The Blog for Men in Midlife - Midlife and Thriving

A Glue That Binds – Strengthening Men’s Relationships in Midlife

By | Brothers, Masculinity, Relationships | No Comments

It was a powerful weekend, the third retreat for my men’s group this year. With each retreat it feels like I reach into new layers of understanding and push through more of my self-inflicted fears and shame.

In my circle of men I witness the real power of the masculine. The power that comes from doing the life-affirming, gut wrenching work of wrestling with our own humanity. We share the scars and battle wounds of our childhoods, the re-enactment of these wounds in the challenges we face, and the subtle seduction of our internal saboteurs that keep us stuck in smaller versions of ourselves.

These men that I call my brothers continue to amaze me with their wisdom, their trust, their authenticity, and vulnerability. They are courageous and strong, doing battle with the real demons of hubris, self-deceit, shame, and isolation. They are also loving, supportive, and a hell of a lot of fun to be around.

Doing this work with them I ask, “Damn it! will there always be more layers to peel back? Will this work never be done?”
My Wise Self assures me, “No, even with the last breath there will be yet another layer waiting for you to release into, to push through.”

And so we show up again, committed to doing the work, consistently pushing forward one step and one day at a time,

~ with love
~ with reverence
~ with humility.

And part of what makes these weekend retreats so powerful is the time we give each other.

The time to drop out of the warp speed of our daily lives and slow the hell down.
The time we create to dig deep, and deeper still.
The time we give to really see each other, and also to really be seen.

It’s about the space we create, which allows us all to drop our masks and allow others to see us for who we are … there … hiding behind the mask. It’s the more complete picture of who we are, the one we don’t really allow others out there to see.

I’m still processing much of what was revealed in me this weekend, and imagine that I will be for some time. The richness of the work has given me such great gifts and things to contemplate as we head into winter, the season of going inward, of releasing and letting go.

And thanks to my brothers I am much better prepared for the death of those parts of me that are no longer in service to the man that I AM continually becoming.

It’s Not Her, It’s You

By | Mirror, Partner, Relationships | No Comments

Midlife relationship

Are you being truly seen in your relationship in midlife?

Is your partner understanding who you are, the man that you are?

If not, why not? Have you been holding back your true feelings and needs, afraid to let her in, to see you for who you really are?

If so, you’re not alone. I used to be like that too. Afraid to share my desires, my needs, my true self. I thought that my needs were not worthy or would drive her away, or make her think less of me.

And so I held back, not ballsy enough to really be vulnerable, not strong enough to stand up for who I really was and what I knew to be important to me. I withheld who I was and resented her for not giving me what I needed. And worse, I blamed her for not knowing WHAT I needed even though I was the one holding back what I truly wanted.

How screwed up is that?

But I finally figured out that:
the pain of not being seen,
the pain of not getting what I really needed,
the pain of blaming instead of being responsible for my own happiness
was worse than the POTENTIAL discomfort and pain of speaking my truth.

So I started to reveal.
I started to ask.
I started to speak my truth.

I made it about me and what I needed, NOT ABOUT HER.
I made it about what was important to me, AND WHY.
I also made it about us … as in how NOT speaking my truth was INFECTING our relationship.

So if you’re tired of not getting what you want in your relationship in midlife, look inside and see what you might be keeping hidden. Then take whatever first step toward freedom you need to speak your truth. Do it lovingly, do it without blame, do it for yourself.

Be brave, and know that you can do this and that it’s worth it.

What? Men have conversations about their challenges and successes? Yes! Check out the Good Men Project!

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

people-1099796_1920When I was first heading into the brave new world of blogging and social media I was looking for a place where real conversations were going on about stuff that I was interested in as a man in the 21st Century. What I found were a lot of websites that focused on things like men’s fashion, muscle-building and training, sports, and business.

I was hard pressed to find a place where gritty, real discourse was published on topics like masculinity, being a dad, relationships, mental health, spirituality, or frankly, anything substantive on the challenges that men face in this ever-changing world.

And then I stumbled upon The Good Men Project. It truly seemed like they were having the conversation no one else was having about the changing roles of men in the 21st century. Their vision is to challenge and break down the stereotypes of what it means to be a man and create a space for the spectrum of masculinity that exists within the world today. Did I agree with everything I read? … hell no, and that was what made it all the more valuable. 

