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

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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!

Be A Man And Tell Her How You Feel, Damn It! Three Tips That Strengthen Connection and Lead to Better Sex With Your Partner

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midlife_couch

On a recent full moon I was in a grumpy mood, sleeping in my home office, unable to connect with my wife. I’m sometimes like that around the full moon, either slightly off and not as outgoing and engaging or sometimes fully disengaged and needing time apart. Whoever says it’s just women that are affected by the pull of that great, beautiful orb should talk with my wife. She’ll give them an ear full.

It’s often the time that the wife and I have our biggest rows too. Not that we have any knock-down drag-outs or anything, but heated words have been exchanged by the light of the moon. Usually, they’re followed by repairing apologies and a warm embrace after things cool off. She’s become a bit wary of the full moon; maybe I’m a beware-wolf.

During this most recent full-moon episode things she would do really agitated me and I found myself pretty annoyed by her. What really drove me crazy though was that I couldn’t figure out what it was that was bothering me. I knew it wasn’t the small things she was doing, they were just the symptom of something bigger. But I couldn’t figure out what that bigger thing was.

 

Tip 1: Sometimes a guy just needs some time in the cave …

So that’s where I went, for four nights, to my man cave. Getting away is an important way to get clarity, and it doesn’t have to be out of the house or out of state. Just sleeping in another room can break some of the bedroom patterns that distract you from focusing on what’s going on inside yourself. You know the old patterns … Are we going to have sex tonight or will she want to be held? Can I sleep any farther away from her without falling out of bed? Can she feel that the silence between us weighs 16 tons?

Sleeping alone can help to get clear of these distracting patterns. It can also help you get a good night’s sleep which helps clarity and mood.

Tip 2: Give the head a break … try out another center of intelligence.

To be clear I’m talking about giving both of your heads a break. The other centers of intelligence I’m referring to are your heart and your gut. Science is confirming what eastern cultures have known for millennia, our guts and our heart are separate centers of intelligence. Both have their own neural networks and are capable of processing information apart from the brain.

And as men, we’ve been given no end of erroneous social conditioning that what makes us men is our logic and a tight reign on our emotions. We’ve been cut off from two important sources of corporeal information. For emotional intelligence, the heart can’t be beat (that’s not really intended to be a pun).

I couldn’t really think about what was bothering me, because it wasn’t something in my head. In fact, thinking about it just made it worse because thoughts would swirl around and the same old internal playbacks about our relationship challenges would come up, play back, rewind, replay. That wasn’t helpful at all.

So I just tried to breath. I focussed on where in my body my angst or broodiness was hanging out. And I found it in my heart. So I asked my heart, “Okay, so, what’s this about?” The information I got back was a surprise … I was frustrated by not being “seen” by my wife.

Whoa, dude, did you just share that on your blog? WTF?! You’re supposed to be a man … men don’t … Yeah, actually men do talk about what’s in their heart, especially with the people that they love. You can look to spiritual sages like Christ or Buddha as guides for how to be a heartfelt warrior.

If men don’t share what’s going on it’s because they haven’t yet developed the tools or because they’re too chicken shit to get real. Just saying.

Yeah, and so I was having this conversation with myself about what my heart was feeling about not being seen by my wife. It was like this, I had been doing all of this work around my transition full-time to men’s work, processing realizations from a kick ass men’s retreat I went to a couple of months ago, doing research for my blog, yadda yadda. Massive change was going on with me. But my wife was totally caught up in her stuff: being in grad school, volunteering, working … and she had stopped asking about what was going on over here, with me. (She’d only read one of my blogs … ouch.)

Tip 3: Just tell her how you feel damn it! (This is where the better sex comes in.)

Well, I am a guy, and it felt pretty awkward to try and have this conversation with her. It sounded a little weird to tell my wife that I wasn’t feeling seen, or that I didn’t feel like she was interested in what I was doing. And that lack of interest and attention was creating distance in our relationship and (ironically) causing me to withdraw. Whoa. How was sharing that going to come across?

I needed to get over my resistance to sharing and push through to a conversation. I had to get over my entanglement with the perceived social stigma of being a heartfelt man (no, I’m not a wuss) … I had to stop listening to my internal saboteurs that were ridiculing me for wanting to be seen and appreciated by my wife (nope, I wasn’t being egotistical or a wuss) … and I had to push through the ridiculous mind trap that “men don’t need,” and that we just have to buck up and go it alone (seriously, I wasn’t being needy or egotistical or a wuss). And after all that, I realized what I was wanting was connection, not isolation.

