatic.)

Describe everything you did, said and felt. Don’t hold anything back.

What are the implications? What was the other person feeling?

What did you learn, if anything?

Write for 20 minutes without stopping. Don’t show anyone.

rose petals and a pen

Voice:  let your other hand speak

For this little exercise write with your non-dominant hand: if you’re right-handed, put your pen in your left hand, and vice versa. (Don’t use a computer for this exercise.)

Without thinking much at all, write for 10–15 minutes about your own voice, what it sounds like and feels like and how you feel about it.

Then think about what you wrote and what it might mean.


Brain: push it hard and let it grow

Write for 20 minutes non-stop about a demanding and difficult thing you did, one that required sustained mental effort and continual learning.

Write about how the experience affected you and what you learned from it.

Don’t worry about style: this is just for yourself, to find out what you think and feel about your brain.

Mind: living the dream

Write about a dream you’ve had. Any dream will do, or even a daydream.

Write in the present tense, as if the dream is happening now.

Give as much detail as possible about what happened, colours, feelings, words, people, unknowns.

Write about what you think the dream might mean.

If your interpretation seems negative, see if you can reframe the dream in a positive light. Then write a second, positive interpretation.

Your own interpretations are the ones that matter, so no need to show your writing to anyone.


Happiness: notice how you make it happen

Keep a gratitude diary every evening for a month. Most people enjoy this.

As always, this is for you alone.

  1. Write down one good thing that happened today, big or small or even very small. If you say it’s a good thing, then it’s a good thing — you’re the boss.
  2. For each good thing, write down why it happened. Again, your reason is correct.
  3. You did something to help make this good thing happen! Write down how you made it happen or helped to make it happen, even if your contribution was tiny (or even imaginary). Any answer is a good answer.


Identity: who are you at this age?

Sit where you can see yourself in a mirror.

For 20 minutes write without stopping, in depth and in detail. Write only for yourself. Choose one of the following topics:

  • Either: Who are you, who do others think you are, and who will you be in 15 years?
  • Or: “You can’t be that old—you look so young!” “You’re only as old as you feel.” When people say this, what do they mean? What do they imply about old people?
  • Or: How much of your identity is vested in your position at work? Who are you (or who will you be) after you retire from that position?

rose petals and a pen on lined paper

Purpose in life: you do have one at any age

You’re going to write a letter to your future 90-year-old self (Old-You).

  • Old-You has various health problems but still enjoys many pleasures.
  • Old-You wonders seriously (but not morbidly) why nature allows human beings to live so long.

In your letter you will explain passionately all the reasons why Old-You is highly valued and appreciated and loved.

Explain also that family and friends and society expect something from Old-You in future. What is it that they expect from you?

The end of the Almost Old writing exercises for aging well—oh, really?

Not really. I have a bottomless bucket of writing exercises for aging well. I could give you another 10, 20, 100 exercises to help you face the friendly facts about your own future old age. If you would like more, let me know…

More about Almost Old: a self-help course in aging well

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