The MiddlesexMD Life Reinvention Project: Step 2

In the last post, we examined where we are right now in life in order to identify where we might want to be in the future: the health of our bodies, our spirits, and our relationships as well as the dreams or passions we have not yet pursued (or maybe even identified).

With this in hand, let’s move on:

Step #2. Same drill. Quiet place; journal in hand. Read through your initial entry. Anything to add or edit? Does it still feel honest?

What leaps out at you from your work? Do you notice any patterns—boredom and overeating; stress and impatience; lack of self-assertion and a feeling of victimhood?

Did you identify something you always wanted to pursue or to learn? Are there disappointments you uncovered? Are some elements of your life story simply incomprehensible to you—how did you end up here, you ask?

Sit with these for a minute. What tugs at your heart? What calls to you? What sounds absolutely awful or completely thrilling? What needs a closer look?

Also read over your assessment of your primary relationships. Any action plan needed here? Fences that need mending or habits that need adjusting?

You aren’t writing anything, necessarily. You’re just noticing habits, patterns, ways of thinking, and how yesterday’s work makes you feel today.

Now. Begin creating your reinvention plan. This is the eulogy moment. What do you want people to say about you after you die? How do you want to feel about your one and only life? Begin to articulate the big, sine qua non items. The ones you cannot die without having accomplished. Make a list of them. Not an overwhelming list—the top three or four. The big ones.

Choose one. This is your project for this year. And maybe for next year. If it’s that important, you may work on it for the rest of your life. Break this goal down into manageable steps that you can start doing tomorrow. What’s the first step, then the second? Travel to Africa? You’ll start by researching your options with the goal of having a plan in place this year. Lose 35 pounds permanently? Research your options with a goal of having identified a realistic, lifelong approach this week that you can begin practicing next week. Learn how to play the flute? You’ll need to find an instrument and a teacher…

Next, review those primary relationships—kids, extended family, spouse. Have you identified tendencies to work on? Habits to develop or break? Relationships that need attention? Relationships that need special nourishment or a new approach?

Don’t overlook the one relationship that is most critical to your longevity and quality of life. “If you’re in a happy marriage, you will tend to live longer. That’s perhaps as important as not smoking, which is to say: huge,” says Lyle Ungar, one of the researchers of that data-driven longevity calculator I mentioned in the first post. Knowing that someone in the world knows you intimately, loves you, and has your back adds measurably to quality of life. It makes sense, then, to focus especially on this relationship in your life review—to test its soundness and ponder how it might be strengthened.

List one or two specific steps you can take immediately that will make any of these relationships stronger. Also write down one or two habits or personality traits that impede them—that you should work to change.  

With a path identified (for the year, at least) and the initial steps delineated, you’re ready to begin. Let me just add the wisdom of a few professionals and life-reinventers who have walked this path before.

Practice gratitude. Every day.  “…allow yourself to be grateful for the things you…have. Anger is never inspirational but gratitude is,” writes the best-selling albeit hyperactive author, James Altucher.

Goals, such as those you just articulated are important because “if you don't have long-term goals, you run the risk of doing lots of little things every day—cleaning the house, sending emails, catching up on TV—without ever making a contribution to your future,” says Art Markman, psychology professor and author in this article.

Stay flexible. Change is never static. Reinvention is an ongoing process. You’ll have to rinse and repeat again next year (or next month) to make sure the goals you set today are still relevant and important and that your progress is unfolding according to plan. “Too often, we give up just when we need to push harder, and persist when we actually should quit,” writes one author.

Change is never easy. Expect setbacks; anticipate resistance. Anything really challenging and worthwhile will take time to accomplish, so if it’s really important, don’t shortchange yourself. Persevere through the tough spots. “The most successful self-reinventors are those who understand that they have time and are willing to use it to invest in their own skills and education,” writes this author.

