Tag Archives: midlife

What’s Your Feeling About Getting Older? It Directly Affects Your Health

December 6, 2016

That old adage, “You’re only as old as you feel” is correct, according to a new study. It finds that your attitude about aging does, in fact, impacts your overall health. The research, from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging (TILDA) at Trinity College Dublin, found that negative attitudes to aging affect both physical and cognitive health in your later years. Moreover, participants who held positive attitudes towards aging had improved cognitive ability as they aged.

According to the lead researcher Deirdre Robertson, “The way we think about, talk about and write about aging may have direct effects on health. Everyone will grow older and if negative attitudes towards aging are carried throughout life they can have a detrimental, measurable effect on mental, physical and cognitive health.”

The study, summarized in Medical News Today, resulted in these major findings:

  • Older adults with negative attitudes towards aging had slower walking speed and worse cognitive abilities two years later, compared to older adults with more positive attitudes towards aging.
  • This was true even after participants’ medications, mood, their life circumstances and other health changes that had occurred over the same two-year period were accounted for.
  • Furthermore, negative attitudes towards aging seemed to affect how different health conditions interacted. Frail older adults are at risk of multiple health problems including worse cognition. In the TILDA sample frail participants with negative attitudes towards aging had worse cognition compared to participants who were not frail. However frail participants with positive attitudes towards aging had the same level of cognitive ability as their non-frail peers.

The researchers concluded that these findings have important implications for media, policymakers, practitioners and society more generally. Societal attitudes towards aging are predominantly negative. Everyone will grow older and if these attitudes persist they will continue to diminish quality of life.

Credit: CPD Archive

 

Share

Why It’s Possible To Alter Your Personality

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.17.47 PMSeptember 29, 2015

The novelist Norman Mailer wrote in The Deer Park, it’s a law of life that “one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same.”

So true, though many people believe that who you are – specifically, your personality – is fixed. In fact, much conventional thinking in psychology holds that our personalities remain constant.

But that’s not accurate: We’re always changing and evolving, in some way – for better or for worse. Many of us mental health professionals witness that occur among our patients. Keep in mind that who we may “become” is being shaped and determined by who we are right at this moment, by the kind of person we are inside; the qualities that we express in our daily lives, relationships and aspirations.

It’s good to see some recent research that confirms our capacity to change and grow dimensions of our personality. Change occurs from awareness of what aspects of our personality we want to develop, and working hard to “practice” them in daily life.

One example: Researchers at the University of Illinois conducted a study that tested the degree to which people could “grow” a particular personality trait or quality over a period of 16 weeks. The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that the participants who desired to change some dimension of themselves did so, in contrast to those who displayed less interest. The researchers pointed out that the results were modest, but that they show, “…at the very least, people’s personality traits and daily behavior tend to change in ways that align with their goals for change.”

They explained that it’s an unfolding process: “Goals led to changes in behavior, which led to changes in self-concept, which prompted more behavior change.”

I think this highlights the importance of having a vision of your more “developed” self; some aspect or dimension of your personality that you aspire towards. That has the effect of drawing you towards expressing those qualities of yourself, like being pulled by a magnet. Continue reading

Share

How Your Personality Can Change And Grow — Or Stagnate Over Time

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 2.12.45 PMSeptember 8, 2015

There’s an old Buddhist saying that if you want to see into your future, just look into a mirror. It’s true, that who we are right now, and at each moment of time into the future, shapes who we become – for better or for worse. Although that truth is evident to anyone who’s at all observant of how people’s lives unfold and evolve over time, it’s interesting to see empirical evidence supporting it. The latter helps those who think we’re fixed in our personalities over our lifetime. Unfortunately — and ironically — such people tend to be those of us in the psychological and mental health fields.

This new study from Germany focused on people who experience loneliness early in life can act in ways that increase that aspect of their personality – leading to more loneliness and poorer health over time. And the experiences we seek out can also affect and shape our personalities, in reverse, over time. As the research finds, “there’s evidence that personality changes as we get older. And just as we can strive to lose weight, there’s evidence we can intentionally change our personalities.

The researchers found that “our personality affects the likelihood that we’ll become more lonely (and feel less well) as we get older, but also that being lonely (and feeling less healthy) shapes our personality, potentially setting up a vicious circle of isolation.”

Although this study looked at negative personality traits and how they interact with life experiences, I think it’s more significant to consider how we can evolve and grow positive dimensions of ourselves over time, with conscious intent and a vision of how we want to “become.” Here, clinical evidence joins philosophical teachings. As the novelist Norman Mailer wrote in The Deer Park, it’s a law of life that “one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same.”

Credit: The Las Vegas Gentleman

Share

Poet and Beat Publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti — Thriving at 96

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 4.44.00 PM

June 16, 2015

NPR broadcast a nice story recently about Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the acclaimed poet and owner-publisher of City Lights Bookstore in SF. He first brought attention to Beat Generation writers, including his publishing of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Ferlinghetti is now 96, and working on three new books that are coming out this year.

Now that’s my idea of “healthy aging!”

