RSS Feed

Tag Archives: midlife

Will Power

Like many of my middle-aged friends, I am trying to lose weight. I am not as obsessed about it as I was when I was younger and thinner because I am more accepting of my body now. But that also means I am less motivated. It’s even hard to will myself to do 10 minutes of stretching every day. 

In order to improve my motivation, I decided to look at some info on a workshop that I used to give on self-leadership. Good stuff. I ought to try it some time.

Here are some reasons why will power fails us:

1. We are more motivated to take action when things are going poorly than when things are going well. That’s why negative events stand out more than positive events: negative events require us to make some change. If things are going well, we can just maintain status quo. That’s also why anxious people like myself are often highly motivated–because almost everything feels like a crisis.

2. As we make progress towards our goal, we lose motivation because it takes more effort. This is related to the Pareto principle, or the 80-20 rule: 80% of our results comes from the first 20% of our effort. After that, it takes 80% of our effort to achieve the last 20% of the results.

For example, it is often easy for people to lose weight initially with minimal changes to their diet and exercise routine. But it takes a lot more effort to lose the last 10 pounds. So much so that people on diets are often perpetually stuck in the “I just need to lose 10 more pounds” stage.

3. The amount of will power we have is limited. Reseach by Roy Baumeister indicates that trying to exert self-control in one area of our lives leaves us less energy to exert self-control in other areas. So if you’re trying to change your eating habits, you will have less energy available to start exercising and vice versa. That’s why it’s better to focus on changing one thing at a time.

Despite these obstacles, it is possible to reach our goals. People do it all the time. So why not me? And why not you?

Here are some of the things that characterize people with willpower:

1. They try to understand why they’re not motivated. I was not motivated to lose weight for awhile because I just wouldn’t look at pictures of myself so that I could exist in a state of denial. That helped me avoid psychic pain, but now I think I need to be in a little discomfort. I don’t want to beat myself up over it, but I need to be honest with myself about how much weight I’ve gained.

2. They use their values to guide their behavior. Tennis is the greatest motivator for me. I want to play tennis for as long as I live, and doing so will require cross-training. So maybe I will try to remember this when I am feeling unmotivated.

3. They give themselves permission to fulfill their wants without feeling guilty. Because I work with students with eating disorders, I try to be careful about the message that I give about body image and I worry about how they will perceive my weight loss. But the reality is, my reasons for wanting to lose weight as a middle-aged woman are not the same as the reasons that students with eating disorders have. I can allow myself to honor my own needs. 

I know it’s still going to be hard, but perhaps writing this post will help me be more motivated. It certainly can’t hurt.

This tote has nothing to do with weight loss but it required a lot of will power because it was boring. It turned out nicely, though, so maybe I’ll knit another one.

IMG_0865

Good Fortune

Money can’t buy happiness. Beauty is only skin deep. Age is just a number. It may be an illusion that wealth, beauty, and youth bring happiness, but I have to admit, sometimes it’s still a convincing one.

Earlier this summer, when I was stranded in South Carolina waiting for my car to be fixed, I had the good fortune of staying with a friend from graduate school and her family. At the time, I had been on this kick about destiny, so her daughter recommended that I read Holes, by Louis Sachar. It’s about a boy who is sentenced to work at a camp for delinquent boys for a crime he didn’t commit. Although it didn’t seem like it at the time, he was exactly where he was supposed to be. I was working hard to stay positive about my situation, so I wondered if my reading “Holes” was meant to be, as well.

I asked my young friend what else I should read, and she recommended Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin. It’s about a Chinese girl named Minli who goes on a long journey to try to change her family’s fortune. In the end, she learns that family is the greatest fortune of all.

Every year my college friend and I have an Inner Child Reunion. During our first reunion a few years ago, I introduced her to Sophie and she realized that she had a part of herself that was not allowed to play. So we make it a priority to get together for a few days over the summer for an extended play date. This year we could not find a mutual time to meet, so she decided to bring her son and meet me at my brother’s house because I had to babysit my niece. So it was a double reunion since she, my brother, and I all went to UVA.

