Posts Tagged ‘ageing’

Group of older men

Sixty-five to 79 is the happiest age group for adults, according to the British Office for National Statistics research.

The survey of more than 300,000 adults across the UK found life satisfaction, happiness and feeling life was worthwhile all peaked in that age bracket, but declined in the over-80s.

Meanwhile, those aged 45 to 59 reported the lowest levels of life satisfaction, with men on average less satisfied than women. That age group also reported the highest levels of anxiety.

Researchers said one possible reason for the lower happiness and well-being scores among this age group might be the burden of having to care for children and elderly parents at the same time, the financial pressures that places on a family, and emotional and social pressure.

The struggle to balance work and family commitments might also be a factor, they said. Meanwhile, those who were younger or retired had more free time to spend on activities which promoted their well-being, the researchers suggested.

Happiness and well-being dropped off again in those over 80, however, with researchers suggesting this could be down to personal circumstances such as poor health, living alone, poverty and feelings of loneliness.

The survey asked people to rate out of 10 how happy and how anxious they had felt the day before, how satisfied they were with their life generally, and how much they felt what they did in life was worthwhile.

 

Graffiti saying happiness

The published results have been broken down by age, ethnicity, religion, marital status, employment status, religion, and where in the country people live.

They suggested:

  • Married people reported the highest levels of happiness, averaging 7.67 out of 10, higher than people who were co-habiting, (perhaps due to perceived “security”?) followed by single, widowed or divorced people
  • Hardly surprisingly, people with jobs were happier than unemployed people, with part-time workers the happiest. Of those who were not working, retirees had the highest levels of happiness, followed by students.
  • Of those who followed a religion, Hindus were marginally the happiest on average, followed by Christians and Sikhs, while those who followed no religion reported being the least happy.
  • Women on average reported higher levels of anxiety than men, but were more likely report better well being and feel their life was worthwhile.
  • People of Arab ethnicity were found to be the most anxious ethnic group, with people of Chinese ethnicity the least anxious.

Reflecting the age-old adage “at least you’ve got your health”, researchers found a strong link between health and well-being.

People who said their health was very good reported an average life satisfaction rating of 8.01 out of 10, compared with people who said they were in very bad health, whose average rating was just 4.91.

UK life satisfaction map. The darker the green, the happier people are.

The over-90 age group reported by far the lowest levels of feeling their life was worthwhile, even though their reported levels of happiness and life satisfaction were comparable to those in their 20s and 30s.

Understanding how people of different ages rated their personal well-being could help policy makers target issues to improve lives, the study added.

“We know that the UK population is ageing. There were more than half a million people aged 90 and over living in the UK in 2014 – almost triple the number 30 years ago,” it said.

“This shift towards an older population will impact on important policies and services including the labour market, pension provision, and health and social care demand.

“Understanding more about how the oldest age groups rate their personal well-being will help focus on issues that are fundamental to a good later life.”

A woman smiling

Serves you right for being middle aged

The “U-shaped” pattern of happiness, which sees people’s happiness dip in middle age, has been observed globally.

  • It has been documented in more than 70 countries, in surveys of more than 500,000 people in developing and developed countries, although the age at which happiness is lowest differs between countries.
  • Previous studies found happiness hits rock bottom at 35.8 years in UK; the low point in the US comes a decade later; in Italy, happiness is lowest at 64.2 years.
  • Starkly, US citizens have become less happy with each passing decade since 1900, whereas in Europe, happiness declined until 1950 and has been increasing steadily ever since
  • Women are at their least happy at 38.6 years on average; males hit low point at 52.9 years
  • Apes, like humans, may also suffer from midlife melancholy – that’s according to a study of 508 apes in which their human care-givers assessed their well-being

In good news, Dear Reader, in just a year we can start feeling happy again.

Clinton makes an ill-advised pitch for the youth vote.

Clinton makes an ill-advised pitch for the youth vote.

 

Hillary Clinton inspires me. But not for the reasons you might think. No, not because I’m a bit of an ironed-on old leftie and she’s the likely small-l liberal winner in 2016. No. In point of fact, Hillary’s probably a bit right wing for my taste. I’d prefer Bernie Sanders (who despite his populist appeal is not going to beat her), or perhaps Elizabeth Warren, who chose, sadly in our view, to keep her powder dry this time round.

No, she inspires me because the very likely next President of America is 68 today.

As we all live longer – and not just longer, but more healthily, too – the cult of youth that has pre-occupied the Western world since the youth revolution of the later 1950s and 60s appears increasingly silly and unwise.

Other sixty plus leaders still doing the rounds include the impressively successful Angela Merkel at 61, the forceful Vladimir Putin, who is 63, and Tunisia’s first freely-elected President Beji Caid Essebsi really leads the way, being just a month from 89.

And at the eye of the perfect storm, Mahmoud Abbas is still the President of Palestine – juggling one of the most difficult jobs in the world – at nearly 81.

And with age does come a certain perspective. As Clinton herself has said: “I think that if you live long enough, you realise that so much of what happens in life is out of your control, but how you respond to it is in your control. That’s what I try to remember.”

