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Mindfulness

During the Positive Psychology conference, one of my favorite workshops was with a colleague of mine Marla Warner who led us through a number of mindfulness activates. She actually saved my day as this was the final workshop of the afternoon and I was feeling the fatigue of a full conference schedule. Her presentation and the activities were a clear reminder of how restorative mindfulness is.

Just to clarify, many people assume that mindfulness is meditation. In fact, meditation is a form of mindfulness, and mindfulness is so much more. As defined by Jon Kabat Zin, mindfulness means ‘paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally’.

In recent weeks, with a full schedule and the task of working with Jim’s family to mover his parents to a Senior Citizen’s residence, I have engaged mindfulness in many ways. First, I have a daily routine which includes a number of exercises and stretches. At the end of the routine I have a mantra is use as follows: I am the Light of my Soul, I am bountiful, I am beautiful, I am bliss, I AM, I AM. This is followed by an Ohm and the setting of my intentions for the day.

Regardless of your choices, a daily practice such as this immediately brings you to a mindful state. Accompanied by breathing, this type of practice brings you to a place of calmness and clarity.

The second aspect which has kept me grounded throughout a time of significant transition, are the intentions set for new beginnings, in this case on behalf of our family. Living intentionally, stating clearly what you want to attract to your life, is a mindful act. Bringing yourself back to these intentions repeatedly, keeps you grounded, centered and focused. These are just a couple of examples of integrating mindful practices in your day.

Of course mindfulness is linked to positivity. As a practice mindfulness can help you literally sever the link between negative thoughts and emotions. The practice forces you to stop and to notice what is rummaging around in your head and what feelings are associated with these thought patterns. Without noticing, without being mindful, you cannot begin re-programing your thoughts.

So what can one be mindful of on a daily basis? Breath, contact, movement (such as walking a labyrinth), bodily sensations, feelings and emotions, thoughts attitudes and beliefs. You begin to realize that there is so much you take for granted on a daily basis without examining what unconsciously propels you forward in life.

Mindfulness is a skill – it takes practice. Over time it changes the way your brain works – you can use it to break down the circuits that promote negativity and build the circuits linked to positivity, taking advantage of “neuroplasticity”, the fact that your brain can be re-programmed.
Research regarding mindfulness includes the following benefits:

decreased blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension, reduced cholesterol, improved immunity, reduced pain and anxiety, improved sleep, and decreased inflammation.

Add to this, mindfulness leads to more optimism and decreased depression, greater self-awareness, the opportunity to change negative thought patterns, improved coping abilities, greater efficiency and productivity, improved learning capabilities and memory, and developing a sense of inner calm.

As you review this list, can you see the opportunities for all of us in our Third Act. The great gift of this time in our life is that you get to choose how you live. Many of you have the gift of more time. An important and useful part of this time is the investment in a few mindful practices which can serve to help you stay grounded, to intentionally explore the options for this time in your life and invest in your health.

Some Additional Mindful Practices: Meditation; Prayer, Yoga, Creative endeavors, Gratitude Practices, Mindful Eating (putting the fork down between bites and savoring the flavors), acknowledgement of others and what they bring into your life, washing dishes, gardening and so much more.

Consider this my invitation to you to put aside time every day for yourself for some type of mindful practice.

In mid-June I attended the Canadian Positive Psychology Conference. One of the questions I carried with me throughout the conference is how can we engage the principles of Positive Psychology to enhance our experience of the Third Act.

It is interesting to note that, at least at the conference, there was little focus on or dialogue regarding this question. Of greater interest to the attendees is the impact of Positive Psychology in education and the workplace. Understood, as this is probably where the greatest opportunities lie. And let’s not be the ‘lost generation’ in this important field of study.

Which brings me back to the whole idea of ‘Flourishing in the Third Act’. So let me share a few of my ‘take-aways’ from the conference and explore how these apply to the Third Act.

Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity and Love 2.0, was the opening key-note speaker. I find her ‘Broaden and Build’ Theory very compelling, as she examines what positivity versus negativity offers us in life. Here is a synopsis of what I took away from her presentation and how I believe this applies to our experience of the Third Act.