It was a fantastic medium for me to post articles and also to participate in conversations. They are truly developing a “Participatory Media!” model and growing a platform for men to share stories, have conversations, connect, and grow their reach. I’ve been published there multiple times and have personally benefited from working with their team of editors.

The Good Men Project also give classes on how to build an online platform. They helped me to understand what was needed to grow an online business and how to get my unique message and stories out into the world. They want to provide men opportunities and tools to share their perspectives, experiences, and dreams of what the future can hold for men and masculinity.

They have also developed and launched social interest groups in the time that I’ve been a follower. These groups provide a medium for conversations about the challenges facing men in today’s world.

Now The Good Men Project has launched an IndieGoGo campaign to scale the social interest groups. Their goal is to really re-invent media, to help people process a rapidly changing world with too much information. Their vision is to create opportunities for real, live conversations about what is important to men: how to show up, how to engage, how to connect.

This is exciting to me! I’m thrilled to support their efforts and I hope you will too. Check out their campaign here. Share it or donate if you believe that conversations of this kind are as worthwhile as I do.

Stay connected! 

Midlife is No Time for Living with Regrets

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midlife regretLearning from the dying to live a life you won’t regret

I was recently reflecting on an article I read on the top five regrets of the dying. The article summarized the findings of Bronnie Ware, a nurse who worked with the dying and captured their wise words in her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

What struck me most was the fact that these top five regrets are strikingly similar to the top challenges expressed by the midlife men that I work with in my coaching practice. The regrets of the dying that Ware captured are:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

 

What would our lives be like at midlife if we allowed ourselves to follow our own internal compass, rather than the wishes and demands of others? I’m not talking about walking through life as some self-centered and selfish egotist. I’m talking about living life as someone who has let go of folding to the expectations of others. Especially when their needs for us to be a certain way are not in alignment with who we know we really are.

What would life be like if we could tackle our challenges around being our own person and living life wearing one hat, not changing hats at the whim of others or to meet the expectations of someone else?

It would be a life of freedom.

What would our lives be like if we were able to create an approach to life at midlife where we truly worked to live not lived to work? What if we knew our life mission, lived in alignment with our intrinsic values, and made a living doing what we loved? I’m not talking about some fairytale fantasy-sell where you work an hour a day and make millions. You might get there, but it takes commitment, willingness to change, and perseverance.

You have to do the internal work to clarify the difference between a life that would be NICE to have and one which is a MUST have. What would you have at the end of such a life? Not regrets. You’d have a life lived with purpose and balance, where work wasn’t something you clocked into, but where you showed up and lived it because you loved it.

It would be life of mastery.

What would our lives be like if as men we were able to claim our emotions and own them rather than bottling them up? As men we’ve been told to deny our feelings and so we stuff them down into the darkness of that denial. If we are able to connect with emotions, it’s typically either as anger or disappointment, the few socially “acceptable” forms of masculine self-expression.

What if at midlife you could name all of your emotions, live into the depth of their expressive experience, and use the universe of information within them to inform your relationships and understanding of the world. I’m not talking about recklessly setting yourself adrift in a sea of emotion. I’m talking about truly owning your emotions, experiencing them, and interacting with them on your terms and from a place of choice. What would it be like?

It would be a life rich beyond compare.

What would our lives be like if as men in midlife we allowed ourselves real and honest connections, a band of brothers or a tribe of men we could truly call friends? We’re constantly fed misinformation about men needing to stand tall and alone, get through it on our own, pull on our boots and grin and bear it. As a result we often feel isolated and alone, which can feed mild to severe depression, a sense of malaise, alcohol or drug abuse, and serious midlife crises.

What if at midlife you claimed your right to have a tribe of men. What if you claimed your right to be seen by and validated by a band of brothers? What would it be like to prioritize time and capacity for having meaningful connection with men? To be yourself without fear of being judged or ridiculed for wherever you stand on the spectrum of masculinity? What would that be like?

It would be a life of finally coming home.

What would our lives be like if we could give ourselves the permission to be happier or more content? I argue that by achieving success with the first four regrets of the dying we will have achieved in avoiding most of the fifth regret. If you think about it: living courageously as ourselves; having a balanced relationship with work; expressing the breadth of our feelings instead of bottling them up; and allowing ourselves to be surrounded by friends … living a life on those terms would make you happier and more content with your life. What would success with these things be like?

It would make a life worth living.