Which is why it is more ludicrous than ever that businesses often discard employees in their fifties and sixties, or don’t employ job-seekers in that age group.

It could be argued, one supposes, that younger employees have more energy or ambition than older ones, but with those traits can also come impulsiveness, foolishness, or simple lack of knowledge. They may also have more distractions, one supposes.

So whilst I would dearly love not to have a sore shoulder – gardening, grrrr – and a bung knee – too much sport as a kid, I fear – and I do not always take the counsel of my own body gracefully – I am not so curmudgeonly as not to recognise that I am, despite myself, improving as a person. Late in the day, mayhap, but unmistakeably.

At 58, I am not the same cantankerous person I was twenty years ago, when I thought I probably knew everything. Or even ten years ago, when I was sure I did.

And largely, the late changes in my character have been improvements that make me much more useful organisationally.

I am slower to anger. Later in life, I discover that anger is always exhausting, and rarely useful. So I look for alternatives.

I also have less need to always be “right”. (It’s now honestly more important to me that the group is right.)

I now find it easier to see other people’s point of view, whilst still maintaining my own politely if I think it’s justified. I can discuss, more often, and more easily, rather than argue.

I have also found dealing with inter-personal conflict easier in recent years (which has always been a thorny area for me) as I have gradually realised that though it feels like personal conflict it is actually very rarely truly personal, in reality.

People turn conflicts personal because they are not taught how to resolve them less antagonistically. Once I realised this, it was easier to learn how to de-personalise conflicts and resolve them more easily.

I am not sure that was an option when my testosterone levels were at their tippty-top. Nowadays, my gradually but inexorably appearing pate is evidence that they are dropping, and as they reduce so I have definitely become more skilled at defusing grumpy colleagues or customers.

I have also given up the need – at least in part, I am trying, Dear Reader – to control every last feature of my life. Sometimes, letting go of overt control can reduce not just your blood pressure and anxiety levels but also increase your chance of resolving a problem successfully.

Not everything matters equally, and sometimes stepping back can let things meander their way to a good conclusion without one having to be personally involved. As you gradually reduce the sheer number of items you’re worrying about – and let someone else worry about them – you can do a better job of resolving the ones that really matter.

Additionally, everyone has problem-solving skills. If you try and control every solution all the time you unsurprisingly tend to get the same sort of solution all the time, when other answers may in fact be preferable, but other people will never use their problem-solving skills – that might be better or different to those you exhibit – because you’re always pre-emptively using yours. Dumb.

 

Chopped-Key-Lime-Lamb-Chop-with-Carrots_s4x3.jpg.rend.sni18col

 

And then there is always the point that we shouldn’t “sweat the small stuff”. It’s easy to say, and hard to do. But look: whether one has carrots or peas with that evening’s lamb chops doesn’t really matter, in the scheme of things. Does it? Really? Do you have to have an opinion? Do you have to dominate the planning?

You like both carrots and peas, yes? Or at the very least you can tolerate one or the other. Far better to focus instead on the things that we have to solve, because only we can solve them.

Just go with the flow. “Hey, it’s carrots tonight? Yay!”

Last but by no means least, when one is in one’s 20s or 30s, the sheer amount of time hopefully stretching ahead of one rather oddly creates an impatient and insistent pressure to “achieve”. With no apparent reason why we can’t do everything on our bucket list, ironically the extra time available just makes us anxious to make sure we “do it all”.

When one gets a little older, it’s obvious that one can’t do absolutely everything one could possibly imagine because one literally doesn’t have the time left, so one becomes more selective and thoughtful about what one does do with one’s life. And as one subtly becomes more “on purpose” with ones deepest needs and desires, one’s sense of well-being duly improves as well, and we become nicer – and more productive. We become better people.

This is not by any means an argument against younger leaders. Quite the opposite. Younger people have much to recommend them, including a mind less ossified by past experiences – Einstein remarked that he never had an original idea after 21 – and, of course, that ebullient energy mentioned earlier.

But it is an argument that we discard productive people to their metaphorical pipe and slippers far to quickly, and that we are very foolish to do so.

So thanks Hillary. We might run for Prime Minister yet.

And Happy Birthday.

Change is the only constant - Heraclitus.

Change is the only constant – Heraclitus.
Photo: Lincoln Harrison photographs star trails taken over 15 hours in Bendigo, Australia at scenic Lake Eppalock.

 

As we age, the brain plays curious tricks on us. Time, for one thing, seems to speed up, although it does not, of course. It is merely that our own understanding of the mutability of life becomes more acute. Our awareness of change, and the relentless pace of change, intensifies as we age.

When we are young, we have a seemingly endless amount of time stretching ahead of us. But as we enter middle age, and then old age, it is clear that our time is inevitably limited. And apart from the ever more rapid recurrence of landmark annual events (Wimbledon, a particular horse race, Proms concerts, 4th of July: we always know it is early May by the arrival of the FA Cup Final, for example) what seems to mark the clicking of the shears most often and most obviously is the endless round of the seasons, rolling on regardless of what we seek to make of our small and insignificant lives, and amply demonstrated in the world around us.

