Remember that big ol' car that your parents drove back in the day? Yeah, that's right, the one with the endless hood, huge trunk and flared bumpers, perhaps with green corduroy upholstery and a six-inch-wide ashtray? If GM built your parent's variation, it was likely that classic brand, Buick. Well, as they say (at Ford), "Have you driven a Buick lately?"
According to Advertising Age, Buick has reconstituted itself as one of the top ten brands in America circa 2010. Wow! It seems that even bankrupt General Motors has found a way to reinvent a vintage nameplate to appeal to today's drivers.
Reading about the rebirth of Buick made me think about my boomer clients and their most common complaints: "I'm so tired of the same old, same old... me," or, "I've been doing the same job forever, help!" or my favorite, "I'm just stuck in a rut." Sound familiar?
Life is fraught with paradox. Here we are living in an age when it is not unusual to be healthy and vigorous into your seventies and beyond. Yet just like the old Buick, over the years we lose our luster, our passion for the road (of life!), and feel stuck in gear. But, like Buick, we have a choice. We can head off to the junkyard or instead, take a deep breath, stretch, move and reinvent ourselves from the inside out! Here are four key steps:
1. Fire up your imagination. If I could redesign my "dashboard" for life change, replete with warning lights for when we need a tune-up, I'd put a "check imagination" light front and center on everyone's forehead. Why? Because as we age and get into the routinized patterns, we tend to lose touch with our creative source: the imagination. We forget that the "self" is more than a set of facts, data, roles and responsibilities. The self is a story, a fable that we write and re-write throughout our lives.
In order to jolt the life back into your personal plot line, you may need a change of scenery, a reconstituted cast of characters, even an adventure into new psychological territory. In short, you need to flex and stretch the muscles of your imagination. How to get started?
Well, I recommend the following as a tangible, if tiny, baby step: revisit a film or book that moved and inspired you as a child. We begin the process of reinvention by reconnecting to the child within, by re-envisioning ourselves in that "territory of possibility" across which we traversed as kids.
2. Rewire your right brain. Neuroscience has come a long way since the dawn of the age of Buick. We now know conclusively that each hemisphere, right and left, of the cerebrum has a crucial role to play in how we navigate the world. The left brain gives us logic, language and the analytical capability that generates to-do lists, budgets, recipes and food on the table. Yet, this task-master has its downside: the left brain revels in repetition, fears change, seeks to control and maintains a sense of distance from the environment.
Our right brain -- truly half of the equation of a thinking self -- brings us home to the world. All those profound feelings of connection, relatedness and expansiveness emerge from the synaptic action in the right brain. The right hemisphere of the brain is where we process feelings, images and intuitive insights.
So the next step in firing the imagination requires that you step off the treadmill (literally and figuratively) and make time for right-brain activities: painting, journaling, drawing, music, pottery-making and the like. You may feel a bit rusty as you dust off the piano or pluck away at worn guitar strings, but your brain, the right side at least, will thank you -- and over time, you'll reconnect to long-buried passions, visions and dreams.
3. Retool the body. Clearly that sea-green Buick that I rode around in as a child (with my father crowing he had the biggest car in the neighborhood) is not the same one that is cruising down to today's Mall. The engine is more efficient; the body is shorter, sleeker and streamlined; the fuel is more environmentally friendly (or getting there). So, too, our bodies need to be refueled, retooled and re-sculpted on a regular basis.
But don't misunderstand. I'm not advocating an excruciating fitness and steroid regime that falsely promises to turn back the clock on your aging body. Reinvention is not about fighting the aging process but tending to the body's needs and honoring its wisdom. Exercise is key, but if we truly want to reinvent ourselves, not just any exercise routine will suffice.
What you need is exercise that breaks up your physical patterns. The body, just like the overwrought left brain, will tend to fall into habits -- even if you do exercise. Just going to the gym can become as much a rut as being a couch potato. Scan the vast array of physical activities available and pick something that gets you out of your comfort zone. Yoga, Tai Chi and all manner of martial arts are superb because they focus on the integration of mind and body.
Just as worthy are sports like water polo, soccer or basketball that require the body to move in constantly changing patterns. I, for one, am grateful to have a boomer President who insists on playing basketball -- even it causes him a busted lip now and again. If none of the above appeals, go dancing!
4. Get out of the garage. If you are at the peak of your working years, then very likely you spend the bulk of your time at the office, in the car and plopped down in front of the computer. When was the last time you took a hike in the forest? Strolled for an hour along a beach? The key to reigniting the fires within is attending to the spaces in which we literally park ourselves in the world.
Get up and out of the suburban routine and head off into the woods at sunrise. Watch the stars recede and drink in the daily reemergence of the natural world. It is our true home -- enlivening, humbling, awe-inspiring. Nature can be a powerful force for change, but we have to be willing to jump the curb and drive the vehicle of self out on the open road now and again. Being in nature is not just a "nice thing to do." At every seasonal turn, she reminds us that all life operates in cycles and that we too are immersed in this dynamic process of birth, growth, decay, death and, yes, rebirth.
5. Be a beginner. if you are keen on reinventing your sense of self, then in addition to the steps I've outlined above, you must do one more thing: be willing to be a beginner again. Every new story is crafted in drafts, replete with messy, exploratory, unfinished versions. You can't start a new career without "learning the ropes," being a trainee or taking a class. Nor can you reinvent the self without shedding the "adult" persona and reconnecting to the beginner's mind, that playful, non-judgmental willingness to try something new.
The best way to access this energy is by hanging out with the newbies in life: kids. If you're lucky enough to have young children or even grandchildren, find moments to slip off the "authority robes" and explore the world through a child's eyes. If you don't have young children in your day-to-day world, then revisit your own childhood. Take a trip down memory lane. Pull out the aged photo albums, journal about your favorite activities as a child -- and then, God forbid, go out and do one of them.
One weekend, instead of shopping, go skating. Instead of golf, get out in a canoe, or maybe a go-cart. You get the idea. Reconnecting to the child-self, either by literally playing with young ones you love, or revisiting the lost little one in yourself, can be the best reminder that the wide-eyed energy of futurity and possibility is always available and ready to be reawakened at any age.
My friend and colleague Dr. Maura Conlon-McIvor, Ph.D., a fellow depth psychologist and writer of a best-selling memoir about her life as the child of an FBI agent, has an eloquent way of articulating this process of reinvention. She dubs it, "Investing in new psychological real-estate." You literally engage yourself in a your own individual "therapy of re-creation."
If you would like to learn more about how to snap out of a rut and reinvent the self, I highly recommend listening in to Maura's and my recent dialogue on my radio show, "Life Shifting with Dr J." Download the show and have a listen while you're out tooling around town in your new Buick!
If you're a boomer -- or an Gen-X'er, for that matter -- who has hit one of those inevitable speed bumps (e.g., ruts) in life, here's the question: Is it time to dump yourself on the trash-heap like Pontiac? I think not. Instead, take your cue from reborn Buick: refire your imagination, rewire your brain, tune up your engine, and remake your story of self anew!