Life’s too short to wait until your death bed, wishing that you had lived it differently.
Life’s too short to pass with regrets.
Life’s too short.

Over the coming weeks I will be creating blogs and videos to take a deep dive into ways that we can course correct in midlife and tools to avoid living our last days with regrets.

I hope you join me.

You can be part of the conversation by following me on Facebook, joining the Midlife and Thriving Facebook Group, or signing up for my blog.

Until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the corner of Midlife and Thriving!

How Wounds From a Fatherless Childhood Became My Gifts of Manhood

By | Masculinity | No Comments

fatherless boy midlifeAs a man there’s a part of me that’s embarrassed to share my story because of the lifetime of shame behind it. But we can only heal our wounds when we stop being defined by them.

It’s ultimately a story of defining masculinity on my own terms, based on my own unique experiences, rather than conforming to our culture’s rigid definition of what it means to be a man. And if sharing my experience allows other men to come out from their childhood shadows and stand confidently in their place within the broad spectrum of what’s truly masculine, what is there to lose?

So here goes … growing up, I was the quintessential momma’s boy.

I was a quite and gentle kid, friendly and warm with adults but painfully shy and withdrawn from my peers. I was taunted by other boys as being a girl (I had long hair like my father who was a Vietnam vet), ridiculed as being a sissy (I preferred to hang out with girls because the topics of conversation went deeper than sports and cars), and my masculinity was sometimes questioned because I would refuse to fight (the stories of a long-haired pacifist from Israel taught me to turn the other cheek).

While my tender heart was originally the product of nature, being nurtured for most of my childhood without a father around clearly accentuated my gentle temperament. At the age of four I was abruptly immersed in the realm of the feminine as the result of my parent’s divorce. I became the center of my mother’s orbit, receiving essentially unlimited attention, adoration, and priority … and I ate it up. My experience of the feminine universe was that it was loving, filled with affirmative messages, and a strong sense of safety.

I was raised by my mother to be aware of and accepting of my emotions. I was told emotions were natural and okay, within reason. I was given access to the emotional language of women but no tools to navigate with them in the world as a man. My fluency with the feminine intelligence didn’t prepare me for the journey of masculinity within the rigid confines of our culture. It was like learning to speak Spanish in preparation for a trip to China. I couldn’t speak the native language of men, I couldn’t read the signs, and I often felt like a tourist traveling through unknown and potentially hostile lands.

This was tested a couple of years later with the arrival of a stepfather. While he cared for me in his own way, his love was not always gentle. He attempted to make a man out of me and did his best by passing on what he had learned about being a man. He meted out tough love because the world was harsh and real men had to be hard and intolerant of wusses or pussies in order to survive. Rather than growing tough from his love, I grew distant and retreated further from a connection to our culture’s definition of masculinity.

My experiences in early childhood taught me to be emotionally withdrawn from men. From my perspective they were either emotionally absent like my father or were aggressive and domineering, like my stepfather. They were generally not to be trusted. As a result I grew up avoiding male relationships and saw my fellow men through my childhood’s lense as either self-serving egoists focused on sports or cars or other shallow pursuits and pastimes. Or they were bullies only out to put their interests ahead of others by vying for alpha dominance within careers, athletics, or sexual pursuits.

As a boy I sought the refuge of my mother’s love, then in my teen’s and 20s I became a serial monogamist always seeking the sanctuary of a woman’s affection. What I succeeded to do as a man was trade up my status as momma’s boy to that of a pussy-whipped male (to use the shaming vernacular). The pleaser force was strong in me. I continued to sell out my masculine nature, whether to have a triste of the heart or access to a regular source of carnal connection, for fear of losing a reliable bond to Eros.

The reality was that fulfilling my needs for feminine attention and unconditional love came at a steep price, with many conditions and expectations. These were sometimes as emotionally harmful as the abandonment or harshness of the masculine from which I spent much of my life running. I didn’t come to understand the paradox I was in until the crucible of my own marriage forced me to find my voice and create healthy boundaries.

In my late 30’s I had finally begun the process of differentiation. Until then I had been afraid to release the wild man and connect with the masculine out of fear that I’d become one of “those” men from my childhood. Not having gone through any ritual to extract me from the women’s hut, I was bound to the life of being only half a man, never fully stepping into the power of a mature masculine. And I didn’t really see the need to find the balance until the birth of my first son awoke some latent masculine responsibilities. It was then I saw clearly the legacy I was potentially passing on to him if I did not do the work of becoming a whole man, on my terms.

