Tag Archives: purpose

Enjoying Life, Helping Others…And Your Longevity

January 24, 2017

Two new, unrelated, studies show interesting links between longevity and your experience of life; especially how you actually live it. I think both raise questions about the latter. To explain, researchers from University College London looked at previous findings that single occasions of of enjoyment and life satisfaction appeared linked with greater longevity. The researchers then extended that to look at the impact of enjoying life over a longer period.

The new study of over 9000 adults in their 60s was conducted at two-year intervals. It found that the death rate was progressively higher among people who experienced fewer occasions of enjoying life – even when accounting for other possible factors. Those reporting the most frequent experience of enjoying life had a death rate of 24 percent lower than others in the study. The researchers concluded that the longer an individual experiences life enjoyment, the lower the risk of death.

However, in my view, this study raises the question of what fuels and supports a sense of enjoying life through the years to begin with? I see a key source: having a sense of purpose and engagement in life — a reason for living — tends to lead to greater overall health, which can translate into greater longevity. And that larger purpose is associated with engaging in something larger than just oneself. — something that draws on one’s mental, emotional and creative capacities in the service of something meaningful.

The other study I referred to corroborates that point: It found that people who care for others, who provide emotional support and help people in some way, also experience longer lives. That joint study from several universities, described in this report from the University of Basel, was published in Evolution & Human Behavior.

I think the upshot of studies like these, combined with clinical observation, is that moving beyond fixation with yourself — your own ego, your body, your “needs” — is the key to mind-body-spiritual health over the long run. And it’s no surprise that longevity is a by-product.

Credit: Markgrove.tv

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Life’s Dilemmas And Crossroads – A Few Reflections

January 10, 2017

“People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead.” — James Baldwin (1924-1987). Baldwin’s observations reminds me so much of how often I’ve heard someone tell me, in one version or another, “I don’t like the person that I’ve become…”

Similarly, there’s the lament, “I waited too long…now what?” — I’ve often heard that from a person who’s awakened to realizing what they’ve wanted to do or express in their life, but always postponed. Or, they’ve discovered that they’ve been sleepwalking through the years. And there are fewer of them remaining.

Credit: CPD Archive

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

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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

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Poet and Beat Publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti — Thriving at 96

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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

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The Passing of Peter Matthiessen

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 12.41.47 PMSo sad…the unexpected passing of Peter Matthiessen at 86. A great literary figure, non-fiction & fiction; Zen teacher, environmentalist, human rights advocate…

My personal contact with him was minor, really, and scattered over the years. But he’s always been a model for me – disciplined and focused; a gifted writer, keenly aware of the nuances of human character. Always generous with his time, I found him humble and wise; open and authentic…

The New York Times obituary appeared, ironically, on the same day a scheduled retrospective of his career and life was published in the Times Sunday Magazine. From the obit:

Peter Matthiessen, a roving author and naturalist whose impassioned nonfiction explored the remote endangered wilds of the world and whose prizewinning fiction often placed his mysterious protagonists in the heart of them, died on Saturday at his home in Sagaponack, N.Y. He was 86.

His son Alex said the cause was leukemia, which was diagnosed more than a year ago. Mr. Matthiessen’s final novel, “In Paradise,” is to be published on Tuesday by Riverhead Books. Mr. Matthiessen was one of the last survivors of a generation of American writers who came of age after World War II and who all seemed to know one another, socializing in New York and on Long Island’s East End as a kind of movable literary salon peopled by the likes of William Styron, James Jones, Kurt Vonnegut and E. L. Doctorow.

In the early 1950s, he shared a sojourn in Paris with fellow literary expatriates and helped found The Paris Review, a magazine devoted largely to new fiction and poetry. His childhood friend George Plimpton became its editor.

A rugged, weather-beaten figure who was reared and educated in privilege — an advantage that left him uneasy, he said — Mr. Matthiessen was a man of many parts: littérateur, journalist, environmentalist, explorer, Zen Buddhist, professional fisherman and, in the early 1950s, undercover agent for the Central Intelligence Agency in Paris. Only years later did Mr. Plimpton discover, to his anger and dismay, that Mr. Matthiessen had helped found The Review as a cover for his spying on Americans in France.

For the rest of the obit, click here. For the Sunday Times Magazine article, “Peter Matthiessen’s Homegoing,” click here.

