March 13, 2014

Planning for Retirement

I can hear you now–you’re probably saying, “Plan for it? With the economy the way it is, I’ll NEVER be able to retire!” But read on: there may be something here for you in any case. And, no, this is not a blog about financial preparations for leaving the workplace. You’ll need to find another kind of expert for that.

For men especially, work is what life is about. We learn from an early age that we are meant to be the breadwinner, the provider, the go-to-guy on matters of “get ‘er done”. I often talk to men about the way, when we were boys, were socialized to “shake it off” and to “take one for the team” even though we were hurting, or disappointed. Those are lessons we are taught, in both subtle and overt ways to boys from the day they are born. We are good at fulfilling the demands of roles that involve physical strength, emotional restriction, mental toughness, even indifference to pain and damage to health. We can take it! But it seems that sometimes, often in our middle years–somewhere between 40 and 60– we begin to wonder whether all of that was worth it. Often our work is not as satisfying as in earlier years, and we’ve devoted so much energy to the workplace, it’s hard to see anywhere else that satisfaction might come from. Even family life may have become less interesting, as children become surly teenagers or leave the nest altogether. Maybe we neglected partner relationships because the role of provider was such a prominent one for us. In any case, we come to a place in life where–with actual retirement still perhaps a number of years away–we recognize that work is about all we have.

Just while I’m thinking about it, let me put a word in for the women reading this: everything I’m saying here may well be true for you as well. Women have worked hard to obtain places in the world of cultural rewards (money, status, diplomas, etc.) beyond the home, and society has now changed expectations for you, too. Not only are you expected to be the heart of the home, and the source of gentle comfort for your family, you’re also expected to be the hard-bodied lover, to create the social fabric of our communities, and the clear-minded career woman as well. Is it any wonder, considering all the real-life demands, not to mention the internal pressures, that most of us feel stressed out? Who imagines that retirement will be anything more than a long weekend, with permission to sleep late, after all!

But, back to that topic for a moment–retirement is where we’re headed, right? In important and very functional ways, men and women today have been very good at performing the tasks set before them. They have carved out careers, taken on matrimony, built family units, and taken out mortgages of astounding size. Society needs all that. But they have often NOT invested nearly enough in the one thing necessary to be successful: PEOPLE.

They have not budgeted time to slow down and develop an identity that will exist away from the important roles they are fulfilling. Some will say, ” A parent. I will always be a parent, so I’m not neglecting that as I fulfill my role of associate vice president in charge of marketing” And that’s technically true. A parent is a parent is a parent, after all. But children leave home and create families and careers of their own, needing less and less parenting over the years, and what then?

The retirement planning I would like to suggest is this:

Find a variety of meaningful activities (hobbies, travel, volunteering, teaching, physical fitness, classes for personal enrichment, etc.) that you’d like to engage in, and make it part of your identity. We are all involved in the development of a personal identity but generally it is restricted to a) the work I do for a paycheck, and b) the family members I relate to. Infrequently do I hear someone begin his or her self-description (or end it for that matter) with the hobby, or the non-work organization, or the circle of friendships they created. There are millions of sources of meaningful activity, and you must find the ones that provide pleasure, gratification, and meaning for you. The importance of having numerous activities is that when one isn’t available, there are others to fall back on. I often give my patients a list of 250 things they might do for personal pleasure and renewal; community activity; hobbies and creative outlets; sports or leisure; learning or reading’ socializing, family activities, and helping others; health and fitness; spiritual, inspirational, or religious activities; satisfying or enjoyable chores; and couples activities. It’s a place for them to start, but anyone can begin to compile such a list on their own, or with the help of people they know.

Retirement from the workplace is a moment of reckoning; either you’ve done the work of developing a life, or you haven’t. There isn’t much in between. Successful retirement planning will include purposeful activity that brings you satisfaction, puts you in a state of “flow” (other blogs will guide you) and challenges you to set goals for the future. Beyond these activities, successful retirement planning will require that you build enough relationships outside your current workplace so that you have a wide network of engagements to keep you active and learning something new.

Think about the people you know over the age of 60. Which ones are the most interesting? Which ones seem the happiest? Which of them are the healthiest or most enthusiastic? Finding meaning in life requires that we look beyond our work roles–while we are still actively employed–so that there will be meaning in life beyond that time, too.