Central to Barbara’s research regarding Positivity is what she refers to as the Broaden and Build Theory. BROADEN implies expansive. Unlike negative emotions, which narrow people’s ideas about possible actions (eg. Response to dangerous situation) and outcomes, positive emotions do the opposite – they broaden your ideas about possible actions, open your awareness to a wider range of thoughts and actions, sparking your interest and urging you to explore and learn

Positivity opens us…our hearts and our minds, making us more receptive and creative.

When I consider this concept, I see the importance for Third Acters. Here’s why. Personally I have approached this age with some reticence, largely because of the beliefs I held regarding ‘retirement’. Of course my beliefs have been fed by society’s reaction to this stage of life as well. If however, we approach the Third Act with positivity and optimism, refusing to accept what societal beliefs have been, we have this great opportunity to broaden the possibilities of what is possible, desirable and engaging for us. Key to this notion then of broadening is our ability to exercise our curiosity and explore all the possibilities that light you up and which may have been lingering for a while.

The second aspect of Fredrickson’s theory is building, or more accurately resource building.
Again, if you approach life through the lens of negativity and neutrality you will constrain your experience of your Third Act, and your knowledge, of the world. Positivity does the opposite – it draws you out to explore, to mix up your world in unexpected ways. This leads to new learning and gains in knowledge. All of this may be useful during the Third Act, giving you the opportunity to broaden your sense of possibility, leading you to curiously explore what may be next and broadening your experience and desire to learn.

The Broaden and Build Theory holds that – Positive emotions were consequential to our human ancestors because over time those good feelings broadened our ancestor’s mindsets and built their resources for the future.

Positivity broadens and builds. It transforms people and helps them become their best. And when at their best, people live longer, and they have more fulfilling lives.

In other words, they flourish.

Positivity also offers you the following:

  • It opens possibilities,
  • improves cognition (that’s important!),
  • has the physical effect of broadening and opening our posture (less stooping!),
  • and affects how you view the world.

 

Like a good diet filled with nutrients, it builds over time, improving your resilience in the face of difficulties, improving your heart rate variability and your immune systems, all essential ingredients to healthy aging.

The Third Act can be a generative time in your life and your capacity to approach it with a positive attitude enhances your ability to broaden and build your life. So let’s imagine for a moment that we all agreed to begin this great experiment where we approached each day with a few simple questions/intentions:

  • I wonder what is possible today?
  • I have always wanted to learn more about….; why not now?
  • I plan to approach each day with optimism, gratitude and wonder; to be a positive influence for both myself and others
  • What a great opportunity I now have. My obligations and responsibilities have lessened. The only responsibility I have now is ME!

Speaking about this great experiment, are you not curious about what we as Third Acters can create when we take this approach; how we may influence the future? Just sayin’!

“You need two things to get unstuck: Clarity and Courage. And, clarity is the reward of having courage.”

It has occurred to me in the last two weeks that courage is something to embrace as the opportunities for self-expression continue to unfold in my Third Act. Why courage? I am finding it challenging to crack open the eggshell of old habits and daily routines which have governed my life for so long. One of my greatest gifts in life has been my purposefulness and goal orientation. One of my greatest liabilities in life is my purposefulness and goal orientation!

It takes courage to face it down, to challenge it, to understand how I trip myself up by relying on what I have always known. It is a bit of a trap, for even though we can agree that purposefulness and goal orientation is a great thing, I also see the limitations, the blinders these habits impose.

Enough self-flagellation; this is not meant to be a critique of me. The question really is ‘now what’?

In a moment of clarity, the other day I realized that what I really wanted to release was the ‘need to work’. Yes need. I don’t know how it has been for you, but I was raised in the school of responsibility, obligation and ‘shoulds’. The reality for me is that I no longer need to work. Now on the government payroll with CPP and OAP, I may not be completely set for life and I know that our financial health is strong. So what is this need thing, this drive?

In its place I would much rather embrace the joy of work and be open to whatever that may be. I still love what I do and offer clients. I thoroughly enjoy coaching, facilitation and teaching. Am I not fortunate? And there are as many opportunities out there for me now as there were 20 years ago when I started my business, perhaps even more.

