Flexibility and New Perspectives
Some important themes have been appearing in my coaching work lately. One is flexibility and the other is changing your perspective.
We Need to Be Flexible
After I taught a workshop at a local library, I met with several people who are struggling with the high cost of renting in Marin County, CA. One person has decided that if staying in the county means that he needs to do Senior Homesharing – sharing household help in exchange for reduced rent, he’ll do it. A friend who has lived alone for 20 years is looking for a roommate.
However, another person told me a litany of things that “must” stay the same “or else.” This person is angry, depressed, and unwilling to change.
Most of us don’t like change. I know I don’t. However, I’m continually reminded of these lessons: Stay Flexible and Keep an Open Mind. We don’t know what is supposed to happen. Sometimes a change that looks bad, turns out to be good; the change often leads to something positive that we couldn’t predict.
I recently saw the fabulous Broadway musical, “Come From Away.” On 9/11, 2001, 7,000 airplane passengers were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. They were stranded there for two weeks, and, at first, they felt angry and lost. But then the locals took them into their homes, fed them, entertained them, and showed them other remarkable generous qualities that humans are capable of. Some of the passengers, who were strangers at first, got married to each other afterwards, and most struck up life-long friendships with the folks from Gander. Yes, it looked like a disaster, but such beauty came from the experience.
Change your Perspective
I was hiking yesterday with a man who had a motorcycle accident two years ago. He lost vision in one eye and has compromised the use of one arm. I asked him what he learned. He said the accident reinforced what he always thought: “Nothing bad has ever happened to me.”
My girlfriend, who was part of the conversation, added, “There are no mistakes.” She said, “When I say what seems like the wrong thing, I no longer get angry with myself. I wonder if what I said might, ultimately, be helpful for the person who heard it.” Wow! These are interesting and refreshing perspectives.
Speaking of perspectives, last week I taught a class on Positive Thinking and referenced the work of Martin Seligman, the author of “Learned Optimism.” Seligman’s research proved that three attributes make the difference in how optimistic we are. He studied how people view the Permanence of a situation, their view of Pervasiveness, and if they take the situation Personally. It turns out that you will be more successful and happier if you view a situation as:
- temporary (not permanent)
- limited in scope (the situation is not going to impact everything, it’s not pervasive), and
- if you believe the situation is due to outside factors and is not your fault (not personal)
As some of us face hard times – debt, high rent, underemployment, health setbacks – it’s helpful to think about staying flexible and looking at life in new, more optimistic ways. It’s wise to see the situation as temporary, limited in scope, and not your fault.
Feeling that our lives “must” or “should” look a certain way, only leads to depression. It’s more helpful to simply say, I “prefer” this to happen….and “I’m flexible.”
Finally, when life feels hard, try to stay open to hearing what others are telling you. If you say, “But, but,” to others’ recommendations, you will find yourself alone. What sounds crazy at first, might be the seed of something worth looking into. It’s easy to say, and harder to do – we need to trust and “live into” the answers. The answers are coming.
I am a believer in positive thinking. I’m also a believer in being realistic. What this means is that even if you have a clear goal, you still need to rationally assess your current situation and readiness to attain the goal.
In my coaching practice I talk to people in their 60’s and 70’s who want to return to full-time work in the profession they had in their 50’s. Some of my clients are successful at “going back,” especially if they work in healthcare where seniors are often hired. On the other hand, an honest discussion often reveals that a backup plan or a modified goal will lead to a better outcome. Here’s what I mean:
Suppose David, who is 70, wants to return to full-time corporate training. We will talk about David’s health and energy level, since the employer will look at this. We will discuss David’s plan for staying up-to-date on corporate training needs and strategies. For example, which online software programs is he skilled at using for developing training? Does David need additional training to be competitive? We need to consider David’s networking contact list. What is David’s communication and marketing strategy?
I can help David prepare for the job search, but I need David to be clear and honest about his goal. Is he truly healthy enough for full-time work? Is he still mentally sharp? Will his current skills allow him to “talk the talk” of younger and “up-to-date” colleagues? How well does he work with younger people? Has David maintained his professional contacts, and, if not, how can he build new ones?
During an honest discussion, if David says that his health is not optimal, and his skill level is not where it was, then David and I can explore suitable goals. For example, perhaps David can enhance his skills and then work part-time for established training companies that use hourly or daily contractors. Depending on his interests, perhaps David can develop his own training programs and market them through social media. David could reengage with professional and networking groups.
There are many possible goals and next steps. The key is to be honest about the current situation. Working with a coach can help you move from hopeful, positive thinking to realistic thinking that results in positive outcomes.