Our gardens. The landscape. Change is constant. Inevitable, inexorable.

Last night, we had a fierce wind squall. Just one. It lasted no more than a minute, and was, in its way, rather alarming. The suddenness, the roaring noise, the feeling of an invisible and irresistible force battering at the plate glass doors which bowed and complained.

What was most dramatic, though, was the effect of the wind on the magnificent ornamental cherry tree just outside our front door. For a few weeks now it has been literally groaning with the most exquisite light pink and white blossom, as it does every year, lending us joy and a sense of wonder every time we walk by it or look out.

In the last few days, a few of those blossoms have been fluttering to the ground, their work done. The tree has been a mine for our local bees, who have been harvesting it for all they’re worth before disappearing back to wherever their hive is, but they have been fewer in recent days, and now the slightest gust of wind brings petals down on our heads. It is a little like a shower made of flowers.

Suddenly, the leaves  break through.

Suddenly, the leaves break through.

When the squall hit in all its demanding force, the tree bent almost double, so we feared it might break. And in what seemed an instant, it released a waterfall of colour to the ground. After the wind Gods had passed on, it seemed suddenly somewhat denuded. Uncloaked. And in that instant, it seemed that soft and gentle Spring had come, and gone, and all that was left now was the aching, baking heat of summer. The ground looked like a hailstorm had passed, but the hail was flowers. It seemed terribly sad, and permanent, and like something was lost.

Goodbye until next year

Goodbye until next year

But that is only one way to view the event. Another way, entirely, is to celebrate the new look of the tree. Now one can perceive that it is newly dressed in bright green leaves that shimmer and shine in the morning sun, with their own pleasing beauty. Some blossoms still adhere to the tree, but now they drop pretty much constantly, eddying in the breezes.

But where each delicate flower falls now lives the possibility of a cherry, red and pretty and hopeful, like a young girl’s first experiment with lipstick.

And without the coming heat of summer, driving in on us now as it is with blind and careless certainty, no fruit would duly ripen on the tree. The gorgeous bird life that we are blessed with in all seasons would have nothing to squabble about as they flit from branch to branch just a yard or two from where we sip our cooling drinks, just as without the blossoms the bees would have nothing to do.

As far as nature is concerned, we are mere bystanders. Nature understands the cycle of change, the endless mutability, the replacing of one joy with another. And that’s the thing about change. Change is a way of remembering what was there before change occurred by sharpening our awareness of our life, making us more thoughtful, more “mindful”, in modern jargon. Change brings things into stark focus, as only loss can. But loss can be a beginning, not just an end.

Change is what we make it. We can either be confronted by it, or embrace it as unknowable, unavoidable, and inevitable. Seeking what comes after with the same enthusiasm with which we celebrated what went before. More than 2000 years ago, Socrates said “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.”

My mother, who was much taken with what she called her “little sayings”, often remarked, when change happened, that “It’s an ill-wind that blows no-one any good.”

The green leaves and the tiny cherries agree. Everything to its time, and then round we go again.

fallenA very sad story in the newspaper in Melbourne today, noting that over 104 people over the age of 50 died in their homes in 2011, and lay there dead for a week or more before their bodies were discovered.

Even sadder is that some of those people – victims of heart attacks, strokes, and falls, for example – might have survived if found sooner. And saddest of all is that the same litany of little tragedies are surely repeated every year in every city in the world.

We live in a world which is theoretically more connected than ever. And yet, as more people live alone – especially more older people – any sense that we all live in a village with an eye on each other’s welfare is receding into distant memory.

We recall growing up in a typical middle-class street, with friends and neighbours in abundance in all directions.

Connections were not made because people were nosy and inquisitive, but simply because people were polite and caring. It would be unusual not to greet the people who lived nearby with a cheery “Good morning” when walking past them. Indeed, more so: to nod, smile and utter a greeting to complete strangers, who often became, in due course, acquaintances, and then friends. Nowadays, likely as not, people would shy back, concerned you were a nutter or from a religious cult.

We live in a colder, harder world, where the idea of a harmless conversation over the fence or sharing a quick cuppa on the back step seems immeasurably quaint.

Do yourself a favour. Do the world a favour. Go knock on their door. Any excuse will do – or just ‘fess up. “I thought we should know one another.”

Especially if they’re old, and alone. Just do it.

 

MRS TURKINGTON

She used to stand, proud and erect, the Colossus of Assembly.
Headmistress of St Catherine’s Church of England Primary
Concentrating Camp
For David and Gareth and Julie and Helen and Me.

Talons grasping the eagle-winged lectern
she would gravely announce
“All God’s Creatures Here Alive
Ancient and Modern, Number 35”
,
and God help you if you didn’t sing.
(Except he wouldn’t.
because he was silenced by a glance
from Mrs T, as well.)

She had a cane, but never used it.
If found running in the quadrangle
she just pinned you to the blue breeze-block walls
with Yorkshire-steel eyes and asked you what
exactly it was you thought you were doing?7
And whatever it was, you stopped it.

