October 2016 - Midlife and Thriving
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October 2016

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!

Midlife Crisis? Or Just Bottoming Out on the U-Curve of Happiness

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detour-1646152The myth that is the midlife crisis may be mortally wounded by current research. However there’s ample evidence of a midlife dip that’s more than just a pothole in the road of life.

In my last post I explored the origin myth of the midlife crisis. Research suggests that a midlife crisis may be far less likely to occur than originally thought. In fact, only about 10 percent of men actually experience a full-blown midlife crisis. The midlife crisis may be on the mat, but research has also confirmed a slump in well-being at midlife.

The (nearly) universal U-shaped curve of happiness

A growing body of research over the past decade has confirmed that our sense of well-being through life forms a U-shaped curve. As men in our 20s and early 30s we focus on external achievement and goals (that successful career, the perfect family, the castle on the hill). In our 30s and 40s we start to get tangled up in the stresses and trials of the real world and the challenges of achieving the goals we set early in life. Perhaps because of this, or other factors, our happiness quotient in the first half of life trends downward, bottoming out in our mid 40s. But then in our mid 50s we begin a slow ascent and happiness (or our sense of well-being) increases again … thankfully!


This general finding is so striking because it has been consistently found across many countries and cultures (and even in other primates!). While definitely not found in all countries and generations, in a recent study of 46 countries, 44 had a clearly defined U-shape when well-being was compared across age.

The lowest point of the curve differed between countries, but was generally between 40 and 60 years. The low-point for folks in the U.S. was found at about 46 years of age. A 2010 study found similar results, with well-being of U.S. males bottoming out in their early 50s.

So midlife is, statistically speaking, the rock-bottom of our happiness in life? Now there’s something to celebrate … no wonder I’m so depressed …

Reframing the midlife story

This midlife dip may be what’s been generalized through the myth of the midlife crisis, and could explain how the crisis myth has such a strong hold in our culture. Most of us can expect to bottom out somewhere and in our own unique way in midlife, but few of us will have a full-blown crisis.

This reframe of the midlife experience provides some measure of comfort in that:

1. we’re not alone

2. midlife doesn’t have to be cataclysmic

3. there’s the hopefulness of an upswing somewhere in our 50s

Right, how lovely that we have a new la-ti-da story, but I want resolution! Just give me answers on how to avoid it or minimize it would you, or at least a pill to help ease the pain!

Unfortunately there’s no silver bullet here. There are also potential challenges in medicating our way through midlife. Unfortunately there’s still no clear explanation of why our sense of well-being bottoms out in midlife and then rises throughout the rest of late adulthood. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We just have to look to the survivors.

Following in the footsteps of the survivors – the climb up from midlife

So at this point you may be asking yourself, what do folks in their 60s and 70s have that those in the trough of midlife might be lacking? (I thought we weren’t supposed to trust anyone over 30 …)

In my next post I’ll dig into a few current ideas and observations that shed light on what might account for the bounce back in midlife. The focus is on the qualities and actions associated with people in later life, such as:

  • Creating a life of meaning (building and sustaining a sense of fulfillment or purpose)
  • Knowing ourselves and becoming what we are (understanding our deeply held values and living them)
  • Greater emotional intelligence (creating connection and communication by employing loyalty strategies vs exit strategies)
  • Reduction in perceived severity of stressors (drama management)
  • Increased capacity to self-regulate emotions (less likely to resort to anger or respond to anger with anger)
  • Ability to see situations positively (less likely to see other’s responses as negative or remember them as negative)
  • The perspective of time (that heals everything, right?!)
  • Reduced regret response (not mulling over or focusing on what’s beyond our control)
  • Increased wisdom (or more specifically the traits that come with it like compassion, empathy, respect for and tolerance of divergent beliefs, acceptance of ambiguity, ability to make decisions based on the good of the whole, levelheadedness)

I hope this post has provided some new insight on your midlife experience. I’ll look forward to see you again soon at the corner of Midlife and Thriving!

Successfully managing midlife? Which of the above strategies do you use to successfully navigate midlife challenges?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Is the Midlife Crisis Having a Midlife Crisis?

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Midlife Crisis ahead

For over 40 years midlife has been hailed as a time, especially for men, when anxiety over life’s lost opportunities and our impending death hits a max. This anxiety can result in radical life change and tumult like divorce, expensive red convertibles, and career changes: the dreaded midlife crisis.

Most men growing up in America in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s were led to believe that a midlife crisis was the inevitable and unavoidable initiatory right of passage into midlife. Many a movie and book has explored the extremes and subtleties of midlife transitions. But is crisis really a requirement? And if not, what’s really going on?

Origins of the Midlife Crisis

Elliot Jaques, a Canadian psychoanalyst, is credited for the “discovery” (okay, rather inception) of the midlife crisis in the mid 1960s. Jaques theoried that at about the age of 35, men begin to see that their youthful dreams will probably never be realized. Jaques’ theory was based largely on a historical review of world “geniuses” mixed with some experiences gleaned from his own clients.

Then, in the late 70’s, Jaques’ ideas were further developed by Daniel Levinson in his book The Season’s of a Man’s Life. Levinson built on Jaques’ midlife concept and concluded that 80% of men have a midlife crisis between the ages of 40 and 45.

Wow! Now those are some “good” odds! NOT!

Levinson would identify this period as the Mid-life Transition, a cross-era shift between early and middle adulthood. This period was typically marked by a “de-illusionment”, a grieving of the loss of possibilities, which acts as a catalyst for the midlife crisis.

What Levinson accomplished within the halls of academia, Gail Sheehy brought to the well of the cultural mainstream in her seminal book, Passages. Within her book Sheehy defines the predictable crises of adult life, including the “Age 40 Crucible.” This crucible is where dissatisfaction and unrest make for dramatic upheaval in midlife.

The primary challenge with these works, all of which ostensibly created the phenomena of the midlife crisis, is that they were done using research designs that are by today’s standards not considered good science. Levinson’s work was based on interviews of only 40 middle-class men in midlife, an extremely small sample size. And Sheehy reached her conclusions by supplementing Levinson’s work with interviews of folks that she selected. Neither used a rigorous research method to arrive at their conclusions.

In fact, when subsequent researchers have tried to replicate Levinson and Sheehy’s findings, no conclusive confirmation of the existence of a midlife crisis could be found. Adults are no more prone to leaving their jobs and spouses in their 40s as they are at any other age. Research conducted since the 70’s has found that a midlife crisis is only likely for about 10 percent of males in the U.S.

Oh my gosh, so why the hell have I created a website devoted to men in midlife?! I think I’m having a Men-in-Midlife crisis!

While your chances of having a midlife crisis are in actuality much lower than originally estimated by Levinson, the research is clear that there is something going on at midlife.

What’s really going on in midlife?

In her 2016 book, Life Reimagined, Barbara Bradley Hagerty does a great job of getting to the “bottom” of this midlife crisis dilemma, literally. She explores the research that has found that in our 40s and 50s we reach the bottom of the U-shaped curve of happiness. In conversation with researchers whose studies spanned over 72 countries and included more than 350,000 Americans, Hagerty shines the light on the existence of a midlife malaise common across the globe.

A future post will explore the U-curve in more detail and share ways to successfully make the midlife transition.  We’ll look at ways of creating a more meaningful life so that we can minimize our time at the bottom of the curve and begin the climb up.

What’s your experience of midlife and where are you on that U-shaped curve?   I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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