Now in my 40s I claim my masculinity holding both the fierceness of the wild man and the gentleness of the lover’s heart. I’m finding balance in my natural masculinity that allows me to understand how the men I was shunning were themselves wounded and stuck in the “act like a man box,” something that is part of our cultural fabric and which is unwittingly maintained by its men as well as its women.

And now we’ve arrived at the gifts of the fatherless boy:

Gift #1. Creating my own version of masculinity that is grounded in emotional intelligence, the fierceness of the heart-based warrior, and an outsider’s perspective that can call bullsh*t on both the masculine and feminine stereotypes that keep both men and women small and unable to live up to their full potential.

Gift #2: Being the father that I never had, on my own terms. Sometimes it’s a major struggle mapping the wilderness that is fatherhood in the 21st century. What are masculinity, sexuality, and relationship and how do we give our kids the tools (rather than rules that will quickly become outdated) by which to navigate the dynamics of our times? (Hint: stay curious and compassionate.)

Gift #3: I’m more at peace with the internal conflict of trusting men in order to be in brotherhood with them, without having to subvert my own sense of integrity or values. I can hold to my own vision and definition of masculinity and create meaningful relationships with women and with men, along with the healthy boundaries necessary to maintain them.

Gift #4: A deep appreciation for the male mentors in my life who successfully escaped and lived outside of the man box and reflected the innumerable possibilities for other men. Because of them I am now a resource for men who want to connect with their own sense of the power and freedom of a mature masculine outside the confines of our culture’s narrow definition of what it means to be a man.

There’s work to be done here, and it’s not about being more feminine or masculine. Rather, we need only awaken to, accept, and cultivate the unique masculine-feminine balance that already exists within us. Not necessarily easy work, but the results will enrich a lifetime and make a priceless gift for generations to come.

Men: Want More of a Life? You Can Put Years on the Clock by Following These Heart-healthy Tips

By | Mortality | No Comments

Midlife heart

 

In this second installment on midlife health, I explore recent research findings on cardiovascular disease and the long-term benefits of keeping that ticker strong in midlife. Cardiovascular diseases are the number one killer of men (and women) in America, accounting for over 600,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. But we’ve known for a long time that we can significantly reduce the likelihood of heart disease by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Folks in midlife can offer up plenty of reasons to avoid keeping fit and eating healthy: career pressures, family demands, or those oh-so-delicious caloric temptations (yes please, I’ll have bacon on that). But a new study by researchers at Northwestern University and Yale finds that you’re likely to be around significantly longer and suffer from fewer chronic ailments if you practice some simple heart-healthy habits early in midlife.

The report, published in the journal Circulation, was based on participants of the Chicago Heart Association Detection Project in Industry. The long-term study (aside from being a mouthful of a name) consists of over 25,000 employed men and women who have been tracked for nearly 40 years. The study considered multiple factors for heart disease including blood pressure and cholesterol levels, diabetes mellitus, body mass index, and smoking. Participants were placed into one of four groups: those with favorable cardio health, those with potential for elevated risk factors, those with one high-risk factor, and those with two or more high-risk factors.

The current study’s findings should come as no real surprise. Researchers found that folks who had favorable heart health in midlife lived an average of four years longer than their fellows with at least two high-risk factors. Another startling finding is that participants with favorable cardiovascular factors lived nearly five years longer without other major diseases such as chronic lung disease, kidney disease, dementia, or cancer. Moreover, if folks in the heart-healthy group suffered from a stroke or coronary disease it was on average seven years later than those in the higher risk groups.

One of the study’s authors, Norrina Allen, PhD, said in a press release, “We need to think about cardiovascular health at all stages of life. The small proportion of participants with favorable levels in their 40s is a call for all of us to maintain or adopt healthy lifestyles earlier in life. But risk factors and their effects accumulate over time, so even if you have risks it’s never too late to reduce their impact on your later health by exercising, eating right, and treating your high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.”

Sounds like a good investment to me!

And in fact, the study also found that the heart-healthy group’s Medicare costs were approximately $18,000 less. So not only were they able to benefit from greater health during later years, but they were able to reduce medical costs at a time in life when many people are on fixed incomes and trying to stretch their budgets to enjoy life.