Bubble-gum swallowed, marbles pocketed.
Prize conker? Dropped it.

I heard some time ago Mrs T had died.
They found her on the floor.
No-one called, no more.
So no-one saw.

Been there for days, they said.
All thin, and gnarled, and very dead.

In later life, she’d mellowed.
Her skin had yellowed.
I used to see her in Church, a bit
when time had pushed her shoulders up in the middle.
She just got all bent, when the rheumatics hit.

Always sent me a Christmas card,
even when her life got hard.

Mum used to shove one under me nose to sign for her
so I suppose she’d always got it,
and then thought I never forgot it.

I never thought I would, but
I felt sorry when they found her,
fallen and forgotten at the bottom of the stairs.

She had a cane, you see.
But she never used it.

fear-of-death

We have come to the realisation, Dear Reader, that fear is a bloody miserable thing, and that we suffer from it.

When the treadmill of life slows down long enough for us to actually stop and think – read: reflect, brood, ponder, worry – it is easy for fear to creep in, especially if one is on one’s own, or the blood sugar is a tad low, or it’s just been a shitty day.

In the case of your indefatigable correspondent, the fears are often about the process of growing older, and death. And then, nigh-on simultaneously, the death of loved ones. And then the disastrous state of the world, and how it’s all going to pot.

But it is the first one that can utterly paralyse us. After all: death is the one unavoidable conclusion of all lives. It’s going to happen. And with it, bang goes the achievements, the fun, the striving, the connection with everyone, the adored family. Doesn’t it? Life. What was that all about, huh? Why bother, just to die and leave it all behind?

As we get older, our faculties also decline. This isn’t a pretend fear, it’s a real fear. No amount of positive thinking or even age-appropriate exercise will totally prevent it.

Joints get less flexible. (Puhlease don’t tell us about 80 year old gymnasts on YouTube – most of us don’t keep fit enough in the early years to make that happen – I am being realistic here – and by the time we realise the body is beginning to creak it’s too late to stop all the creaking. Some ageing can be overcome, but not all. Just tell my left shoulder that you’re thinking positively about it and listen to the laughter.)

The brain unquestionably slows, too. Which is a real bugger, if one has used one’s brain to make a living since, like, forever.  And it’s very noticeable. Undeniable. It becomes harder to bring words to mind instantly. Sentence construction is more laborious, too. And when one rushes in panic to the experts worrying about early-onset Alzheimers, they reassure you with the most annoying advice imaginable: “Don’t worry, you’re just getting older, it happens to everyone.”

Well, poo to that. And this isn’t even to touch on the myriad anxieties that afflict people about their social interactions, phobias, and 1001 other things.

There is even a specific phobia for those who fear death, called thanataphobia. We don’t think we would quite describe ourselves as phobic on the issue, merely mildly obsessed. OK, make that “aware” and “thoughtful”.

So what to do about fear, and specifically fear of death?

We are sure religious faith helps with the whole death thing, at least to a degree. We remember hearing someone say once, “We are mortal beings living immortal lives” and being charmed by its simplicity. Nice thought. If it’s true. Life becomes much more bearable – death becomes much more bearable – if it is just a prelude to a sort of eternal holiday-camp shared with those we love, or perhaps a chance to come back and do better next time. But doubt is at the core of all faith – that’s why they call it faith – and on days that the awareness of death and loss bears down on us, it often seems that the nagging demon of doubt does, too.

Cancer support groups often talk about working towards a “good death”, rather than hoping against hope (and logic) to try and endlessly prolong life. A good death is one where one is resigned to the inevitability of our dying, where we have made our peace with those around us and been able to spend quality time with them, and where our affairs are as much in order as possible. Where death does not dull our mind with terror, and we can maintain dignity, calm, and acceptance of our fate.

We are reminded of a dear friend, Senator Sid Spindler, taken from us a couple of years ago with liver cancer, who was discussing an article in the local paper with his wife when quite clearly only a few days from death. An indefatigable campaigner, he murmured “Perhaps I should write a letter?” Those around him rolled their eyes in disbelief and amused admiration. But was he postponing the inevitable – clinging to one last vestige of relevance – or merely accepting his imminent death but refusing to be cowed by it? Or a bit of both? Only Sid could tell us, and he isn’t here any more.

In olden times, someone would have cheerily, at this point, said something like “Make the most out of every day!” as a response to the fact that one day the days will simply run out. Indeed, there are web pages dedicated to telling you exactly how many productive hours one has left in one’s life when one has removed sleep, showering, going to the loo, travelling, etc., to encourage everybody to “make the most” of life. Fair enough. Personally, we have stopped looking at them. It looks like we’ve got enough time left to make one more decent pot of bolognese sauce before we cark it.

We also ponder the fact that until relatively recently in human existence, within the last poofteenth of human time in reality, we would almost certainly already have been dead, and many people in today’s world still have a life expectancy below the amount we have already lived. And in the moments when we remind ourselves of this, we manage to be grateful and worried simultaneously.

