Friday, July 29, 2016

Be the Master of Your Universe—Without Bloodshed

Summer blockbusters are full of Masters of the Universe—Superheroes/heroines, Emperors and Kings—in righteous battle. And, when someone storms your castle – be that of your thoughts, your actions, your behavior—don’t you defend it with all your might? “You’re wrong!” “You messed up, not me!” “I didn’t do that, you did!” We like to be Masters of our own Universe, so when someone points the finger at us and tell us we’re wrong, we did it wrong—well, we don’t like it, not one bit.

But here’s the thing: unlike the Masters of the Universe in the movies, you can’t just pulverize the person who has the nerve to defy you and walk away in a shower of glory. Most of the time they’re living under your roof, sleeping in your bed, or sharing your work-space. Aargh.

Somehow you have to resolve the situation. There is a way, a surprisingly easy way. Just say “You’re right.” Or, if that absolutely terrifies you, “You could be right.”

Now before you run screaming from the page or hit delete, consider the impact of those words. Saying “You’re right” to someone is like immobilizing them with a magic taser. Everything stops. There is no fight if one of you stops fighting—pardon me, defending. And in that suspended-in-time moment while the other person is scrambling to figure out what just happened, you can say “I never thought about it that way,” or “I didn’t realize that’s how it looked to you,” or any number of phrases that provide an opening for a conversation, a discussion.

If the person replies, having regained their senses, “Well, yeah, that’s what I told you all along,” summon your inner Obi-Wan Kenobi, (OK, so we’re all over the movie map here) and say, “Help me understand how you’re seeing it” and give them the opportunity to lay it out for you. Listen, really listen, because now you’re in “wanting to understand” mode, which is vastly different from “defending your castle” mode.

Sure, there’s a part of you going “It’s not fair! I didn’t mess up!” and indeed, from your point of view, you didn’t. But this other person, who is in your life and who you are usually happy to have in your life, doesn’t see it that way. And the best method of getting back to that usually happy place is for you to start by understanding how it looks to them.

After that, only after that, is it helpful for you to say, “Well, here’s where I was coming from.” Not defensively, not argumentatively, but really seeking, in tone as well as words, to come to a place of mutual understanding. But only after the other person has truly had ample opportunity to say their piece. Only then will they be willing to hear your piece.

Less dramatic, no doubt, than vaporizing the person with your brilliant sarcasm, or blasting them to smithereens with all the things they’ve done “wrong,” but oh so very much more effective. And considerate. And loving.

You know, the kind of Master of the Universe you really want to be.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Want to Stay Young? Get Busy!

Photo: Anaya Sam

I’m endlessly fascinated by children in airports. As I sit, waiting patiently (sort of) at the gate for my flight, I watch children – in particular the 3 to 5 year olds – run, stumble, and climb over, through, and around anything stationary: people, suitcases, seats, recycling bins. They won’t sit still for more than a second. I’m exhausted just watching them, and in complete admiration of the parents who chase, snag, grab, clutch, hug, feed, and amuse their squirming, happy, perpetually-in-motion kids.

But here’s the thing: what if that very busyness is a key to the fountain of youth? What if being busy, staying very active, is a way to stay young?

A ground-breaking study from The Dallas Lifespan Brain Study of 300 older individuals between the ages of 50 and 89, found that the brains of people who were busy, worked better—regardless of their age. In geek speak: “Living a busy lifestyle appears beneficial for mental function.” Busier people could reason better (as in use their brains better), had better working memory (as in better short-term memory), better vocabulary, and had better ability to remember specific events from the past.

Since mental decline is something many of us fear as we go from 50 to 60 to 70 and beyond, this is extremely valuable information! Get busy, and you can keep those brains humming along just fine.

In practical terms, what does that mean? Well, you don’t have to imitate the 3 – 5 year olds and jungle-gym your way through airports—fortunately. I don’t know about you, but I’d look real funny doing that. But what it does mean is taking a second look at retirement: maybe the fantasy of sitting on a beach sipping pina coladas for those 20 or 30 or 40 years post-retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe you’d be better off sipping said pina coladas on an occasional Friday afternoon, and finding a number of different activities to enjoy the rest of your week.

There is so much to do, to enjoy, to share. There are umpteen organizations in need of volunteers, from library literacy programs to Habitat for Humanity to the Red Cross to your local hospital to international assistance programs and many more. There are volunteer organizations to fit every conceivable interest, there are even online volunteer matching organizations that help you find the best volunteer fit for you.

Then there’s all those hobbies you never had time for: fishing, hiking, learning a language, building a miniature railroad track, joining a choir, experimenting with crafts. Perhaps there’s a small business you’d like to start, or a novel you want to write, or a painting you’d love to learn how to paint, or a garden you so want to plant.

And then there’s physical activity: golf, dance, tennis, Pilates, yoga, running, softball, horseback riding, ping-pong, martial arts, the list is endless. No, not watching it from the cushy depths of your couch, but engaging in it.

A mix of these activities--some creative, some physical, some giving back, some just plain fun—can be a wonderful approach to a busy lifestyle. Not busyness for the sake of busyness, but having a variety of activities which, as the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study points out, give us more opportunities to learn as we find ourselves in more new situations, and put us in contact with different people, all of which help to stimulate our brains.
Stimulate your brain! Get busy! And have as much fun as possible while you’re at it. After all, isn’t that what those kids are doing with all their running around?