Here’s a link to the audio of the NPR feature about him by Richard Gonzales. Or, read the text from it here: Continue reading

Share

Workers With a “Spirit of Life” Are More Productive – At Any Age

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 4.45.50 PMJune 9, 2015

Are the most energized and creative workers young, per se; or are they “young at heart?” A new study sheds some light on this: It found that your own sense of yourself; your overall attitude about life influences your work. I describe the findings below, but the study brings to mind that we often speak of the “spirit of youth” when describing an older person who conveys vitality, passion and engagement. However, I think it’s more accurate to think of that spirit as a spirit about life itself. It may be more embodied within or visible among younger people, but I attribute that to this: Many people in our culture enter a long descent into emotional, creative and spiritual stagnation — via the values of a self-centered, overly materialistic society. That’s what I see in so many of the people who have come to me for help – either for personal issues or career-related conflicts.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was described in The British Psychological Society’s publication, Research Digest, and it concludes that If you want a dynamic workforce, seek not the young, but the young at heart. The study surveyed over 15,000 employees from 107 companies to determine how subjective age influences workplace performance. It found that employees who felt substantially younger than their chronological age were more successful in meeting the goals they’d promised their managers they would achieve. Companies with more of these “young at heart” employees also tended to perform better overall, in terms of financial performance, efficiency and a longer tenured workforce. The survey also showed that organizations tended to have more young at heart workers when they offered both age-inclusive policies and, on average, their employees felt that their work was more important and meaningful.

This raises questions about what’s needed to counter that long descent that I described above. Among the possibilities are more meaningful, engaging work, which can enable people feel more vibrant and experience some impact upon the consequences of their contribution. When workers can feel young, energized by their work — and not judged and stereotyped — that facilitates the kind of dynamic performance thought to be limited to younger workers…until they begin that slow descent into stagnation.

Credit: Pharic Crawford 

Share

Why A Family Tradition Had To End…And The Life Lesson It Taught

Screen shot 2015-01-07 at 2.07.38 PM

January 13, 2015

After the holidays, discarded Christmas trees appear on the streets of my neighborhood. They’re left curbside, awaiting the special trash pickup. Seeing them, denuded and shorn of their holiday ornaments, I always feel a bit pensive, along with a tinge of humor, as I recall a Christmas tree tradition my then-young children and I had years ago. Each year we’d gather together for a special ritual we had created around putting up, and eventually taking down the Christmas tree.

It had begun when we were still an intact family. And it continued for some years, post-divorce, until, that is, a time came when their flagging interest got my attention. It happened one post-holiday year when I realized that I’d have to do the dismantling part by myself. But instead, I let it just sit there for a very long time, even as the dry tree kept shedding its needles and became, well…a fire hazard.

The back-story: Beginning in my children’s earliest years, and on through my divorce and Continue reading

Share

Negative Relationships at Midlife Can Cause Mental Decline

Screen shot 2014-11-25 at 11.14.02 AM

November 25, 2014

Hey, midlifers, this is definitely worth noting: New research led by University College London finds that stressful, difficult, or otherwise negative relationships can contribute to mental decline during the middle years of life.

The study was summarized by Reuters, and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study found that those who reported more negative aspects of close relationships also tended to have more rapid cognitive aging. People who reported the most negative aspects of close relationships were also more likely to have symptoms of depression and diabetes than others.

In the Reuters report, the lead author Jing Liao said “Any relationship involves both positive and negative exchanges, especially those close relationships that are most likely to evoke ambivalent sentiments. Negative aspects of close relationships refer to unpleasant social exchanges when the recipient finds the relationship ineffective, intrusive or over-controlling,”

Similarly, “Previous studies…have found that close relationships that involve strain and conflict are associated with poorer executive functioning,” said Margie E. Lachman, director of the Lifespan Initiative on Healthy Aging and Lifespan Lab at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Liao pointed out that “There is evidence that, in general, those with a partner or those who are less socially isolated report better quality of life and live longer…but healthy people are more likely to have a partner and be more socially engaged.”

For Reuter’s full report of the research and how it was conducted, click here.

 

Share

At Midlife, Arguing Can Kill You!

Screen shot 2014-08-05 at 12.09.40 PM

August 5, 2014

This is worth heeding, if you’re in midlife: Frequent arguing with partners, children, other relatives or neighbors may significantly increase the risk of middle-aged death from all causes, according to a new study. Reported in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Healththe study is described in Medical News Today

All of us have engaged in arguments with others in the past, whether it is with partners, relatives, friends or neighbors. Although these experiences are stressful, we do not necessarily think about the health risks they pose. But a new study suggests that frequent arguing may dramatically increase the risk of middle-aged death.

According to the research team, led by Dr. Rikke Lund of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, past research has indicated that good social relationships with others have positive effects on general health and well-being. But they say there are limited studies looking at how negative relationships impact health. With this in mind, the investigators set out to determine whether there was a link between stressful social relations with partners, children, other family members, friends and neighbors, and all-cause mortality. Continue reading

Share

Your Emotional Attitudes Affect Your Entire Being

Screen shot 2014-06-16 at 10.46.10 AM

In a previous post I described new research showing that a sense of purpose in life is linked with greater longevity. That’s just one of an increasing number of studies that add to the recognition that we are biological-psychological-spiritual-social beings. All dimensions – internal and external – interact with each other and shape our total experience of life: our overall health, level of wellbeing, growth of our capacities – or stagnation and illness.

Here are some other new findings that add to this picture. All have implications for our emotional attitudes, our mental perspectives our physical health and our behavior through life.

Materialistic People Have A Higher Likelihood Of Depression

This research, conducted at Baylor University, found that the more materialistic your attitudes and behavior are, the more likely you are to be depressed and unsatisfied with life. Published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, the research suggests, according to the researchers, that materialistic people find it more difficult to be grateful for what they have, which causes them to become miserable. Gratitude appears to be the key.