Worried WoodyNot for nothing is our favourite celebrity quotation from Woody Allen, a man so obsessed with these matters that he wrote two theatre plays, one called God and the other Death. The quote runs thusly: “I don’t want to become immortal through my work. I want to become immortal through not dying.” Hear hear.

The Wellthisiswhatithink collective is by no means alone in this angst-ridden introspection, of course.

Existential death anxiety is the basic knowledge and awareness that natural life must end and it has fascinated writers and philosophers since humankind climbed down from the trees.

It is said that existential death anxiety directly correlates to language; that is, “language has created the basis for this type of death anxiety through communicative and behavioural changes.” Or in other words, over millenia we notice that we die, learn how to describe it, and then talk about it.

There is also “an awareness of the distinction between self and others, a full sense of personal identity, and the ability to anticipate the future, which includes the certainty of death. Humans defend against this type of death anxiety through denial, which is effected through a wide range of mental mechanisms and physical actions many of which also go unrecognised. While limited use of denial tends to be adaptive, its use is usually excessive and proves to be costly emotionally.”

Or to put it more simply, it’s better to face up to it.

As Wikipedia would have it, “Awareness of human mortality arose through some 150,000 years ago. In that extremely short span of evolutionary time, humans have fashioned but a single basic mechanism with which they deal with the existential death anxieties this awareness has evoked—denial in its many forms.

Fear of - and discussion of - dying goes back to Neanderthal times. Not that it gets any easier.

Fear of – and discussion of – dying goes back to Neanderthal times. Not that it gets any easier.

Thus denial is basic to such diverse actions as breaking rules and violating frames and boundaries, manic celebrations, violence directed against others, attempts to gain extraordinary wealth and/or power — and more. These pursuits often are activated by a death-related trauma and while they may lead to constructive actions, more often than not, they lead to actions that are, in the short and long run, damaging to self and others.”

Or as we call them in Wales, “wakes”.

This is before we even tackle the concept of Existentialism proper, (as opposed to Existential anxiety), and it’s various concerns that life is inherently meaningless anyway, not to mention Absurd. That’s a topic for another day. Or days. Or lifetimes.

Anyway, this latest in a series of ramblings on this topic is coming to no great or profound conclusion, Dear Reader. We merely report that at this point in time we have decided to focus on a couple of related issues.

Firstly, we have decided to stop worrying about the fact that one cannot control death, because in reality one can only control a few outcomes in one’s life, and death surely isn’t one of them. Believing we are in charge of everything is a uniquely human conceit, and it is clearly not true.

In the Wellthisiswhatithink household we call this the “A Plane Fell On My House” syndrome, recognising that random acts can and do disrupt our neatly ordered existence.

Accepting this as a fact is a vital step towards dealing with events that catch us unawares.

kindnessSecondly, we are trying to make more of an impact on our world by being more concerned about other people than ourselves, by being kinder, by being slower to anger or frustration, by trying to see things from the other person’s perspective, by celebrating the good we see around us and building up those responsible for it.

It was Aesop (he of Fables fame) who once said “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted”. There’s a big mouthful, right there. And yet more proof, if proof were needed, that things don’t change much as the centuries roll by.

Deep in the last Millenium we saw “making an impact on the world” as ending up as Prime Minister of somewhere (or at least a senior panjandrum of some description), becoming the world’s greatest writer of film scripts, the most creative businessman in town, the “next big thing” in poetry, and a bunch of other grandiloquent outcomes. It would be fair to say we have now changed our focus, and in doing so, we have become more content, and by many measurements, more successful.

We may yet do something “famous”. Or we may not.

We’re taking it all a day at a time. And that helps, too.

Tara MohrMeanwhile, Tara Sophia Mohr is a San Francisco-based women’s leadership personality. We found these comments on her website, and thank her for her thinking. There is some big “applied commonsense” here.

1. Create a character.

Create a character that symbolises the voice of fear within you. Maybe she’s a frail recluse or an eight-year-old bully or a fire-breathing dragon. Maybe it’s the lion from “The Wizard of Oz” or the Wicked Witch or the Wizard himself. Pick a character that illustrates how the voice of fear feels in you, and name your character. When you hear the voice of fear, greet it: “Oh,Cruella, I see you’ve come to visit. Hello.”

Why does this work? Creating a character helps you separate the real you from the part of you that’s afraid. Your fears come from that instinctual part of the brain that seeks to avoid risk at any cost–not from your core self, your inner wisdom, or your dreams. Naming the voice of fear, visualising it as a character and observing it helps you get back in charge.

2. Follow the fear through to the end game.

Fear holds us hostage, making threats that if you do X, a disastrous outcome will occur.

The remedy is to imagine how you’d handle that outcome, and evaluate just how bad it would really be.

This involves asking “so what?” again and again. If, for example, you’re afraid that your request for a raise will be turned down, ask yourself, “So if I was turned down, so what? Then what?”

You’ll probably hear yourself thinking something like, “Well, I’d be disappointed, and I’d think about whether that means I need to change jobs. I guess it wouldn’t be the end of the world.” You’ve just taken a great deal of power away from your fear.

