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.
The holidays bring up such mixed emotions – there’s joy and hope…and there’s stress and sadness.
When I taught a class on managing holiday stress, participants gave me a long list of stressors that include worries about budget and creating a “perfect” holiday, and feeling sad when remembering loved ones who won’t be here this year.
Find Balance and Watch your Budget
Class members had plenty of ideas for reducing holiday stress. They want to set realistic expectations, create a better balance between personal time and social time, and spend more time with supportive people. Some people talked about reducing financial worries by changing some of their family traditions; instead of buying gifts for everyone in the family, they will have a white elephant exchange or arrange for secret Santa gifts, so that each person only buys one gift.
Stress Reduction Tips
During the holidays, more than at other times, it’s important to manage your stress. This is the time for deep breathing exercises (breathe in for 3 counts, hold for 2, breathe out for 3 counts). Progressive muscle relaxation is super helpful. Sit in a chair with your eyes closed. Tense your right fist; let go. Tense your whole right arm; let go. Do the same on the left side. Then scrunch up your face and hold it tight; let go. Tense your shoulders and your chest; let go. Tense your stomach muscles; let go. Tense your thighs and calves; let go. Tense your toes; let go.
As members of my class completed the exercise and opened their eyes, the energy in the room became light and peaceful.
Help Yourself to Help Others
So, first take care of yourself during the holidays. Then help others. If you take time to volunteer or collect toys to donate, you’ll feel the joy of giving. Plus, when we change the focus from materialism, we reap the benefits of feeling the spirit of the holiday season.
Remember: You have the right to enjoy the holidays and even buy a gift for yourself. You are also entitled to feel all your emotions – from happy to sad. You don’t need to attend every party and eat all the food offered to you. You can design the holiday you want to enjoy. Make some new traditions. What can you do differently this year?
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.
A year after the devastation of the Sonoma County, California fires, friends who have lost their homes and most of their material possessions spoke to me about gratitude – gratitude for the outpouring of gifts and support from both friends and strangers.
It doesn’t erase the pain of the loss, but one friend shared that small events will long be remembered, such as gong to community garage “sales” where you are told to take anything that fits or is useful…maybe a new pair of earrings or a sweater or even a bicycle – for free.
I recently spoke with a Sonoma artist at a local art festival. He lost most of his paintings when his studio burned in the fire. I looked at photos of his lost paintings and then felt exhilarated by his fresh, new paintings. He has worked through the trauma and come out the other side with stunning, gorgeous images.
My friend Annie calls this “getting pruned.” She says it’s like cutting back a rose bush and being rewarded with even more stunning rose blossoms.
This metaphor reminded me that in the 1980’s I lost my home in a mudslide in Sausalito, California. I’m grateful I got out alive and was able to rescue some possessions. I realize now that the loss and trauma was a turning point for me. It forced me to re-evaluate my life and eventually led to a better romantic partnership, and work in coaching and training that was more aligned with my values.
In fact, one couple I know announced their engagement shortly after she lost her home in one of the fires. Maybe they would have announced it at that time anyway, but experience tells me that after facing the possibility of losing your life, some decisions become very clear.
Another friend told me that when the fire destroyed her home, she decided to move closer to San Francisco where most of the family works. The shorter commute has resulted in greater family togetherness, which she loves.
I certainly don’t want to minimize the pain and trauma of major loses; however, as we remember the fires, it’s good to recognize that sometimes life calls for us to reinvent ourselves…and that can be a good thing.
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.
If you have a high school reunion coming up, GO. If it’s your 50th reunion, don’t hesitate. The 50th reunion is probably the last reunion. It’s sad to say, but some of your classmates won’t be alive…or won’t be able to travel in another 10 years.
I just returned from my 50th reunion at Abington High School in a suburb of Philadelphia. When the reunion was announced, I was the first to RSVP. I live 3000 miles from many of my high school friends, and this was a chance to see everyone at once. With Facebook, it’s been great to catch up with so many of my classmates, but it’s not the same as face-to-face. When seeing friends in person, the good memories come flooding back. And, at this stage of life, the bad memories of feeling excluded (by people in some cliques) have long faded away.
The reunion was an opportunity to remember my childhood on the East Coast. I decided to make the event into an adventure by plane, train and subway. I wanted to see the 911 museum in New York and take an in-depth look at Washington D.C. I’m glad I did. Even two weeks was not enough time to see the many monuments, gardens, museums and cultural events on my bucket list.
