Another Year Older

Over the last several months, many of my friends have entered a new decade of life.  Soon, it will be my turn to join them at… that certain age.  Birthdays aren’t usually that tough for me, but this one has me thinking a lot more.  Getting older is inevitable, but the disparity between how old I feel and my actual age keeps getting bigger, and I find myself focusing more on the number.  I’ve heard similar comments from friends, as they approached their own big day.  There seem to be some common patterns as we are reminded of aging another year.

Birthdays naturally make us reflect on our lives.  We review where we’ve been, what we’ve accomplished and if we feel we are a success.  This can create a positive reassurance or a drive to meet goals.  More often, I see it foster a dissatisfaction and worry that we aren’t where we’d like to be.  We focus on the things we don’t have, or the childhood dreams we can never achieve, and are left down and melancholy.

This goes along with another tendency I’ve observed, a fixation on the past.  It goes something like this: Remember when we were in college and so carefree?  How I wish I could go back to those days, or at least that smooth, unlined face!  Again, the focus is on what we don’t have, and can never have again.  Namely, our youth.  Suddenly I’m even more aware of the process of aging, and I’m desperately seeking the latest anti-aging creams.  I certainly don’t feel happy!

Both of these patterns of thought will ultimately lead to a low mood, because they keep the mind focused on a negative space.  We see only what we lack and what we feel we should have. So how can I weather another birthday with grace and good humor?  I plan to apply lessons learned from reading positive psychology books.  I will focus on the good things instead of the bad.  Simple, right?  Instead of noticing what is missing, I appreciate what I have.  Then I see abundance instead of what is lacking.  When I take pleasure in what I have –  even the small things – I am satisfied.  Nothing I truly need is missing.  As my birthday approaches, I am counting my many blessings rather than the number of candles on my cake.  I may still notice my age at times (the loud popping of my knees at the start of yoga class, for example), but then I appreciate all the things my body can still do well.  It takes practice to redirect my focus, just like any other learning process.  Luckily, you can still teach an old dog new tricks!

Just Say No

We lead busy lives these days.  Family, work, home, kids’ activities, these all take up a lot of time.  Many people tell me that they get over-scheduled and don’t have any down time.  Some of the things on the calendar are priorities, and some are fun.  Others are things they’d just as soon avoid.  So why keep doing them?

One reason is that it can be difficult to say no.  Women, in particular, seem to struggle with this.  We want to please people, and we want to be liked, and saying no doesn’t go along with these goals.  However, saying yes when we want to say no puts us in the position of agreeing to things in an effort to be liked, rather than a genuine interest.  Not only will the activity feel like a burden, we may end up resentful or irritated by the whole thing.

When I agree to something out of a desire to please others, I’m putting myself second.  I’m effectively saying the person asking is more important than me, because I’ve accepted their needs as a priority over my own.  If I do this enough times, I demote myself further and further down the list.  I may eventually feel I don’t even have choices anymore!  Other people will certainly pick up on this, and you can bet there will be some who will take advantage of it.  If you wonder why everyone always asks you to do things, look at your track record.  Could it be because you always say yes?

Now I know people who truly don’t mind heading every committee, and I know others who enjoy having the entire neighborhood in their backyard every afternoon.  If you are that person, then say yes!  If, however, the activity leaves you feeling empty, or worse, resentful, explore your reasons for agreeing to do it.  There are clearly duties that are annoying but obligatory.  Other times, I don’t relish the chore, but want to help the person asking.  If my reasons for accepting are in line with my own priorities, I will say yes.  Otherwise, I should politely decline and allow someone who is truly committed to take over the task.

It won’t be easy the first several times you say no, especially if people expect you to say yes.  I find it best to be brief, without a lot of excuses.  I prefer to simply say “I’m sorry, but I’m not able to do that at this time.”  Polite, succinct, and no room for arguing.  It quickly conveys that my reasons for declining are my own business.  Practice saying it, and remember that you don’t need to justify every no.  In the long run, your schedule may not get any lighter, but it will be filled with things you truly want to do.  You will also be treating yourself with the respect you deserve.

Tough Lessons

It’s pretty natural as human beings to want to be liked.  We are social creatures by nature, so fitting in is practically a genetic priority.  We also learn at a young age that not everyone is going to like us.  And it’s such a fun lesson, we get to learn it over and over throughout our lives!

I can remember a dozen painful rejections from childhood off the top of my head right now: the party I wasn’t invited to, the boy who didn’t want to date me, or the popular girls who didn’t welcome me to their lunch table.  I’ve seen my kids go through similar situations already at their young ages.  As an adult, the rejections can be personal or professional, but the hurt is often still there.  It’s never easy to be left out, judged unfairly or treated meanly no matter how old we are.  My tendency in these situations is to question myself.  What could I have done to upset them?  Did I say something wrong?  How am I to blame for this situation?  I know I’m not alone in this pattern because I meet a lot of people in my line of work.  Even the most confident individual will doubt themselves in the face of social rejection.

Every time it happens to me, I have to remind myself of a few things.  First, I cannot control other people.  I can’t change their behavior or their thoughts, and they get to choose their own opinion of me.  Second, more often than not, someone else’s opinion of me has very little to do with me.  Think about all the reasons someone may not like another person.  There’s jealousy, blind prejudice, and simply meeting them on a really really bad day.  People also come carrying their own baggage, and past relationships may influence how we feel about present life, whether we like it or not.  Think: I don’t like you because you unconsciously remind me of my really mean second grade teacher.  None of those reasons have anything to do with me as a person, so I shouldn’t allow a rejection to fuel self-doubt.

The last thing I try to remember is that all I can do in any social setting is to present my best self.  I can be aware in every conversation and look for cues on how to connect with the person across from me.  I can try to meet their needs by listening at least as much as I talk and by staying mindful with my speech and behavior.  Lastly, I can speak the truth in all situations, from my heart.  If I’ve followed all of these principles, I’ve acted with integrity.  Then I never need doubt myself, no matter what the outcome.  If someone else doesn’t appreciate my best self, then it really is their problem, not mine.

What’s the Rush?

I was on vacation last week.  We were very busy, but we didn’t have a set schedule.  I noticed something interesting a few days into the trip.  Even though there was nowhere we had to be at any given time, I still found myself rushing to get places.  I was hurrying to get from one park to the next, and even irritated if we were in a long line of cars.  I wasn’t late for anything at all, so what was going on?

We live in a fast-paced world, and a lot of our time is over-scheduled.  This leads to a constant sense of urgency – to get somewhere, to finish something, to move on to the next big thing.  It’s so ingrained in us to rush, we can’t shut it off when we finally get some down time.  And as our bodies hurry from one place to the next, our minds jump ahead, too.  As I waited in line for one attraction, I was thinking and planning about what we were going to do next.  I finally realized that my push to get to the next fun thing was sucking the pleasure from the experience, because I wasn’t present to enjoy it.

Vacations always seem to teach me something.  Last year I learned to stop counting down the days and dreading the end of my time off.  This year I had to force myself to slow down, to look around and notice things, to hear music and laughter and taste my food.  I had to let go of the need to do everything in order to savor the experience at hand.  I can’t say I walked more slowly, but I allowed myself to rush with the thrill of the moment, rather than the need to check another item off the agenda.  I think it’s always easier to remain mindful when I’m relaxed, so vacation is the perfect time to practice.  I’m happy to take this lesson back into my real life this week: slow down and enjoy this moment, the present is where the excitement lies.