September 7, 2012

Nursing the Grudge

My friend used that phrase a couple of weeks ago as we talked about a fellow he knew. He said something to the effect that his acquaintance was “nursing grudges that should have died years ago.”

I got a kick out of the colloquialism, “nursing grudges” but later on in the day I found myself thinking about sick friends or pets who were “nursed back to health” and it brought me around to the idea that somebody who nurses grudges is doing something specifically to keep them around. It wasn’t long before I began to wonder whether I might be hanging onto some old angers that should have “died years ago.”

My friend’s comment and my own subsequent thinking about holding grudges, versus letting transgressions die away, led me to some thinking that might be worth mentioning for others to use:

All of us, at times, perceive ourselves as the victim of someone’s negative or damaging behavior, and at times we’ve all been the perpetrator of damage or negativity to someone as well. The degree of damage I’ve done to another person is something I have a hard time assessing—mostly because I think of myself as a good person, and really don’t ever want to hurt or be unkind to anyone. It’s hard for me to imagine that anything I would do might cause any lasting harm. Hard for me to think of my small failures or tiny acts of inconsideration might be of serious hurtfulness. After all! I’m a good guy!

On the other hand, the degree of damage that someone else does to me is EASY to assess because, well, because it was done to ME! I know all the ways it was inconvenient, or discouraging, or costly, or painful, or… you get the idea. And along that same line, I don’t have the benefit of knowing all of the dozens, or even hundreds, of very good things that person has done. I only have (or, maybe, only focus on) the really bad thing that person did to ME!

If I find myself thinking about the negative experience I’ve had with the person who has “done me wrong” I can easily elaborate on it a little. I can often remember past transgressions done by the same person, and think of ALL the ways it made my life harder. Elaborating gets easier when I think of the past, and makes the current damage all the worse for being a repeat offense. It makes each one BIGGER somehow. Now, I can think of more ways that I was inconvenienced, or perhaps given cause to worry, or to dread our next meeting. All this ruminated “enhancement” of the wrongs done to me by another will likely become “fact” by the time I review it in my mind at a later date, too!

Anger, anxiety, depression and other negatives of thought and emotion have physiological repercussions as we know. Thus, nursing a grudge may keep that grudge around longer, but may be likely to shorten the lifespan of the grudge holder.

In future blogs, I’ll want to return to the tremendous importance of apologies, as well as the forgiveness of another—or even oneself—for the large and small transgressions of life. Psychologists have been exploring how apology and forgiveness benefit us, and what is likely to help it along. You might never forgive me if I didn’t tell you all about it!

April 18, 2011

Command Performances

I’m fortunate to have so many friends and relatives to use as examples of bad behavior in my blogs, but of course my favorite example is my wife, I wouldn’t say that behind her back, or if she didn’t already know it. And I also wouldn’t say it if my wife couldn’t cite just as many examples of my own bad behavior as soon as she reads this blog!

Kidding aside, each of us is pretty good at spotting the bad behavior perpetrated by the other—as is true in most marriages and other experiences in life—and when it comes right down to it, that bad behavior can often be summed up by the word “demanding-ness”. In terms of her demands, it’s not as if my wife must have diamonds or other luxuries, and my demands on her are not anything you’d call a superhuman feat, either. And yet, we want what we want, when we want it. (more…)

January 31, 2011

Dirty Lenses

I’ve worn glasses since the third grade. At this point in my life, putting them on is the first thing I do in the morning, and taking them off is the last thing I do at night. My vision is so poor that my glasses are probably the most valuable items I will ever own. Believe me, I’ve gone through enough lens cleaning cloths to blanket a football field. Or so it seems.

People who wear corrective lenses will tell you how lost they’d be without them, and yet all of us—the clear-sighted and the vision-impaired—walk around every day with the dirty lenses of our biases, childhood experience, powerful advertising influences, and a vast assortment of other impediments to clarity. (more…)

December 12, 2010

Another Look at Taking Action

“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” – Mark Twain

In a recent blog (July 6th, 2010), I focused my writing on “tips for taking action.” Because any lasting change requires some kind of action, I’m returning to this topic with more ideas.   “I’ve had the symptoms of depression (or anxiety, or problems in marriage, or whatever) for a long time now—I’m in a total rut and I don’t know how to get out of it.  How can I make changes when things have been going badly for so long?”

