Monday, February 29, 2016

HALT: A Masterful Technique for Working with Yourself and Others

Baer--my Energizer Bunny
My German Shepherd-mix rescue pup, Baer, is a great dog. He’s all legs and energy, so sometimes I think of him as Fred Astaire, and sometimes more as the Energizer Bunny on steroids. Especially near mealtimes.

I feed my dogs twice a day, and I’m convinced they have clocks in their stomachs, because right around 5:30 p.m. (a half hour before their 6:00 p.m. meal), they get antsy. In particular, Baer. But around 5:30 p.m., I may very well still be working—as I am today, and Baer shoving my arm up off the computer keyboard to get my attention is just getting me annoyed. Even more so when he does it repeatedly.

That’s when I have to HALT – as in remember that my sweet pup isn’t deliberately trying to annoy me, he's just hungry. And that I don't need to let my annoyance grow into irritation, or worse, anger, I can just halt. Take a pause. Breathe. Recoup.

HALT is an acronym used often in the treatment of various addictions, "Hungry, angry, lonely, tired" to help people remember not to rush into behaviors or words they may regret when they are hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Or to recognize that those we are interacting with may not be deliberately rude, difficult or otherwise challenging, but simply be hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

Think about it. When you’re hungry, you're less patient. When you’re tired, you’re cranky. When you're lonely, you may be tempted to drink, use various substances or otherwise soothe the pain in what may not be the most beneficial ways. And when you're angry? We all know too well how easily it is to over react or act out when we’re under the influence of angry feelings.

Halt. Just stop. Get quiet. Be still. Count to 10, or whatever helps you hang with yourself for a moment. Breathe. Slowly. Recognize what’s really going on with you: are you hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? Acknowledge the underlying feeling. Deal with that as best you can, and wait until you feel more like your normal self before you interact with others.

When someone is exhibiting less than what you consider to be appropriate or desirable behavior, first ask yourself: might they be hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Try not to judge, but rather to understand where they might be coming from. Not so you can be their "therapist" and certainly not to tell them what’s "wrong" with them, or what they “should” do. That’s not the point. But so that you can have some compassion for the person, and thus deal with them in a more humane manner.

Like with my pup. When I remember to halt, take a breath, and then say, "It’s OK, Baer, I’ll feed you shortly," accompanied by some petting, he's easily soothed into waiting those few minutes. Far better for him—and me!—than getting irritated with my sweet dog.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Debunking the Aging Lie

A widespread myth about aging needs a serious reality check—the one that says older people are slow, ignorant and not interested in life..

The stereotype that as we age we suddenly become dim-witted, have no desire to learn new things and aren’t interest in the world is persistent in our culture, but it’s a lie. All you have to do is pay attention to people in their 80s, 90s and beyond who are doing fabulous things to see a marvelous, ongoing yearning to live life to the fullest.

Here are a few examples. Phyllis Sues celebrated her 92nd birthday in 2015 by performing an amazing tango, which was uploaded to YouTube  amid great acclaim. Considering that Sues began taking tango (and trapeze) at 80, that’s quite something. She learned Italian and French in her 70s.

In the area of love, a couple, both in their 90s, met at an assisted living center and they clicked. They’ve been together for two years.

Television producer Norman Lear is still fulfilling his bucket list. Latest on the agenda? He lip-synched a song by Paul Hipp in a funny, touching YouTube  salute to his 93rd birthday.

In the land of happy, healthy longevity, positive emotions such as appreciation, gratitude and optimism rule. A study[1] observed the health of 255 medical students for 25 years. Those who were the most hostile had five times greater occurrence of coronary heart disease than those who were not hostile. Research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that older people who are happy have a 35 percent lower risk of dying over five years than unhappy people of the same age.[2]

Attitude is everything. What everyone should know, regardless of age, is that if you have a negative attitude about aging, guess what? That attitude will be self-fulfilling. Recent research shows that people who thought of the elderly in negative terms were more likely to show signs of Alzheimer’s themselves (
It’s certainly not inevitable that you’ll live your later years in misery. Far from it. Turn that attitude around and, as the studies show, you’ll not waste a minute of your time on Earth and have the opportunity to live a happy, healthy, fulfilling life.

[1]. C. Barefoot, W. G. Dahlstrom, and R. B. Williams, Jr., “Hostility, CHD Incidence, and Total Mortality: A 25-Year Follow-Up Study of 255 Physicians,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 45, 1 (1983), pp. 59– 63.