After the “high” I felt in New York city with it’s great energy, I was not let down in Philadelphia. My high school pals have matured into relaxed, interesting, fun-loving older adults. We picked up where we left off so many years ago. Everyone was welcoming.
We’re at a great age. Yes, it’s true that there was a wide variation in how well we aged. I recognized almost everyone I used to “hang with.” They looked energetic and fabulous. The surprise was that some classmates are using canes and walkers.
It’s truly eye-opening to see that even as early as the sixties, if you don’t have good genes and don’t live a healthy lifestyle, your decline will already be apparent. It’s another reminder to stay active and engage with life. And to reinvent yourself.
Some years ago, shortly after my father and brother passed away, I hit a low point and saw a therapist at Kaiser Permanente. He recommended a YouTube video of Albert Ellis, an influential American Psychologist who died in 2007. Ellis is best known for developing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). When I applied REBT to my situation, I felt much better. Now, when I have negative thoughts, I use REBT – because it works.
I’ve found Ellis’ approach to be highly effective for coaching clients. Men and women quickly see how their thoughts have blocked them from success. For example, one client had a problem with his foot. He blamed himself and said that perhaps he deserved to suffer. When he examined his belief, he saw that it was irrational. He “de-catastrophized” the situation, found the energy to look for new options by talking to people who could help, and tried a therapy that eventually healed his foot.
Here’s the approach:
Albert Ellis’ ABCDEs of Adversity
A – Adversity happens
B – What is your belief or thought about it? Is the belief logical? Rational? What would be a more helpful belief?
C – Consequences – What did you feel or do?
D – Dispute the feeling. De-catastrophize it: What is the evidence? It’s not a big deal in the scheme of things Look at alternatives Look for greater meaning – nation, God, family, a cause, volunteering, charity
E – Energy – feel energized. Take action
How can you apply this is in your life? If you are working on an issue, let’s meet for a private coaching session. It’s time to move forward.
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.
Following are some of the topics we discuss in the Reinvent Yourself after 50 workshops. See how many of these tips you can incorporate into your life. Let me know which ones are helping you feel greater joy and fulfillment.
Explore subjects that interest you and see where it leads. Read, use Google, take workshops, attend lectures.
Have a Supportive Community
We all need community. Studies show you’ll live longer and feel better if you have a good social life. Meet people who lift you up and spend time with them. I’ve found that Meetup.com is a good way to meet who enjoy the activities that you enjoy.
Live a Balanced Life
You will be happier if you find the right balance of work (paid or volunteer), relationships, leisure, creativity, learning, and spiritual pursuits. What do you need more of? What do you need less of in life?
Leisure is a vital part of living a balanced life. Take time to relax and recharge. Your brain requires this.
Get outside as often as possible. The sun, greenery and water are all nurturing. My yellow, green and blue logo symbolizes these essential elements of nature.
Be Healthy – stay active and eat well
Exercise releases endorphins which make you feel good. You’ll feel better and be healthier if you keep moving and eat healthy foods (and never smoke).
Each day write down a few of the things you’re grateful for. When you see the good in the world, you feel happier. It’s that simple.
Keep a Bucket List
Pay attention to your ideas about things you’d like to do. (Sometimes feeling jealous of others is an indication of something we need or want to do.) People who write down and follow-up on their bucket lists are more likely to fulfill their dreams. Create a life you’ll love.
New places and cultures (even if they are close to home) introduce us to new ideas and perspectives. Travel beyond your usual stomping ground to feel inspired and energized.
Feel Passion and Purpose
Find time for activities that make a difference to others. This work will add meaning and purpose to your own life.
My friend Harry was laid off from his job at the age of 64. He took some time to think about his future….and then took some more time. His savings were slim, so he said he would look for another job. I’m not sure if he looked. I do know that he spent a lot of time on his computer, going to movies by himself, and watching TV. Mostly he was alone. Then he got sick. Then his cognitive thinking declined. He was depressed and isolated. He is one of the reasons I created the “Reinvent Yourself after 50” workshop. I want to help people feel fulfilled, joyful, and passionate, whether they are working or not.
For many people the most difficult aspect of leaving the workforce is losing daily interaction with work colleagues and the people you meet when you’re at work – the coffee barista, the bus driver, the cashier at the deli. In the workshop we discuss the many benefits of social integration and how to ensure we don’t lose it. This video demonstrates why our relationships are paramount to our longevity and to having fulfilling lives.
What does it take to live for 100 years? These are the surprising predictors of a long, healthy life.
Susan Pinker at TED2017 – The secret to living longer may be your social life