It's All About Choices!

Are Yours Supporting You?

Choices play a major role in a person’s goal to age well and underlying issues impact choices. These issues must be recognized and addressed.

In a previous Aging Well Newsletter, we discussed the incredible and irrevocable gift you have been given - the power to choose your path in life. The article said

Good choices keep you going in the direction you want to go. Bad choices send you in the opposite direction and can quickly spiral into stress, confusion, and despair. You age is based on the summation of your choices. You are in charge!

Take a few minutes to look at three questions you may not have previously considered:

  • What are your values and do your choices reflect them?

  • Do your goals or your emotions rule your choices and decisions?

  • Are you willing to make tough choices?

Values and Choices

Values are standards of behavior that define the core of your being. They give your life direction and meaning; so having a clear understanding of them is important. True, it’s hard to live by your values, when you don’t even know what they are.

If you haven’t thought much about your values, Paul J. Meyers’s Wheel of Life is one way to get started. You can also make your own wheel. There are many models to choose from.

If you ranked your core values according to this model, you might find Physical/Health is the top priority followed by Financial/Career. Then, the values of Family/Home, Mental/Educational, Spiritual/Ethical might be next with the last one being Social/Cultural.

If you re-ordered the core values according to how you actually spend your time and energy, the picture might be very different. Financial/Career might be the top priority, followed by Social/Cultural, Family/Home, Physical/Health, Mental/Educational, and finally Spiritual/Ethical.

Differences are understandable; yet, the gap can cause unhappiness and distress.

James Clear, author of the book “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones suggests

One of the solutions I've been trying out is to let my values drive my choices. That doesn't mean I ignore other aspects of my decision-making process. I simply add my core values into the mix. For example, if I'm working on a problem in my business, rather than just asking, “Will this make money?” I can ask, “Is this in alignment with my values?” And then, “Will this make money?” If I say no to either, then I look for another option. The idea behind this method is that if we live and work in alignment with our values, then we're more likely to live a life we are proud of rather than one we regret.

Let’s say your top value is physical/health, but most of your time and energy is spent on Financial/Career. Your passion is playing sports, but you need to make enough money to pay the bills and support the family. Would playing golf or joining a fitness club where you could meet potential clients allow you to honor your core value and take care of the financial concerns? If not, what are options that might work?

Young people tend to value Finance/Career as they get started in life. Then Family/Home becomes a top priority, and, as they get older, Physical/Health becomes most important. While values can and do change over time, they are always significant.

Because values are standards learned throughout life, they can’t help but impact your choices. Sometimes, though, life gets in the way, you can’t - or don’t - make choices based on them.

Therefore, choices must be considered within the context of life. If you have a chronic health problem and your value is independence, you will have to focus on health and find a way to be independent within that in mind.

Sometimes the only choice is to change your values. I think of my friend, Bert, who recently married a woman with two children. For years his top value was physical and health. He was passionate about mountain climbing, a sport that took an enormous amount of time and energy. But his life changed and he chose to make his top value home and family.

A long-term study by the MacArthur Foundation found that 70 percent of physical aging and approximately 50 percent of mental aging is determined by lifestyle choices we make every day. Continued research into senior wellness activities confirms those findings and shows how the dimensions of wellness could be keys to a longer life.

Values must be considered in your goal of aging well. Maybe, it isn’t live your values or live your life, but how to honor both.

Goals or Emotions

Emotions play a major role in a people’s choices.  Even when the decision is logical, emotions are involved. They talk about decisions feeling right and feeling bad when logical decisions are wrong.

Most people let their emotions be in charge rather than their rational reasoning. Deciding what to do with your emotions instead of allowing them to decide what you do, should be a top priority in your goal to age well. Click on the following link to learn more.

The following quote explains the dilemma well:

In one way, we have more than one brain. Or, at least, more than one system in our brain. One of them “thinks” emotionally, and subjectively, and the other thinks logically and with reason and judgment. Ideally, they are partners and work together - informing and adding to the decision-making of each other. When balanced, they are friends and work a little like a small committee.

But like any committee, this one is subject to “takeovers” as well as harmony. In a real committee, one member may be more powerful than the others and overtake the process and end up calling all the shots. Our brains can work that way too. If the emotional side becomes overpowering, we can be vulnerable to making some really bad decisions that show poor judgment.

Up to 90 percent of the decisions people make are based on feelings. So, almost every decision you make is not based on rational thought and measured consideration.

People have been known to throw away millions of dollars because their emotions overpowered their judgment. Based on the strength of their feelings, they made stupid decisions or avoided the situation altogether.

I love the the tips in the article How To Become the Boss of Your Emotions People. Read more by clicking here. Basically, the author, Crystal Raypole, suggests that you look at the impact of your emotions and aim for regulation rather than repression. She recommends identifying your feelings and accepting your emotions. Finally, she proposes keeping a mood journal, knowing when to express yourself, and giving yourself some space.

If your fears are in charge, then you will be less prepared to focus on the rational choices required to age well. I think of my friend, Sasha, who had to put her husband in a memory care facility when his Alzheimer’s disease became more than she could handle. She was very afraid of making the choices and decisions that needed to be made. However, she had to put her fear aside because he didn’t have the capacity to make the choices for himself.

Making Tough Choices

Decision making is difficult - it takes time and energy to weigh the pros and cons. Second-guessing yourself and feeling indecisive are part of the process, but it’s the first step in making better, more thoughtful decisions.

Effective decision making can only flow from a place of choice. You must make a conscious effort to free yourself from fear and perceived limitations to get there. You must open your mind to all possibilities, without feeling restricted. When you are there, nothing seems like an insurmountable problem. Instead, there are only opportunities for growth and discovery. Nothing can stop you.

Five suggestions to help you make those tough choices and decisions are as allows:

1. Look beyond the moment.Tough decisions require looking not only at an immediate gain from a particular choice but also its potential long-term benefits.

2. Differentiate between a “head choice” versus a “heart choice.”  A “head choice” is a decision that makes a lot of sense on paper, while a “heart choice” is one that speaks to your soul and meets a need or longing.

3. The best decisions often have emotional rewards and make rational sense as well.

4.Respect the effect and influence of others. Take into account how your decision might affect people around you, particularly family members or friends who could be impacted.

5. Go with what you know.

Choices should be made based on supporting facts, not solely on hopes, wishes, dreams and potential. There are questions to consider. Is there evidence that others have gained much from making a similar choice? Will you be able to look back on the choice with confidence that you made the best decision with the information you had?

Sometimes life calls for really tough choices. I mentioned my friend, Sasha, previously. She had to make the tough choice of putting her husband in a memory care facility. Furthermore, while he was in the facility, he contacted COVID and was hospitalized. Then, she had to make a second tough choice - keeping him on medical support or letting him die in peace. There were no easy answers.

We tend to underestimate the power of our thoughts, which have a direct connection to our feelings and behavior. A person's thoughts alone can cause or solve a problem, contribute to wellness or illness, and build happiness or destroy possibilities.

While you must understand the problem before solving it, focusing on the problem rather than on solutions can be counterproductive.Take a couple of minutes to view what the Youtube video Focusing on Solutions has to say

In summary, your values and emotions, plus a willingness to make tough choices play a role the trajectory of your life and in your ability to age well. It’s up to you!