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The Neglected Key to a Long Life

October 25, 2020 by  
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I started to re-read the book entitled I’ve Decided to Live 120 YEARS: The Ancient Secret to Longevity, Vitality, and Transformation written by Ilchi Lee. I’ve written about this book in a previous blog post but I didn’t mention an incredible statistic I learned about in these pages.

It turns out, you can do this very simple thing that, on average, can lengthen your life by 7.5 years. That conclusion was reached based on data from 143 studies with a total of 300,000 participants. In that previous post, I mostly talked about how a long and healthy life is primarily about eating nutritious foods and staying physically active but there’s a bit more you can do.

So, during my second read of the book, what really jumped out at me was something that I’ve not been doing much of since I retired. I’m kind of surprised that I’ve ignored this critical part of living a long life and I have suffered because of it.

What is it that I’ve ignored that could have possibly lengthened my life by 7.5 years? It’s this thing called a social life! Having and keeping a good strong and active social life does things to the brain including sending signals to various body parts that keep it healthy and helps you live longer.

When I retired, I let my social life slide down big time! I stopped going to the office and so I stopped seeing my coworkers, clients, partners and business associates. I also moved into a big house on the mountain side with no neighbors, so that made it even worse. And this COVID-19 has certainly not helped in the least. In addition, there’s no kids here at home anymore. It’s just me and the wife in our big, empty nest.

Lee says in his book, “The isolation of the elderly doesn’t only cause loneliness, it has been shown to have a negative impact on physical and mental health, increasing conditions like chronic disease, high blood pressure, depression, cognitive decline, and dementia”. In addition, he notes, “Having people around us with whom we can communicate on a heart-to-heart level may also reduce the effects of stress.”

We all want to be happy but things can quickly change when we suddenly retire–Lee goes on to say “People, especially as they get older, are experiencing deeper and more frequent forms of unhappiness in many spheres of life: chronic illnesses, alienation or disruption of personal relationships, weakening of economic power. Suddenly facing their social roles greatly reduced during retirement, people are likely to find their self-esteem withering away.”

Most of that has hit me hard so I’m here to tell you that, whether you are retired yet or not, it’s a good time to start making a list of plans and actions that you are going to take on when that day arrives and be sure an active social life is on there. Personally, I’m bound and determined to catch up and do just that!

In Lee’s book he also talks about another thing that can lengthen and make your life more pleasant and happy and it’s something that I’ve talked a lot about over the years – having a good strong purpose and hopes and dreams. I will talk more about those issues in my next week’s post.

Retirement – The Best or the Worst

October 11, 2020 by  
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I’m sure you, like most people would agree that the majority of us humans look forward to the day we get to retire. You know … no alarm clock to wake us up, no worrying about pleasing our boss, and so many other things we won’t have to do. You imagine life will be so great, that you will be able to relax, do anything you want to do, have tons of fun, and be able to travel anywhere in the world (that you can afford) on a whim.

Well, you know what? Some of that may be true. But when you find yourself without a schedule or purpose, that can get very depressing. You might even go a little crazy. And nowadays we have COVID-19 on top of that so it can be even worse. In fact, most of us are getting a preview of retirement now that our routines have been so dramatically changed.

You might find yourself asking, “Just what am I going to do today?”

The smart one’s among us begin to make lots of plans long before they hit that retirement wall. When I was preparing to retire, I made a few plans, but I didn’t create enough to-do lists or new routines.

So, what did I do when I was feeling down because of my lack of a schedule? I turned to books written about retirement. In Ernie J. Zelinski’s great book The Joy of Not Working, he makes lots of great suggestions such as, “One of the chief sources of happiness is having a special purpose or a personal mission in life … Finding and pursuing your true calling can make life a totally new experience.”

He then gives some examples of personal missions:

1. Make the world a better place to live by reducing pollution.

2. Raise money to help care for others in need.

3. Help children develop a special talent or skill, such as playing piano.

4. Write entertaining children’s book that help young boys and girls discover the wonders of the world.

5. Give foreign travelers the best possible tour of the Rocky Mountains.

6. Create a committed relationship and keep it exciting and energizing.

The author goes on to say, “Although a true calling should be closely tied to your values and interests, it can also be determined by your strengths and weaknesses. Your personal mission will intimately connect you to who you are and to the world around you. Taking the time to answer the following questions may help reveal a personal mission that you would like to pursue.”

I must say that his questions really helped me:

1. What are all your passions?

2. What are your strengths?

3. Who are your heroes?

4. What do you want to discover or learn?

Answering those great questions can put you on the right track. It has for me. So, if you are not retired yet, start making specific plans. And if you are retired and struggling, answer those questions above to help you discover your great purpose and direction for this new chapter in your life.

