We often hear it said that age is just a number, as a way of consoling us as we get older. It is true that we can change how we feel just through shifting our perspective on life; the saying 'you are as young as you feel' definitely holds some truth.
However, it's also evident that there is a certain significance in your age as a number.
From the minute you're born, your life begins to unfold, and your personality to develop, in ways entirely unique to you as an individual, due to a myriad of influences and circumstances.
Whilst there will be countless differences between you and your peers when you compare who you are and the lives you each lead, there are essential age related stages to human development that we all go through, which have a huge influence on us becoming who we are.
What's in a number? The significance of your age.
Have you ever wondered why 21 was considered the adult age (and still is in some parts of the world)? Or why so many rockstars died at 27?
In the UK, the importance of turning 21 is said to hark back to times of knighthood; a boy would become a page at the age of 7, a squire at 14, and a knight at 21.
These milestones all mark cycles of 7 years; and the significance of 7 doesn't stop there...
Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man ~ Aristotle.
Jesuit monks famously took this Aristotle quote and made it the motto for their approach to education. In child development, the first 7 years of our lives are often deemed the most important, with 7 historically being known as the 'age of reason'.
'The age of reason refers to the developmental cognitive, emotional, and moral stage in which children become more capable of rational thought, have internalised a conscience, and have better capacity to control impulses (than in previous stages)'. ~ Dana Dorfman. Phd.
Why 7 years? The number is not arbitrary. When we look at our anatomical development, every cell in the body is in a constant cycle of regeneration, and approximately every 7 years the body reaches a point of total regeneration, with a set of cells entirely different to those of 7 years prior. This means effectively you're a new 'you' – or a different you – to the version 7 years before.
The 7 Year Cycles
'All Models are wrong but some are useful' ~ George E. P. Box
All models are unequivocally wrong, however the useful ones provide us with an opportunity to think about things differently, to raise our awareness and look at where we were are in life from a different perspective.
I find that acknowledging the cycles of life we go through is a helpful way of observing and reflecting on our lives. This awareness can enable you to take a wider perspective and make improvements in areas of your life where you see the need for change.
There have been many approaches to developmental stages and the milestones of life, from psychology with Jean Piaget's cognitive stages of development, Erikson's take on psycho-social development, to Rudolf Steiner's more esoteric model.
Drawing on various influences, notably Morris Massey's 'The People Puzzle', I came up with my own observational idea of the three preliminary 7 year life cycles which I believe have the biggest impact in how we become who we are.
There are other reasons why 7 is a potent number, but to avoid going on too much of a tangent, have a read here to learn why I use 7 as a number for so many of my processes.
The 7 Year Cycles of Life: What your age tells you about who you are today...
From birth until the age of 21, as individuals we undergo the most crucial three cycles of our development, forming our personality and how we interact with the world. Here's what you develop at those ages:
Age 0 to 7: Belief systems – this is how you see the world around you; how you believe the world works.
Age 7 to 14: Value structure – this is your idea of how the world should be, your sense of morality – what's good, what's bad, what you like and what you don't like.
Age 14 to 21: Attitudes – your acquired belief systems and value structure now combine to create your attitudes, which determine how you show up in the world. Your attitudes influence how you interpret the world around you, and how you engage with any given situation.
Without your belief systems and values, there would be no attitudes. These are the foundations of your default behavioural patterns. It's impossible to extricate any of the three; it's this quintessential combination that makes us who we are today.
However, once we begin dissecting our beliefs and our values, we're able to implement some behavioural changes to our attitudes to improve how we show up in the world.
Reflecting on where you've been, to better understand where you are.
To better understand where you're at in life, and to make the changes you want to make, first you need to unpack the attitudes you have developed.
Based on the 7 year cycles, here are some prompts for reflection, which you can journal out quickly (without too much thought is best to let your unconscious do the talking)
Beliefs: Write as many statements as you can think of which you believe are true for how the world exists.
Values: Jot down statements that represent how you think the world should be.
Write down as many situations that spring to mind in which things show up in a way which makes you respond in a way you don't want to/like.
Write the situations in which things show up for you in a way which makes you respond in the way you do want/like.
Once you have a clearer idea of your attitudes, you'll now be able to observe those default reactions as they come up, and decide how you want to go about improving them.
So, what's in a number? 21 marks the end of the three stages I've outlined here, whereby the most significant developments have taken place. Perhaps this explains the historical significance of the age, and interestingly, how the stages to knighthood also observed these 7 year cycles.
As for the notorious 27 club, which has immortalised so many rockstars and artists, this can also be understood through the 7 year cycles model: at 27 you're on the cusp of a new 7 year cycle, arguably one of more responsibility, and less youthful freedom; so maybe there is something to be said about the symbolical implications of this age.
Finally, also on the brink of another 7 year cycle is 42. In Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, 42 is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything'. Do you think by 42 you had, or will have, reached the meaning of life?!