So with all of that personal heavy lifting done and having thrown off the shackles of isolation, I sat down with her and we talked about what had been going on with me. She listened as I worked my way through what I had been reflecting on over the past four days in my man cave. We both apologized and we laughed about how busy we both were, but realized together how important it is for each to feel seen and appreciated.

In the end we came away with a better understanding of each other, a closer connection, and a commitment to greater awareness of each other’s needs. And yes, totally intimate and awesome sex came about as a result of that stronger connection. Hey guys, this stuff really works!

Have you had an experience where you were unable to communicate a need? Ever felt trapped in your head over something that was going on in your heart? Share it out in the comment section below!

Be a Leader – Break the Patterns of Toxic Communication

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“Do as I say, not as I do.” … how many times did you hear that when you were a kid? Too many times, from my perspective. There was hardly anything that twerked me more when I was a child than that specific statement. It smacked of a double standard and hubris that made me want to rebel, NOT conform.

As a parent I find myself swallowing those exacts words as they try to rise from my throat and escape past my lips.

What?! You mean that we’re supposed to lead by example?

Lead By Example

Recently I was talking with the principal of our kids’ school about what good communication looks like and how important it is for us adults to be that good example. Let’s face it, kids are sponges and are constantly learning from what they see, hear, and feel in their environment. As parents we have the honor (and sometimes challenging responsibility!) to teach how we communicate and treat each other through modeling.

After that discussion I wrote an article for the school newsletter, and given it’s applicability regardless of whether we’re children or just act like it in midlife, I thought I’d share it here.

Following are a few tools for helping to build effective and powerful ways to communicate based on research from Dr. John Gottman. His research shows that when four types of negative behaviors or ways of interacting are present within relationships they affect the ability of people to build trust and communicate effectively.

Gottman named these behaviors the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse because when they were present in marriages they were a strong indicator of potential for divorce. In the business arena these behaviors have been termed Team Toxins, for their corrosive impact on team cohesion and communication. Individually, these behaviors are:

  • Blaming or Criticism – Attacking the person rather than naming the behavior.
  • Defensiveness – Refusing to own one’s behavior or actions.
  • Contempt – Includes sarcasm, belittling, gossiping, name calling, eye-rolling.
  • Stonewalling – Withdrawing, using the silent treatment, or refusing to engage.

No doubt at some time we’ve all participated in or been the recipient of one or all of these types of behavior! As parents, partners, leaders, or co-workers we can help our children and our community by bringing awareness to when we might be using or experiencing these behaviors.

Ways to Effectively Communicate

Here are some helpful ways to shift into more positive ways of behaving:

  • Talk with kids, spouse, or co-workers about the four negative behaviors and times when you might have experienced them, and what it was like.
  • Increase awareness of negative behaviors by using the Name Game – name the behavior using terms like “I’m feeling criticized” or “Your sarcasm feels hurtful to me.”
  • Talk about antidotes or alternative behaviors.
    • An antidote to criticism is talking about the behavior not the person, so “You’re annoying!” becomes “When you tap your pencil on the table it’s annoying to me.”
    • An antidote to defensiveness is taking responsibility for at least some part of the issue: own your part!
  • Use “I” statements to let others understand the impact that their behavior is having on you.
  • Keep it fun! Learning new ways of doing things can be clunky or awkward at first, so challenge yourself to have fun with it and be playful whether it’s with your kids, your spouse, or people that you work with.

We can help create the communities we want to see by modeling appropriate behavior through our own interactions. Increasing our ability to communicate effectively through appropriate behaviors creates a stronger and healthier world … and who doesn’t want that!?

Do you ever find yourself slipping into role of one of the Four Horsemen? Is there one that’s your go-to? Have you been the recipient of an attack by one of the Four Horsemen? Share your experience in the comment section below and we’ll see you next time at the corner of Midlife and Thriving!