And here’s where courage comes in – saying ‘NO’ to the less than perfect opportunities, releasing the work that lingers that no longer engages me, because I don’t need to hang on. This gives me the space for clarity, the opportunity for opening new avenues of connecting with and serving people. None of this is a surprise; I have been ruminating on this for a while.

I am a person that also enjoys structure and routine and again I am asking if I need it. With summer upon us, I dream of morning walks, time on the front porch in the early morning sun, gardening and painting, hammock time with a good book, evenings in the gazebo sharing a glass of wine with friends. My usual work schedule does not accommodate these things or this life style.

As I envision the July and August landscape, I see great possibility. The second week of July is fully booked with a series of workshops we will be facilitating from Quebec City to Vancouver. Yes, it will be an intense week. More importantly, by having the courage to speak honestly with our clients, we will be engaged in work that we love and which we believe will make a significant difference for our client. Clarity was our reward.

Then guess what, the remainder of July and August is a fallow field. Will I have the courage to ‘BE’ in it allowing time for new possibilities to emerge and clarity to grow?

So onto you. Some things to consider. Are some of your greatest strengths also your liabilities? It is a great exercise to recognize this.

Is it time for you to address some on the repeating patterns that have governed your life and crack open the egg? What would you like to replace these patterns with? Remember if you can’t name it, it is unlikely you will get it.

Summer is such a wonderful time to relax and allow yourself to sink into the days. Why not do so? I plan to and hope you will join me, perhaps even share with me a few of your AHA’s that show up.

Have the courage to let go of what you have always known and create space for clarity to walk in the door.

WE FIRST

Ah yes! Time to breathe. Even in the Third Act, where apparently we should be smarter and wiser, the hours can fill up. Whether intentionally or not, the hours of this past week have been filled and fueled by much doing balanced with a smidgen of being.

The highlight of the week was the weekend retreat we facilitated with three couples; WE FIRST. It is easy to forget when we are tossed into the throes of retirement, that this act of retiring affects not only us, it affects those around us. Most of you have probably heard the stories and the comments:

  • My husband retired and now he is underfoot
  • I keep asking my husband, ‘don’t you have someplace to go?”
  • my wife thinks that my entire retirement should be dedicated to the ‘honey do’ list
  • I thought when we retired we would have some quality time together but she is gone all the time volunteering for everything that comes her way.
  • and more….

The couples who gathered here this past weekend have all been in long-term relationships ranging from 26 to 43 years married. Some of our participants were solidly in the Third Act, others not. What is interesting is the recognition that marriages, like our lives, enter transitional phases as well. This stage of marriage beckons the opportunity for new conversations, a new understanding of how each partner wants to play with the other. Clearly, with the many years already invested in a relationship, and a strong foundation upon which to build, it is a perfect time to challenge old habits and develop new ones and reflect on how to raise the bar for an even more amazing couples’ experience.

Through a journey that included mindful communication, love languages, strengths, values and legacy, we encouraged the couples to build the ‘Blueprint of WE”, a contract for moving forward, honoring the past and imagining the future.

Third Act divorces are on the rise, the result of years of failing to pay attention to one’s partner and the relationship. The Third Act opportunity is to recognize the freedom you and your partner have in re-defining what lays before you, communicating your desires, and carving a path for the future. You can leave to chance or you can decide to be intentional.

I will always opt for the intentional route as I do believe I can co-create my future together with the person who has been at my side for 43 years. I want to remain engaged. I want to have fun. I want to explore the possibilities relationships have to offer.

All of this lays before me just as it did when I was younger, except now I know better, I am a tad wiser and I have learned to ask for what I want.

Here’s to flourishing relationships in the Third Act!

With everything I am learning about the Third Act, one thing is glaringly clear – it is time to explore new territory. It feels like so much of my adult life was about holding back, not stepping out fully into the truth of who I wanted to be. And doesn’t it seem to you that the Third Act needs to be dedicated to being truly authentic and identifying ways to express this identity you so yearn to embrace.

