THE CENTER FOR THIRD AGE NEWSLETTER – OCTOBER 2014
1. FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS
2. THE CASE FOR LOW IDEALS
4. NO NURSING HOME FOR ME!
5. GRATEFULNESS AND THE POWER OF RADICAL SUFFICIENCY
6. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EDUCATION AND TRAINING
7. PRACTICING THE ART OF POSITIVE AGING
8. SEVEN WAYS TO EXERCISE YOUR BRAIN – AND WHY YOU REALLY NEED TO
9. THIS MONTH’S LINKS
QUOTES OF THE MONTH – BROOKS/MONTAIGNE, HANGER, NELSON & REMEN
“If others examined themselves attentively, as I do, they would find themselves, as I do, full of inanity and nonsense. Get rid of it I cannot without getting rid of myself.”
“If you’re not bewildered, you’re not paying attention.
Perhaps bewilderment is all there is.”
“Grateful living invites a radical experience of sufficiency, and sufficiency invites us toward using our lives and resources in more radically generous, open-hearted, and conscientious ways.”
“I AM ENOUGH.”
FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS
October greetings, Dear Friends…
Hope you are delighting in spring with us ‘down-under’ in New Zealand or reminiscing in autumn ‘up-over’ in the northern hemisphere; whichever may be the case, the unfolding seasons always provide a provocative context for reflection on life.
These Musings grew organically out of the writings I collected for you this month. This has become the pattern I’ve grown into in my fourth quarter of life, and it very much brings to mind Elder Ed’s “Relaxing Into Participation” (RIP) that has helped me make so much sense out of living. By RIP, Ed, at 97, simply means that “surrendering our attempts to control life will let ‘Our Sources’ give us all the guidance we need to enjoy its flow.” (Rather than ‘Sources,’ you may prefer ‘Life,’ ‘Spirit,’ ‘Intuition,’ etc.; please substitute whatever works best for you.) Gestalt therapist Barry Stevens’ book, ‘Don’t Push the River; It Flows by Itself’, is a great way to learn more about Ed’s RIP.
When a particular article strikes me, I put it in my newsletter file, and in the last week of the month, I read the collected pieces another time, winnow them to a few and then ask myself, “Why am I guided to keep these?” This week the four “QUOTATIONS OF THE MONTH” provide most of the answer…
Brooks and Montaigne’s finding “themselves, as I do, full of inanity and nonsense” is certainly the story of my maturing process. While it’s now clear I’ve always been, and still am, “full of inanity and nonsense,” I refused to accept that reality with any consistency until I began this 8th decade of mine. Now I remember daily that getting “rid of it I cannot without getting rid of myself.”
A particular form of “inanity and nonsense” I’ve always insisted on, and still do much of the time, is that “I know what’s going on.” I might have entertained the notion that I was “bewildered” maybe once a decade, but certainly not more frequently than that. As a consultant, I was paid to “know what’s going on,” especially in the psyches of executives and managers of large corporations. Actually I did tell many stories about my own colossal screw-ups in my life, but that was only when I was well past the emotional reality of being completely “bewildered” for some time. What Howard Hanger is talking about is being able to know you have no idea what’s going on at the time you have no idea what’s going on, that is, acknowledging you’re “bewildered” while you are out of control. I, and many other men as well, learned early on that “real men” are always in control and “bewilderment” is a disease of weaker species. The older I get, like Howard, the more I’m comfortable with his suggestions that “Perhaps bewilderment is all there is.”
The notion that personal “inanities and nonsense” and “bewilderment” might be the nature of humanity and reality can seem a bit somber. That is why the last two quotations from Kristin Nelson and Rachel Naomi Remen are so necessary (I don’t think it’s coincidental both are women).
Kristin’s piece on GRATEFULNESS AND THE POWER OF RADICAL SUFFICIENCY tells my story of how learning to practice gratitude has changed me for so much the better. “Grateful living invites a radical experience of sufficiency” describes perfectly what practicing gratitude has helped me do. For whatever reasons, even though I’ve always lived a very secure, upper middle class life, I have always been unconsciously afraid of not being or doing or having enough. This shows up in the silliest ways, such as ordering another glass wine before I’ve finished the one I have. Since coming across gratitude.org, whenever I start feeling “sufficiency-deprived,” I start looking at all the good things around me and saying, “Thank you for being part of my life.” Almost immediately “radical sufficiency” shifts my perception and my feelings so I live my life “in more radically generous, open-hearted, and conscientious ways.”