Declutter. Yes, you read that right. Downsizing, clearing out, cleaning up can feel both psychologically freeing and is also metaphorically linked to ridding your life of things that hold you back—mental clutter, too many commitments and obligations, relationships that are buzz-kills or worse, according to Margaret Manning, blogger and creator of sixtyandme.

There. You did it. I hope you feel empowered or at least optimistic. You should now have a roadmap for the months ahead. I’d love to hear how the project is working for you and if you have suggestions to refine it.

Good luck.

The Fullness of MidlifeNeed inspiration? Some of our “The Fullness of Midlife” podcasts are on topic: Lesley Jane Seymour on reinvention, Kate Convissor on overcoming fears, Deborah Robinson on appreciating our own bodies and treating them wellI, Joan Vernikos on how movement keeps us capable.   

 

 

Reinvent Yourself This New Year: Step 1

I had a shock the other day.

In an unguarded moment, I ran across one of those life expectancy calculators. You know, the kind that will tell you how many years you have left on earth after 10 minutes of softball questions.

Basically, I believe that predicting how long you’ll live is a fool’s errand—any of us could get hit by alien laser rays or a schoolbus tomorrow. But my data-driven heart was sucked in by this calculator, which was developed by professors at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and based on 400,000 data samples collected by the National Institutes of Health and the AARP.

Now, I know that I fall in a healthy category for weight, activity level, and absence of chronic disease. But, still, the results shocked me.

Ninety-six. My estimated life expectancy is 96.

This is enough time to live a second adult life. This is enough time to start another career or follow a dream or pursue a passion. This is not enough time to waste.

So, that’s the challenge I put before you (and myself) this January: the macro view; the life-reinvention perspective. Because no matter how much time we have (or think we have), why squander it in self-defeating, fearful ways? Or simply by drifting through a handful of years without direction?

Reinvention isn’t a quick-fix project; it isn’t a lose-five-pounds resolution. It’s a project we could (and should) work on for the rest of our lives, periodically reviewing and adjusting our goals to see if they still fit.

Now—today—is a good time to start.  So I put before you the proprietary MiddlesexMD Reinvention Project. Ready?

Step #1. Take stock. No shortcuts here. Sit yourself down somewhere quiet. Open to the first page of the Reinvention journal that you bought for this occasion. (You did get one, didn’t you?) Today’s task is to examine the important aspects of your life. As realistically and objectively as possible. You can’t envision a new you without a solid understanding of who you are now, right?

How’s your health? (Obviously my first question.) Are you content with how you feel? How do you feel about your eating/exercising habits? Your weight? Your overall mobility? Your blood pressure and cholesterol levels? Your mental acuity? Do not indulge in guilt or leap to quick, feel-good resolutions, just assess your physical self realistically.

How’s your spirit? Do you feel lonely? Optimistic? Afraid? Content? Discontent? Restless? Do a full-spirit wellness scan. Are the physical and spiritual linked in some way—being overweight and depressed, for example? Are you handicapped by free-floating fears or anxieties? Does stress nibble at the corners of your life—or maybe devour the whole enchilada? Do you feel unsettled and discontent or grateful and happy?

What is the source of your greatest joy or satisfaction? What are you good at? What are you happiest doing? Where does your passion—or your pleasure or your interest—lie? What have you always wanted to attempt? Do you have dreams that you decided had passed you by or that you are too afraid to try? Is there anything you would regret not having done before you die?

Examine the health of your most important relationships. Our closest relationships are the sources of our greatest joy and satisfaction as well as our greatest heartbreak and frustration. We expend a lot of  energy repressing, denying, or making excuses for broken relationships, whether with family, lovers, or friends. Does this sound true for you?

Are you keeping up with friends and loved ones, or have you let important relationship wither on the vine? We also sometimes endure relationships that kill our spirits, that are toxic to our psyche and sometimes our bodies. Resolve now to examine them with a clear eye. You don’t have to do anything today except be honest with yourself.

Write it all down in the journal. This is the first day of your new you.