 

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Feeling Self-Determination Increases Health And Longevity

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 10.24.04 AMA new study by Brandeis University and the University of Rochester, published in Health Psychology, finds that people who have a sense of “control” in their lives and believe they can achieve their goals — despite hardships — are more likely to live longer and and healthier lives. This was found to occur even among less educated people, which contradicted previous research that indicated shorter, less healthy lives among less educated people.

However, what’s meant by a sense of “control?” What constitutes it?

I think the research findings reveal the importance of having a vision, an ideal, to aim for and pursue — “control” in that sense. That’s different from a belief that one is in control of, or can dominate and bend circumstances, to one’s will. Or, the need to control and cling to what inevitably changes and evolves in life. That is, positive “control” means maintaining a belief in what is possible. That’s what sustains energy and flexibility in pursuit of an ideal or goal in life, whatever one’s current circumstances.

 

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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

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The Life and Work of Albert Hirschman

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 11.59.46 AMI’ve long-admired the writings of economist and public intellectual Albert O. Hirschman, who died a few months ago at 97. In addition to his ideas, he had a remarkable, little publicized and heroic life during World War II, as this New York Times obituary reveals. And this essay by Roger Lowenstein in the Wall Street Journal shows how Hirschman offered some interesting perspectives about the role of dissent, relevant to politics and organizations. Lowenstein writes, “Once you start looking at the world through the Hirschman lens, the paradigm of exit and voice is all around. Suppose you are unhappy at work: Should you complain to the boss or simply quit? Or maybe you are the boss: How much should you mollify employees—or customers—to keep them from leaving? It might depend on the presence of a third Hirschman factor: loyalty. Broadly speaking, markets are all about exit, while politics deals in voice. What Hirschman grasped is that the strongest organizations (in either sphere) foster exit as well as voice.”

The complete essay: Continue reading

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The 2012 Campaign Reveals Two Contrasting Views of Personal Success

The 2012 presidential campaign exposes a clash between an older, narrowly focused — and declining — view of success, and one that’s both broader and steadily rising. It has both social and political implications worth our attention.

The view that Mitt Romney conveys is the older one. It’s essentially that success means achieving power, money and career position for oneself and family. Period. It’s a traditional, self-focused vision of a successful life. It’s also embodied in Paul Ryan’s positions about the “makers” and the “takers.”

The other view, conveyed by President Obama, is closer to what I call “whole life” success. That’s a growing shift towards viewing a successful life as one that includes personal achievement, but extends beyond it to supporting and helping others elevate their own lives. It’s based on awareness that we’re all interdependent and interconnected in today’s world. And, that your own life course – including your financial and career success — is highly interwoven with everyone else’s.

The latter perspective is not new, of course. But it’s been steadily rising in our culture; increasingly visible in the values and actions of younger generations, in particular. Let’s look at some statements that contrast the older, traditional view of success with the broader, whole life view. Then, let’s look at where the latter is taking root, and why President Obama retains one foot in the older view when he describes the path to success, today.

First, Romney emphasizes that Americans should be Continue reading

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Five Steps That Reveal Your Life’s Purpose

Like many of us, you might feel that there’s a true purpose to your life but you haven’t yet found or discovered it, especially when trapped within a life that’s unfulfilling or feels out of synch with your true purpose for being. Teachings of Eastern mystics say each of us have a particular purpose in life, though we might not know how to recognize it. Interestingly, some new research suggests ways to discover and pursue your true purpose. Moreover, having a purpose in life is found to protect yourself from mental decline – not a bad bi-product.

Some are awakened to it from an event or moment of illumination that opens the way. A recent example: Adam Steltzner, the NASA scientist who headed the team that designed and carried out the successful landing of the Mars rover, Curiosity. In an NPR interview Steltzner spoke of having played in a rock band after high school rather than going to college. While waiting for stardom, his friends went to college and on with their lives. On his way home from a gig one night he looked up and was suddenly fascinated with the stars, especially the constellation Orion.

 “The fact that it was in a different place in the sky at night when I returned home from playing a gig… that was it. I was totally turned on by this idea of understanding my world.” He had to know all about the laws that govern the universe. Seltzner enrolled in a physics course, and over the next several years earned a Ph.D., which led to where he is today.