 

Finding Direction in Your Retirement

February 2, 2020 by  
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I was reviewing a few of my past blogs and came across one from 9 years ago about retirement that hit me hard inasmuch as I’m feeling the same now as I did way back then. In the post, I started out by saying, “It’s so easy to get overly relaxed when you are in Hawaii as I have been the last few weeks …”,  and now, as I write this, I’ve been in Hawaii for 5 weeks and I feel the same way. I go on to say that my relaxing days do allow me to reach some major mental breakthroughs and I really think through the ideas that come to me but at the same time, I can feel so lost. That’s true today as it was then.

It got me thinking about how common this feeling can be for people in the mid and later years of their life. You’ve worked so hard for years, looking forward to retirement and then, once you get there, you start having these days where you simply have no direction. You start to realize that the carefree retirement life isn’t quite what you expected.

I am sure you have seen people around you that seem lost in retirement. When you retire or semi-retire every day can feel like Sunday. For most people in America, Sunday is a lazy day, the day when you don’t have any specific plans, a day to unwind and not answer to the clock or to any business or work demands. But when you do this every day, it actually can get very depressing.

As it turns out, Sunday morning has been found to be the most depressing time of the week for most people. Seems very odd that this can be true, but the reason is pretty simple. It’s because we don’t usually have any particular goals, plans, routine, or structure for that day of the week. Okay, maybe you go to church for a little while but otherwise, it is unlike the days in your work week or even the often busy, errand running and playing day that Saturdays often become. When a person retires, the constant structure of their life is gone so, without goals, routines, and deadlines, most people begin to feel lost.

Even if you are not close to retirement age, it is very smart and, in the long run, rewarding to start making plans and developing goals for retirement now. Retirement is not a bad thing. I can certainly attest to its advantages. But even in retirement you should set goals, establish a routine, and make plans with a timetable.

It’s just that during retirement, you don’t have an employer to please or to tell you what is expected from you, and you probably no longer have a family that you have to provide for, so you are left to make up your own schedule and decide what you want to accomplish. The key is to make up your own challenges, structure, and hopes that make you want to get up, excited and purposeful, every morning.

To put it simply, the real key is to not stop having dreams when you get older and/or retire. There is no reason to stop making plans and there are huge benefits for making plans for the remaining years of your life. There is also another big bonus for having plans in those later years–studies have shown that you are likely to live longer and with much better health. That should be reason enough to have plans and set goals through your entire life!

Turning Bad Habits Around

October 6, 2019 by  
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Last week I wrote about the great power of setting big goals and how they stimulate and motivate the brain and the body to go after your big dreams. In his great book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about how important it is to set big goals and little steps for those goals so as to help you form habits that greatly increase your chances of success. Our habits are so critically important to what we do with our lives and how we end up. Yes, there are lots of good habits and lots of bad habits. The good news is that those bad habits that drag us down and might destroy our lives can be changed, even though it does take work and special plans.

One of the keys to breaking bad habits is what he refers to as the “small win”. As he says, “Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes. A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishment of the victories themselves.”

“Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage,” one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging time advantages into pattern that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.”

Hmm. I’d call that the formation of a habit, and that is a very good thing. Okay, but how then do we change a bad habit?

Charles Duhigg gives very good and well tested advice to change a habit. For example, keep an index card or journal and make note of the impulses. If, after a few days, you see a lot of notes, take time to come up with an alternative habit or routine to use every time you feel those negative impulses.

The author has told patients that if, for example, they eat too much and their eating impulse wins most of the time, they should substitute a new desired habit like taking a 3- or 5-minute walk or spending a few minutes on the internet. He talks about one patient that had a life-long habit of biting her fingernails. They came up with a new habit which was to have her simply sit on her hands till the urge left. More than three dozen of his students who were smokers overcame that habit by choosing a new routine or habit every time they had the urge to smoke, like chewing a piece of Nicorette, or doing a quick series of push-ups, or simply taking a few minutes to stretch and relax.

He goes on to say, “It seems ridiculously simple, but once you’re aware of how your habit works, once you recognize the cues and rewards, you’re halfway to changing it … Today, habit reversal therapy is used to treat verbal and physical tics, depression, smoking, gambling problems, anxiety, bedwetting, procrastination, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and other behavioral problems.”

So, come up with a new habit to replace an old and unwanted habit – it really works!

 

Retirement Can Create a Better World

February 1, 2019 by  
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I want to write a bit more about last week’s theme of retirement – how it can be good, bad or sometimes very ugly. Even if you are many years away from retirement, you can make your retirement much better and have an easier transition if you are aware of some of the pitfalls that many people stumble into when they retire. I want to share a few secrets to making your retirement transition quite comfortable and pleasant.