And then comes the wonderful Rachel Naomi Remen, 24 years a teacher of medical professionals, with a story of how her students identify their most important memory from the course. “The most common thing that students say in this sharing is a simple three-word phrase: I AM ENOUGH. Year after year it is the same phrase I myself say as well. It is the beginning of everything.”
And that is what I’ve found practicing gratitude has done for me, too. I now know “I AM ENOUGH” – and this knowing of personal sufficiency is “the beginning of everything.”
But what is so powerful about gratitude is how much it gives and how little it asks! Whenever you notice you’re off-center in the slightest, just relax (Elder Ed would say RIP), look around and say “Thank you” to the little things that make your life so easy.* As Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
*If you’d like one of the best examples I’ve seen of practicing gratitude, visit this link and see how much fun you can have doing it, too…
Much love, FW
PS: Because some of the articles are long, I’m trying to give you a glimpse of why I find them valuable for me in an FW NOTE at the beginning of each – and remember, this is meant to be a month’s worth relaxed reading…
2. THE CASE FOR LOW IDEALS
BY DAVID BROOKS, THE NEW YORK TIMES, OCTOBER 16, 2014
FW NOTE: As a conservative columnist writing for The New York Times, David Brooks seems an oxymoron. In this piece David focuses not on politicians but on we who are so judgmental of them, and his mature realism recommends we try a version of ‘grateful living’ in the political realm…
Let’s say you came of political age during Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Maybe you were swept up in the idealism. But now you’ve seen an election driven by hope give way to an election driven by fear. Partisans are afraid the other side might win. Candidates are pawns of the consultants because they’re afraid of themselves. Everybody’s afraid of the Ebola virus, ISIS and the fragile economy.
The politics of the last few years have made you disappointed, disillusioned and cynical. You look back at your earlier idealism as cotton candy.
Well, I’m here to make the case for political idealism.
I’m not making the case for the high idealism that surrounded that 2008 campaign. It was based on the idea that people are basically innocent and differences can be quickly transcended. It was based on the idea that society is easily malleable and it’s possible to have quick transformational change. It was based in the idea of a heroic savior (remember those “Hope” posters).
I’m here to make the case for low idealism. The low idealist rejects the politics of innocence. The low idealist recoils from any movement that promises “new beginnings,” tries to offer transcendent “bliss to be alive” moments or tries to fill people’s spiritual voids.
Low idealism begins with a sturdy and accurate view of human nature. We’re all a bit self-centered, self-interested and inclined to think we are nobler than we are. Montaigne wrote, “If others examined themselves attentively, as I do, they would find themselves, as I do, full of inanity and nonsense. Get rid of it I cannot without getting rid of myself.”
Low idealism continues with a realistic view of politics. Politics is slow drilling through hard boards. It is a series of messy compromises. The core functions of government are negative — putting out fires, arresting criminals, settling disputes — and much of what government does is the unromantic work of preventing bad situations from getting worse.
Politicians operate in a recalcitrant medium with incomplete information, bad options and no sleep. Government in good times is merely dull; when it is enthralling, times are usually bad.
So low idealism starts with a tone of sympathy. Anybody who works in this realm deserves compassion and gentle regard. The low idealist knows that rallies with anthems and roaring are just make-believe, but has warm affection for any politician who exhibits neighborliness, courtesy and the ability to listen. The low idealist understands that those who try to rise above the messy business of deal-making often turn into zealots and wind up sinking below it. On the other hand, this kind of idealist has a full heart for those who serve the practical work of legislating: James Baker and Ted Kennedy in the old days; Bob Corker and Ron Wyden today. Believing experience is the best mode of education, he favors the competent old hand to the naïve outsider.
The low idealist is more romantic about the past than about the future. Though governing is hard, there are some miracles of human creation that have been handed down to us. These include, first and foremost, the American Constitution, but also the institutions that function pretty well, like the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve. Her first job is to work with existing materials, magnify what’s best and incrementally reform what is worst.