Most of us, though, have to work at discovering our purpose. Too often it’s clouded over by our conditioning and adapting to life experiences and choices – from family and culture; our educational and career path; our relationships. We’re so enraptured with our outer life – or absorbed by it – that awareness of our true purpose dims to just a flicker. Consequently, many go through life feeling off-track, out of tune in some way. That creates major stress over time, and new research finds that such stress will increase your risk of death from all sources.

Here are five steps that can help activate your life’s purpose: Continue reading

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People Are Motivated To Help Others By Thoughts Of Giving, Beyond Self-Interest

This research from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan adds to the evidence that people are more prone to help others when they focus and reflect on giving and helping. I think this helps you move beyond self-interest and towards awareness of connection with others – which underlies service to others, promoting the common good, and actions that are an antidote to greed and self-absorption.

The study was summarized in Medical News Today, from a report in the journal Psychological Science, as follows:

 

We’re often told to ‘count our blessings’ and be grateful for what we have. And research shows that doing so makes us happier. But will it actually change our behavior towards others?

A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that thinking about what we’ve given, rather than what we’ve received, may lead us to be more helpful toward others.

Researchers Adam Grant of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Jane Dutton of The Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan wanted to understand how reflection, in the form of expressive writing, might influence prosocial behavior. They observed that when we reflect on what we’ve received from another person, we might feel an obligation to help that person, but the motivation to help doesn’t necessarily extend to other people. And reflecting on what we’ve received from others may even cause us to feel dependent and indebted.

The researchers wondered whether thinking about times when we have given to others might be more effective in promoting helping. They hypothesized that reflecting on giving could lead a person to see herself as a benefactor, strengthening her identity as a caring, helpful individual and motivating her to take action to benefit others.

In their first experiment, Continue reading

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Being in Awe Can Expand Time and Enhance Well-Being

It’s good to see a research study confirm and therefore give more credence to observational or anecdotal experiences. In this case, the study looked at the impact of experiences or moments that pull you out of your usual focus on yourself and your own daily life issues; and propel you into expanding your consciousness and sense of connection with larger realms, the larger fabric of the universe that we’re a part of.

This study was summarized in Science Daily, from the journal Psychological Science:

It doesn’t matter what we’ve experienced — whether it’s the breathtaking scope of the Grand Canyon, the ethereal beauty of the Aurora Borealis, or the exhilarating view from the top of the Eiffel Tower — at some point in our lives we’ve all had the feeling of being in a complete and overwhelming sense of awe.

Awe seems to be a universal emotion, but it has been largely neglected by scientists — until now.

Psychological scientists Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University Graduate School of Business and Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management devised a way to study this feeling of awe in the laboratory. Across three different experiments, they found that jaw-dropping moments made participants feel like they had more time available and made them more patient, less materialistic, and more willing to volunteer time to help others.

The researchers found that the effects that awe has on decision-making and well-being can be explained by awe’s ability to actually change our subjective experience of time by slowing it down. Experiences of awe help to brings us into the present moment which, in turn, adjusts our perception of time, influences our decisions, and makes life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.

Now that’s awesome.

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Music And Life…

Some interesting reflections on how music can impact your life, from Mark Edmundson, Professor of English at the University of Virginia, and author of Why Read? This essay, “Can Music Save Your Life?,” was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. He writes:

Who hasn’t at least once had the feeling of being remade through music? Who is there who doesn’t date a new phase in life to hearing this or that symphony or song? I heard it – we say – and everything changed. I heard it, and a gate flew open and I walked through. But does music constantly provide revelation or does it have some other effects, maybe less desirable?

For those of us who teach, the question is especially pressing. Our students tend to spend hours a day plugged into their tunes. Yet, at least in my experience, they are reluctant to talk about music. They’ll talk about sex, they’ll talk about drugs but rock ‘n’ roll, or whatever else they may be listening to, is off-limits. What’s going on there?

When I first heard Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” in 1965, not long after it came out, I was amazed. At the time, I liked to listen to pop on the radio, the Beatles were fine, the Stones were better. But nothing I’d heard until then prepared me for Dylan’s song. It had all the fluent joy of a pop number, but something else was going on too. This song was about lyrics: language. Dylan wasn’t chanting some truism about being in love or wanting to get free or wasted for the weekend. He had something to say. He was exasperated. He was pissed off. He’d clearly been betrayed by somebody, or a whole nest of somebodies, and he was letting them have it. His words were exuberantly weird and sometimes almost embarrassingly inventive and I didn’t know what they all meant. “You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat / Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat.” Chrome horse? Diplomat? What?