That is, a news release from Baylor reports that the research found those who rated low on gratitude were more likely to be materialistic and less satisfied with life. “Materialism tends to be “me-centered. A material outlook focuses on what one does not have, impairing the ability to be grateful for what one already has,”researchers said.

The new research, they reported, is similar to previous findings that materialists, despite the fact they are more likely to achieve material goals, are less satisfied overall with their lives. They are more likely to be unhappy and have lower self-esteem. They also are more likely to be less satisfied with relationships and less involved in community events. Meanwhile, those who are grateful are likely to find more meaning in life, previous research shows.

Frequent Arguing Increases Risk of Mid-Life Death

This research indicates Continue reading

Share

Caught Between “Longing” vs. “Settling” In Your Midlife Marriage?”

Screen shot 2013-12-24 at 11.50.23 AMOnce the world was new
Our bodies felt the morning dew
That greets the brand new day
We couldn’t tear ourselves away
I wonder if you care
I wonder if you still remember…

The Moody Blues, “Your Wildest Dream

Linda, a 53 year-old psychotherapy patient, was talking with me about a recent New York Times article about the rising numbers of midlife men and women who are divorcing. That, despite other data that the overall divorce rate has dropped somewhat, to around 40 percent. Linda was worried. She and her husband had been experiencing more conflict lately, especially since their two children had finished college and were off on their own. She said it felt like they were on different wavelengths about nearly everything – sex, money, lifestyle. “Sometimes I think we’re ‘on the brink’…” Linda said, not wanting to use the “D” word. “Maybe we’d both be happier going separate ways. Life is short…”

Linda is prone to anxiety, and has a lot on her plate with her career as a public relations executive. But given the rising numbers of midlife divorce, marital conflict is an understandable concern. (Disclosure: I’m a midlife baby boomer; been there, done that). There are several likely reasons for this trend, but I think there’s a particular dilemma that may remain under the radar. It’s that many midlife baby boomers are caught between feelings of longing for a relationship ideal that they think might be real but unfulfilled; and a pull towards settling for what they have, with all it’s imperfections and disappointments. This is a huge conflict. It’s worth understanding what it reflects, in order to deal with it in a healthy way; especially in the context of transformations occurring in people’s emotional and sexual relationships today.

Linda and her husband know of couples who had announced they were getting divorced, often to the surprise of many: “They seemed perfectly fine; no hint of trouble.” They knew of more than one couple in which one partner said, “I just felt the need to experience more of my own life, at this point.”

Linda wondered, were she and her husband mismatched to begin with and just didn’t realize it, back in their 20s? Had they grown in such different directions that they no longer wanted or cared about having a life together in their years ahead? Or had their work become their true “lover” rather than each other?”

Good questions for any long-term couple. But what is it that’s made baby boomers more prone – or receptive – to divorce? Continue reading

Share

Why Reading Serious Fiction Benefits Your Psychological Development

Screen shot 2013-11-26 at 12.37.38 PMThe recent death of Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing—one of the most significant writers of our time, in my view—brought to mind that serious fiction spurs your spiritual and psychological development, your essential soul. It’s a gateway to “evolving” yourself during your lifetime, rather than stagnating within the person you’ve become. The latter path—which so many people descend into to—was captured by Norman Mailer in The Deer Park: “It is a law of life that one must grow, or else pay more for remaining the same.”

Delving into serious fiction engages you in the core human issues that everyone grapples with, consciously or unconsciously. The prime one is the question of, “What’s the meaning of life; of my life?

And, there are related issues concerning moral judgment, the impact of social conventions, conflicting paths in life, and so on. When you’re awakened — or threatened — by portrayals of those in good literature, you’re often forced to confront your own life choices and dilemmas in new ways, with new perspectives. You’re likely to resonate with the George Eliot quote, “It is never too late to be what you might have become.”

Lessing’s vast body of work is especially relevant to stimulating your soul’s evolution. Or, in Western psychology’s language, your “true self.” She portrayed the intertwined political, personal, sexual, cultural and ideological forces in people’s lives from pre-World War II, through the sexual and social revolution of the ’60s, to the present era. Among her novels is an interconnected series under the umbrella title, Children of Violence. Thery chronicled a woman’s character and life development via her social, sexual and political awakening.

Her final volume of the series, Continue reading

Share

How Your Karma Can Undermine Midlife Renewal

Screen shot 2013-08-17 at 9.38.21 AMAs the 78 million baby boomers have segued into midlife, a noticeable shift towards a sense of renewal, new growth and new possibilities has taken root. That’s a welcome contrast to the old view of steady, inevitable decline and loss. Yet there’s a real danger that can cripple or undermine your prospects for midlife vitality and positive growth.

To explain, let’s recognize, first, how inspiring it is for midlifers to learn about ways in which midlifers forge new paths towards growth and wellbeing in their lives. Some create new energy, passion and commitment in their intimate relationships, as I’ve described in some posts here. Some find other sources of personal connection without a partner. Others find new directions in their work and creative expression – whether in a redirected career or embarking on service-oriented work, such as promoted by Encore.org. For example, baby boomers who leave their careers to do work that involves helping others report feelings of growth, connection and service. Embarking on new directions takes courage and risk, as Marci Alboher recently described in the New York Times, but that “..the payoff is continuing to grow and expand your life rather than stagnate and decline.”

All of the above are significant, positive shifts of consciousness and action. So what’s the danger? From my experience working with midlife baby boomers (and from my own challenges, along the way) I identify two pitfalls that can undermine your renewal and continued growth: One is failure to recognize or deal with inevitable, long-term consequences of actions whose tentacles live on, into your future: your karma, the law of cause and effect; of actions and their consequences. The other is not knowing what enables you to “reboot;” to change your ongoing karma from this point forward. That is, knowing how to interrupt any continuing negative consequences of actions in your present life.