It’s true that the longer a problem has been in place, the more creative you have to be in dislodging it, but that’s only because humans are creatures of habit, and often don’t notice the potential benefits for changing.  For those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest, a good example can be seen in winter driving.  When the roads are icy, and a car gets stuck, it can become entrenched unless the driver uses a few skills to generate even small movements.  Snowbound on ice, a driver will need to get the vehicle to move forward, or backward, even inches at a time—the direction is not so important as the momentum built by simply generating movement.  Back and forth, back and forth, just a bit of motion overcomes the rut and the slippage that may occur in this kind of circumstance.  In just the same way, small movement, even in directions that seem unproductive at first, can build the momentum needed to get on track and moving in the right direction. (more…)

November 9, 2010

Self-Help Books

Every so often a patient comes into my office carrying “the book” that has all the answers they need for a wonderful experience in life.  Whether it is a metaphysical book or the latest pop-psych bestseller, I listen patiently while they describe how everything is going to work out smoothly now because they know the secrets to success!

But, they come back the next week, with a different book—or they come back disappointed in the last one—because they only “knew ABOUT something” they didn’t really “know”.  This thought is not original to me, of course—not many thoughts are—but rather comes from years before I began my psychology training.  Someone made the remark to me that “knowing about something is not the same as knowing”.  The remark puzzled me—aren’t these two the same things? (more…)

July 6, 2010

Tips for Taking Action!

No matter what issue you’re struggling with—whether it relates to completing tasks around the home, or pulling yourself out of a period of negative emotions—the antidote will relate to action.  I have met with patients convinced that their depression was insurmountable, and I’ve talked with students who thought that the responsibilities of work, school and home were irreconcilable.  In both cases, they were surprised to find that life got more manageable as soon as they actually got started.

For some of us, getting started feels like a mental thing.  The “thinking stage” of making changes.  Planning.  Getting conceptually organized, and so forth.  These are valuable aspects of moving ahead, but not really quite what I mean in this case: actual movement is what’s needed.  There are a few strategies you might try for getting a bit of traction on forward momentum.  I present these as a few to “get you started.” (more…)

June 16, 2010

What? Me Worry?

Borrowing a line from Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman might bring a laugh, but of course most of us DO worry from time to time.  It’s only natural to have moments of concern and uncertainty when a child is late getting home, while awaiting the outcome of medical tests, or in times of great financial upheaval such as those we’ve seen in the past couple of years.

Is it natural to worry? Yes.  Comfortable? No.  Effective? Probably not.   When patients come into my practice describing worry that wrings the pleasure out of life, it does them no good for me to say, “Relax! Don’t worry!”  The cycle of thinking and emotion driving the experience we call “worry” is not so easily disassembled as all that, but with new skills the intensity of worry can be much reduced. (more…)

May 10, 2010

Give Me a Break!

The great success is to go through life, as one who never gets used up.
– Albert Schweitzer

From what I hear in my office on a daily basis, it sounds like most people would like to eliminate stress completely.  Truth is, we can’t—and shouldn’t even if we could.

A little bit of stress is what keeps us standing upright (without muscle tension, we would collapse) and doing plenty of other very effective things, including the ability to swallow or refreshing our eyeballs with a blink, to name just two.  In fact, it is not physical exhaustion that leads people to my services, but the mental and emotional exhaustion of contemporary life’s daily hassles and major life stressors. It is this excess stress that is eventually physically harmful to us, as well as the cause behind many, if not most, relationship problems. The following are just a few simple ways we can take it down a notch. (more…)

Posted in: Psychological Challenges @ 8:48 pm

Coping with Change

Working with as many patients as I do, I hear themes among their concerns that the individuals involved may not be aware of.  For example, situations they are experiencing in their work lives may share similarities.  Another example of commonality would include experiences related to the recent economic downturn.

The most common theme (in fact, a constant throughout life) is that of CHANGE.  The range of change falls mainly in exchange… that was my attempt at levity for the moment, but in a sense it’s also accurate.  Whether the “exchange” in question is that of trading household tasks because a family member has become disabled, or the currency “exchange” that has been lost through job layoff, it seems like we are all quite sensitive to the occasional re-arrangements of our life circumstances. For the most part we want stability and continuity in our lives, with some variety. Therefore, it only makes sense that our strongest reactions to these changes would come when the re-arrangements are outside our individual control. (more…)

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