I sensed Dylan’s disdain and his fury, but the song suggested way more than it declared. This was a sidewinder of a song, intense and angry, but indirect and riddling too. I tried to hear every line. Dylan’s voice seemed garbled, and our phonograph wasn’t new. I can still see myself with my head cocked to the spindle, eyes clenched, trying to shut out the room around me as I strained to grab the words from the harsh melodious wind of the song. “Ain’t it hard when you discovered that / He really wasn’t where it’s at / After he took from you everything he could steal.”

Click here to read the full piece.

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How to Alter Your Past — Or Your Future — and Change Your Present Life

Can you travel back into your past and alter something that will change yourself in the present? And could you travel into your future and also alter your present? It looks like it might be possible, and its not science fiction.

Both Einstein and the Eastern mystics have explained that what we call the past, present and future are an illusion: Afabric of space/time, in which all exist seamlessly together. In this view, the future and the past are not any different, so there’s no reason why you can’t have causes from the future just as you have causes from the past,”according to David Millerof the Centre for Time at the University of Sydney in Australia.

And now, some new thinking and research suggests that, in fact, the present can change the past, with implications for the present; and, that the future can also change the present. This is known as retrocausality and has interesting implications for your life at least, metaphorically, aside from the quantum physics its based on. Its that you might be able to change something about your present life that was originally set in motion in your past. Or, that you might be able to use the future even though it hasnt happened yet, from your time-frame, to also change something in the present.

In fact, Ive found that this perspective is helpful with somepsychotherapypatients and well as others who feel stuck and unable to change or grow. I provide some exercises below that might help apply retrocausalty to changing your life. But first, a brief explanation of retrocausality. Continue reading

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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

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Awakening Your True Self Within Your False Self

Some readers have asked me to elaborate more on what I wrote inmy previous post, regarding the self within the self. Here, I explain that a bit more, emphasizing the growing links between Western science and Eastern perspectives about consciousness and the physical universe.

In the previous post I mentioned that George EliotwroteinMiddlemarch: Its never too late to be what you might have been. Of course, it can be hard to realize what that is, exactly, especially when what you might have beenyour true selfhas become smothered by the life events and experiences that formed your external, false self. Nevertheless, most people have glimmers of awareness, moments in which you experienced the real you. Many occur at key turning points in your life when you chose, or were persuaded, to go this direction vs. that.

You cant reverse times arrow, but you can revisit turning points and learn something about yourself that you might reclaim and incorporate into who you can become. Within this perspective, an inherent, true self exists within your external self. And, this underlying self is part of a vast, interconnected whole that our minds, bodies and spirits always know at some level.

This perspective reflects a confluence of several streams of new knowledge and thinking. It includes research aboutpersonalityand behavior change; the distinction between consciousness, the mind, thebrain, and their relation to consciousness; and knowledge of the structure of the universe, of which our organisms are fragments, intelligent stardust, animated by a life force that seeks expression itself through our evolution.

Interestingly, this new research and emerging viewpoints are joining Western science with ancient Eastern teachings. They indicate Continue reading

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Life’s Turning Points: The Mystery of the Self Within Your Self

While driving in my car the other day I heard an old song that instantly transported me to a vivid scene in my life. Im a not-yet teenager, sitting in the kitchen and having an after-school snack. I reach for the radio to tune in a Yankees baseball game, as I usually did (back then, games still played in the daytime). But for the first time, I hesitated. Instead, I turned the dial to a rock and roll station.

I recall feeling at that moment that something had just shifted in my sense of who I was; who I was becoming. I believe it was more than just the rumblings of impendingadolescence, or thinking about that new girl in class. It was a new awareness about who this self was, inside me; that I was no longer just the person I thought I was a moment before. It was a turning point in my consciousness about myself.

We experience many turning points in our lives, whenever we shift direction this way or that. Perhaps a decision about a relationship, or what interests to pursue. Maybe about an educational orcareerchoice. Some turning points are conscious, others less so; some may be imposed by family or other persuasive people. But all involve turningawayfrom one path, andtowardsanother. And they shape theselfthat you experience and define as you, along the way.