What exactly can we do to increase our chances of being in the healthy-heart group in midlife? Research out of the Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins has shown that we can protect against chronic heart disease by adopting four lifestyle behaviors: avoid tobacco, get consistent physical activity, maintain a healthy diet, and keep our weight in check.

Benefits of participating in these activities were cumulative. Participating in a single behavior reduced risk of cardiovascular disease by 21 percent, participation in two by 39 percent, in three by over 50 percent, and all four by a whopping 81 percent. Engaging in these four behaviors also reduced by over 80 percent the likelihood of mortality from other diseases over an eight-year period.

But wait, if that wasn’t enough, there’s more! Other researchers have found that when getting adequate sleep (at least seven hours a night) was added to the magic of the four activities, even greater benefits were reaped. Findings from another study published by Hoevenaar-Blom et al. in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology suggest that adding the sleep component reduced the likelihood of a fatal cardiovascular disease event by 12 percent.

 So getting a good night’s sleep is like the deliciousness of adding bacon to your burger, except by reducing the likelihood of dying earlier. Ok, maybe that metaphor doesn’t work.

So what can you do to increase the likelihood of having a healthy heart? Research is pretty clear that the following three things set you on the right path.

Quit smoking: Seems like a no-brainer, but just had to say it. I know it’s not easy; I smoked for 10 years and finally quit, cold turkey when I turned 30. Quitting the siggy butts was the best gift I have ever given myself. Research suggests that of the four lifestyle behaviors, not smoking is the biggest way to reduce risks of heart disease and mortality.

Moving your body: Getting about two and a half hours of moderate physical activity a week is recommended by the Heart Association. It also does great things for your brain, such as reducing the likelihood of a stroke and increasing your brain size (I discussed this in an earlier post). Break a sweat, increase heart rate, and have fun.

Heart-healthy diet: Indulge in a diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry and fish (sorry bacon), and non-tropical vegetable oils. Definitely watch intake of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. If you still do reach for the red meat, go lean.

So keep your ticker in good shape! Research has proven that it’s one gift that keeps on giving. And like the tin woodsman in the Wizard of Oz opined, “I shall take the heart, for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”

Here’s to your long and happy life!

How losing track of your values can screw up midlife, and how reclaiming them will give you control

By | Masculinity, Mission, Relationships, Work | No Comments

midlife manBefore I became a coach for men in midlife I never gave much thought to my values. Don’t worry, my internal conscience, Jiminy Cricket, has kept me morally on the straight and narrow. By values I don’t mean morals or virtues. I’m speaking here about the deep-seated motivators that make us unique and who we are at our core as men.

For me, the simple process of clarifying and understanding core values has given a greater sense of freedom, personal well-being, and deeper relationships. I would also argue that a closer connection to one’s values can give men in midlife greater choice and freedom than options sometimes sought through the stereotypically poor decisions associated with the midlife crisis.

Values vs. virtues

Looking back on my life I always thought of values as understanding the difference between right and wrong. You know, the basic moral compass stuff that most parents try to pass along like don’t lie, cheat, or steal; always keep your word; treat others as you’d like to be treated. Or perhaps values were those moral and intellectual virtues like courage, temperance, liberality, understanding, and wisdom received as part of one’s spiritual or philosophical upbringing.

So if we’re not talking about values as morals or virtues, what are we talking about?

I refer to values as the personal drivers, the core motivators, and deeply held beliefs that make us uniquely who we are. They are the words or terms we would use (as opposed to the external expectations or projections of others) to answer the question:

“Who am I and what’s most important to me?”

For many men in midlife this is THE question that heralds the primary midlife transitions: in our careers, in our marriage or significant relations, in our public personae, in our over commitment to pursuits that no longer bring contentment or a sense of satisfaction.

Our values inform all of our decisions. They are often working at a subconscious level, especially when we haven’t taken the time to identify and clarify what they are. These values, or intrinsic motivators, have been a core part of who we are since our teenage years.

I’m kind of needing an illustration of what the heck you’re talking about here …

Okay, here’s a quick example … early in my midlife quest I identified my top five values as Integrity, Community, Adventure, Impact, and Compassion. Actually, I identified over 40 and narrowed them down to a solid dozen. But these five were the primary values that motivated me and informed the decisions I made and significantly impacted my sense of who I was and how I showed up in the world.

The importance of clarifying values – especially in midlife

When aspects of our lives are out of alignment with our values, things just don’t feel right. We can experience a deep sense of dis-ease and internal or external conflict can show up. When we are living in alignment with our values we have a greater sense of contentment, engagement, and life satisfaction.