Facing your Karma

 Your past actions remain a part of you. Continue reading

Share

Can You “Grow Up” At Midlife? Here’s Five Ways

Not long ago conventional thinking about midlife held that it’s a time for holding on as best you can in the face of steady decline and loss. But if you’re a baby boomer, you know that’s shifted as fellow boomers show more attention to health and want continued vitality — even new growth – emotionally, sexually and creatively.

Nevertheless, many remain fearful of “going forth” or finding their “true self,” partly because they know that illness, tragedy, unpredictable events and death can and do occur. I’ve written about these themes in some of my previous posts. For example, about depression during midlife. But overall, I find that learning to embrace both the “positive” and “negative” experiences of midlife is the path to growing up into full adulthood. That’s especially relevant to the “Post 50” years. So — here are five suggested steps:

Elevate and Expand Yourself

Build the core emotional and mental strengths of empathy and compassion. Much research shows that this realm of your inner life is the foundation for well-being as well as for positive engagement and harmony, with people and events. Meditation helps “grow” those capacities. Research also shows that meditation leads to greater creative thinking. Another part of this step is “elevating” your perspectives about people and life situations. A broadened, more tolerant vista is especially crucial at midlife because seeing things from a “1,000 foot view” is the foundation for wisdom.

Embrace Death And impermanence

True, our culture avoids acknowledging death and change. But embracing them can lead to more intense connection with what really matters to you — what to go after, while there’s still time; and what to let pass by. Research conducted by the University of Missouri and the University of Leipsig confirms this, finding that awareness of death spurs re-thinking about your goals and values. It can also lead to greater physical health, through increasing your focus on healthy practices.

I wrote about change and impermanence in a previous post, and now, during midlife, Continue reading

Share

Does Your Midlife Feel Like Just “A Long Slide Home?”

That’s how a man in his 50s described his life to me not long ago: “It’s my long slide home.” He was feeling morose, anticipating the long holiday period from Thanksgiving through the New Year and what he knew it would arouse in him. I often see the “holiday blues” strike people during this time of multiple holidays (Hanukkah and Christmas; as well asAshurah,Bodhi Day, andKwanzaa). The tendency to reflect and take stock of one’s life often triggers sadness, regret, or depression — especially during midlife.

For example, this time of year can intensify feelings of losses you’ve experienced as well as fears about change, in general. In aprevious postI described how you can become frozen into a mindset and perspective that your life is fixed and will spiral downward from your middle years onward. Such a mentality restricts your vision. You can’t see that it’s possible — and necessary — to continue evolving your life, while reframing your emotional attitudes about the life changes that will continue to occur. I’ve always liked a line from one of Norman Mailer’snovels, “It is a law of life… that one must grow, or else pay more for remaining the same.”

Many of 78 million baby boomers, now in the thick of midlife, are vulnerable to feeling demoralized about their lives. For some Continue reading

Share

The Spiritual Similarities Between Steve Jobs and George Harrison

The day Steve Jobs died — Oct. 5 — coincided with HBO’s broadcast of the first part of Martin Scorsese’sdocumentaryon the life of George Harrison, “Living In The Material World.” That conjunction of events brought to mind some interesting parallels between the lives of Jobs and Harrison. I think we can learn something of value about their life journeys — their ups and downs, their losses and transitions during their middle years and… how they handled the prospect of death.

Both moved through and beyond their young adult years along different yet similar paths. Their examples highlight the importance of deciding what you choose to live and work for; and how your choices impact the world, as you grow towards becoming a full adult.

Knowing what it means to become an adult is especially crucial once you’ve entered your 30s and the decades beyond. That’s when the core challenge of life looms large: Discovering and acting upon what has lasting value, as opposed to embracing impermanent, superficial or illusory goals. That is, awakening to what really matters to you, and then pursuing it with passion, conviction and focus.

Both Jobs and Harrison appear to have discovered Continue reading

Share

Baby Boomer At Midlife? Why Your Relationship May Not Survive

Whether you’re entering a new relationship or hoping to resurrect your existing — but flagging — relationship, the upheavals and changes of midlife can make anyone pretty apprehensive about what lies ahead. Thats particularly true for many of the 78 million baby boomers who face a long stretch of middle years with greater health, new desires for personal growth, but no so much certainty about what keeps a love relationship alive for the long run.

I think what helps support a long-term, positive relationship through midlife is not so much finding the righttechniques– for good communication, compromise, and so forth. We know how many of those are available in all the self-help books crowding bookstore shelves. Instead, its building your relationship’sspiritualcore. By that I mean your sense of purpose and life goals as a couple; and dealing with how your values and ideals change and evolve over the years. The challenge is whether these and other spiritual dimensions remain in synch over your years together.

In this post I describe a path that can help build (or resuscitate) your relationship’s spiritual connection. Continue reading

Share

Overcome the Maladies of Midlife By Transforming What “Loss” and “Change” Mean

Despite the volumes of books and magazine articles advising midlife baby boomers how to prolong or renew their health, happiness and vitality, I continue to hear many of them tell me about feelings of stagnation and loss. Or worse, a sense of being on “a long slide home,” as one 50-something put it.