In my work, I often ask people to describe what they think were the positive and negative consequences from their key turning points, because theres always a message contained in what you turned away from, or towards. Its a message from Continue reading

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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

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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

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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

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Does Imagining a Goal Make You Less Likely to Achieve It?

A common theme amongself-helpteachings and new agespiritualideas, such asThe Secret,is that you have the power within you to make your “dreams” come true by focusing your mental energy, your “intent” on them. Then, they will come to you. But somenew researchclaims that doing so can actually make youlesslikely to achieve what you wish for.

The research says that fantasizing about achievinggoalsmakes you less likely to achieve them because it drains the energy you need to pursue them. I think the research is as flawed and distorted asThe Secretand similar teachings, but for very different reasons. Let’s take a look.

This study, from New York University’s Motivation Lab, found that “positivefantasies” predict poor achievement because they don’t generate the energy to pursue the desired future. That is, if you create idealized images of future outcomes, your fantasized ambitions are less likely to become reality. That’s because positive fantasies are de-energizing.

The research contains so many confused ideas and faulty assumptions that it’s hard to know where to begin. But it does, indirectly, open a door to understanding some important elements for turning your goals into reality. Continue reading

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Why People Are Caught Between Public Lies And Private Truths

The latest “sex and power” scandals flashing across the media in the last few weeks underscore just how commonplace, even repetitive, they’ve become. Some are new, like the sexual assault charges against former IMF President Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s revelation that he had fathered a child with a former member of the household staff. Some are recycling, like John Edwards’ indictment or Newt Gingrich’s presidential aspirations, which revivememories about hislying about an affair while impeaching President Clinton for lying about an affair.

The list goes on, the latest being the Anthony Weiner’s “rolling disclosure” episode. TheWashington Post recently compiled may of the scandals into anice summary –for those who are interested in keeping track.

But I think this steady stream of sex-related scandals is just the most titillating and graphic part of something more widespread and troublesome in the lives of many men and women today: the gap between people’spublic lies andprivate truths.

That is, many people live with contradictions between their inner lives (the truths about their desires, emotional experience,self-image and ideals) and what they do with those truths behind the scenes, hidden from view (their private selves), and the lives they conduct publically, in theircareer paths, their relationships with their families or others they deal with and the positions they espouse or advocate (their public selves).

Public lies that contradict private truths have been part of our culture for some time. But in my work with people over the last few decades, I’ve seen it grow more rapidly since 9/11 and the economic/political events of the last few years. As I reflected on the reasons for this gap, how it damages people and our society, Continue reading

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Why It’s Hard To Find Your “Life Purpose”

Every being is intended to be on earth for a certain purpose.”
— Sa’di, 12th Century Persian poet

I’m often asked, “Why can’t I find the purpose of my life?” Over the decades I’ve heard many men and women — whether they’re psychotherapy patients working to build healthier lives or business executive trying to create healthier leadership — say at some point that they don’t know what they’re really here, for, on this planet. They’re not necessarily religious or spiritually inclined, but they feel a longing for that “certain something” that defines and integrates their lives.

Many turn to the various books and programs purport to identify their life’s purpose, but most come away dissatisfied. No closer than they were before, they identify with Bono’s plaintive cry in the U2’s song, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

And yet, many do find and live in harmony with their life’s purpose. Here are some of my observations about why many don’t, and how they differ from those who do.

First, I think everyone feels a pull towards some defining purpose to his or her life, no matter how much it may have become shrouded over along the way. In fact, you can say that all forms of life, all natural phenomena, have some purpose. There’s always movement or evolution towards some kind of outcome or fulfillment — whether it’s a tree that produces fruit or clouds that form to produce rain. But we humans become so enraptured by our daily activity, engagements, goals and so forth, that our awareness of our own unique life purpose is easily dimmed.