Okay. Take a deep breath. You’re done for today.

The Fullness of MidlifeNeed inspiration? Some of our “The Fullness of Midlife” podcasts are on topic: Lesley Jane Seymour on reinvention, Amy Eller on intentional life design, Druscilla French on understanding ourselves.

 

December 26, 2016

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new year ›   relationships ›   self-care ›  


One Year to Better Sex

The Art and Science of Resolutions You Can Keep (Sexually Speaking)

What is it about that first, unblemished day of a new year? The first white page of a journal? The hush that follows merrymaking; the pause before the quotidian rushes in again?

I’ve always loved that moment of held breath after one year ends and before the next begins. For me, it’s a day (or, more realistically, an hour) of reflection when I remember, take stock and my own measure, of what the year has brought, and how I’ve responded to it.  

Resolutions, however? Not so good.

Turns out, there’s a bit of art and science to resolution-making—a few principles that increase our odds of success. In the spirit of helping us all out to a solid start, let’s explore ways to make our resolutions stick. (Success is always affirming.)

And secondly, instead of resolutions focused on self-improvement, let’s explore resolutions that focus on relationship-improvement.


Don't give in. Get up and start again.Far be it from me to diminish the value of losing weight (#1 on the list of New Year’s resolutions for 2015) or of “staying fit and healthy” (#5), but I would suggest that, in addition to these worthy goals, you get a lot of bang for the buck when you work on your sex life. According to relationship consultant Dr. Sheryl Kingsberg, a good sexual relationship adds significant value to a relationship (15-20 percent), whereas a poor one actually drains a relationship significantly and negatively (50-70 percent).

Since only 8 percent of the people who make resolutions actually achieve them, let’s look at ways to beat those dismal odds.  

  1. Make it fun. The good thing about improving our intimate relationship is that it doesn’t have to be a grinding exercise in self-discipline. In fact, it shouldn’t be. You want to tickle the most primitive pleasure centers in your brain—the part that eons of evolution fine-tuned so that sex is pleasurable and intimacy is deeply satisfying. So, for this resolution at least, a light touch and playful intent is better than acts of will and grim resolve.
  2. Make it specific. Grandiose is good but measurable is better. Dr. Paul Marciano, author of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, advocates SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Time-bound. What this might look like vis-à-vis our sex life is: This month I will improve my pelvic health by using vaginal moisturizer daily and a few reps of kegels four times a day. Or: I will notice at least one thing I like about my partner every day, and I will express appreciation for it. Or: I will suggest one new position for us to try each month. Or: We will reserve two evenings a month for a romantic date.
  3. Be realistic. I had a friend who would periodically go on an extremely rigorous regimen of weight loss and exercise. She’d cut out all sugar and strictly limit caloric intake; she’d walk four miles every day, and she’d do this for month. She’d lose weight and look great. But inevitably, the sheer difficulty of her regimen was its undoing. She couldn’t keep it up. So, she’d crash and burn with the same intensity, putting all the weight back on and then some. It was painful to watch.

Even with something that’s supposed to be light-hearted, like improving your sex life, you should realistically assess what is likely to work for both you and your partner. Maybe planning a romantic evening at home would work better than a night out. If your partner isn’t entirely on board, maybe you’ll work on your own sexual health and subtly introduce changes

  1. Write it down. Or better yet, get your partner’s suggestions and buy-in, so both of you are involved. Resolutions are more likely to be successful when you’ve made a verbal or written commitment.
  2. Persevere. Of course your resolve will wax and wane. Of course you’ll forget about your date night or run out of nice things to notice about your partner. We are all inextricably pulled back toward the dog path. We are all tempted by that niggling voice that whispers, you’ve already missed two months. Just give up.

 Don’t give in. Get up and start again. That’s the very essence of discipline—keeping on.

Next January 1, when you reflect on the year just passed, I hope you can derive some quiet pleasure in having moved the intimacy needle a bit and generally banked some points in your sexual wellbeing account.


