A year has passed!

I started posting weekly blogs on my birthday a year ago. Since I’m the leading edge of the Baby Boom, and am now a year older, aging seemed a good topic for today.

But first, a video of my absolute-favourite song about getting old. When I first heard it, I couldn’t imagine being 64. When I got there, I made sure to listen to this song on my birthday. Today, I’m happy to share it with you. And if you want the lyrics to belt it out with them…

When I get older, losing my hair,
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a Valentine,
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?

If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?

You’ll be older too,
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.

I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside,
Sunday mornings go for a ride,
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?

Every summer we can rent a cottage,
In the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear.
We shall scrimp and save.
Grandchildren on your knee,
Vera, Chuck and Dave.

Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away.

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?

I don’t have anything profound to say about getting older. However, I recently heard resilience expert Ken Druck interviewed about aging. His upcoming book is Courageous Aging, and he described the task of aging as summoning the courage to face into the losses and changes that are a natural and normal part of life. He talked about the seasons of our life. Strengthening our sense of validation. I could relate.

In a recent blog, he said,

To live our best lives, we must put our houses in order, and I’m not talking about wills, trusts or living to 105. I’m referring to coming of age emotionally, spiritually and in our closest relationships. This means facing and overcoming, rather than avoiding, fears about getting older, compassionately greeting our older selves, carving out action plans for our best possible future and making peace with life itself. When we do these things, we are ready to look beyond ourselves to see how we can leave the world a better, safer place for our children, grandkids and future generations.

Amen to that!

What kept me going?

There have been parts of the last 15 years that were neither easy nor fun. People sometimes ask what kept me going. That is something I have wondered myself. I’ve distilled it down to innate optimism, a strong connection with my inner knowing, and an intense sense of purpose. I was born with all of them, and have consciously cultivated them over the years.

A healthy streak of optimism…

Optimism is hopefulness and confidence about the future. You might think of it in terms of the glass half empty/glass half full metaphor. When optimism becomes extreme, it falls off the edge into being Pollyannaish.

Someone who is unfailingly cheerful—no matter what—can be described as pollyannaish. While pollyannaish describes an optimistic outlook and a determined cheeriness, it also implies that this attitude is taken too far. When you put a positive spin on everything, even things that call for sadness or discouragement, you’re being pollyannaish.

Pollyanna is the main character in a 1913 children’s book about an eleven-year-old girl who is orphaned and goes to live with her stern spinster aunt. To deal with her gloomy situation, she plays the “Glad Game” she learned from her father. The aim is to find the silver lining in every cloud. That’s one way to deal with challenging circumstances.

Is ignorance bliss?

Image via Wonderopolis

On the other hand, some people are afraid to even admit there’s a cloud because they fear getting stuck there. They haven’t yet learned strategies for moving forward in the face of bad news and difficult situations.

They would like to believe that ignorance is bliss. This can work for a while, but sooner or later will backfire. The person is caught by surprise, blindsided, and is at a severe disadvantage in a tricky situation. In these changing times, the strategy of ignoring how things are is crippling rather than helpful.

Rational optimism

Rational optimism is the empowered approach to dealing with what is. Here are some ways of thinking that have got me through rough and discouraging times.

  • There has to be another way.
  • There must be a bigger picture I’m not understanding. What is it?
  • Answers will come if I ask questions and then listen.

This approach has allowed me to see the way things are and to take action to change and move forward.

How do we become more empowered?

Decide to embrace an optimistic, resilient, empowered mindset.

Deciding to do something, making it your intention, is a powerful action toward making it happen. I’ve noticed that having an intention seems to put things into motion.

A couple years ago, I was mired in a feeling of discontent with my life. One day, in exasperation, I said out loud and to no one in particular, “I’ve got to expand my horizons!” Within a week, I learned about a coaching course that appealed to me. I hadn’t even considered taking such a course until that moment, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. After that, other courses came along, each in different but relevant fields. All the while I was listening to online health interviews, implementing new lifestyle strategies, and beginning to feel much better. When my doctor encouraged me to start writing this blog, I felt able to do it. Long and short, I went from this to this…

Not a happy camper

Intention and Attention

This change occurred because I declared an intention to change…and paid attention to prompts, coincidences, and opportunities as they arose. Our biggest mistake is thinking that intention is all that’s required. It is not. Life is a cooperative effort and we have to do our part.

This is a point worth repeating. Good things don’t happen if we don’t do our part. We have to first watch and listen so we get the prompts—and then we must consider, make decisions, and act. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s the best way to meet what comes at us.

