“You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge” Phil McGraw
If you want to age well, you probably have work to do, first! Why? Because you need to know what is true for you right now and you need a plan. So, let me offer three suggestions for getting started: conduct a house-cleaning of sorts, identify your new normal, and create a personal development plan. Ready? Let’s get started!!!
THE HOUSE CLEANING
You may be vaguely discontent, disenchanted with life, or just not motivated to do much. Maybe parts of your life would benefit from a house cleaning - a review of what’s working and what’s not. Take a few minutes to ask yourself and answer the following questions . . .honestly.
What is bothering you? Do you have too much extra time? Are you feeling less energetic? Is there nothing to look forward to? Can you no longer do what you want or do you need more money?
What “shoulds” and frustrations nag you? Do you have pressing family obligations? Are there unmet items on your “bucket list?” Do you tend to procrastinate?
What are your hopes and dreams? Do you want to travel more or create a startup business? Do you want to move to a smaller home or retirement community, or do you want to be closer to family members? Have you ever wanted to volunteer - maybe in Africa?
What daily habits support you and your goals? Do you exercise regularly? Do you use positive thinking and affirmations? Are your relationships loving? Do you have successful behaviors in place?
What zaps your energy? Are you overly anxious? Are you or a family member ill? Are you not feeding your heart and soul daily? Is something missing in your life?
What drains you? Do you have beliefs that are not supportive or doubts that hold you back? Do you lack confidence or motivation? Do you behave in ways that create problems and interfere with long-standing goals?
What about relationships? Do you have relationships that support and energize you? Have you reduced or limited draining relationships? Do you feed important relationships in your life daily and fuel your relationship with yourself?
What can you do? What unimportant chores can you release? Can you stop procrastinating? Do you break tasks into manageable chunks? How do you motivate yourself? Is there a better way to do things?
What goals do you have? Select three and identify appropriate actions you could take to achieve them.
YOUR NEW NORMAL
Now that you identified what is and isn’t working in your life; let’s talk about normal. Because there is no such thing as normal aging and everyone is different, the next step is to examine what is true for YOU - right now - minus excuses, denials, and resistance. Only then, can you develop a successful plan for aging well.
Your new normal is your current condition after a dramatic event - like the pandemic - or a life event - like getting older. It replaces your typical way of being and encourages you to deal with current situations rather than lamenting about what could or might have been. You need flexibility and skills to bounce back as you redefine yourself and adapt to what is normal now.
My husband and I led a good life. Even after retiring, we worked full time from home and shared household duties; we were a team. His normal included taking care of the finances, doing the driving, and fixing the mechanical/technical problems as they arose. My normal included managing the house, cooking, and taking care of everything else.
Then he had emergency surgery. A side effect of the surgery and the hospital stay was substantial memory loss. His memory never recovered. He lost his job, could no longer manage the finances, didn’t drive, and gave up fixing computer problems. He was placed in a memory care facility, where he got COVID and died. As you can imagine, my normal changed dramatically.
My new normal is now as follows. After 62 years of marriage, my husband is not here. I moved to a smaller apartment and am on my own. I have a strong support system and am physically healthy. I have the responsibility for making all decisions and solving all problems.
The literature describes ways to manage one’s new normal. The first way is to accept what’s happening, see the positive, and choose a peaceful state of mind, as the Tiny Buddha describes. The second way, is to fight it, be miserable, and struggle against the truth.
It has been difficult for me to accept my new normal. I didn’t want this situation and I didn’t want to be on my own. True, acceptance doesn’t mean liking, wanting, or choosing the situation. Nor does acceptance mean I can't work on changing things. While I can’t change the fact that he died; I can take actions to improve my situation.
What works better for me are the words of Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein, authors of the book MBSR Every Day: Daily Practices from the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, when they discuss the difference between acknowledgment and acceptance. Stahl and Goldstein suggest that to acknowledge is to see things as they are whether you like them or not. They say to accept means being OK or at peace with things as they are. I can acknowledge this new normal but I am not at peace with it - yet!
Today, I suspect, every one has a new normal given the pandemic and the economic downturn.
A PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” B. Franklin
The house cleaning is completed and you have identified your new normal, now it’s time to create a personal development plan: a road map of goals or successes you want to achieve, as well as, the skills and habits you’ll need to achieve them. Damon and Destiny developed such a plan.
Damon and Destiny are 55 years old. They are newly married, and look forward to a long life together. Their children are grown, they both still work, and are relatively healthy. After completing the first two exercises, they decided on a shared goal.
They defined five tasks necessary to meet that goal. Their first task was to define what maximum happiness looked like. The second task was to determine what might get in the way of accomplishing their goal. Then, they needed to assess their current resources and examine the risks and rewards of attaining their goal. Finally, they were ready to take daily action.
In thinking about the five tasks, Damon and Destiny determined that
1. The five ways to achieve maximum happiness were first to improve their energy level, their financial status, and their health. Secondly, they needed to acknowledge the good in their lives and be grateful for what they had. Then they wanted to do something meaningful and have a purpose for their lives. Finally, they had to connect with others and identify the good things in life.
2. Their simple goal was to age well, but they were easily sidetracked because they made numerous excuses and procrastinated. They were also regularly and easily distracted.
3. They identified numerous resources for achieving the goal. They followed the Mediterranean diet: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801 and exercised regularly using a video like this:
They had a group of friends and were learning French because they want to travel in France. However, Damon and Destiny also knew they wanted to learn more about the spiritual, emotional, and functional aspects of aging well.
4. They couldn’t identify any risks in pursuing their goal because they were doing it together. Yet, the truth was they had to give up old habits and choose healthier ones. Sometimes, that was easier said than done.
5. They made a “to do” list, which was a good place to start. The first item on the list was to learn about and meet all the dimensions of wellness.
Now Damon and Destiny were ready to make a plan for aging well. They started making their plan by completing the following exercise.
1. What do you want? DAMON AND DESTINY: We want to age well.
2. How will you know when you have reached the goal? What will you see, hear, think and feel. DAMON AND DESTINY: We will be mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally healthy. We will see us doing things and accomplishing tasks together. We will hear others say how healthy we look and how active we are. We will think about new things to do and we will be excited to get up in the morning.
3. Where will the goal be relevant and/or irrelevant? DAMON AND DESTINY: The goal is relevant in every aspect of our lives because we want to share a long life together. We want to have fun and enjoy each other as we begin this next chapter of our lives.
4. What stops you from pursuing the goal wholeheartedly? DAMON AND DESTINY: We tend to be lazy and not always motivated to do what we “should.”
5. What personal resources could you use to achieve this goal? DAMON AND DESTINY: We have experience, willingness, and each other’s support.
6. What additional resources will you need to achieve the goal? DAMON AND DESTINY: We need information on how to improve in certain areas and we need to find a financial planner. We also need to develop and maintain the motivation to keep at it.
7. How might the pursuit of the goal affect important people in your life? Is there any risk associated with achieving this goal? DAMON AND DESTINY: The goal will positively affect both of us as we get older.
The risk is that we may lose some relatives friends along the way. They would rather go to bars and party than exercise and learn a new language.
8. What daily actions can you take in order to achieve your goal? What is the first step? DAMON AND DESTINY: Daily actions must focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The first step is to complete the plan with specific details and, then, follow the plan even when we’d rather not.
9. Given everything you have considered to this point, is achieving the goal worth it? DAMON AND DESTINY: Absolutely.
OK, now it’s your turn to develop a plan if you really want to age well.