 

December 19, 2016

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intimacy ›   relationships ›   self-care ›   stress ›  


Tips for a Romantic Post-Holiday Getaway

Continuing with our series of tips for holiday sanity, and even enjoyment, this is the most fun suggestion of all: Schedule a quick, romantic getaway for after the holidays to re-connect with your honey and get some downtime in a sweetly unfamiliar place.

You want to keep the emphasis on the fun and not get carried away with anything elaborate and expensive. A weekend away with minimal planning increases the chance that you’ll actually do it—no good excuses, and it’s easy to find someone to check in on the cat.

A quickie in midwinter can be especially economical and especially delightful. You’ll encounter a laid-back and welcoming atmosphere that’s lacking in the midst of summer tourist season. You’ll also encounter off-season rates.

Give yourself a treat.I fondly recall a midwinter weekend in a tourist town near my West Michigan home. Yes, some places were closed for the season, but the rest of the town was just as scenic and beautiful in winter. We eavesdropped on local chatter in the diner and neighborhood pub that had been crawling with tourists just a few months before.

So, here’s my down-and-dirty guide to a relaxed, relationship-rejuvenating weekend in the middle of the long winter night.

  1. Keep it simple. Vacations can be exhausting, but you’re already exhausted, so don’t engage in deficit energy spending. Don’t plan rounds of museum visits or post-holiday shopping. Don’t plan to do anything, unless both of you really want to. Make that a ground rule.
  2. Keep it local. You don’t want to add an 8-hour drive to both ends of your weekend. Unless you live in the middle of the Badlands, you probably already know about cool places within a few hours—maybe a B&B you always wanted to visit or a quaint town with a couple good restaurants and a sweet vibe.
  3. Make it about the two of you. You don’t have a lot of time, so make it count. One nice meal. A few nice bottles of your favorite beverage. You can always stream a sweet or sexy or even erotic movie in your room. Don’t forget your toys, lubes, and oils.
  4. Get your sexy on. Don’t go overboard. (See #1) But a new camisole can make you feel like a million bucks. A nice lotion or essential oil on your skin. A shave. The little things.
  5. Only pillow talk. Don’t bring up anything more challenging than what movie to watch or whether to go out for dinner or order room service. Lay unpleasantries firmly aside. There’ll be plenty of time for the serious stuff when you get back.
  6. Create memories. Bring a favorite playlist or a wine you both love or a movie that’s significant. Pack a few favorite snacks. You could bring photo albums of Christmases past to browse through.
  7. Just do it. Don’t overthink. Don’t plan. Don’t put it off, or your calendar will fill up. Pick an inviting location nearby; pick a weekend; make a reservation; go!

Keep the emphasis on the fun.You are now approaching the crescendo of holiday preparation. Give yourself a treat to look forward to. A weekend getaway won’t break the bank but will ease both of you out of the post-holiday, wintertime blues. And maybe just knowing you have this special weekend on the calendar will remind you to be more gentle with each other during the holiday frenzy.

Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday (Really!)

Yeah, I know. The last thing you need right now is another list of ways to avoid stress during the holidays. The mere thought of another list is stressful all by itself.

Pay attention to what you're doing this moment.I don’t cotton to holiday de-stress lists, either. That’s why I combed through dozens of tips from experts and ordinary folks to winnow out what I think are the best, most truly helpful holiday reminders. I’m betting that something on this list will truly make your life easier and your spirit more joyous. Most of the suggestions even have some science behind them, which always makes me happy.