The businessman might be enamored of disruptive change, but the low idealist abhors it in politics. The low idealist liked Obama’s vow to hit foreign policy singles and doubles day by day, so long as there is a large vision to give long-term direction.
The low idealist admires a different kind of leader; not the martyr or the passionate crusader or the righteous populist. He likes the resilient one, who maybe has been tainted by scandals and has learned from his self-inflicted wounds that his own worst enemy is himself.
He likes the person who speaks only after paying minute attention to the way things really are, and whose proposals are grounded in the low stability of the truth.
The low idealist lives most of her life at a deeper dimension than the realm of the political. She believes, as Samuel Johnson put it, that “The happiness of society depends on virtue” — not primarily material conditions. But, and this is what makes her an idealist, she believes that better laws can nurture virtue. Statecraft is soulcraft. Good tax policies can arouse energy and enterprise. Good social programs can encourage compassion and community service.
Low idealism starts with a warts-and-all mentality, but holds that people can be improved by their political relationships, so it ends up with something loftier and more inspiring that those faux idealists who think human beings are not a problem and politics is a mostly a matter of moving money around.
BY HOWARD HANGER, OCTOBER 20, 2014
FW NOTE: In this ‘Mental Breather’ Howard offers another version of grateful living as he suggests “bewilderment just might lead you into the cathedral of jaw-dropping awe”…
The world is a mind-boggling place. No doubt about it. Simply the fact that it exists at all can blow the cerebellum and fry the thalamus. But, to acknowledge the world as mind-boggling is just the beginning of boggledom.
According to current research, for example, there are approximately 8.7 million species of life on this planet. Of these 8.7 million, only 1.2 million species have been catalogued which leaves some 86% of earth life and 91% of marine life still awaiting discovery or description.
That brain of yours which might well be getting boggled at this moment, is mind-boggling all by itself: How it stores some memories and ditches others. How it is even now trying to make heads or tails of these words, wondering if you can hold your hunger pains till dinner-time, trying to figure how you’ll pay that VISA bill and still managing to ignite some excitement about the hot date you have scheduled this weekend.
Then, there’s your body: everything from your ear hair to your toe jam is worthy of a good boggle. You ability to swallow, digest, fart and poop without even thinking about it is near the top of the boggle list.
Then there are relationships – lover, friend, family, co-workers, pet. Mind-boggling, all. And government? Mindless-boggling, perhaps. Then there’s literature and Irish dancing, space capsules and on-line dating, Lady Gaga, Mona Lisa and Beethoven’s 9th.
A T-shirt might read: If you’re not bewildered, you’re not paying attention. Perhaps bewilderment is all there is. But rather than it throwing you into confusion and despair, if treated rightly, bewilderment just might lead you into the cathedral of jaw-dropping awe. And there’s nothing a little awe and wonder to add the “worth” to the “while” of this life.
4. NO NURSING HOME FOR ME
MAKING THE ROUNDS ANONYMOUSLY
FW NOTE: My friend Mike W forwarded this to me, and, after all the serious stuff, it’s time for a ‘lighten up break’ – thanks, Mike!
With the average cost for a nursing home reaching $188.00 per day, there is a better way to spend our savings, when we get old and feeble.
I have already checked on reservations at the Holiday Inn for a combined long term stay discount and a senior discount. It comes to only $49.23 per night. That leaves $138.77 a day for:Breakfast, lunch and dinner in any restaurant I want, or room service.
1. Laundry, gratuities and special TV movies. Plus, they provide a swimming pool, a workout room, a lounge, washer, dryer,etc. Most have free toothpaste and razors, and all have free shampoo and soap.
2. They treat you like a customer, not a patient. $5 worth of tips a day will have the entire staff scrambling to help you.
3. There is city Bus stop out front, and seniors ride free. The Handicap bus will also pick you up (if you fake a decent limp).
4. To meet other nice people, call a Church bus on Sundays. For a change of scenery, take the Airport shuttle Bus and eat at one of the nice restaurants there. While you’re at the airport, fly somewhere. Otherwise the cash keeps building up.
5. It takes months to get into decent nursing homes. Holiday Inn will take your reservation today. And – you are not stuck in one place forever, you can move from Inn to Inn, or even from city to city. Want to see Hawaii? They have a Holiday Inn there too.
