It’s Your Choice
If you could choose to design your aging experience, what would it look like? Would you be disease free? Live in a sunny climate and forget about shoveling snow? Live closer to your grandchildren to fully experience their childhoods? Go back to school for another degree for pure enjoyment? Travel to those places still on your bucket list? Savor time to read, reflect, and connect more to your tribe? Create a weekly inter-generational activity in your neighborhood to increase communication and connection?
As we age it is our choice how we experience the aging process. But too often we ‘just let it happen’. No, we don’t exactly get to choose if we get osteoarthritis or heart disease or any of the possible health challenges (although a healthier lifestyle earlier in life could prevent some of it), but we certainly can choose how we respond to aging. You become what you think about. Ask yourself what makes you happy, healthy, and thriving. What is your plan for energized aging?
What is Energized Aging?
Let’s start with what energized aging isn’t. It is not the false assumption that if you are positive and Ms./Mr. Happy all the time, you will ignore or deny that aging is actually happening to you. It is not the false narrative that the exceptional olders who jump out of airplanes at 90 or run marathons at 80 are the ones we should emulate. Congratulate, yes. Emulate, only if that is what makes you happy.
So, what, then, is energized aging? It is the process of owning your age. You take stock of your personal status concerning health, wellness, nutrition, emotional wellness, spirituality, and more and design a plan for your optimal thriving. Then you live the plan. And it looks different for each of us.
Design a Plan
When I speak on the topic of energized aging the first question I ask is, “Do you have a plan for optimal aging?” So far, the response has been a blank look followed by responses such as, “I never thought about it.”
We actually have a lot going for us as we age – a whole lot that is overlooked by our youth-oriented society. As Mary Pipher states in Women Rowing North (2019), “Our minds become less cluttered and more concerned with essentials. We develop deeper and more integrated memories.” She goes on to say, “Our ability to make connections and distinctions grows stronger. We live more comfortably with complexity and multiple points of view.”
Supporting this idea of our strengths as we age, Ashton Applewhite in This Chair Rocks, shares information from the MacArthur study. “Predictors of strong mental function in old age are regular physical activity, a strong social support system, and belief in your ability to handle what life has to offer.” Perhaps we need to include these three predictors in our personal energized aging plans.
Where Do I Start?
Whatever your age, think about yourself at 70, 80, or 90. What do you want to be able to do? Select 6 – 8 areas of your life for your focus. I personally chart daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals in the areas of Writing, Artistic Pursuits, Wellness and Fitness, Intellectual Growth, Play, Relationships, and Spirituality. Start by thinking about what you are doing in those areas right now. What are you doing well that supports healthy aging? What do you want to increase, decrease, or totally change? This reflection provides the foundation for creating your personal blueprint for energized aging. “The whole point about aging “well” is to become more liberated from social expectations and prioritize what feels right for us. (Anne Karpf, How to Age)
Your inner work for this week is to start your energized aging blueprint. Select the 6 – 8 areas of your life for focus, analysis, and reflection. Create one column and make notes about what you are doing now. In column two describe what you want to change. Next week we will consider how to connect really well-written goals to your new blueprint.
One more quote for your pondering: “Aren’t’ we all supposed to aspire toward ‘Active Aging’? Perhaps not. Perhaps doing less frees us up to accomplish more of what matters most to us. Perhaps the trick lies in figuring out what matters most – a tall order in view of the fact that most Americans’ self-worth is intimately bound up in self-reliance and conventional economic productivity. Americans value doing over being.” (H.R. Moody, Human Values in Aging Newsletter, August 1, 2009)