Part of the reason I want to share these points is that, for me, retirement came close to driving me seriously crazy. It made me feel worthless and caused me to have big mood swings. Last week I wrote about some of the great and promising ideas from Patrice Jenkin’s book, What Will I Do All Day. She points out that many people go into retirement without realizing how critically important it is for them to still have routine and structure in their lives. Most people’s work lives automatically give them those two critical things. Plus, their work usually results in a lot of measurable production which lifts the human mind and spirit and gives us great personal satisfaction. The huge problem comes when a person retires and most, if not all, of those satisfying items quickly disappear. One other thing that also goes away or is often greatly diminished is one’s social life!

So, what is an excellent antidote to the retirement blues and the great letdown? In one word it’s WORK. But it has to be much more than just busy work. It has to be meaningful and productive.  Ideally, it’s doing something that you love and something that helps other people. It should be something that helps make the world a better place because, although you don’t really need to make a dime out of doing that work, it needs to be purposeful.

For me, the answer was going for the great feelings I get from donating my time and money to charity work. What is especially appealing to me is helping kids. Even doing a little thing like reading to them or telling simple, fun stories on a regular basis is fulfilling and purposeful. Even more fulfilling for me is teaching, because of my background and my passion.

I’ve done a little of this already, but I’ve just begun this particular new mission in life. The time I spend with the kids involves simple things but it is now part of my routine and structure and is a huge mood lifter for both me and the kids. A similar mission could do the same for you no matter what charity you choose. In a small but growing way, we can make the world a better place all while staying fulfilled and purposeful in our retirement.

The Freedom of Structure

January 25, 2019 by  
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I’m reading a great book that my son gave to me, titled What Will I DO All Day, by Patrice Jenkins PHD.  It’s all about retirement and how it can be either a really good thing or something that drives you crazy. And it can all start long before you retire. It may even start from the moment you just begin thinking about what the heck you are going to do when you retire.

Most people think, “Oh, it’s going to be great when I retire. I’ll have all that time to do all those things that I’ve wanted to do but haven’t had time to do.” But when people actually retire, many of us can become very frustrated because, all of a sudden, we don’t have a routine or the structure that a regular job gave us. Now we must set a routine and a structure of our own and that takes some thinking and some work.

So much of what this author talks about that needs to be done also applies to all of us in our daily living long before we even think about retirement, such as setting goals, writing them down, and writing daily “to do” lists. We all know, or should by now, that when we write down a list of things to do the night before, the likelihood of us following through and actually adding action to that list and doing it, increases big time. I’m sure you have seen that happen in your own life.

Patrice has a chapter called “Structure is Freedom”. When we are working full time, structure doesn’t seem like freedom. She tells the story of this one guy by the name of Jim. Jim said, “You have to know what you’re getting up to each day.” Here is what she wrote about Jim and what Jim’s thoughts were:

“When Jim first retired he was looking forward to having his days free to do anything he wanted to do. But, after a few months of this, he told me that he, ‘found it to be more work not to work. My energy level was lower than when I used to work 10 hours a day. The truth is I was puttering around the house most of the day.’

“It was at this point that Jim acknowledged that having more structure in his days would improve life in retirement. He started scheduling appointments, making commitments, and setting deadlines. He decided to set his alarm for 7 a.m. and start each day with exercise. He made a rule to turn the television off by 9 a.m. so that he could start doing something more productive. Jim also volunteered for a couple of organizations which required weekly commitments of his time and talents. He told me these changes gave his life a more focused direction. ‘Now I know what I’m getting up to each morning,’ he said. ‘I really needed the structure to give me the freedom to enjoy retirement.’”

What Jim learned is something we should all focus on and be sure we do it whether we are retired, close to retirement, or many years away from that status. Yes, our full-time jobs give us structure and a routine, but our lives can be, and will be, so much more fulfilled and productive if we set up our own routines and structure totally independent of our jobs. Now that I’m semi-retired I am going to work much harder on my own routines and structure too.

Pleasure and Production

December 7, 2018 by  
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Last week we talked about Authentic Happiness which is both a concept and the title of the great book written by Martin Seligman. In the book, the author continuously emphasizes how much of our happiness comes from inside our heads.