6. TV broken? Light bulbs need changing? Need a mattress replaced? No problem. They fix everything, and apologize for the inconvenience.
7. The Inn has a night security person and daily room service. The maid checks to see if you are OK. If not, they will call the undertaker or an ambulance. If you fall and break a hip, Medicare will pay for the hip, and Holiday Inn will upgrade you to a suite for the rest of your life.
8. And no worries about visits from family. They will always be glad to find you, and will probably check in for a few days mini-vacation. The grandkids can use the pool.
What more can you ask for?
So . . .
When I reach the Golden age, I’ll face it with a grin– Just forward all my email to: me@Holiday_Inn!
5. GRATEFULNESS AND THE POWER OF RADICAL SUFFICIENCY
BY KRISTI NELSON, THE NEW YORK TIMES, OCTOBER 16, 2014
FW NOTE: I thank Kristi Nelson and Gratitude.org for this piece. Of all the varied psychological attempts to become more the relaxed, aware and loving person I mean to be, none has been more effective, simple and practical than grateful living…
Grateful living, or living in touch with the great fullness of life, has the ability to significantly and positively alter our lives and the larger world in which we live.
Grateful living asks us to purposefully direct our awareness to notice all that is already fully present and abundant in our lives – from the tiniest things of beauty to the grandest of our blessings – and in so doing, to take nothing for granted. Grateful living as a practice powerfully affirms that we can be in charge of our attention, and can point it towards that which serves the fullness of our learning, our lives, our relationships, and the world. And, amazingly, every single moment can offer us this opportunity…not a single moment need escape our gratefulness…even if it is simply to learn from that which is most difficult. We have the choice to be in touch with the “fullness” of everything.
In infinite ways, grateful living offers an unparalleled pathway to the experience of “enough,” and even more than enough, in our lives. Suddenly, the barren corners of our homes are rich with things for which to be thankful. What seemed lacking in our relationship now feels full to overflowing. Our bodies are miraculous. Electricity itself blows our minds. Our days can be one discovery after another of blessing and opportunity. And the earth can seem an endless cacophony of beauty.
When we are in touch with enough-ness, when we feel like we are and have enough, we become less susceptible to cultural norms of complaint, envy, scarcity, comparison, and insatiability; all sources of suffering, and separation from ourselves, each other and the planet, and also the ways that we get caught in the “more is better” mentality. When we are so busy unconsciously rushing towards more, as Soul of Money author Lynne Twist says, we rush right over/past “enough” and do not even notice it…like an inconvenient speed-bump.
In this way, grateful living is an antidote to scarcity and insatiability. And it is radical because it establishes the only real, lasting conditions for generosity, kindness, compassion and the impulse to serve. When we are awake to all that is enough in our lives, we can turn our attention beyond ourselves. We need to feel our fullness in order to have anything truly meaningful to offer the world.
And since scarcity and insatiability are the drivers for so much that is unsustainable and unjust in our world right now, grateful living can be seen as not merely a salve of complacency and self-satisfaction, but as a protective impulse that wakes us up to act on behalf of the things for which we feel grateful. In this, gratefulness has the power to awaken us to greater purpose to preserve and tend the things we notice are worth cherishing – all the fragile blessing that surrounds us and is charged to our care.
Grateful living invites a radical experience of sufficiency, and sufficiency invites us toward using our lives and resources in more radically generous, open-hearted, and conscientious ways. This truth offers me hope – for our lives, each other and the world. And hope is a longing and blessing for which we can all be deeply grateful…
6. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EDUCATION & TRAINING
BY RACHEL NAOMI REMEN, AWAKIN.ORG, OCTOBER 13, 2014
FW NOTE: Remen makes a telling distinction between ‘training’ and ‘education’ from her 24 years of teaching medical professionals where her dream of medicine “was to become a friend to life”…
For me, the process of education is intimately related to the process of healing. The root word of education — educare — means to lead forth a hidden wholeness in another person. A genuine education fosters self-knowledge, self-trust, creativity and the full expression of one’s unique identity. It gives people the courage to be more. Yet over the years so many health professionals have told me that they feel personally wounded by their experience of professional school and profoundly diminished by it. This was my experience as well.