Why is understanding our personal values important? It’s important because if we don’t know what our personal values are we can feel adrift on the sea of unmet expectations, lost in midlife meanderings, and experience a hollowness inside suggesting that something is amiss.

Hmm, kind of sounds like my midlife malaise …

More importantly, when we don’t know what our personal values are we are unable to articulate, let alone begin to effectively address, those aspects of our lives that are out of alignment and keeping us from being content at a most basic level.

Once I articulated my values I began to examine aspects of my life through the lense of these values. For example when I looked at my then-career through the lenses of Integrity and Community, I found that the people I worked with and the company I worked for also had a strong commitment to Integrity (in part defined by doing the right things for the right reason) and Community (a robust network of outstanding professionals). The alignment with these values were strong reasons to stay in that career.

However, I was not able to fully realize my internal sense of Integrity (as I define it through my ability to express my full self) and also was not able to live into my value of Impact/Change (as I define it by the ability to push boundaries and unleash greater consciousness in the world). It was these two unexpressed values that were really at the heart of my growing discontent with that career.

My inability to live in alignment with my values of Integrity and Impact/Change began to shake the foundations of my previously enviable career path. Choosing to live through them more fully supported my conscious transition to leadership coaching. This career transition allowed me to live my primary values more fully and ultimately brought me greater professional freedom, engagement in a more fulfilling career, and significantly more life satisfaction.

Hey that’s great, but my midlife crisis isn’t about my career …

I then began to use my values to examine my marriage, my relationships with my two sons, my sense of being over committed in other areas of my life, sibling relations, you name it. While many are still a work in progress, being in alignment with my core values has consistently resulted in deeper connections and greater contentment.

So that’s a simple example of how unconsciously denied values, when explored and identified, led to a successful career transition. Had I not clarified and articulated my values I likely would have continued in my previous career, feeling okay but not truly satisfied … and that unanswered gnawing could have resulted in a serious midlife meltdown and ruined my life.

Are you interested in better understanding how your values may be unconsciously impacting you and how to shift to greater choice in midlife? Grab a spot on my calendar for a Midlife Meetup and let’s see what’s possible!

Men: want to avoid dementia? Exercising your body builds bigger brains, not just brawn.

By | Mortality | No Comments

midlife exercise

Exercising your body does more for your brain than brain-games alone, and midlife is the time to start.

I used to love doing crossword puzzles. Many Sunday afternoons when I was a kid and living with my grandma we could be found huddled over the weekly crossword puzzle. She swore that it would ward off dementia and keep her brain sharp. Unfortunately she suffered horribly from dementia in her later years, and I’ve since sworn off doing crosswords. In fact, recent research strongly suggests that grandma would have been better off if she had put down her pencil and laced up her joggers instead.

I know that midlife seems a bit early for men to be concerned about dementia. But a review of recent research on late adulthood by Kirk Erikson from the University of Pittsburgh, as well as studies out of the University of British Columbia, suggest that midlife is the perfect time to focus on activities and establish routines that will increase brain function and health in later years. Research is finding that moderate levels (about 120 minutes a week) of moderately intense physical activity (things that increase heart rate and make you break a light sweat) have the benefits of increasing cognitive function and improving brain structure and function.

Bigger, better, faster … your brain on exercise

Cognitive function includes things like our ability to reason, remember things, and focus our attention. These are essentially all of the things that allow us to handle and process information and build knowledge. Physical activity significantly increased cognitive function, especially in reasoning and problem solving abilities. It also decreased the risk of cognitive decline by 40 percent. That’s huge!

As we age, the brain’s structure can change through atrophy and loss of volume. Studies has found that physical activity regimes of six months to a year have resulted in increases in brain volume in portions of the brain that support cognitive function. Not only was there an increase in volume of the structures where brain functioning occurs (grey matter), but the volume of the structures that connect them (white matter) also increased. Win-win!  

Brain function is the ability of your dome to get things done as measured by efficiency, like how well and how fast. Increased neural efficiency during cognitively challenging tasks were found in older adults with higher fitness levels. Additionally, research found that connectivity between portions of the brain operated more efficiently.