Braden: life is simple

A strong connection with inner knowing…

Being connected to your inner knowing is a significant factor in rational optimism. It’s what gives you the confidence to face bad news. There are many ways to regain this connection.

Here’s one perspective: We are wired to thrive. We just need to engage with what’s within our biology. And that’s not as difficult as it might sound.

First we need to understand the biology that’s available and still largely ignored. In a recent interview, Gregg Braden explained the science behind this. Humans have a particular gene that gives us extraordinary abilities to navigate through change, creating our lives and a better world to live in. The key is to awaken and cultivate these abilities.

To know how and why, we need to understand the newest scientific information about the heart. It is now known that the our hearts have brain-like cells, called sensory neurites, that can think and remember separately from the brain. By harmonizing our heart and brain, we can capitalize on this and maximize our capacity to…

  • process information quickly because we’re accessing our extended neural network.
  • access our intuition so we can make choices more confidently.
  • increase our resilience by being flexible in our thinking and able to adjust to changing circumstances. We are no longer set in our ways and do not act out of fear in order to keep things the way they are. As we do this, we regain heart rate variability, which further increases our resilience in the face of stress.

Heart-brain harmonization

Simply harmonizing your heart and brain for about three minutes has a major effect on the body. When you have questions that no one can answer for you—about your health, relationships, who you are and who you want to be—this harmonization is the doorway to your intuition. Try these three simple steps daily and see how you feel at the end of a month.

  1. Shift awareness to your heart. Awareness always goes to where your body is feeling touch. So gently touch your heart center in any way that’s comfortable—with a finger, your palm, or your hands in a prayer position. This will help you turn your attention inward.
  2. Slow your breathing. Five seconds in, five seconds out, or whatever is comfortable. This sends a signal to your body that you are in a place that is safe. This calms you down by freeing your body to let go of stress hormones and awaken its healing chemistry.
  3. Create a feeling in your heart of care, appreciation, gratitude, compassion—any or all of these. This triggers communication from the heart to the brain at a particular wavelength that sets up the cascade of healing chemistry. This puts you in a state of creativity, healing, and resilience that will last for at least six hours.

We can’t know what the future will bring. Practising heart-brian harmonization is a way of preparing ourselves to respond.

Discover more…

Gregg Braden is internationally known as a pioneer in bridging science, spirituality and the real world. He’s a New York Times best-selling author of several books including Resilience from the Heart, The Turning Point, Tales of Everyday Magic. If you prefer to listen rather than read, he has many videos on his website. Braden has been widely interviewed and you’ll find many of these interviews and lectures on YouTube.

The byline of the HeartMath Institute is “expanding heart connections.” It’s a nonprofit organization founded in 1991 to develop reliable, scientifically based tools that bridge the connection between heart and mind and deepen people’s connection with the hearts of others. This empowers people to greatly reduce stress, increase resilience, and unlock their natural intuitive guidance for making better choices. You can check out these tools on their online store.

Deepak Chopra is a medical doctor with both Western and Ayurvedic training. He’s a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and a prolific writer. Chopra has authored more than 85 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. He speaks frequently and there are many videos on his website.

And finally, this was a hit single for Frank Sinatra in 1959 and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song the next year. I can’t decide which version I like the best, so take your pick…or watch both and smile twice!

Beyond Informed Choice

Eleanor Roosevelt on choice

Choice is our greatest power. It’s what allows us to use all our resources to live our best lives.  But the consumer culture trains us to make decisions by default rather than by conscious choice. Truth is, questioning the status quo and making conscious choices can seem daunting. Many of us are happy to let others decide because we don’t know how to make choices consciously.

Living by default

Living by default means letting society and those around you determine how you live. On the other hand, conscious choice is the deliberate act of deciding between two or more possibilities. We are choosing with full awareness instead of allowing chance to determine what happens.

Living by default is the easier way, but sooner or later it’s pretty much guaranteed to result in dissatisfaction. We have done what we thought was expected, and the day comes when we recognize life hasn’t turned out as we thought it would. We end up both surprised and disillusioned.

There is an advantage to making your own decisions rather than reacting in a knee-jerk manner to cultural expectations. You get to create your own life.

False choice

The consumer culture doesn’t train us to make conscious choices. We are being conditioned to react to what’s put before us rather than choosing consciously. We are conditioned by the culture to think we have choice.

Many people will disagree, saying we have a huge amount of choice. Go into any mall, any on-line store, and it’s brimming with things to buy. Search the internet for information and you’ll find plenty of ready-made opinions to buy into.