As usual, my friend and I lamented over the very adult burdens of money, weight gain, and aging, but without the same level of obsessiveness as before. Perhaps it was because spending several days with 4 adults and 2 actual children, in addition to our inner children, left us with less energy for lamentations. Or perhaps it was because being together helped us to be more grateful for what we have.

I’m not gonna lie. We did not become enlightened beings over the past few days. We would still like to make a little more money, lose a little weight, and slow down the aging process. But we were also reminded that we are blessed to have family and friends who enjoy singing and recording “Let It Go” for hours on end, several days in a row. How many other people can say that? (I would post one of the videos but it’s kind of embarrassing.)

Perhaps it is no coincidence that I finished “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” last night, at the conclusion of our Inner Child/College Reunion. Grace Lin was right: gratitude brings good fortune.

Birthday Reflections

So I’m reading The Fault in Our Stars for book club, which is told from the perspective of a 16 year old girl with cancer, and guess what? I still talk like a teenager. Yup. Some of her comments could have come straight from my blog.

Even though I turn 45 today, I guess I can consider this a compliment, since this is a best seller with a movie that is a box office hit and has gotten great reviews. So if I sound immature, at least it’s in a way that people can relate to. And if you’ve read the book, then you know that Hazel Grace is no ordinary 16 year old. For example, she refutes the adage that without pain, we cannot know joy by pointing out that “the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.” I love that!

Still, I find it ironic to discover that I still talk like a teenager as I hit what is irrefutably middle age. I thought I would be OK with it, because it’s not like I didn’t know I was middle-aged. And as long as I don’t hit a prime number, I’m usually fine. And 45 is divisible by 3 and 5, so I figured I was safe until I turned 47. But no. Mother Nature likes to rub it in your face that you are becoming an old lady, and I received a couple of early birthday gifts just to make sure I was aware of this.

Before someone sends me that quote about how old age is a privilege that not everyone gets to benefit from, let me preempt you by saying that I am grateful for my life. It’s just that signs of getting older bring up that feeling that I talked about in the Beginnings and Endings post. Sadness about the loss of gifts that I had not even been aware of until I began to lose them. Anxiety about the losses to come. Panic about how fleeting time is.

I am afraid I am not one of those brave souls who will embrace aging with grace and dignity. I’m pretty sure I’m going to go kicking and screaming, fighting it every step of the way. I guess this is one of the downsides of being a warrior.

I’ve been thinking about what I could say in this post for several days now. I was really struggling with how to make it positive, since my goal is to be honest, and I have honestly been in a place of sadness and anxiety about getting older.

But I pray about blog posts, too. I pray that God will give me the inspiration to come up with something to say that will be helpful to someone, even if that someone is just me. So far, God has always answered this prayer. Today was no exception.

This morning, as I warned my inner critic that it was not allowed to make me feel guilty about sleeping in on my birthday, I leisurely checked out my birthday messages on my phone and FB, and I was humbled by how many of them there were so early in the morning. Well, early in the morning for me, at least. And I got the message: the one gift that will grow with age is love.

The feelings of love that I have for others will only deepen, as will their love for me. And as I get older, the more people I include in the circle of who I care about. Blogging, which I also consider a gift from God, has dramatically increased the number of people who have been brought into my life. So I have a great deal of love to look forward to, for as long as I may live.

Plus, I will always have an inner infant, Sophie, and now a teenager, as well as a slew of other parts in my internal family. They are always vying for my attention, letting me know that they are there, whether I want to hear from them or not. Through the process of blogging–and aging–I am learning that these parts I’ve been at war with also love me, although they show it in ways that are sometimes annoying.

So I am thankful to God, and to all of you, for reminding me on my birthday how blessed I am with love.

The Perfect Solution

I am currently living in a patio home subdivision for retired people where the average age is around 80. But that’s OK. It’s small, but I live alone so I don’t need a lot of space. I don’t have to do any landscaping, snow removal, etc. All of the neighbors look out for each other so I am notified of any burglars or bears in the vicinity. There are 2 other people my age who live here, although I never see them. And it is a substantial improvement from the apartment I lived in before I found this place. And it’s a miracle that I was able to buy it at all, so I’m thankful for my humble abode.
 