Four years ago, two of my young entrepreneur coaching clients embarked on an adventure by opening their own art studio. Yes, it does seem that the ‘Y’ generation is more daring than we ‘baby boomers’. When I saw their first workshop advertised, I sent them a congratulatory note to which they replied, “we have signed you up”.

My first instinct was to refuse. Fortunately, some internal craving or deep-seated instinct stopped me from doing so. I accepted the offer. That was just slightly more than four years ago.

Yesterday, along with Your Arts Council for Cornwall and the Counties, I hosted my first Art Exhibit. With excitement and trepidation, I decided to step out. It is not about the event however, exploring this new territory has really been about finding me. As a student of art when I was young, taking numerous courses in drawing, painting and designing, I was well on my way to having a strong creative presence. And then I put it all away, for 30 years. There was no specific reason, no ego inflicting crisis; I simply stopped. Doesn’t it make you wonder why and doesn’t it cause YOU to reflect on what you put away that may be begging to be let out of the bottle again?

Art in my sixties has also been an entirely different experience. As I picked up the brush again, I envisioned myself as a Georgia O’Keefe, boldly painted flowers filling the canvases. So I did.

Life Force

This did not inspire me. It was what I used to paint those many years ago. The subject matter did not engage me. I asked myself why I was painting these images and the only answer I could find was ‘it’s safe’.

Do I want to be safe? Is this a great Third Act Choice? Or was it time to explore new territories, to seek inspiration from within, from my surroundings, certainly from different sources. A friend of mine suggested that I take a look at the daily images posted by NASA. With a small amount of cynicism, I did and there is where the magic began. The result was Synapse and the birth of what I now refer to as Earth Energy Art.

Synapse

This felt like a riskier choice. People like flowers. I wondered if they would like energy art. They do!

And it doesn’t matter.

The Third Act is just that, the third and final act of life. I asked myself, am I here to please others or me? The answer – you can guess.

The Third Act is your chance to explore new territory. Do it for yourself. It is not selfish, in fact, it is anything but. It is your opportunity to model to others both the wisdom and impact of showing up in life authentically.

There are no rules for this time in your life, only the ones you decide to self-impose.

What is it that you yearn to do, feel or experience?

What is it that you have pushed away for years and you now yearn to harness?

What is stopping you?

Time to step up and step out! Time to explore those territories that will light you up. If not now, when?

Facing FEAR

My colleague Andy (not his real name) retired May 5th from a life time in the federal public service. I met him last September as he and I embarked, along with 40 other participants, on a seven-month certificate program in Positive Psychology. We connected as we were two of the older members of the class and we were both examining the great ‘what’s next?’ He was anticipating his retirement with both excitement and trepidation.

Well here he is on the other side. Six of us, graduates now of the certificate program, had a day-long gathering where we checked in with one another and asked the question: What has become clear to you since we last met?  (I love this question as it provokes all sorts of responses).  I was anxious to hear Andy’s musings.

I was not surprised to hear that in the three weeks since his official retirement, Andy had felt somewhat lost. It is a disarming experience to be working one day and free the next. With no reason to jump out of bed, no one to chat with at the water cooler and nothing to structure your days, you simply face the great void.

Andy, whose wife works as a consultant and who works from home, also had a reaction. He was now in her space 24-7. Oh this is a familiar one to me! When Jim retired from the pharmaceutical world nine years ago, I had a similar reaction. Like Andy’s wife, I had been working from home as a coach-consultant for 10 years, and now there he was, every day! I kept thinking, ‘Don’t you have some place to go?’ And then when he decided to partner with me in the business, an entire new dynamic unfolded. Enough said. We fail to realize that our retirement affects others as much as it affects us.

And then there are all the other questions:

  • What do I want (see last blog)?
  • When will it happen?
  • What’s the first step?
  • What’s important to me?
  • Do I still have a brain?
  • Will anyone want to work/play/be with me?

FEAR walks in the door!

And yes, you all know the acronym for FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real. I prefer another option: Face Everything And Rise.

So how do you face FEAR? It’s not new. It happens during most major changes or transitions in life. It occurs because you are uncertain and you have no clear map for what’s next. It often overrides the sense of possibility that retirement holds.