And there are consequences to not knowing or finding your purpose. I often see men�and women who’ve become successful in their work or relationships — their outer lives — and yet they feel hollow, empty, unfulfilled. They describe feeling “off-track” in some way, or incomplete, despite a conventionally successful life. Sometimes they wonder if they’ve been on the “wrong” path all along — chosen the wrong career, or the wrong life partner. Or that perhaps they Continue reading

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The GoodMakers Street Team — A Mother Watches Young Activists Empower Global Change

The following is a guest blog by Tilo Ponder, a Los Angeles based Writer/Producer of documentary films. �Tilo Ponder has spent her career as a catalyst for dynamic and integrated campaigns across all media, working with major�entertainment and consumer brands in her 20+ years of working in�the advertising agency world. Given the chance to parlay that experience into a more purposeful existence, she co-founded GoodMakers Films. �Tilo’s intense passion is�a driving force behind�GoodMakers Films,�a�non-profit organization which creates�dynamic�promotional�documentaries that empower charities to get their message�out to a�global audience. �tilo@goodmakersfilms.org

When my 21-year-old daughter suddenly left�NYU Tisch a year and a half ago and came home to Los Angeles, she didn�t really know what she was returning to do — only that she was deeply concerned about how rapidly the deteriorating economy was impacting the world around her. She reported that her college friends were feeling anxious and depressed, some of them dropping out of school as their parents, who had lost their jobs, were unable to keep up with tuition payments.� In our home, we were scrambling to keep everything going, but were committed to keeping our daughter in college, no matter what.� My husband is a�freelance commercial director, I was at an ad agency heading up production and also running our own production company. Add to this, managing investment properties in other states, shuttling our 5-year-old son to pre-school and sports activities, while also supporting an 18-year-old daughter living in Scotland and a 2-hour daily work commute — our lives were jam-packed, but worked somehow.Our daughter�s announcement that she was taking a �semester break� created unrest and an ominous feeling that a small piece of our intricately maneuvered lives were being un-wedged in a dangerous way. I secretly wondered why she couldn�t just stay put.� Having tucked her away at a good college, I had assumed that she’d be set for 4-5 years, and that afterwards she�d be on her way to a prosperous career.� I challenged her assertions that her generation was apathetic and directionless, citing how it was her generation that only a year earlier ensured our nation�s first black president because of their passionate involvement in the final days of the campaign.� My daughter�agreed on that point, but added that after so much build up to��change� and the subsequent downfall of a global economy, her�generation had even less to believe in than before.

Given that, I wasn�t prepared for what followed. Continue reading

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Why The Tea Party/Republicans Fear A Transforming America

In the aftermath of the interim budget agreement, it’s clear that a new reactionary ideology has taken root in Tea Party/GOP policies. Psychological drivers are always present in political or personal ideologies and policies. I think it’s useful to expose and understand those within the positions of this new incarnation of the Republican Party, in order to order to counter them with constructive, positive alternatives.

In brief, the Tea Party/GOP is pushing for economic and social policies based onfears: Fears of massive transformation, turmoil and chaos underway in our society. And, fears about how those transformations will impact lives largely defined by self-interest, power and money. Some fear-generated policies are consciously created; others,unconscious. That is, some reflect a yearning for restoration of a way of life that no longer works in today’s changing society and globalized world. Other policy positions reflect conscious manipulation of those fears; But all driving the positions the Tea Party/GOP demands and is determined to enact.

I call their ideology and policies “reactionary” because they are a retreat away from creating positive,resilient responses to large-scale upheaval and change; and towards objectives that fail to address the sources of problems they aim to fix. Worse, their view of the impact their policies would have upon society doesn’t correspond to factual reality – as a broad range of commentators, bothconservative andliberal, have pointed out.

For both reasons, one may describe the policies and ideology of the current Republicans as, psychologically speaking, delusional.

Understanding What The New ReactionariesFear

We’re living through Continue reading

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Here’s How You Can Evolve Within Your Lifetime

You may not think that you can consciously direct your own evolution. But there’s increasing evidence that you’re able to evolve your conscious being – the driver of yourpersonality,cognitivecapacities, emotions and actions.

Of course we normally think of evolution in terms of physical changes over eons – though some recent observations raises the possibility that some evolution is occurring right now, perhaps spurred by need or desire. For example, the noted nature writer and photographer Boyd Norton recently caught onthis video a baboon that suddenly began walking and running upright. And the Moken people of Southeast Asia, who live off the sea, are able to evolve thecapacity of their eyes to have superior vision underwater, by maximally constricting the pupil to achieve superior vision. This is something other humans are unable to do.