For the mind and emotions
  1. Cultivate gratitude. If you develop an attitude of gratitude (as they say), you’ll find yourself in a happier place. This is more substantial than simply counting your blessings (although that works, too). You can be generous; you can be large of spirit. This is necessary soul-work and deserves attention at any time of year, but this season of hyper-consumption is a good time for a reality check. Do a shift in a soup kitchen or a food pantry. Be a Salvation Army bell-ringer. Deliver Christmas baskets to the less fortunate. Giving money is important, too, but it doesn’t pack the life-affirming power of face-to-face contact.  
  2. Be non-judgmental. Before Uncle Bob begins his NRA rant or Aunt Millie makes not-so-sotto-voce comments about your grandchildren, prepare your mind. These are the people with whom you share the planet and your DNA. You aren’t going to change them, so you might as well adjust yourself. Practice a benign attitude of acceptance. A glass of wine also helps.
  3. Visualize. What one word describes what you hope for this holiday season? Peace? Serenity? Acceptance? Love? Write it on a card (or several) and tape it to the bathroom mirror. This is your holiday guide and mantra.
  4. Be mindful. We wrote about this in a previous post, but its impact on stress-reduction can’t be overstated. Pay attention to what you’re doing this moment. When you get to a holiday task you enjoy, decorating cookies or the tree, maybe, tackle it with focused attention and just enjoy the heck out of it.
  5. Smell citrus. The lemon-y scent of citrus smells clean, but it also increases norepinephrine—a mood stabilizer and stress-reducing hormone. Rub some lemon or orange essential oil under your nose or carry a hankie dabbed with the scent for a dose of feel-better. Use it as aroma therapy during the holidays.
For the body.
  1. Exercise. Holidays are a black hole for shrugging off daily routines. Who has time to exercise? That’s exactly why it’s so important. Exercise is critical during stressful times because it gooses our system with feel-good endorphins and increases energy levels. Getting outdoors for a walk or jog amplifies the effect.
  2. Go natural. Research shows that patients with a view of the outdoors heal faster. It also reduces stress. So, open the curtains; flood your house with natural light; and bring the outdoors in with pine boughs, holly berries, and essential oils. Go outside and gather your own for a double exposure.
  3. Eat moderately. You can certainly enjoy every morsel of holiday fare—just don’t get carried away. You know how you’ll feel after a night or several of overindulgence—and the morning of January 2 will be very, very bleak indeed. Once again, practice mindfulness. Pay attention to the colors, tastes, and delicious holiday smells. You’ll be less likely to blindly put things in your mouth, and you’ll enjoy what you do put there a lot more.   
  4. Sleep. It’s hard to turn off the mental hamster wheel that you’ve been running on all day. But good sleep is essential to good functioning, and bad sleep is a total killjoy, as we all know. There’s a well-developed science of sleep hygiene. Here are a couple of safe natural sleep aids: Chamomile has been used to aid sleep aid for hundreds of years. What is more soothing that a hot mug of chamomile tea before bed? Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your sleep/wake cycles. Some people find that 5 mg. of melatonin before bed helps them feel sleepy and fall asleep faster. It’s safe, inexpensive, and easily found in pharmacies.
  5. Touch. What is it about loving touch? Research shows that touch releases dopamine and oxytocin—both soothing, mood-altering hormones. You don’t have to go all the way to home base (but if you do, sex is a great stress-reliever as well); just a gentle hug, shoulder massage; quick kiss helps put the moment in perspective. Don’t neglect the power of touch this season.
For your sanity
  1. Clean house. No, not you. Get your house deep-cleaned early in December. You’ll love knowing that the dust bunnies no longer live under the beds and that you’re ready for drop-in guests and family overnights at any moment.
  2. Simplify. Ditch fussy traditions. Lower your expectations. Spend less. The point is to enjoy the time with family and friends and to savor the sensual beauty of the holiday. The contemporary focus on fancy gifts and decorations and a whirlwind of parties is distracting and exhausting. Just say “no” to the distractions from the true spirit of the holidays.
  3. Watch a Christmas classic. For an enjoyable break, gather whatever family is available and settle in with hot chocolate and popcorn to watch your favorite Christmas movie, whether it’s Charlie Brown or Miracle on 34th Street. You can’t go wrong with an easy and heartwarming evening like this.