All of those are superficial choices. It reminds me of parenting advice I received when my boys were little. It went like this: To teach them to make choices, start with something like clothing. In the store, preselect two or three options that are acceptable to you, and let the child select which one of those to buy.

That’s fine for teaching children by easing them into the process of making decisions. But they will grow up with a case of arrested development if they don’t learn to make fundamental choices and to take responsibility for the results of making those choices.

I’ve said before that some patients willingly give up their power to their doctor, thus making the doctor responsible for them. It’s unfair to the doctor, but we are not doing ourselves a favour either. The more we live that way, the more we forget that we are meant to be the project managers of our own health.

The missing piece…

Informed choice is a common concept in consumer education. Yet information isn’t enough by itself. We cannot make sound decisions on information only. Self-awareness is equally important, and is often the missing piece.

It’s the lack of self-awareness that makes us afraid of the power of choice, because we don’t have confidence that what we decide is the best solution. This is because we are using logic only, and not drawing on our inner knowing to determine what works best for us.

Conscious Choice

Information

Undoubtedly, information is important when making health decisions. Your doctor is an obvious source of information. But there are downsides to relying solely on that information.

  • Your options are limited to the scope of training of that doctor. For example, conventional medical training includes next-to-no nutrition classes. Unless your doctor has taken nutrition courses in addition to medical training, dietary advice will be vague truisms without the nuances that are understood by a functional nutritionist  or doctor.
  • Advice is framed by that doctor’s bias, which may be different from yours. I have experience with this because my bias is to look for the non-pharmaceutical solutions first. Medical doctors are trained only in pharmaceuticals, so they don’t have any information to help me make decisions about starting with non-drug options. The mismatch is difficult for both of us.

Self-awareness

Without self-awareness we are stabbing in the dark.

These things are true…

  • What works for the “average” person isn’t necessarily right for you. I’ve written about this in blogs about n=1.
  • Your doctor is not a mind reader. Some of them are intuitive enough to zero in on your problem even if you are unengaged in the process. However, that isn’t their job. I know a doctor who says, “I can’t care more about your health than you do.” He has a point.
  • It’s our right and responsibility to participate in decisions that affect us. If we choose not to, then we have no right to complain if we don’t like the results.
  • Self-awareness increases when we practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice arising out of eastern philosophy. Here are a few definitions: Mindfulness is paying attention with kindness. Mindfulness is sustained present-moment awareness. Mindfulness is a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things, and sensitive to context. Mindfulness keeps us from being stuck in single, rigid perspectives that make us oblivious to alternative ways of knowing. Ellen Langer and Rick Hanson are two researchers who teach about mindfulness in the context of daily western life.

Conscious choice in action…

Self-responsibility and conscious choice are sometimes mis-interpreted as being bossy and aggressive. Not so. Remember this old saying: You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

You are building a relationship with your doctor and that takes time and conscious effort. Here is some excellent advice from a podcast at Phoenix Helix. Host Eileen Laird interviews Dr. Cynthia Li about building effective doctor-patient relationships. We don’t often hear about this topic from the doctor’s perspective, and Dr. Li is very forthcoming. There are detailed show notes accompanying this podcast, and you might want to read them or listen to the podcast, both at this webpage.

Self-Advocacy – What’s the Best Way to Get a Doctor to Listen?

  • Don’t bring research to your very first appointment. That is likely to get you off on the wrong foot. Treat your first appointment as a “meet and greet” where you are simply getting to know each other.
  • Once you have established a relationship with your doctor, you can share studies with them. However, understand that doctors are very pressed for time, so they are unlikely to read books or full articles that you bring to your appointment. Instead, email them an excerpt or abstract summary with a link to the full research article. That’s enough to give them the highlights and they can pursue it further if interested.

What Makes a Good Patient? 

  • Remember that your doctor is human, too.
  • Keep your expectations simple in the beginning. It takes time to build relationships. They don’t form instantly.
  • Remember that this is a partnership, and your participation is as important as the doctor’s.
  • When preparing for the appointment, make a list of things you’d like to discuss. Prioritize them. That way your top priorities will be  met so if the physician has limited time.

Do you relate to any of this? Can you see how any of these ideas could be applied in your own life? Have anything to add? I always appreciate comments.

Integrative Medicine

When Pamela Wible MD held a meeting to find out what would create an ideal medical experience for patients in her town, she discovered they wanted an integrative approach to their medical care. What exactly is that? And why would they want it?

What is integrative medicine?

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Build a new model for achieving health? There is hope.

Just who is fixing the healthcare system? That’s the question I asked at the end of last week’s blog when I discussed having empathy for our doctors, who must work in a broken system.