For example:

  • You happened to catch an old episode of“Sesame Street”or“Mister Rogers”on TV, and you felt engulfed by a wave of nostalgia and loss over your children, who are now grown and building their own lives without you.
  • You worry about whether your career has peaked, especially when you’re reminded every day of the hordes of younger people coming up right behind you — or who’ve now moved ahead of you.
  • You’re divorced and dealing with new challenges as a single person.
  • Or, you’re married/with a partner, but feelings of passion and intimacy have faded like autumn leaves.
  • You’re stressed about your financial future in your later years, given our economic uncertainty.

I think there’s a core reason why such feelings and experiences aren’t helped all that much by the midlife guides and programs out there: We’ve learned to experience midlife through Continue reading

Share

Why Bother Staying Married?

Life has changed a great deal since we entered the 21st Century. Massive, worldwide economic, political and social upheavals are impacting all areas of our lives. Marriages (and equivalent relationships) are no exception. In fact, long-term relationships face new stresses and challenges. People enter them within a world of shifting social norms, diversity, and increasing openness about emotional and sexual engagements, including ones that differ from the conventional.

These new realities raise a important question for couples to face, head-on: Do you want to stay married at this point in your life — in your relationship as it now exists, and at this time in our culture?

Consider this: It may be psychologically healthier to end your marriage. That is, I think that the conditions and challenges of the 21st world – the “new normal” – point to considering a more radical way of life: Engaging in two different kinds of marriages may be a better response to the emotional and sexual realities of our fluid, interconnected world.

On the other hand, you might decide to reconstitute you marriage in ways more in synch with how each of you are “evolving” in your individual lives; and more consistent with your vision of what you want a partnership to be as you become older.

Let me explain both paths. Increasingly, people recognize that our post- 9-11 world — the economic downturn, global crises and uncertainties, the impact of climate change, the increasing diversity of our population, global interconnection, and a host of other shifts – all of it forms a new era of uncertainty, unpredictability and diminished expectations of career and material success.

Part of this new normal includes turmoil in people’s emotional and sexual attitudes and behavior, and generates what looks like contradictions in relationships. For example, Continue reading

Share

Why The Loss Of Your Job Could Be A Gain For Your Life

As the 52 year-old man entered my office one afternoon, he asked, plaintively, “How do you start over when you can’t start over?”

He had just been let go by his company; he was devastated and frightened about the future. Despite a successful corporate career, he had no prospects in sight, and his wife’s income wasn’t enough to support the family — especially with a daughter in college and a son headed there next year.

He’s one of a rising number of people who’ve been hit hard by the recession in two ways: a forced “career transition” (the euphemism for firing), which is always difficult, and the emotional consequences of job loss, which are more severe in today’s world of uncertainty and insecurity about what the future holds.

Nevertheless, I think the career-related and emotional impact of the economic implosion could prove to be the best thing that ever happened for some people’s lives.

To explain, let’s look at the man I described above. Like so many others who’ve sought my help over the years, he had defined his worth, his value to others, his whole identity, through his career. Now he felt thrown out to sea, alone, not knowing how to “start over when you can’t start over.” In the years prior to the economic meltdown, he could have expected to land another position within a reasonable period of time. He’d probably be dealing with a manageable degree of anxiety.

But that was yesterday. The current economic recession is taking a severe emotional toll on many people: Increasing anxiety and depression, family conflicts and stress-related physical ailments. Moreover, the practical and mental health consequences of job-loss and job-seeking can be especially severe for midlifers. In fact, many are considering the possibility that they may never work again.

So how can I say that this situation could be the best thing that ever happened to someone? It’s because I’ve found Continue reading

Share

The 4.0 Career Is Coming: Are You Ready?

Originally published in The Huffington Post

Even in the midst of our economic disaster that’s hitting all but the wealthiest Americans, a transformation is continuing within people’s orientation to work. I call it the rise of the 4.0 career. ??This growing shift concerns how men and women think about and pursue their careers. It also defines the features of organizations that they want to work for and commit to. This shift that I describe below transcends its most visible form: Generation X’s and, especially, Generation Y’s attitudes and behavior in the workplace. Those are part of a broader shift whose origins are within men and women at the younger end of the baby boomer spectrum.

I first encountered this while interviewing yuppies (remember them?) in the 1980s for my book Modern Madness, about the emotional downside of career success. I often found that people would want to talk about a gnawing feeling of wanting something more “meaningful” from their work. They didn’t have quite the right language back then to express what that would look like other than feeling a gap between their personal values and the trade-offs they had to make to keep moving up in their careers and companies. The positive ideals of the 60s seemed to have trickled down into their yearnings, where they remained a kind of irritant.

Flashing forward 25 years, those people are now today’s midlife baby boomers. Their earlier irritation has bloomed into consciously expressed attitudes and behavior that have filtered down into the younger generations, where they’ve continued to evolve. Today, they’re reshaping how people think about and pursue their careers within today’s era of interconnection, constant networking and unpredictable change.

I’ll oversimplify for the sake of highlighting an evolution of people’s career orientations:

Career Versions 1.0, 2.0, 3.0… And The Emerging 4.0

The 1.0 career describes Continue reading

Share

Reboot and Remix Your Life for Greater Health – Part 2

After rebooting your life, it’s time for a remix.

In Part 1 of this post I wrote that the reality of life today includes much confusion, uncertainty, and confused emotions about pursuing success and wellbeing. In fact, our tumultuous, changing world spurs actions that often undermine rather than support psychological health. That’s visible in the dysfunction and unhappiness emerging from the choices, decisions and overall way of life of many people, today.