It has made me wonder. Perhaps what we have all experienced is not an education at all but a training, which is something quite different. Certainly in medicine the training dimension of schooling has become more and more central and assumed a greater importance as the many techniques of the scientific approach have been developed. The goal of a training is competence and replicability. Uniqueness is often discouraged and may even be viewed as dangerous.
A training is all about the right way and the wrong way to do everything. In a training your own way of doing something can often become irrelevant. In such a milieu students often experience their learning as a constant struggle to be good enough. Training creates a culture of relentless evaluation and judgment. In response students try to become someone different than who they are.
At the end of the Healer’s Art teachings, the students stand in a large circle, silently review their memories of the course and identify the most important thing that they learned or remembered during the course. They then turn this insight into an affirmation: a little phrase which begins in one of three ways: I am … I can … or I will. One at a time, the students go around the circle each saying their phrase out loud. This year will be the 24th year that I have taught the course at my medical school. The most common thing that students say in this sharing is a simple three-word phase: I AM ENOUGH. Year after year it is the same phrase I myself say as well. It is the beginning of everything.
In Medicine, training is essential to technical competence. The real question is, is training good enough?
…My dream of medicine was not to become competent. My dream was to become a friend to life. It was that dream that enabled me to endure the relentless pursuit of competency required of me. But competence did not fulfill me then and could not have fulfilled me for my medical lifetime. Only a dream can do that.
7. PRACTICING THE ART OF POSITIVE AGING
BY WILLIAM A. SADLER, PH.D.
FW NOTE: Bill Sadler, author of The Third Age and a founder of The Center for Third Age Leadership, offers a new form of organization to support positive aging: The North Oakland Village and The Village to Village Network…
One of the most significant developments of the twentieth century was the unexpected, unprecedented extension of human life. In 1900 the average life span was just over 47 years; by 2000 it was over 77 years. That’s a 30-year life bonus. Many people are living even longer lives. The fastest growing cohort in America is centenarians. In 1965 there were just three thousand; but today there are nearly 60,000, and by 2050 there will be a million or more. Most of us over fifty have a bright, long future ahead of us. So the question and challenge for us is: what do we want to put this future?
Whether we want it or not, a very large part of this future will be an experience of aging. Until recently that was not considered a very bright option. But during the past thirty years an emerging science of aging has been discovering possibilities and options not previously on our radar screen. In the older, usual view aging was mostly defined by “ D” words like decline, degeneration, disability, dementia, and disease. When I started my research the reigning view of aging was “disengagement.” People were expected to withdraw and start shutting down. During the past couple of decades we are starting to view aging much more positively, because we know that there are different ways to age. Those “D” words that supposedly defined aging just aren’t normal; they are still common but not inevitable. Many people are beginning to experience vital, healthy, purposeful, and happy outcomes as they grow older. The former negative view is gradually being balanced by “positive aging.”
How can we do that? I believe that especially in the second half, our lives are shaped by the choices we make, not just or primarily by our genes. Genetic influences cannot begin to explain the rapid extension of human life that has occurred. If we are to age positively, we need to take charge of our lives and to design a life style that creates a future we want. That is a major lesson I have learned during the 25 years that I have been tracking individuals who have been creatively designing their lives after 50. Instead of closing down and going into decline, they have been moving to new peaks, tapping their creative potential to discover new options. Instead of declining and shutting down they have been changing course to experience a fulfilling future.
How can people do this? That’s has been a driving question in my research and in the many exciting, exemplary studies and books about positive aging that have recently been published. To move in a new direction into positive aging is a creative venture, like art. The art of positive aging describes a positive development, which we are beginning to witness not just in America, but in many countries and different cultures. It gives us an option that is very different from usual aging, which is mostly negative. Like serious art, the art of positive aging is hard work, creative, filled with discovery and learning, stimulating and fun, and which leaves a legacy in the lives of those we touch. That possibility presents us with an opportunity and a challenge – to shape the life we really want in the years ahead.
North Oakland Village encourages members to discover, learn, practice, and sustain the art of positive aging as they age in place in their own homes. It also aims to build a community that fosters and supports positive aging for seniors now and in the years to come.