Or, you might find this outcome still feels super scary, and your answer to the question is “I’d feel horribly embarrassed around my boss every time I saw her!” Then ask the question again: “So I’d feel embarrassed and awkward, then what?” Keep following the fear through to the endgame. You’ll find your resiliency and sense of perspective as you keep asking, “So what?”

(We heartily concur with this advice in a whole host of areas of business and life generally. “So what?” is an incredible powerful tool.)

3. Ask, “Is it true?”

Whatever the little voice of fear is saying, it’s probably not true.

The fearful part of us is irrational and over-protective.

It might be saying you areTrue or false likely to fall flat on your face if you take a risk, or that no one will like your ideas. It might be saying that moving to a new city could ruin your children, or choosing the wrong job could wreck havoc on your life.

When you hear fear-based thoughts, ask yourself, “Is what this voice is saying true?” or, in Byron Katie’s approach, “Can I be absolutely sure that this thought is true?”

The answer to these questions — especially the latter one — is most often “no.”

4. Connect to love.

Here’s the very cool thing about our human consciousness.

We can’t be in a state of fear and one of love at the same time. They can’t co-exist. Each one blots out the other. When we are really connected to that mysterious energy that is love, we connect to a softness, a safety, a comfort, a healing. Fear vanishes.

So when you are stuck in fear, re-connect to love. Listening to a favourite song, doing something you love, focusing on a picture of a loved one, or connecting with nature are all good ways to do this.

Many people find that a short meditation on their own breathing or reaching out to a higher power in prayer reconnects them to love. Giving — time, money, a gift or a heartfelt compliment — to another person also connects us to love.

Use whatever process works for you. You’ll know you’ve re-connected to love when you feel that sense of harmony and comfort and softness returning.

If you aren’t sure what helps you easily and swiftly reconnect to love, start experimenting. All of us need a set of strategies for connecting to love when we get fearful, anxious, resentful or off-balance.

5. Let fear be your travelling companion.

Much of the time we can soften or even entirely lift our fears using the tools above, but sometimes, fear persists.

Then it’s time for this tool: let fear be your travelling companion. Let it be there, but not in control. Let it be there, but don’t take direction from it or stop moving forward because of it.

This is a skill. It’s a skill to learn to act in the face of fear, to allow it to be present but not to interfere.

You know when you are driving on the highway, and right next to you, one lane over, there’s some guy hanging out the window, keeping pace along side of you? He’s not in your way but he’s in your field of vision?

Think of fear that way: as the guy in the lane next to you. You are in the driver’s seat, in your own lane, moving forward. He’s next to you, not blocking you but just there, somewhat irritating, palpably present. The ride would feel more enjoyable and free if he wasn’t there, but you are getting to your destination just fine anyway.

Learn to walk with fear this way — as if it’s your uninvited traveling companion — intrusive, but not in the way.

(This last one is one we are personally working on. It is impossible to banish all fear. And we shouldn’t want to, anyway. After all, fear serves a purpose, too. It stops us wandering blithely into the middle of a pride of lions while we’re picking daisies. The trick is not to let fear – or, indeed, any thought – dominate one’s life to the exclusion of others.

And sometimes, to accept that we actually can’t control or change everything. Much of the “self help” advice coming out of the USA (in particular) likes to pretend that we can do anything, be anything, achieve anything, overcome anything, just with an act of will. That is simply nonsensical, and dangerous, because not being able to overcome something that is insurmountable is a sure way to become depressed.

If someone dies, for example, no amount of willing them back will change the fact of their death. How we DEAL with our distress and fear about the future will determine how successful our life is thereafter. That’s why “Feel the fear and do it anyway” is sometimes – sometimes – very good advice.

After all, what’s the worst that could happen? So what?)

workoutAs we work in a creative environment, we probably spend more time than most thinking about how to preserve and enhance the capacity of our brains. In the advertising industry, you’re often said to be “only as good as your last idea”. Which is why this research echoed with us. Anything we can use to keep our ideas fresh and flowing is good news!

But, a brain workout?

Yep, it’s a thing.

Fact: We are outliving our brains. Life expectancy in the developed world is now about 80 years old. And the trend towards longer living is speeding up. With better nutrition, shelter and medical care, girls have a one in three chance of living to 100, while boys have one in four.

And the problem?

Well, our cognitive brain performance actually peaks in our early 40s. That means mental functions like memory, speed of thinking, problem-solving, reasoning, and decision-making decline in the last 30 or 40 years of life. Ironically, as we accumulate “life wisdom”, we gradually lose the ability to access it and use it. And as our population ages, and we retire nearer 70 than 60, for example, this becomes critically important.

The truth is most people don’t consider their brain health until they’re faced with injury, disease, or simply getting old. But just as we’ve come to realise that we can improve our physical health through diet and exercise, we can improve our cognitive health too.  It’s simply a matter of engaging in the right mental workouts.