Lately friends have been asking me about my philosophy. They want to know if I have a dogma, or if I’m guided by a self-help guru. The answer is I’m a pragmatist. Over the years, through trial and error, I’ve found a path that works for me. It includes having a balanced life, getting unstuck, pursuing fun leisure activities, keeping healthy, fulfilling my life purpose, sticking to my personal guiding principles, and achieving goals.
In my workshops and coaching, I share this “path” with others. And that feels great. So, as Thanksgiving approaches, I want to talk about how grateful I am to have this opportunity to teach and be a coach. It truly is fulfilling to help people who are feeling uncertain about what next steps to take, and then see them leave at peace, knowing how they want life to look and what they need to do to achieve it.
This work, plus so much more, makes me feel that my life is balanced and full. I am thankful for good health which allows me to enjoy hiking, skiing, cycling, sailing, dance, and yoga. I’m thankful for the amazing friends I’ve made while pursuing these activities. I’m grateful that as a Marin Master Gardener, I can volunteer for the Dig It, Grow It, Eat It program that teaches children about gardening and nutritious foods. I’m thankful that I’m able to travel; this year I went to the East Coast and Canada, while next year I’ll visit New Zealand. And I’m grateful for my small family.
I want to wish you a fulfilling Thanksgiving Holiday. If you have time, write down some of the things you are grateful for. Did you know that a 2012 study found that grateful people have fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people? Spend 10 minutes jotting down a few grateful thoughts before bed, and you may sleep better.
Recently a reporter from a new website for Boomers – www.considerable.com – interviewed me about coaching people over 50 and finding life balance. He wondered what’s different at this age. I told him that almost everything changes. This graphic covers much of it.
You may feel lonely if you are no longer working; you may be an empty-nester; loved ones may have passed on; you may be less healthy; you may have unstructured time; you may want to have a new sense of purpose and meaning… and so on. When this happens, it’s valuable to work with a coach to look at ways to re-balance your life.
My coaching clients look at which areas of life are most important now and consider how to allocate their time in the future to achieve the right balance. An easy way to do this is to draw a circle or pie and slice up the pie to show how your time is spent now. Then draw a second pie and slice it up to show the way you want to spend your time in the future. Look at these elements in your life and decide which you want to expand or change:
- work (paid or volunteer)
- family and relationships
- leisure and physical activities
- personal pursuits – creativity and education
- spiritual pursuits
- integrate healthy habits into all of this
Ask yourself: How satisfied am I with each of these elements? How can I increase my satisfaction?
I have tools that can help with this process. Just send an email (email@example.com) or give me a call (415-328-6514) to arrange a coaching session. Or attend a “Reinvent Yourself after 50” workshop – click the link for information on the next one.
In my coaching practice I’m seeing a trend. Many of my clients tell me they can’t stop thinking. Their minds are racing or going in circles. And concentration is difficult.
What they want is to clear their minds and feel calm. There are lots of reasons that our minds race. Fortunately, there are proven ways to calm the mind and to feel peaceful and focused.
The main “tool” I recommend to others and the tool I use myself is meditation. I’ve found that listening daily to 3-minute guided meditations is easy, practical and effective. You can find them online. One of my favorite sites is www.headspace.com. If you look under apps on your cell phone, you’ll find lots of options. My book also contains a helpful meditation. Combine your meditation with a daily walk, and I promise that after a week or so, you’ll feel more positive about life and happier. It’s all about the breath. Focused breathing is the panacea.
Just look at psychology publications to see what researchers have found. Studies show meditation:
- Reduces stress
- Improves concentration
- Improves self-awareness
- Increases self-acceptance
- Increases happiness (this is connected to self-awareness and acceptance)
- May reduce age-related memory loss
- Increases relaxation and causes blood pressure to drop
- Improves the immune system and reduces inflammation
- Increases a sense of connection to others
- Makes you more compassionate
So, if you want to improve your life, breathe deeply and meditate daily.
I recently read the book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink. If you want to know the best time of day to get results and the benefits of napping, this is a must read. He has a chapter on endings, including what he calls “Act Three” of life – where we “sharpen our red pencils and scratch out anyone or anything non-essential.” Research shows that as we age, we edit out people who are less emotionally meaningful.
Here’s something to try when you’re in a slump. Mr. Pink shares a technique he learned from four social psychologists. This process is inspired by the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
- Think about something positive in your life – your relationship, your child, a career achievement, your home
- List all the circumstances that made it possible – a friend’s suggestion, a class you took, a party you attended
- Write down all the events and decisions that might never have happened – you didn’t go to the party or take the class
- Now remind yourself that life did go your way. Think about the happy random events that did happen. Be grateful for your good fortune. Life is pretty wonderful.
Try this technique and post a comment on how it worked for you. I did feel wonderful when I tried it.