8. SEVEN WAYS TO EXERCISE YOUR BRAIN – AND WHY YOU REALLY NEED TO
BY MICHELE ROSENTHAL, SYNDICATED FROM REWIREME.COM, OCTOBER 20, 2014
FW NOTE: Michele makes a sobering point: “Cognitive brain function peaks in our early fifties, but staying mentally active can prevent brain loss in the years to follow” – and she suggests some very simple ways to “exercise your brain”…
If you’re over 40, you’re not going to like this (and if you’re not yet 40, get ready for a reality check): Early in your fifth decade, researchers believe, your cognitive brain performance peaks. From there, it’s a downhill slide for the remaining years of your life. The good news is that the brain is highly adaptable; it responds to experiences. In particular, “spaced practice” (repetitive exercise) helps the brain learn, grow, strengthen, and develop. As we age there are ways to combat the reduced function of such mental processes as memory, speed of thinking, problem solving, reasoning, and decision making. Starting to incorporate easy exercises today can help forestall decline tomorrow.
CAN THE BRAIN REVERSE THE AGING PROCESS?
According to Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth, and Dee Wyly, Distinguished University Chair at UT Dallas, “The world’s aging population is growing disproportionately. Our expected lifespan has reached an all-time high of more than 78 years, yet previous research shows cognitive decline may begin in the early 40s…. Until recently, cognitive decline in healthy adults was viewed as an inevitable consequence of aging. [Our] research shows that neuroplasticity can be harnessed to enhance brain performance and provides hope for individuals to improve their own mental capacity and cognitive brain health by habitually exercising higher-order thinking strategies no matter their age.”
The finding that global brain blood flow can be increased with complex mental activity suggests that staying mentally active helps reverse and potentially prevent brain losses and cognitive decline with aging.
The research Bond references was conducted at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas and published online by Cerebral Cortex. Researchers studied brain changes (using three MRI-based measurements) in a random sampling of people ages 56 to 71. What they discovered is exciting: Over a 12-week period, participants in hour-long sessions of directed brain training exhibited an expanded ability to create structural connection between parts of the brain related to learning and greater information communication across critical brain regions.
Dr. Sina Aslan, founder and president of Advance MRI and collaborator on the study, adds and explains, “Through this research we are able to see that cognitive training increases brain blood flow, which is a sensitive physiological marker of brain health. Previous research shows brain blood flow decreases in people beginning in their 20s. The finding that global brain blood flow can be increased with complex mental activity, as this study demonstrates, suggests that staying mentally active helps reverse and potentially prevent brain losses and cognitive decline with aging.”
In fact, the study shows a more than 8% increase in brain blood flow, which significantly impacts cognitive performance and can help your brain stay young. A followup study a year later confirmed that the gains were maintained. That’s good news if you want to boost your mental muscle!
Right about now you may be wondering what you’d have to do in order to reap these benefits. With the stress of an already packed schedule, do you have time to add yet another item to the calendar? Actually, training your brain is incredibly simple and can be done while moving through the tasks of your day.
7 SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN, RESULTS-ORIENTED EXERCISES
Your brain is responsible for five main cognitive functions: executive function, memory, attention, language, and visual-spatial skills. If you already squeeze aerobic exercise into your schedule (studies recommend at least three times per week for an hour), then you have a good routine that’s increasing brain blood flow to critical memory centers and improving your ability to remember facts. Adding any of the following cognitive function–building practices will amplify your brain health benefits:
1. STRATEGIZE – Logic and reasoning skills are the basis for making decisions and considering possible outcomes of your actions. The more you challenge yourself to do these kinds of tasks, the more you deepen the neural pathways necessary for this type of brain function. If you like games, this kind of exercise is right up your alley. Video games and strategic board games (such as chess) are great ways to engage this aspect of brain training. Other options include social interaction or any activity that requires you to identify a desired outcome and then calculate choices and develop a plan to achieve success.
2. CHALLENGE YOUR MEMORY – You highlight how important memory is to your cognitive function every time you read, reason, or do any type of mental calculation. Memory is also the first place you’ll probably notice your cognitive function faltering. Training your memory is incredibly easy and can be done while you commute or listen to the radio: Commit to learning all the lyrics of a song while you’re driving, or memorize a poem while sitting on the bus. Don’t commute? Force yourself to do a task by memory. For example, wash your face and brush your teeth with your eyes closed, or learn to perform a task with your nondominant hand.