As I was flipping through a book yesterday, I Know I’m in There Somewhere by Helene G. Brenner, I noticed a diagram entitled FEAR is the dark room where all the negatives are developed.

FEAR

Yep, that describes it.

So how do you face FEAR in this place called the Third Act.

A strategy I have used for several years which I believe fits here as well is to do the following:

  1. Embrace the FEAR – it’s there and ignoring will not make it go away. I goes like this, “I see you.”
  2. Challenge the FEAR – ask the following
    – what evidence do you have that what you fear will actually happen?
    – when have you faced similar situations, and fears, and pulled through successfully?
    – Is what you fear happening right now?
    – other than what you fear, what are the other possibilities?
  3. Shift gears: Recognize FEAR does not serve you and is usually driven by your head and your ego. This is the perfect time to begin the 12” journey from head to heart and to know that you can choose to be/do what you want.

I love the conversation with fear, especially the first question regarding evidence. Ninety-nine percent of the time there is no evidence, no real reason to believe the fear will manifest. And the moment you examine it, thoroughly, you really have to chuckle. So pull up your socks and step into your days with the intention that life is full of possibility and you have just been given permission to play in the possibility sandbox. Most importantly don’t push – allow some time to pass, learn to be in the moment and present to what crosses your path. Trust that all your answers, everything you need for your Third Act, is there and ready to be harvested at the perfect time for you.

On yes, and as for your partner who does not know what to do with you, understand that your retirement has a huge impact on him or her as well. Be gentle and kind and as my good friend and coach Patty said to me when Jim retired, “never make her/him wrong!”

Have some fun making friends with your FEARS! Face Everything and Rise.

Here is where I am struggling a bit these days – what is it I want at this point in my life. Most days I am pretty clear regarding what I don’t want and yes, just as I teach others, I can turn these into ‘do wants’. Here is a small sampling of what shows up for me so far:

I want:

  • To be healthy and vibrant
  • To be engaged
  • To continue to cultivate my curiosity about life and people
  • To be of service in a way that is meaningful to me
  • To attract and create my legacy work
  • To remain involved with the arts community, and to new forms of how this might manifest.
  • To travel to places I have not previously visited
  • To have ample ‘being’ time for savoring, flourishing, reading, writing, painting and gardening and of course meditation
  • To care for our aging parents and see them safely through the transitions in their lives
  • To be present to and for my family and friends
  • To have clear boundaries regarding what is perfect for me

Okay! That’s not a bad list. AND why is it I feel like something is missing. I think it is simply this thing we call TRANSITION, the letting go of what no longer serves me, emptying the plate so that the new can be defined and take its rightful place. This is an important act of ‘Space Management’, something I have come to understand through years of piling too many things on this plate. Perhaps this leads to the next list – what am I prepared to let go of:

I am releasing:

  • Work that no longer engages me and that no longer serves my clients
  • Doing, doing and more doing
  • Always pre-planning the future rather than savoring the moment
  • Unrewarding and unfulfilling volunteer commitments
  • Responsibility that is not mine to own
  • Worry

That’s a start. I am sure there is so much more.

As we all move into and through our Third Act, knowing what we want, or at least asking ourselves the question, is perhaps the first step in determine our Third Act experience, or our legacy work. I have learned repeatedly that I cannot have what I don’t ask for and that If I am not clear, stuff shows up that I may not want.

There is not rush in developing this list, in fact I suggest we all take some time to slide into this zone, breathe, and take time to relax into it.

Some things to consider as you develop your wants:

  1. Remember all those things you always wanted to do/participate in and never had the time.
  2. What about your “Bucket List”? If you don’t know what this is watch the movie with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.
  3. Remember your youth and all those values/ideals you had which vanished the moment you went to work. Want to re-visit them?
  4. What are the passions, creative endeavors you always meant to make time for and never did?
  5. What are the causes you most identify with? Is there something that you want to contribute to that cause within your community?
  6. What wisdom, learning or experience do you have to offer others?

As you take time to consider these questions, I encourage you to keep track of the answers – write them down. You may be surprised at what shows up. It is important for all of us to remember that our Third Act is a new beginning, filled with and fueled by possibility. The most important quality we can exercise at this time of our life is CURIOSITY!