Science now strongly supports the fact that our brains are one of the most modifiable parts of our whole body. Our brains actually adapt from moment to moment, depending on how we use them; they either decline or improve, and which direction they go depends on us and the way we challenge them.

exercising brainA research team at the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas is working on how to improve brain performance at all ages, and their findings show that making our brains stronger, healthier, and more productive requires actually changing the way we use them every single day.  And that’s where daily changes come in.

Before we can really perform at peak levels with our brains, we all must first abandon toxic habits that are depleting brain resources, and also incorporate complex thinking into our daily routines.

So are you ready to make your brain smarter? Here are a few scientifically proven ways to do it.

Quiet Your Mind

“Don’t make rash decisions!” In a word, slow down. And give your mind a break, now and then.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve all been given that advice, and as part of our career has been “helping people to make better decisions more easily” with the business “decisions, decisions” we warmly applaud the idea. Unwonted speed in decision making is often a recipe for failure, and sometimes those failures can cascade disastrously through an organisation, when if a little time had been taken for reflection, and we had employed tried and tested decision-making tools, we would have made our chances for success much greater.

Why take a break? Well, the brain can often better solve complex problems when you step away to reflect on ideas and crucial decisions rather than acting without weighing choices.

Shhhhhhhhh.

Shhhhhhhhh.

A halt in constant thinking slows your mind’s rhythms, allowing it to refresh.

Put a knotty problem in your subconscious, be confident that a solution will occur to you – indeed, say, “my subconscious is going to solve this” out loud – and then forget about it for a while. More often than not, a solution will occur when you least expect it. Your subconscious mind will pop out an answer without you wearing yourself out worrying the problem to death.

As a simple rule to give your brain a chance to help you, employ a “Five by Five” principle where you take a break from whatever you’re doing five times a day for at least five minutes to reset your brain.

When we let our brain work behind the scenes, we have our best “a-ha!” moments. And don’t we all want more of those?

In the Wellthisiswhatithink dungeon we find ours occur in the shower. So often, in fact, that we sometimes take a long, hot, relaxing shower when we don’t really “need” one, because the insights seem to flow so easily!

Translate Your World

Move away from surface-level, uninspired thinking and eschew predictable thoughts by pushing past the obvious and really think.

There is so MUCH to think about. How do you decide what you MUST think about? Answer: synthesise.

There is so MUCH to think about. How do you decide what you MUST think about? Answer: synthesise.

For example, if you were asked what a movie was about, you, like most people, you would often give a play-by-play of events that occurred, full of detail.

But to boost brainpower, think instead of the major themes of the film and relate it to personal situations in your own life and how they apply.

As an exercise, think back on one of your favourite movies or books from the past year and generate five to eight different short take-home messages you can glean from it.

This consciously analytical or critical process, which is called “synthesised thinking”, strengthens the connections between different areas of our brains. Our brains actually become quickly jaded by routine – by driving through the treacle of vast amounts of information – since they were actually built to dynamically shift between details and the big picture. When you’re a cave man being chased by wolves, it becomes unimportant to be able to describe each wolf in fine detail, and very important to work our which one is closest to you and likely to catch you, and what to do about that. Get the idea?

Our brains also hate information downloading, so it helps to think like a reporter. What really matters in the story? Don’t get overwhelmed by information flow – in fact, demand that you are relieved from it.

When taking in large amounts of information, try to explain it in a few sentences. Kick off your meetings with provocative big ideas. Power important email messages with simple but thought-evoking subject lines.

Stop Multi-tasking. Really. STOP.

We have written before about how we are inundated with more and more tasks every day.

Nu-uh. Not going to happen.

Nu-uh. Not going to happen.

Relentless simultaneous input and output fatigues the brain and reduces productivity and efficiency. You may think that by doing two or three things at once – like participating in “corridor meeting” on your way to somewhere else while tapping out a couple of emails on your smart phone –  you are actually moving faster through your day. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Our to-do lists keep getting longer while performance and accuracy slip. So, when working on higher-order thinking tasks that matter, allow your focus to be completely uninterrupted for at least 15 minutes at a time and then gradually increase the length of those intervals.

And remember – you can never do everything. There will always be “something” on your list of things to do. Worrying about the length of the list is a sure-fire way to increase your stress, and stress reduces your ability to think clearly.

So prioritise your lists, and be comfortable with the fact that “everyone dies with something on their list”.

Move Your Feet

Recently published research shows that aerobic exercise stimulates positive brain change and memory gains faster than we previously thought possible.

Adding regular aerobic exercise that elevates your heart rate to your routine at least three times a week for an hour won’t just help with physical health, it will also increase brain blood flow to key memory centres in the brain and improve our memory for facts. When you combine complex thinking with aerobic exercise, brain health benefits are amplified. You don’t have to become a gym junkie – a brisk walk round the block or your local park is an excellent choice.

Works just as well in an office as it does on a 747.

Works just as well in an office as it does on a 747.

And here’s a thought: if you really can’t get away from your desk, what about doing some of those “sitting in your place” exercises that they now recommend to help prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis on aircraft?

Roll your neck, shrug your shoulders, shake your hands, waggle your feet, push them up and down.