3. (RE)FOCUS YOUR ATTENTION – Attention is one of the foundational elements of cognition and it decreases with age. Your ability to place your focus (and hold it there), however, allows you to concentrate and be productive despite distractions, which means this is a part of your brain function you want to keep sharp. Increasing this brain ability is as simple as changing your routine. Ninety-eight percent of what you do every day is habit; changing the routine guarantees your brain has to pay attention. There are two ways to work this part of your brain muscle: (1) Identify what you do by rote day after day and change it. That can mean taking a different route to work or school or changing your exercise routine (i.e., do the exercises in reverse order); (2) When you combine activities that require cognitive function, you force your brain to do more in the same amount of time. For example, cook and listen to talk radio or an audiobook, or drive while making a list of groceries in your head.
4. RESET YOUR BRAIN – As important as it is to be able to pay attention, sometimes it’s even better to give your brain a break. Stilling your mind breaks its rhythm, which causes it to refresh. Giving your mind a break allows it to return to tasks later with increased perspective and creativity. You can think of this as a sort of interval training for your brain. Dr. Chapman suggests a “Five by Five” principle “where you take a break from whatever you’re doing five times a day for at least five minutes to reset.” Make an effort to process information beyond its superficial level. When you read a book or article (including this one!), share what you learn with someone else. Rather than just recounting the facts, identify and discuss the theme(s) in what you read and how they relate to your life.
5. BUFF UP YOUR LINGO – Language games stimulate your brain to understand, remember, and recognize words. The more you practice fluency in language, the more quickly your brain will retrieve old words and embrace new ones. Taking the time to understand new words in context especially trains your brain to remember them, since you increase the associations linked with the definition. A simple way to engage this process is to read articles outside your normal realm of interest. Rather than reading the business section of the newspaper, read the sports or science section instead.’
6. SYNTHESIZE, SYNTHESIZE, SYNTHESIZE – According to Keir Bloomer, chair of the Higher Order Skills Excellence Group, “synthesis is the skill of joining up. Essentially, it is the process of forming new knowledge or new ideas by taking different existing ideas and knowledge, sometimes from different areas…. it’s a skill that involves activities like linking, connecting, joining together.” To exercise yourself in this way, make an effort to process information beyond its superficial level. When you read a book or article (including this one!), share what you learn with someone else. Rather than just recounting the facts, identify and discuss the theme(s) in what you read and how they relate to your life.
7. TAKE A REALLY GOOD LOOK – One of the most dominant senses your brain uses to understand and encode your experience is your visual sense. Being able to visually analyze your environment gives you many cognitive clues about how to behave within it. Developing this part of your brain muscle can be done in two easy ways: (1) In any setting, pick out three items and their location. When you leave the setting, close your eyes and see if you can accurately remember each item and its location; do this again two hours later; (2) For more of a challenge, try noticing everything you can see in your full range of vision (front and peripheral), then write it all down from recall.
Considered in these micro-elements, the ease of adding brain exercise to your day seems obvious. I think you can handle it, so I’m going to sneak in one more surefire way to bump up your gray matter: STOP MULTI-TASKING. Constant simultaneous in/output fatigues your brain and leads to reduced efficiency and productivity. When you need to focus on higher-order thinking (those tasks that really require full access to your brain power), you’ll achieve more if you allow your focus to remain uninterrupted for at least 15 minutes at a time.
All this sounds promising, but understanding the concept that your brain can hold off the aging process is a lot like buying a membership to the gym: It only helps if you actually use it. Which means incorporating these ideas into your everyday experience will require a tiny bit of intention on your part. If you’ve been reading this while also listening to the news on television—an example of combining activities that require cognitive function and thus working out your ability to pay attention—then you’ve already got a good head start.
This article has been republished here with permission from Rewire Me. Rewire Me is a place for mutual inspiration; a resource to enlighten and guide us on our journey toward wholeness and balance.
9. THIS MONTH’S LINKS:
THINK COMPUTER GRAPHICS CAN’T MIMIC HUMAN BEINGS?
A ‘VILLAGE’ HELPS SENIORS STAY IN THEIR HOMES COMFORTABLY…
INTERACTIVE VISUAL HISTORY OF WORLD 3500 BC to 2005 AD…
ASTRONAUT CHRIS HADFIELD’S PHOTOS FROM SPACE…
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