 

Ch, ch, ch, ch, changes … tips you can use to turn and face midlife changes

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bowieDavid Bowie may be dead, but when we’re in midlife, his challenge to “turn and face the strain” has never been more alive. Midlife is full of change and accompanying strain. Midlife has the potential to include 7 of the top 10 life changes that we’ll experience such as career move, kids arriving or leaving, divorce, or relocating. It’s important to recognize that while your situation may be unique to you, you’re not alone in the general sense that this is just how life works. In midlife changes are inevitable.

In midlife, changes are inevitable

Hey, didn’t you just say that?! Yeah, and let me say it again … in midlife changes are inevitable!

Humans have understood that change is natural and inevitable since the early days of humanity. Cliché as they may seem, oft heard sayings from the antiquities affirm this valuable truth …

The only thing that is constant is change. ― Heraclitus

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: ― Ecclesiastes 1:3

 Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. ― Lao Tzu

 Shit happens. ― Forrest Gump

… but how we deal with change internally determines our ability to successfully address and adapt to the external realities of those changes.

In his excellent and time-honored bestseller Transitions, William Bridges offers up a solid framework for understanding how to successfully navigate the challenging times in our life.

But before he provides the framework, he establishes the important distinction between change (that which is external or beyond our control, like national economics or aging) and how we transition through (our making sense of and coming to terms with) the change.

Bridges suggests that our internal experience of change, or transition, occurs in three phases: Endings, The Neutral Zone, and The New Beginning. This blog post is going to cover the first of these three, with subsequent posts exploring the other two.

Every transition begins with an ending

It’s a pretty simple idea on the surface. With external changes it’s usually easy to see when the old way has shifted into a new beginning either by choice or by situations beyond our control.

But often we haven’t let go of the old things, habits, or mindsets associated with that old way, especially if that transition is sudden or unexpected. Internally we haven’t completed the process of letting go. And herein lies:

  • a morass of ambiguity (what’s my relationship with the past and why can’t I let go?)
  • endless questioning (Oh my god, what has happened? Who am I? Was that really a good decision?), and
  • loss of self (especially if we really identified with who we were in that previous role/place/relationship).

Here’s the thing … everyone finds endings difficult and we all deal with them differently. But by not dealing with endings effectively we don’t allow what’s next to come into being. Ya know, like if the caterpillar’s insides were like, “Nope, I ain’t doing that butterfly thing because I’m a caterpillar.”

No I didn’t … did I just use a caterpillar metaphor in a blog for men in midlife? Yes, it’s okay, there are boy butterflies too, so get over it.

Dealing with endings and midlife changes

And being the intelligent man that you are, you’re now asking yourself, how can I effectively deal with endings? And here’s where men often face the biggest challenge with endings and the change that they bring … you’ve got to go inside and get an understanding of your relationship to the change.

A first step is asking self-defining questions like:

  • What were my assumptions about myself or others before, and what are they in the new condition?
  • What did I believe about myself in the old situation, and what must I believe about myself in the new situation?
  • What’s true now, and what am I making up or unable to let go of about the past or future?

By being curious about what has changed or ended and what’s current reality, you begin to peel back the layers and get at what is true.

To support you through an ending there are other important things you can do … ’cause after all, we are men and must DO SOMETHING:

  1. Take care of your body by eating right, getting exercise, and getting enough sleep
  2. Identify what part you control and let go of what you can’t
  3. Take control of the storyline by dealing with those internal saboteurs that keep you from getting at the truth in what’s happening in the ending (Check out my post on this topic.)
  4. Stay curious: about what’s happening, what’s the learning, what else might be going on here
  5. Manage your stress (see numbers 1 and 4 above)
  6. Find support and don’t go it alone

I hope this post has provide some useful information for your midlife transition. Stay tuned for future blogs where I’ll cover the remaining two stages that Bridges identifies: the Neutral Zone and New Beginnings. I look forward to seeing you soon at the corner of Midlife and Thriving!

Have you recently dealt with an Ending in your life? If so, how did you deal with it and what tools or tricks did you use to get through it? Let me know in the comment section below!

Three easy steps to creating greater happiness, no matter how crappy your mood

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greater happiness hammockThere’s reality and the story we create about what’s going on in our life. You can create the future you want and have greater happiness in your life by taking back the storyline that’s going on in your mind.

… and so our story begins …

“My throat hurts …” the three words a parent is loath to hear, especially at 3am, much less when tightly crammed four abreast in a three-person tent. My family of four is camping after spending the day dipnetting for Copper River salmon. Our youngest son’s scratchy voice brakes through the night’s stillness and stirs us (but hopefully not our camping neighbors) into action.