Based on current research and new thinking aboutresiliency and psychological health, I suggested three practices for “rebooting” your life in today’s environment: Self-awareness (“Wake Up”); envisioning your life circumstances with out-of-the-box perspectives (“Lose Your Mind”); and actions that support positive growth rather than stagnation (“Push The Envelope”).

In Part 2 I propose that you combine “rebooting” your life in those ways with a life “remix.” That is, create an intent to activate six important dimensions of your life, each with a new, clear purpose. The “remix” reflects the holistic reality that everything you do in each “part” of your life affects and is affected by every other “part.” A life “remix” in the dimensions I describe below helps you evolve in healthy, proactive ways. And the latter is a necessity for positive,resilient living within this fluid and uncertain world that we now inhabit.

The Six Dimensions:

Here’s what you do:

Formulate specific newgoals for each of the following six interconnected dimensions of life. Each should be modest; that is, realistic and able to be achieved within a reasonable time-frame that you specify and commit to.

Then, describe some specific actions you can begin taking right now that support each of the goals.

The six dimensions are: Continue reading

Share

For A Healthy Life In Today’s World: Reboot and Remix – Part 1

There’s an old saying that if you want to see into your future, just look into a mirror. That is, how you live your life each day — through your choices, your values and behavior — shapes and determines who you will be in the future.

Many people today don’t like what they see when they look into that mirror. Especially when so much feels out of control: Economic decline with no end in sight; social and political changes that can feel frightening, even threatening; career uncertainty; relationships unraveling under stress; climate disasters, both man-made and natural. All of these events impact your mental health and overall well being, as research and survey data show: Emotional, physical and social symptoms are rising, such depression and anxiety, obesity, demagoguery from media personalities like Glen Beck, emotional disturbance in the workplace…the list goes on.

All of that can make you feel frozen in today’s world. How can you find a psychologically healthy path into the future, in the midst of such confusion and turmoil? And, within a cultural and political environment that feeds self-serving, shortsighted behavior?

I’ve been addressing the impact of living in our new world upon people’s emotional health on my posts for this blog, Progressive Impact.In this post, I suggest three ways to “reboot” you life in positive ways, within today’s unpredictable, interdependent and often scary world.

Wake Up!

Common lore is that it’s harmful to wake up a person who’s sleepwalking, but that’s not true. And when you’re sleepwalking in your life, Continue reading

Share

Reversing the “Death Spiral” During So-Called Midlife

You may ask yourself: well… how did I get here?
You may say to yourself?My God!… what have I done?
Letting the days go by/into the silent water
Talking Heads

A woman in her late 30s was telling me about her work-life conflicts. She has a busy career, three children, and a husband who travels a great deal for his own job. She suddenly paused, recalling a recent, terrifying dream: She’s on one of those moving sidewalks, and can’t get off. Passing by on either side are scenes of herself, but living different lives with different people. Suddenly she recognizes the Grim Reaper standing at the end of the sidewalk, arms outstretched, awaiting her.

She wakes up, screaming.

You might think her dream sounds more typical of someone in the throes of “midlife.” In fact, I think it reveals the need for new thinking about what we’ve called “midlife.” That is, changes in our culture and in how people live require tossing out old notions of “midlife” and the “midlife crisis.” With people living longer, healthier, productive lives, what used to be a narrower “middle” period of adulthood has greatly expanded.

Instead, think of a broad period of true adulthood that starts somewhere in the 30s. From that period onward men and women face a range of truly adult challenges of living and working in today’s world. This new, longer adulthood extends for several decades — recent surveys find that about 80% think “old age” begins at around 85 — so the term “midlife” is no longer accurate.

No surprise, then, that 30-somethings are reporting symptoms associated with a “midlife crisis” – marriage boredom, careers flatlining, work-life juggling, trying to keep it all together, trying to maintain sanity…and, wondering what the point of it all is, like in that Talking Heads song.

To better explain all this and how to reverse that “death spiral,” let’s look at recent contradictory Continue reading

Share

Why Failure And Loss In Your Relationships Can Be Good For You

So often our romantic and sexual relationships end in regret, sadness, and loss. Initial feelings of excitement and connection just seem to slip through our fingers, and often we’re not sure why that happened. Nevertheless, men and women continue to hope for finding that elusive “soul mate,” a relationship of sustained vitality. But so often, partners descend into the “functional relationship,” or become lost in a maize of unfulfilling sexual connections or affairs.

In previous posts I’ve written about the roots of that seemingly inevitable decline and what helps. But there’s another part of relationship failure or loss that can be a basis of new growth. Let me explain. Over the decades I’ve witnessed countless examples of people drawn into new relationships that are simply new versions of previous, failed relationships — old wine in new flasks. And inevitably, disaster is lying in wait, right down the road. I think that often happens when an important part of the foundation for a positive, sustainable romantic and sexual relationship is neglected or overlooked.

That is, mental health practitioners focus a great deal on building better mechanics of listening, mirroring to each other, techniques of communication and compromise, and so on. All good stuff. But what can go missing is Continue reading

Share

For Adults Only: Sustaining Your Emotional and Sexual Intimacy

Here’s a typical couple’s lament: “We just see thingsdifferently.” That’s certainly true for many couples, but I see a deeper problem that undermines many relationships today. And it won’t be fixed by any of themarriage education, relationship improvement or sexual enhancement programs out there. That is, often the problem isn’t that you and your partner seethings differently; but rather, that you see differentthings.

Facing what that means can be painful. It may even feel relationship-threatening. But doing so can open the door to strengthening the true foundation of your relationship: Yourvision of life. That refers to what you’re really living and working for, both individually and as a couple.