But even more interesting, I think, is the prospect of being able to evolve your whole person in specific new, healthy directions. I’ve often heard mypsychotherapy patients as well as my corporate executive clients ask – or lament – why they don’t think they can change, or grow.

Here, I’ll describe some of the evidence that conscious evolution is possible, and a part of buildingpsychological health; and then show five steps you can take to evolve yourself.

Much research indicates that the capacity for self-evolution — of your personality, mental capacities, relationships and actions in the world — is based on conscious intent.
That is, shaping your being is an art form – the way an artist develops, evolves and creates a painting; or a composer creates music. You can make your conscious being and all that emanates from it a work of art. Continue reading

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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

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How Does Volunteerism Affect The Volunteer?

During our increasingly stretched-out holiday season, it’s easy to feel a bit cynical about people who suddenly want to do some volunteering. The staff of service organizations often wince at the prospect of receiving more offers of help than they actually need. “Where were you therest of the year?” they mutter silently.

To be fair, many people are not just a once- or twice-a-year volunteer. In fact, volunteering one’s time, service and expertise ison the rise among all age groups. For many, it’s an integral part of their lives, an expression of their core values. That’s raised a question in my mind: Does volunteering time and service impact the life of thevolunteer? And if so, how?

In recent years, I’ve researched this a bit through seminars we’ve held at the Center for Progressive Development for volunteers interested in exploring how their volunteering affects their personal and professional lives.

We’ve found that volunteer activity often reshapes or redirects people’s values, perspectives and even their life goals in several ways. It can spur new growth and awareness, both spiritually and emotionally. Sometimes the changes are slight, but clear — like the person who committed herself to ongoing work with a mission that she had initially chosen at random, in response to her company’s suggestion to employees that they consider volunteer service.

In other cases, the impact of volunteer work is more dramatic: changing the company one works for, or, asone man did, changing his Continue reading

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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What Is The “4.0” Career?

Some readers have asked me to explain why I have a category labeled Work and Career ‘4.0.’ Fair enough: A few of these blog posts are tagged that way, but I havent described what I mean by that designation.

What I call 4.0 is a shorthand way of describing a new evolution I see in peoples attitudes, behavior and desires about their work and career. Think of 1.0 as more of a survival orientation to work. Its how people think about and engage in their work when theyre in situations of extreme hardship, political upheaval, or within socio-economic conditions that limit their opportunity and choices. That probably describes the situation for the masses of people throughout most of history, and of course it exists today. In such situations, just earning enough of a living to survive and support yourself and your family is your target, your criteria of success. Today, the conflicts that people experience within version 1.0 often concern working conditions, discrimination and limited opportunities for getting onto a career path that can lead to something better.

Version 2.0 emerged with the political and economic environments that gave rise to the modern career; that is, mostly within increasingly large, bureaucratic organizations from about the late 1800s into the early 20th Century. Those organizations required layers of management and administration white-collar jobs. Advancement became possible along a defined path, and was available to people who could gain a foothold within it, usually because of educational opportunities and/or social class advantages they were born into. Seeking recognition, power, status, and material perks from steady advancement define success with Version 2.0. It still predominates within todays career culture. Its where you find the conditions that generate, for example, work-life conflict, boredom, workplace bullying, hostile management practices, and subtle racial and gender barriers to moving up.

Version 3.0 arose just in the last few decades. It reflects Continue reading

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Values and Behavior Are Evolving Towards Success & Service To Others

Great Nicholas Kristof piece in NYT about Scott Harrison’s Charity: Water http://bit.ly/yfRgm

I interviewed Scott for an article I wrote in the Washington Post in 2007 and was impressed with his ability to put his business and media savvy and talents in the service of addressing a humanitarian problem.

Even more impressive and significant is his personal story arc: From an awakening out of a self-centered life; which led to an unexpected, almost serendipity experience; which led, in turn, to creating a successful venture — one thats having tremendous impact on people who are deprived of something as basic as clean water. http://www.charitywater.org

Im finding that people like Scott are emblematic of a growing evolution within personal values and behavior, today: Redefining success away from self-centeredness, greed and purely personal gain; and towards using your talents to serve the common good. My study of this evolution suggests that it reflects an emerging new definition of psychological health that fits the needs of our post-globalized era.

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