Or in my case re-action.

I don’t wake easily and when I do, you probably will regret it unless, like my wife, you can handle a surly grump of a lout. It’s little wonder that my kids call for her at these times, choosing her sweet and soothing tones to my “what’s wrong now” oh-so-caring, wee-hours response. I’m not proud of this mind you, it’s just what happens when you awaken the beast … some nights are better than others, honest.

But this was not one of those nights.

Sleeping between my ailing son and his momma, it was clear that I was in the way. And since our other son had joined us in the tent after abandoning his hammock just past midnight (hence the sardine-like sleeping arrangements) I opted to desert the cramped and stuffy nest for fresh air and room to stretch. In the foggy brain of morn for some reason the hammock seemed my best alternative.

Have I mentioned that I find hammocks to be the most uncomfortable sleeping quarters imaginable? (… there goes my ENO sponsorship…)

After spending about 15 minutes wrestling my pad and my bag into the hammock, and then myself into my bag, I manage to settle into a perfectly foul mood. A mood that’s about as dark as the night around me (actually, it’s dark for the first time in months … stars haven’t been seen here since May). Lying there in discomfort an unreasonable rash of injustices begin to mount and a grumpy narrative in my head begins. It robs me of peace of mind, but worse, the sleep that I so desperately need and want.

And then something happened … for a brief moment, I observed it all from the outside.

Step 1 – Notice the storytelling

Observing the storyline isn’t always easy especially when you’re tired, or activated by a well-worn trigger, or just feeling lousy. But if you listen to the internal ramblings going on in your head, you will be able to pick out a story. And with practice it will become easier to identify some well-worn storylines. There’s familiar tone or cadence or content, something that will tip you off to the fact that there’s actually a story going on in your mind. It’s one of many versions of reality.

These well-worn storylines are like gold when you can identify them … and a subject for a future post.

In my specific case this night it’s the petty injustices of being smashed into a tent, the sufferings of being exiled to the tortures of a hammock, etc.

Step 2 – Identify the narrator

All stories require a narrator. In this case as I’m lying in the hammock I begin to hear where things are headed … it’s the endless story loop about the Great Injustices (roll the dramatic music) … as can be told only by … the Grumbler. The Grumbler is my narrator upon whom Life heaps the incomprehensible injustices, the slights and the slanders, the great inequalities and inconveniences.

I can’t tell you how many hours/nights/weeks of sleep I’ve lost to the great Grumbler’s tired narrative and playback loop. It’s sad really. However, tonight I’ve picked up his scent, identified his oratorical cadence, and refuse to let him sour my opportunity to salvage a decent night’s sleep. And as I’m lying there I’m suddenly like, “Check me out! It’s the Grumbler!”

Step 3 – Take control of the narrative and create your own story

After I’ve identified the Grumbler I take control of the narrative. I take control by observing what is really going on in the moment, by defining the basic circumstances in which I find myself.

  1. I’m in a stunning campsite next to a clear-running creek in Alaska, something that some folks literally pay thousands of dollars to experience.
  2. I’m sleeping outside (one of my favorite things to do!) and it’s not raining and there are NO MOSQUITOES!
  3. Yes, I’m uncomfortable, but after adjusting this way and that and this way again, I can actually get into a position that’s not insufferable (unlike the sandwichy situation I was experiencing in the tent).

Don’t worry, I’m not going all Pollyanna here, trying to fabricate some unrealistic positivity woo-woo trance state. Rather, these are all reframes of my current reality that allow me to create my future state (in this case one of much desired sleep that allowed me to be functional and engaged the next day).

This same approach works at the office with annoying coworkers, those challenging conversations with your spouse or family members, or moments of being triggered by that jerk who just cut you off in traffic.

So, three simple steps to take control of your own internal, unhelpful storylines and create the future state that you desire.

Go ahead and try it yourself and in the comments below let me know how it goes! What narrators do you struggle with and how do you recognize them?

BTW, I’m still not sold on the hammock, but if someone from ENO calls, I’m definitely picking up … both of my kids LOVE them.

 In the meantime I’ll look forward to seeing you next time at the corner of Midlife and Thriving!

 

 
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