I feel bad because my neighbors want me to be more social, but that’s not going to happen. First of all, I have a job. And because I have a 45 minute commute and play tennis in the evenings and on weekends, I don’t spend much time at home. And even if I were home more often, I wouldn’t spend my spare time socializing with senior citizens. Not that there’s anything wrong with them. They’re all perfectly nice. I just don’t have a lot in common with them.
 
Last year one of my neighbors had a party for her 88th birthday. I tried to will myself to go, but no amount of guilt and shame could motivate me to do it. Last week someone called me to let me know that my neighbor’s aunt died and when the funeral was. I hate funerals. I avoid them at all costs. So I certainly wasn’t about to go for some aunt of some neighbor who I barely know. Another neighbor keeps inviting me to go to church with her. I think she’s trying to convert me.
 
Although everyone looks out for each other because of the increased likelihood that someone really could fall and not be able to get up, they still probably wouldn’t think to check on me because I’m never home. And if I had some emergency, it would probably be late at night when everyone is asleep. And even if I could work up the courage to call one of them in the middle of the night–which is unlikely since I feel so guilty for being such a terrible neighbor–I doubt they would be able to lift me, given their own physical limitations.
 
Last night my friends were trying to help me come up with solutions for how to deal with emergencies. Maybe I should get one of those life alert buttons. Or maybe I should get a lanyard and wear my phone around my neck at all times. Or since I’m a warrior, maybe I could crawl to my phone or my iPad, even if it takes me hours to reach it. So if I ever post “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” be sure to check on me.
 
I’ve been watching the commercials for an assisted living facility in my area, and it hit me that this is the perfect solution. If I lived in one, I wouldn’t have to worry about living alone because help would be right there on the premises! Plus meals are included, so I’d never have to cook. And after doing some research, I discovered that they also provide housekeeping, laundry services, and grocery shopping! I could literally spend all my free time writing, watching and playing tennis, knitting, making jewelry, and hanging out with friends. Heck, I could probably even pick up another hobby.
 
My friend told me that you have to be at least 55 to live in one of these facilities. By then I would also qualify for the 55 and over division in tennis and hopefully dominate on the court if I’m still healthy. So I guess that’s something to look forward to in case this whole relationship thing doesn’t work out.
 

Friendship, Part 2

Warriors in Training

When I was in grad school, I didn’t have many visitors because it was a long drive and there was not a lot to do in the middle of Ohio.  So I saw my family and friends infrequently, and every time I said good-bye I felt this overwhelming sadness–and not just because I wouldn’t see them for a long time.  I was also sad because when I was with them, I was completely myself, and I rarely felt free to be myself.

Part of the problem was that the feeling of being different followed me well into my adult years.  I wasn’t like the other grad students.  I watched reruns of The Flintstones and Gillian’s Island rather than keeping up with what Koresh was doing in Waco.   I wasn’t spending 70-80 hours a week on grad school stuff.  I didn’t listen to the right music, didn’t hang out at the cool coffee places.

I moved around a lot during that time, too.  While I was with my first husband, we moved almost every year because he was never happy where we were–which turned out to be more about him than our location.  Still, I didn’t mind the excuse to not get too close to anyone.

When I finally moved back to Virginia and became a part of the tennis community here, I was a little freaked out.  There was no way I could avoid being a part of the gossip, what with my failed marriages and all.  Plus, I only dated tennis players, so everyone knew who they were.  I had no place to hide; giving up tennis was not an option.  I had to let people know what I was really like.

Of all the gifts that tennis has given me, my tennis family is the best one of all.  These are the only other people who I can be myself around without obsessing afterwards about what I said or did.  They have seen me throw up on the court.  They’ve been there when I’ve gotten kicked out of restaurants for being too loud.  They don’t judge me for always being hungry and constantly having to pee.  They don’t expect me to make anything for potluck dinners because they know I can’t cook.  (But I do bring the Karaoke and board games.)  They even indulge my grandiosity by calling me the Queen.

Often the feedback I get about my blog is about how honest I am.  In an I wouldn’t do it, but good for you! kind of way.  I’m tired of hiding.  I spent the first half of my life trying to be like everyone else.  I want to spend the second half being myself.

