Recently, a person who hadn’t seen me in a while commented that I had clearly been working out.
“What are you training for?” she asked.
All I could think to say was, “Life.”
It was both a fair question and a legitimate answer. Many people at midlife turn to extreme athletic challenges like marathons and triathlons in the process of becoming a new version of themselves. Underneath it all, though, may be a very practical motivation:
To get better at getting older.
My answer dropped the part about aging – I’m just trying to get better at life in general. I’ve come to believe that this is what we’re on this journey to do.
Another word for training is practice, a topic author Brad Stulburg took up recently. He points out that practice goes beyond athletics or musicianship, and includes professional practices, plus parenting, teaching, communication, relationships, art, mediation, and so on. The concept of practice applies to your life in general and everything you do if you choose to think that way.
That’s because when you think in terms of practice, your life activities shift “from something that you are doing at a point in time to an ongoing process of becoming.” In other words, you are highly aware of what you’re doing in all arenas instead of sleepwalking through life waiting for something to happen to you.
Stulburg characterizes it this way:
Practice means approaching an endeavor deliberately, with care, and with the intention to continuously grow. It requires paying close attention to the feedback you receive — both internal and from people whom you trust — and adjusting accordingly.
I love that definition. Let’s unpack it a bit for the practice of life:
- “Deliberate” means intentional, as in intentional living;
- “With care” in this case can mean focusing on meaningful activities, while also realizing that even the mundane aspects of our lives are worthy of doing well;
- “Continuous growth” brings to mind one of my favorite concepts from Japanese culture, kaizen – small continuous improvements that allow you to become a slightly better person each day; and
- “Feedback and adjustment” is the key to that continuous improvement via adaptibility, a skill that does in fact become more important than ever as we get older.
When it comes down to it, this is not some ridiculous quest to optimize every aspect of your life, which usually involves comparing yourself to others. It’s about being present and actively aware in your performance of each aspect of day-to-day life.
Here’s Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh on practice:
I am standing here, brushing my teeth. I still have teeth to brush. I have toothpaste and a toothbrush. And my practice is to be alive, to be free to enjoy tooth-brushing.
Don’t forget to practice flossing, too. Five out of five dentists agree.
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Meditation by Any Other Name …
Last week we explored dynamic meditation, one form of which is walking meditation – something Buddhists have been doing for thousands of years. Apparently someone on TikTok rebranded it as “silent walking” and now it’s going viral. Whatever works.
We spend a lot of time looking at screens, and apparently it disrupts our breathing in significant ways. Some people are now referring to this as “screen apnea.”
Checking Email? You’re Probably Not Breathing (New York Times)
When it comes to retirement, financial planners typically only have a hammer in their advice toolbox, and it still looks like a nail to them. These tips may help, but I think it’s more likely the concept of retirement is going to look very different by the time Gen Xers arrive at their mid-60s.
The Kindness of Strangers
“In general, people who tended to have more conversations with weak ties tended to be a little happier than people who had fewer of those kinds of interactions on a day-to-day basis.”
A Heroic Path to Midlife Reinvention
By Trudi Roth
I’m about to assert something that might make you uncomfortable: You are a hero.
We all can be if we take a page out of Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Long-time Brian Clark fans should recognize the construct, as he’s taught marketers about taking their prospects on a hero’s journey for the better part of two decades.
Campbell’s framework, aka a monomyth, isn’t just a potent storytelling structure and marketing tool. It’s also a perfect psychological construct to help you reframe your life’s story to find new meaning as you write your next chapter.
We Can Be Heroes
The hero’s journey involves a protagonist (hero) who embarks on an adventure, triumphs over a defining crisis, and returns home positively transformed. (Think Luke Skywalker’s evolution from Tatooine bumpkin to Jedi knight).
Now, let’s personalize that story. New research shows putting your life in a mythological context with you as the hero can increase your well-being, satisfaction, and resilience. No need to do any embellishing — as the study’s author, Benjamin A. Rogers, says
The way that people tell their life story shapes how meaningful their lives feel. And you don’t have to live a super heroic life or be a person of adventure — virtually anyone can rewrite their story as a Hero’s Journey.
After all, our brains are wired to tell stories. So if you feel the best is in the past, the future is dim, and you’re at a crossroads — in other words, if you believe the outdated story of midlife — now’s the perfect time for what Rogers calls a “re-storying intervention.”
The hero’s journey as a psychological tool isn’t new; therapists have used this construct for years. Some of the ways experts suggest using it include:
- Reflective journaling: Take the seven elements of the hero’s journey from Rogers’ research and free write on them: protagonist, shift, quest, allies, challenge, transformation, and legacy. Reflect on your unique attributes, core values, challenges, mentors, experiences, and how you want to be remembered.
- Decide who would “star” as you: Psychologist Nancy Irwin says noticing the qualities of the person you’d pick to play you in the movie of your life helps you see yourself objectively vs. subjectively.
- Go on a real heroic quest: It can be as simple as trying something new to practice overcoming fear. Rogers advises asking yourself, “If I want to have a more meaningful life, what are the kinds of things I could do?”
- Be flexible: You’ll likely have to change directions along the way, so first, notice how far you’ve come and then carry on.
It’s said the joy is in the journey, but that’s often easier stated than seen. By reframing your story and embracing any uncertainty along the way, you’ll discover the courage of a true hero — and the meaning necessary to fuel your ongoing quest.
Duran Duran – Rio
Saw Duran Duran last night at Red Rocks, and they closed a ridiculously great concert with Rio. In a full circle moment, John Taylor says his exquisite baseline for the song was directly inspired by Chic, and Nile Rodgers & Chic opened the show. Good Times indeed. (YouTube)
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