That’s the fundamental core of a relationship, and it’s often overlooked or seldom discussed. When you do face it you may discover that you and your partner were never in synch about your vision of life. Or, that you may have gone off on different tracks over time. When either is the case, you end up seeing differentthings altogether.

That’s a crucial problem because your core vision of life will increasingly impact your long-term health and well-being in today’s world, whether you’re in a relationship or not. We’re now living in a totally interconnected, unpredictable, “non-equilibrium” world. My 35 years as a psychotherapist and business psychologist convinces me that our new era requires a new and revised picture of psychological health and positive resiliency — what it looks like and what helps build it – to support your outward success and internal well-being in the years ahead. Continue reading

Share

The Paradox of Indifference – The Key To A Revitalized Relationship

Nora, 43, has a successful career as a free-lance magazine writer with two children. She’s been married for 15 years to Ken, a media executive. They’re typical of many couples today committed to their relationship and family as much as to their careers. Yet something troubles them. Its whats happened along the way during their marriage.

Theres nothing wrong with it, exactly. But the excitement and energy, the feelings of connection and passion that were once there have gradually faded over the years. The old feelings havent exactly disappeared, Nora says. Now and then it feels something like it used to. But mostly it feels like our relationship has ‘flatlined.

Another person, David, recently celebrated the eleventh anniversary of his second marriage. He describes a similar shift a bit more sardonically, saying that his relationship has settled into a state of depressing comfortableness. Hes thought about having an affair.

If these laments sound familiar to you, its likely because most men and women find that their long-term marriages (Im defining “marriage” to describe all committed relationships, straight or gay) tend to head south over time.

Gradually, they descend into what I call the Functional Relationship.

Most people think its inevitable, but theres a unique way to liberate yourself from it. Its learning to leave your relationship in order to transform it. You do that through becoming indifferent.

First, lets look at what typically happens in the Functional Relationship. The relationship continues to work fairly well, but mostly in a transactional way, around the logistics of daily life: I thought you were taking the car in for repair. Whose turn is it to take the kids to soccer practice on Saturday?

Sometimes, it becomes more adversarial: Why did you schedule the plumber for tomorrow when you knew you couldnt be here? I told you that I have a meeting I cant miss.

But even when functioning goes fairly smoothly, feelings of passion or even fun just hanging out together diminish, especially in contrast to how it felt early on in the relationship. As Ive studied contemporary marriages in our post-9-11/post-economic meltdown-world of the 21st Century, I find that couples experience this diminishment in three main ways:

  • Decreased emotional intimacy and sharing of feelings.
  • Less equality in decisions and daily interactions, which are often tinged by power-struggles and silent maneuvering for the upper hand.
  • And dampened sexuality, both in quantity and quality.

A note about that third item: Even when arousal is jacked up by Viagra or the new products purporting to enhance womens desire, your libido desire for the person youre with remains diminished. Thats no surprise, because the latter is relationship-dependent. It remains unaffected even if youre physiologically able to become aroused.

Overall, couples in a Functional Relationship report a diminished sense of connection with each other. Sometimes its a feeling of not being on the same wave-length.

Most people assume that the Functional Relationship is completely “normal;” just a sad reality of adult life. Some are resigned to it as just one more part of the long slide home, as one 47-year-old journalist described his experience of midlife. Of course, not everyone feels so bleak, but many would agree with this womans lament about her 18-year relationship: What was once a bright flame has turned into a pilot light.

You, too probably assume that romantic and sexual connections are supposed to fade over time. Common sense seems to tell you so. After all, youre seeing the same person day-in and day-out, not just when he or she is most attractive. And like the majority of couples today, youre probably dealing with the impact of multitasking, dual-career lives. Raising children in addition absorbs enormous time and energy. Just trying to carry on in this uncertain, unpredictable world adds another huge layer of stress.

If everyday experience doesnt convince you that the Functional Relationship is inevitable, there are the pronouncements of various experts. For example, some researchers claim that brain chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylethylamine, associated with sexual excitement or desire, decline with familiarity. At the same time, oxytocin and endorphins, which generate feelings of quiet comfort and calm, rise. Therefore, they say, you are going to feel diminished desire for your partner over time.

Many marriage and relationship experts advocate just accepting this decline and learning to be happy with it. For example, in her book Surrendering to Marriage Iris Krasnow advocates learning to appreciate and live with the security and comfort that come along with the inevitable decline unless, of course, you want to go down the slippery slope of an affair, or dumping your partner altogether and look for a new one. Its easy to think its best to stop complaining about what you dont have and learn to live with lowered expectations.

If all of the above is really true, then youd better resign yourself to the fact that a passionate marriage is an oxymoron.

But before you do that, consider this: Descending into the Functional Relationship is neither natural nor inevitable. True, the experience is widespread. But most people descend into the Functional Relationship because its the natural outcome of how you learn to engage in love relationships to begin with. As I wrote in a previous post, its a version of adolescent romance. Its features like intense arousal by a new person; infatuation, often followed by deflation; manipulating and game-playing, are part of normal adolescent development. But we carry them into our adult experience. And that model of love cant sustain long-term connection and vitality.

Becoming Indifferent

Through my research and clinical work I’ve been discovering how and why some people defy the norm and generate new energy and vitality within their long-term relationships. Im convinced that theres a way out of the Functional Relationship. Theres even a way to avoid it altogether. I call it the art of Creative Indifference. Continue reading

Share

Your “Life Footprint” And The 4.0 Career

In a previous post I wrote about the rise of the 4.0 career, and how it contrasts with earlier orientations to work. In brief, the 4.0 version is an emerging shift towards a broader vision of career success. It includes the desire for new learning, growth and personal meaning from work increasingly visible themes over the last few decades, and what Ive called the 3.0 career orientation.