So if you want a bigger and better brain for the third half of life, put down the pencil and get that heart pumping! Here are a few tips for getting started:

  • Don’t like to ride or run? Try other types of activity like swimming, stair climbing, tennis, or dancing. Anything to sustain an elevated heart rate and break a sweat.
  • Join a club or group. It helps with accountability and creates opportunity for midlife men to build relationships and ward off isolation and loneliness – another midlife challenge.
  • Set a goal and track your progress, especially useful for us men who are goal oriented and like to geek out on checking boxes.

Are you ready to set a goal to keep your noggin’ big and fit? What are you willing to commit to starting this week? Share out in the comments below!

 

 

Even the Best Days Skiing Can Be the Worst Days of Marriage

By | Mirror, Partner, Relationships | No Comments

IMG_2091
Three tools that men can use to recover from marital face-plants

I’m pretty sure that my wife and I got to the bottom of the mountain thinking that a divorce was eminent. Okay, I’m being a little dramatic here, but I found the situation ironic because we fell in love skiing. Amazing how unmet expectations can lead to a midlife marital blowup … even after 20 years of skiing together.

It was a blue-bird day and bitterly cold with the wind blowing temperatures down to minus 10 degrees. But we were out for the third weekend in a row backcountry skiing with our two young boys. It was the first time since our eldest was born that my wife and I had been on skis together for three consecutive weekends and we were both giddy.

Our 8-year-old is the weak link in our backcountry adventures. He’s still getting his mountain legs and tires just as the slopes start to get steep enough to be fun. On this trip he soon peters out, hits the deck, and won’t get up. I did my best to cajole him to press on, but he wasn’t buying what I was selling. So my wife was left to soothsay him to a recovery and back on his skis. But even she was challenged because he was headed toward a full-blown meltdown. I had missed out on the luscious higher slopes the week before because I had stayed behind when he was overcome by inertia in this exact same spot.

This time I ski on and catch up with our 12-year old who’s up ahead and has been shredding it on the telemark gear he got for Christmas. He’s waiting patiently but getting cold. So my wife and I agree that I will continue on with our oldest so I can get the turns that she enjoyed the previous weekend.

My eldest and I topped out about 20 minutes later, got an awesome view and the obligatory selfie, ditched our skins and pointed our skis down. Yeehaw! The snow was bliss and I was really enjoying the first true backcountry ski with my son. It was a winter highlight for me.

We soon rejoined my wife and youngest at mid-mountain. My wife was clearly agitated and her first words were a sharp “I didn’t expect that you’d be gone so long …” I heard accusation, disappointment, and blame in her tone. I felt attacked so I parried and the war of words began … it was a major marital face plant. And that’s how we ended up at the bottom of the hill far from the giddiness that started our day. But it didn’t have to go that way.

In my work with men in midlife I help men find ways to increase connection with their partners, kids, and even co-workers. On the drive home that afternoon I recalled the tools that could have avoided that mid-slope disaster. I share them with you here in the hopes that you’ll be successful should you find yourself in a similar situation.

Tool #1: Don’t Assume It’s About You

That’s often my first mistake … I take my wife’s disappointment and unmet need personally and then take responsibility for her feelings. ACK! Then I feel guilty and then I get angry, both at her for dumping her unmet expectation on me and at myself for immediately thinking I had done something wrong. Yes, she was disappointed, but remember, we had agreed that I would go up and get some turns with our oldest.

To diffuse it, I needed to recognize that her disappointment (and more importantly, what was underneath it) may not have even been about me. It turns out it wasn’t. And rather than get defensive or mount a counter attack, I needed to play the name game …

Tool #2: Name what you hear

Instead of taking it personally, I needed to reflect what I was hearing. Something like, “Huh, sounds like you had an expectation that …” Or, I could have named the tone, “I’m hearing a lot of frustration right now.”

Just identifying what’s in the space between the two of us could have diffused the situation by allowing objectivity, rather than defensiveness, to guide the conversation.

Tool #3: Be curious about what you hear

Once you name it, you can get curious about what it might be, and more importantly, what’s underneath it. So instead of defending I could have asked, “How did it go with the youngest?” Then “Oh wow, he had a complete meltdown and ranted for 15 minutes? Sounds like a nightmare! Poor you, I imagine that you must be tired/frustrated/exhausted/etc.”

From a place of curiosity I could have been much more empathetic and much less defensive.