Most of us humans look at rich and famous people and think that they must be very, very happy and content because of all their fame and wealth. Well, guess what… if you look closely, you will find that many of these people are not particularly happy. I think a big reason is that most people think that once they attain great wealth and/or fame then it will automatically make them happy. Only it doesn’t. Then these folks, finding that their brains are not filled with great thoughts of happiness and contentment, start to wonder why. That doubt causes an internal dialog to start up which can work against them, quickly driving them and their mindset downhill. Also, money and fame don’t hold a candle to the kind of true and deep happiness we get from things like the love we give and receive from family and friends.

Although most of us are not rich and famous, we may still find ourselves falling into similar thought patterns. It is so very easy to let our internal self-talk persuade us that things are not going well which brings us down mentally.

There are lots of methods for overcoming this negative self-talk but one very big one is also a powerful antidote for depression – productive gratification. Striving for gratification is automatic but the way to use it so that it overcomes negativity and depression is through producing something truly meaningful to us and/or to others. What we accomplish when we produce meaningful things sends a powerful, purposeful message to our brains and makes us feel so very satisfied and happy.

Martin makes the very good point that “pleasure is a very powerful source of motivation but it does not produce change.” It also does not produce lasting authentic happiness. A simple example is the difference between the pleasure that we receive from watching a very entertaining television show versus the gratification, genuine happiness, and personal satisfaction that we receive from reading a particularly inspiring or informative book. Think back on how you felt after experiencing these two different activities yourself. The difference in how your attitude and your state of mind will probably be quite apparent.

The author suggests that if we really want true, deep and authentic happiness we should all create a list of activities, goals, and deep desires that produce for us, personally, a sense of gratification. Look for goals and things that you do that seem to make time stop and even has you thinking, “I don’t want this to ever end.”

Yes, it’s true that many pleasures take little or no effort to acquire and that the best kind of gratification takes a lot of work. But so be it. It is so well worth it, and I do think and hope you would agree!

 

Secrets to Authentic Happiness

November 30, 2018 by  
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I think I came across the best reason for keeping a journal of your life or, as my good friend Rich Harvey used to call it, a reason for people to “Journal Their Journey”.

Just the other day I picked up one of my journals dated 10-26-2003 to 6-12-2004. My comments about what was going on in my life at that time quoted a great book that I had totally forgotten about entitled Authentic Happiness, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.

In his book, Dr. Seligman talks about what real authentic happiness is and how we can capture it and keep it. Finding and enjoying real happiness is not done through seeking and finding pleasure and the same goes for seeking happiness through just staying busy – it just doesn’t work. Great and authentic happiness is experienced from gratification. So how do we become gratified?

Much of gratification comes from “production”.  When we produce something of great value to others and/or ourselves, we end up with a great feeling of satisfaction. Here are Dr. Seligman’s 8 common ingredients and psychological components of gratification:

  1. The task is challenging and requires skill.
  2. We have to concentrate.
  3. There are clear goals.
  4. We get immediate feedback.
  5. We have deep effortless involvement.
  6. There is a sense of control.
  7. Sense of self vanishes.
  8. Time seem to stop.

Dr. Seligman goes on to talk about depression in today’s world and how widespread it is. It has increased by a huge amount in the last 40 years and the average age of depressed people is much younger today. That certainly gives more credence to the importance of setting big, tough goals. If your mind is firmly set on your goals, it’s more likely that your mind will not be spending time reflecting how you feel in the moment. Plus, there is the big extra benefit that setting big goals does energize us both physically and mentally because of the chemicals released by our brains, as I talked about in last week’s blog.

But why is depression so high in wealthy and healthy countries? The author’ s theory is “that an ethos that builds unwarranted self-esteem, espouses victimology, and encourages rampant individualism has contributed to that epidemic.” Another reason is our huge reliance on shortcuts to happiness. Every nation builds more and more shortcuts to pleasure … TV, drugs, shopping, spectator sports and high sugar food and drink. Gaining these and many other things take very little effort on our part these days.

A major symptom of depression is self-absorption. The depressed person thinks about how he feels a great deal of the time – excessively so. When a depressed person detects sadness, he ruminates about it, projecting it into the future, this in turn increases his sadness in his life and across all his activities. In contrast, gratification is the absence of feeling sorry for yourself.

What we all need to do more of is realize that there are no shortcuts to the kind of fulfilling gratification we all crave, and realize we need to focus more and more on our goals, big tasks, and our production as well as giving up the constant self-worry and self-absorption. You may have noticed that really happy people, for the most part, spend the least amount of time home alone – they tend to have a rich and fulfilling social life, which really is the opposite of being self-absorbed.

Next week I’m going to talk more about this great thing called “Authentic Happiness” that Martin’s book gives us such super insight into as well as talking about how understanding where it comes from can bump up our happiness factor and enhance our lives.