Whats different about the emerging 4.0 career is that its an expansion beyond looking for greater meaning and sense of purpose through ones work. It also includes a desire for impact on something larger than oneself, beyond ones personal benefit. Its becoming visible in the pull men and women report towards wanting to contribute to the common good - whether its through the value and usefulness of a product or service.

The 4.0 career is part of the emerging new business model focused on creating sustainable enterprises. Its part of whats known as the new triple bottom line — financial, social and environmental measures of success.

In this and in future posts lll describe some 4.0 career themes and how men and women illustrate them. This is important because the transformations now underway in global societies, which became more dramatically apparent following the economic nosedive in September 2008, have tremendous implications for career survival and success. The unstable, unpredictable new world upon us makes the 4.0 career orientation the path towards both outward success and personal well-being in the years ahead.

As a step towards finding the 4.0 career path, consider this little historical nugget: Continue reading

Share

Why Do People Volunteer?

During the holiday season, many people feel the need to volunteer their time to charity organizations. Feeding the homeless is especially popular at this time of the year, and then often forgotten – duty done. Such volunteering is often met with eye-rolling by the staff of organizations, who wish that such earnest desire to help would continue at other times of the year as well.

Its easy to be cynical about holiday volunteering. But for an increasing number of men and women, young and old, volunteering their time, service, and expertise has become an integral part of their lives; an expression of their core values. And that raises the question: Why do people volunteer?

Moreover, how does it impact your own life, as well as those whom you help? Over the years Ive explored these questions with men and women, and tried to help them discover the meaning and impact of their volunteer work upon their own lives, both personally and professionally.Ive found that volunteer work can impact peoples values, perspectives, and even their life goals. For many, it spurs new growth, spiritually and emotionally.

This makes sense. Over the years, as Ive investigated the link between career success and emotional conflict, Ive found that many highly successful, career-oriented men and women acknowledge feelings of inner emptiness, and absence of meaning in their lives. At the same time, many say that their volunteer work is the only arena that provides a sense of meaning and human connection. Far greater than their career, and – sadly – often greater than their intimate relationships.

Continue reading

Share

Comfortably Numb at Midlife?

Unless youve been living in a cave, youre probably aware that the 78 million baby boomers have entered midlife. As a psychotherapist and business psychologist and member of this new midlife generation myself Ive worked a great deal with midlifers seeking help for emotional conflicts, career dilemmas and life transition issues.

Ive heard many expressions of midlife distress, but few as poignant as this one: A 47 yearold married mother of three told me of a dream in which she’s on one of those moving sidewalks, but can’t get off. On either side scenes pass by it’s herself, living different lives, with different people. Suddenly she recognizes the Grim Reaper standing at the end of the sidewalk, arms outstretched, awaiting her. She wakes up, screaming.

How to best understand its meaning? One problem is that much of the research and clinical understanding about midlife is contradictory. Some, like a MacArthur Foundation study, suggest that theres no such thing as a midlife crisis today; that most people sail through it smoothly. Others, like two recent studies, suggest that midlife is a time of universal depression;
sometimes severe.

For example, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found a 20 percent rise in midlife suicide among 45 to 54 yearolds from 19992004 a rise that exceeded all other age groups in the U.S.

Another study reported an increase in depression during one’s 40s to early 50s, after which happiness rises again. Researchers from the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College studied 2 million people from 80 nations and found this pattern to be consistent across gender, socioeconomic levels and among developed and developing countries alike.

Some experts think the rise of midlife suicide may reflect the decrease of hormone replacement therapy among women, the stress of modern life or increased drug usage among midlifers. But theyre groping in the dark. Such experiences can lead to many outcomes, depending on how the person handles them, not necessarily suicide.

Regarding the rise of happiness after midlife depression, some speculate that people may feel happier after their 40s because they’ve learned to count their blessings, or resign themselves to life goals they know theyll never achieve.

Based on my own work over the last few decades, I find these explanations unconvincing. The data only underscore the need for a new understanding of midlife; a new framework through which people could learn to deal more effectively with the positive and negative changes they encounter. Heres mine:

What Is MidlifeAnyway?

First, I think the term “midlife” is a misnomer. Psychologically, its really the portal into full adulthood, the time when you face the challenges of evolving into a fully adult human. Successfully crossing that portal involves addressing some core questions: “What am I living for?” “What’s the purpose of my life?”

These questions are the source of most adult emotional conflicts, because facing them often arouses tremendous fear, denial or escapism. After all, were highly conditioned to define ourselves by what we have rather than who we are. We learn to turn away from looking down the road, where we see Death patiently awaiting us all, as that 47 yearold woman did in her nightmare. The economic downturn that began in September 2008 has added to the fears about what may lie ahead.

Moreover, midlife actually kicks in around 35. Thats when most people start Continue reading

Share

Actually, We’re All World Citizens, Now….

Newt Gingrich says, “Let me be clear:I am not a citizen of the world.” What planet does he inhabit, then? Here on totally interconnected Earth, we’ve all become global citizens. That’s especially clear, since the economic collapse last Fall. The reality is that success and security depend on that awareness — and on actions that reflect it, in public policy, business and in individual behavior – especially since the economic meltdown.

It’s frightening that the GOP finds that so…well, frightening.

Share