As Seen on TV

In my post on midlife, I talked about how I formed my plan for coping with aging by watching TV commercials.  Sadly, I also used TV ads as a guide for how to be normal.
 
I have always been rule-abiding.  Hence, the good grades, the fear of going to hell, the obsessing about following guidelines for sleep and stress management.  And because I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, I was sensitive to the fact that my Filipino family did things differently from other people.  To children, different means bad, and I didn’t want to be bad.
 
Remember those Aqua-Fresh commercials, with the stripes for extra cleaning action and breath freshening?  I made my mom buy that toothpaste.  And I tried to swirl it on my toothbrush exactly like they did in the commercials.  My mom scolded me for using too much toothpaste.
 
Now that I think about it, this was probably a ploy to get you to use more toothpaste so that you would run out sooner.
 
My first husband–the one who referred to himself as a poor, half-breed, bastard–was also sensitive to being different.  He, too, was influenced by the Aqua-Fresh commercials and also tried to create the swirl that used too much toothpaste.  This is sufficient evidence to convince me of the detrimental psychological effects that TV commercials can have on children.
 
You would think that knowledge of these detrimental effects would make me immune to their ploys.  But no.  I still owned the Ab Crunch.  I still use Oil of Olay.  I hear that Crest is coming out with a chocolate-flavored toothpaste.  At least I’m not falling for that one.
 
Often the makers of these products justify their ads by saying that they’re just giving consumers what they want.  No one wants to see fat, ugly, old people.  Those images don’t sell products!  Since I did research on body image, I can say with some authority that advertising may not have created our insecurities, but they definitely exacerbate them.
 
And there really isn’t a good solution to this problem.  Avoiding advertising is like avoiding oxygen; ads are ubiquitous.  The best I have been able to do is to limit how much advertising I expose myself to.  I no longer buy beauty magazines.  I primarily watch TV for sports and the news.  I don’t pay much attention to celebrities.
 
As a result, I didn’t know who Honey Boo Boo and Kim Kardashian were for the longest time, but media illiteracy is a small price to pay for self-acceptance.
 

 

Midlife

I don’t like getting older.  I even obsessed about it as a child.   When I was around 7, I remember asking my dad if you get to choose your age when you go to heaven, and he said yes.  Every year I would choose my current age, because I was sure that the next year would be worse. 
 
I had a plan for what I would do when I got old:  I would use Oil of Olay to prevent wrinkles, Clairol to dye my hair, and Coast soap to bring me back to life–because that was their slogan, which I took literally.  That shows you the power of advertising.
 
I didn’t consider myself middle-aged until I turned 43.  I’m immature for my age in a lot of ways because I still live the life of a college student–a night owl with no children and no spouse whose work revolves around the academic calendar.  
 
Although my mind is still somewhere in my 20’s, my body has proceeded at a normal developmental pace.  Once I hit 43, I became far-sighted.  My knees hurt all the time–not just after playing tennis 5-6 times in a row.  I started dying my hair. 
 
I don’t want other people to get older, either.  Every year I tell my niece that she has to stay the same age. Whenever I leave my parents’ house, I feel anxious at the thought of seeing them sick or debilitated someday.  I am terrified of losing them.  I got a glimpse of what it would be like when my dad was depressed, and I did not handle it well. 
 
I try to practice gratitude, self-compassion, and mindfulness to accept the aging process.  I try to remember what I have to be thankful for in this moment, try to enjoy my blessings while I have them.  I tell myself that lots of people have these fears–it doesn’t make me crazy.  It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. 
 
It helps some.  But I’m still afraid.
 
There are only two things that I look forward to about getting older.  One is that I will continue to become a better therapist because I will have seen more clients, had more life experience, and will possess more wisdom. 
 
The other thing is that my writing will improve for the same reasons.  I have wanted to write a book since high school.  In the 10th grade we had a writing assignment where we had to project what we would be doing in the future.  I wrote a mock interview where I was 45, answering questions about my book. 
 
So it’s no coincidence that I made my first effort to publish my writing through blogging at the age of 44.  I realized that if I wanted to make something happen for myself, I had to start now. 
 
So I guess that’s one good thing about being middle-aged:  as you reflect on the first half of your life, you realize what you have to do to make the most out of the second half.