Bonus Tool: The Repair

The repair is another great tool for marriage in midlife (or any phase!). Rather than stew on it (or avoid it), I broached the subject of our face plant during our drive home. I owned up to my part of it (immediately going on the defensive) and she, hers (forgetting to employ a soft start). We also explored what we could do differently “next time.” Thankfully we were able to repair the damages of our war of words and recover so that our family evening was salvaged.

Lesson learned: while repairs can be helpful, avoiding war in the first place is always less painful.

I hope that you found these tools useful! Have you ever found yourself regretting a response or headed pell-mell for a marital face plant? What did you do to recover? Share out in the comment section below!

 

 

Three things you can do to make America great … again.

By | Mirror, Relationships | No Comments

conflict-405744_1280Having difficult discussions with your fellow Americans can help close the rifts that keep us divided.

If America is broken, it has been for some time. Our need for safety on whatever side of the dialectic with which we agree keeps us from reaching across the aisle in our politics and across the fence in our neighborhoods. As societal complexity increases there appears to be an even greater need for an “other” on which to pin the blame for our national and global woes. We just can’t seem to understand why anyone would think “that way.”

In creating the “other” we conveniently create a scapegoat that allows us to shirk our own part in the great unraveling. I say, ENOUGH!

If we want to make America great again, we will need to stand together. We will need to roll up our sleeves and work side-by-side to uncover our shared values, understand what drives each other’s choices, and work towards a common good on multiple fronts. We need to shut off our computers, televisions, and radios and go back to a tool that past generations of Americans used to fight for truth and justice, for all.

What is that tool you might ask? A tractor? A gun? A sewing machine? No.

The tool I’m referring to is conversation, the kind that occurs face-to-face. Perhaps it’s only wistful thinking but it seems in times past that American’s used to have conversations with each other, around a kitchen table, or on a porch, or in a living room. Conversations with neighbors were about difficult subjects like slavery, taxes, war, or women’s suffrage; they’d have discussions even when opinions differed. American’s would share thoughts and ideas in common places where people could come together to talk, tell stories, and create relationships of understanding, even if the understanding was that there were agreed upon differences.

In a recent conversation I had with musician, author, and master of difficult dialogues, Libby Roderick, we explored ways that American’s can come together again as individuals to rid ourselves of the shadow “other.” It will require having difficult dialogues. It will require exploration of topics on which we may not see eye to eye. But this is the way to healing and the way to make our great nation whole again.

What does this have to do with men in midlife you might ask? A lot actually. As men in midlife we often hold leadership roles within our community, at our workplaces, within professional organizations, non-profits, and places of worship. As leaders we need to step up and initiate these conversations rather than stick to the safe talk about the weather or sports.

If you feel called, below are three things to consider when starting your own journey of understanding through conversations with your family, friends, or neighbors.

Clarify the ground rules

Before having a crucial conversation it is important to provide a set of mutually agreeable ground rules. Such rules increase the likelihood of civil discourse and reduce potential for an unraveling of civility. Having ground rules is an important step to build a safe environment for people to engage openly and fully. These ground rules can be developed prior to the conversation and can be found online (such as these excellent examples from New Hampshire’s Rye Public Library and LivingRoom Conversations). You might also begin a conversation by asking each participant to share a couple of things they need to create an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.

Share experiences, not opinions or positions

When having a potentially difficult conversation the goal is to get an understanding of how a person has arrived at their position or opinion. By understanding the unique situation of the other participants you understand their story and their human experience. You get a sense of their underlying shared humanity. The goal of conversation is understanding, not to convince others of your position or to convert them to your perspective.

Get curious

Seek understanding through clarifying questions. To be clear, “What the f*ck were you thinking?” and “Why are you such a spineless whiner?” are not clarifying questions. What is it about their family history, their social status, their life challenges that have defined their values and made them who they are? What is it about their unique life experiences that might unlock greater understanding of possible shared goals? This understanding might then allow for collaborative work towards mutual goals for common good.

The word “discussion” has its roots in Latin and means “to shake apart.” When we approach each other with curiosity and civility we can shake up our preconceived notions of the “other” and piece together a reality based on personal story and mutual understanding. Our country is made stronger by our differences, but only when they are understood as coming from our fellow Americans not some faceless “other” who can be easily vilified and condemned as an enemy.

Stand strong together America. Let’s start the discussion!

Have you ever had a crucial conversation unravel or succeed beyond your expectations? Share out about your experience, what worked and what didn’t, in the comment section below.

 
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