 

Personal Value Versus Work Value

July 27, 2018 by  
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You probably have heard other people say, and you may have even have said it yourself, “I’m so looking forward to my retirement.” Most people think that their life is going to be so great and so much better when they retire. When you are retired you don’t have to get up when the alarm goes off and hurry off to work to arrive at a very specific time. You probably think that life after retirement is going to be a breeze, giving a person all that free time to do whatever they choose to do.

Those were certainly my thoughts and feelings, that is, until I suddenly hit retirement and found myself sitting at home with not enough to do and absolutely no timelines or deadlines to push and motivate me to get much of anything done. Ok, I did set up goals like that 20,000 steps per day goal of mine that pushes me to get up off my butt and get moving, but once I’ve hit that goal for the day, I would find myself bored out of my mind. Yes, there’s that bit of fun traveling to exotic places that I love to do, but between trips it quickly becomes a real downer.

Even if you are not even close to retirement, I think it’s a real good idea to start planning specifically on what you are going do when you reach that status. I hadn’t given that subject enough thought and planning before I retired and, wow, was it ever a huge letdown when I found myself there.

But thankfully, I had a huge breakthrough that is changing and improving everything and every day! Thank God for great authors who write wonderful books that can make a major difference in many different parts of a person’s life. That’s what Hyrum Smith and his book Purposeful Retirement did for me.

Hyrum talks about how so many beliefs can be so wrong and hurt you. Like the belief that personal value only comes through hard work, or important people have important titles, or if you are busy then you are important. Those beliefs can be so very harmful, especially to you when you move into retirement. Your work value has nothing to do with your value as a person.

Quoting Hyrum Smith, “My value as a human being is independent of my job. If I based my value on my job and my job goes away, my value as a human goes away with it. This leads to big trouble. This leads to unhappiness, isolation, depression, and eventually death. The minute you find value from just being you, you will find inner peace. But first you must not only understand but you must know your value has nothing to do with your job title.” These are some very wise words that we all need to pound into our head.

Next week I want to dig deeper into Hyrum’s book and pass on some more great advice about how important it is to stay productive and have meaningful projects. I’ll also talk about how important it is to start giving back and helping others after retirement and how that keeps you excited about yourself and your life.

Forgiving Ourselves

June 8, 2018 by  
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How do you and I feel when we set our sights and goals very high only to fall short of those objectives?  If you are like me, it’s very easy to get down on yourself and beat yourself up and that can set you back a few miles mentally, making you feel terrible or pretty much worthless.  This can happen to anyone, even the very rich and very famous, as we have sadly seen with a number of super-rich and famous people that have taken their own lives.

I grew up in a culture that pounded into my head the bible scripture of Matthew 5:48 which says “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Quite frankly, I think that did me more harm than good, because as a young boy, I tried and tried but couldn’t seem to be “perfect” in anything at all. I would look around at other people and saw many that seemed to have a perfect life.  Little did I know then that pretty much no one on the planet has had a perfect life. If a person spends too much time and effort trying to become perfect, it can absolutely ruin them. Quite frankly, I think that scripture passage has been the cause of more than a few suicides.

We certainly don’t want to stop trying to reach our lofty goals and become better and better at whatever we choose to do, but we also must learn and practice forgiving ourselves.  It’s kind of strange to me that sometimes it seems easier to forgive someone else when they screw up but much harder to forgive ourselves. I totally agree with John M. Grohol Psy.D. when he wrote his “5 Ways of Letting Go of the Past”

  1. Make a decision to let it go.
  2. Express your pain and your responsibility.
  3. Stop being a victim and blaming others.
  4. Focus on the present, the here and now, and joy.
  5. Forgive them and forgive yourself.

Then there is some super wise advice from a great writer by the name of a Noah St. John. It’s from his book called The Book of AFFORMATIONS®, regarding a program he calls “Permission to Succeed”:

  1. Admit your past mistakes.
  2. Realize you did the best you could do at the time.
  3. Take actions to make sure you don’t repeat those mistakes.

Our brains also play a big a part in our success and failure, as Noah notes in another book of his, Get Rid of Your Head Trash: How to Avoid 3 Big Money Mistakes Even Smart People Make.  I love this title because it really says it all.

In Noah’s book The Secret Code of Success, he maintains that we all need to let up on ourselves and give ourselves breaks and take time to enjoy and celebrate the self. You need to let go of the past when it’s hurting you and accept the present. He states that the key to letting go of the past – and I’d say even if it’s the past of 5 minutes – is to forgive yourself and others that may have mistreated you. That’s great advice that works to make our lives so much better, more successful, and more productive. Perhaps we don’t have not perfect lives, but they can be pretty darn good ones with so much less stress!

 

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