So, who is trying to make it better? Apparently not our governments who, despite sometimes-good intentions, become bogged down in bureaucracy. And not conventional medical channels, through which it takes 17 years for new information to make it into clinical practice.

Patients?

In a limited way, we can contribute to making things better by keeping ourselves as healthy as possible so as not to over-use the system. We don’t have to ask permission or medical sanction to eat fresh food, plant a garden, think differently about our stress, take probiotics, get a pet, meet new people, move our bodies, improve the quality of our sleep, and be of service to others.

Doctors?

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Have empathy for your doctor.

Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of active engagement in our health-related decisions. To do this effectively, it helps to know several things about the healthcare system. This understanding will relieve your frustration with the way things are, and it may also make you more empathetic toward the doctor who doesn’t listen when you try to participate.

1. The healthcare system is a product of the consumer culture, and is designed around money.

Doctors are paid for a very short appointment time with each patient, usually about 10 minutes. That means appointments are booked close together and the doctor is invariably running late by the time the first patient leaves.

From the patient point of view, this means a long wait after arriving at your scheduled time. It also means your doctor may seem rushed, harried, and unwilling to listen to your explanation of what’s going on with your health. And, if you have the impression that doctors only want to hear about one issue at the appointment, that’s true. Ten minutes doesn’t allow enough time to sort out even one problem, never mind a complex health issue.

Sanity strategies…

  • Take a book, listen to your iPod, or decide to enjoy leafing through magazines you don’t normally read.
  • Meditate. Put on your sunglasses and no one will be the wiser. You’ll be refreshed instead of frazzled by the wait.
  • Book your appointment far enough in advance so that you can get the first slot in the morning or after lunch.
  • Don’t plan your next activity for the day based on the time you would be free if you got in to see the doctor as scheduled. You know it isn’t going to happen, so be realistic and save yourself the stress.

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Only time will tell the whole story.

I welcome reader comments on my blog. They get me thinking. Here’s one, in response to my post, written after I tripped and gave myself a black eye.

Great blog today. I love how an unfortunate event becomes blog fodder. 😊

It made me aware that I hadn’t actually thought of my black eye as unfortunate. And with that awareness, I remembered the story that first shifted my thinking about good and bad fortune.

Here’s a charming version, narrated by philosopher, writer, and speaker, Alan Watts. Born in England, he moved to the US in 1938 and began Zen training in New York. Watts, who died in 1973, is best known as an early interpreter and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.

So what can we make of this ancient teaching?

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The Woman Who Changed Her Brain

I found Barbara’s story particularly poignant because so many people experience variations of what she described. And it happens all the way along the age continuum…from children with learning disabilities of varying degrees to adults with dementia of various types and severity.

Barbara Arrowsmith Young’s vision is a lofty one—that cognitive exercises become a normal part of curriculum, and that school becomes a place that we go to strengthen our brains. The good news is, she has done something about it. The Arrowsmith Program is offered at schools throughout North America, Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

And what can we do?

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Engaging Your Whole Brain

Last week I wrote about using your whole brain when making decisions. That post included a TED talk by a practitioner of Psych-K (psychological kinesiology). As the name suggests, Psych-K uses body movement (kinesiology) to assist the brain in working as it’s meant to.

Psych-K was my introduction to energy psychology many years ago. Psychologist Rob Williams had blended principles of psychology with body movement from Edu-K (educational kinesiology), also known as Brain Gym.

Braqin Gym book

Brain Gym is a set of 26 movements aimed at integrating the two halves of your brain. It was developed by Paul Dennison to help himself with learning challenges when he was a post-secondary student. Seeing the potential to help others, he and his wife, Gail Dennison, developed the Brain Gym program. They found that people doing these movements experienced improvement in a number of areas, including concentration and focus, memory, physical coordination, and organization skills. The photo is my copy of the original book. It is still available on the Brain Gym Bookstore. Continue reading

Simplify. Use your whole brain.

Making decisions about health can be complex and frustrating. How can you possibly know what is the right thing to do?

The complicating factor is that most of us make decisions with only one-half of our brain. For example, suppose you want to know what is the best diet. Your left brain will have a field day. You can listen to interviews, read blogs and books, ask family and friends. You’ll find masses of eating rules, opinions, and theories—many of them conflicting.

With all of that to consider, your left brain may be driven to distraction trying to determine the pros and cons of these various approaches. It may seize on something and make a plan with great enthusiasm, only to have it fail shortly after you implement the plan. That makes no sense to you because the idea or theory was such a logical conclusion from the information you found. Frustrating? No doubt!

Here’s the missing piece…

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