Anything that improves circulation and muscle use will help your brain, too.

Action this day.

Until recently, we thought that cognitive decline was an inevitable part of getting old, but the good news is that’s officially not the case.

Toxic physical and mental habits and a life on autopilot are key culprits for unnecessary cognitive decline. Research has shown that healthy adults who use these strategies can regain lost cognitive performance, improve blood flow in the brain, speed up communication between its regions and expand its structural connections.

See results fast!

Just like all those ads for food supplements and gym memberships, you can actually evoke some of these positive changes in a matter of hours. Adopting this new, healthier way of thinking translates into immediate real-life benefits that support our ability to make decisions, think critically, reason and plan.

In other words, shaping your brain by engaging in the right kind of daily mental exercise has the power to reverse brain aging and actually make you smarter, more creative, and less stressed.

So boost your brainpower! You have nothing to lose, and much to gain.

This core of this article was originally written by Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, author of “Make Your Brain Smarter,” who is founder and chief director of the Centre for Brain Health, and a Distinguished University Professor at The University of Texas at Dallas. Wellthisiswhatithink has added to it substantially.

YokoOno

As one gets old, something rather horrid and unsettling happens.

Everyone else gets older around you.

And the icons of our youth gradually turn into withered and less competent versions of their former inspirational selves. Clint Eastwood stops being a sexy uber-male with a humorous glint in his eye and turns into a rambling fool on a political stage. You go and see Simon and Garfunkel on stage one last time, and dear old Art can’t hit the high notes in Bridge over Troubled Water any more. People start petitions for Paul McCartney to stop singing at major events. And sometimes the luminaries of our youth startlingly drop off the twig altogether – like beloved soccer players Emlyn Hughes, Bobby Moore, Peter Osgood and Alan Ball.

Existentialist horror.

Existentialist horror. If you don’t know what I am on about, half yer luck.

It all serves terribly effectively to remind us of the transitory nature of life, and, inevitably, our own inexorable march across the years.

When there is less life ahead of us than behind us it can sometimes be more than a little difficult to deal with.

I have always considered the mid-life crisis so beloved of comedy writers to be symptomatic of a genuine existentialist crisis explored by Satre and others.

Age is an unforgiving, unrelenting mistress, no matter how one seeks to address its vicissitudes. Inevitably the thoughts that have pre-occupied mankind for millenia press in on you in a personal and intense manner. Why am I here? What is (or was) it all for? What happens when I’m not here any more? Will it matter? With every sombre retrospective of “those friends we have lost in the last year” at the BAFTAs or Oscars the effect simply multiplies.

In some senses, contemplating the brevity of life can be a spur to rise and “get on with it”. To make sure we perform more productively for whatever time we have left, and also to “smell the roses” more intently as we pass by them, hugging our children more often, and more pro-actively and intently letting good friends and spouses know that we appreciate their support and love down the years.

But sometimes, just the sheer shock of age catching up with some luminary can cast us headlong into a blue funk. Which is why I was firstly appalled to read that Yoko has just tripped over the big eight oh, but then, on reflection, allowed myself to be encouraged by her remarkable resilience, iconoclasm, talent, stoicism, energy, and obvious determination to live her life meaningfully right up to whenever the end is. As is so well revealed in this excellent article in The Nation.

http://www.thenation.com/blog/172936/oh-yoko-ms-ono-80#

yoko-ono-john-lennonI was one of millions who were genuinely distraught when we were robbed of the positive influence of John Lennon on the world. I can still feel the pang of the news, deep in my soul, and every time one of his immortal songs comes on the wireless. I am going to use the occasion of his wife’s 80th birthday to re-focus myself to whatever is left of the rest of my own life. That sounds terribly pompous and even asinine, and I don’t mean it in a “my life changed today” lightbulb moment type thing. I simply mean that, sitting around thinking this morning, contemplating Yoko at 80, I realised that whether my life has great meaning, or none – or whether it’s going on for another 5 minutes or another thirty years – these are ultimately, and truthfully, trivial matters.

When I join the lists of “Friends we have lost this year” I will be, I think, perfectly content if people confer over a cup of tea and a curled up egg and lettuce sandwich and cheerfully agree “Well, he was himself, that’s for sure.”

Because perhaps, in the final wash up, that’s what we really need to aim for.

To be content that “we were ourselves”. Because surely, that is what all other meaning will flow from. That is all it can flow from, right? If we are someone else’s vision of ourself, then really, what was it all for? What point can there be in submissively playing out a role imposed by other’s expectations, or hiding ourselves away, until it’s too late to risk being who we really are?

Well, in 55 years of reading, working, writing, loving, losing, not to mention a degree in Literature and a Theology degree to boot, and much pondering, that’s where I’ve got to, anyhow. I’m sure someone will point out that some crusty philosopher said it better three hundred years ago and I could have saved myself the introspection, but then I never really claimed to be edumacated.

Anyhow: what do you think?

So cheers, Yoko. Thanks for being yourself. Thanks for reminding us. Can’t wait to see what you do next.

Happy Birthday.


Musings by George Polley

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