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Karma Kitaj

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How to Thrive Over Age 50

Posted: 09/30/11 01:03 AM ET

Do you want to be zestful, vibrant, and alive into your old, old age? Of course, who doesn't? But, perhaps you are saddled with stress and worry. Some days you may feel lethargic, bored, or anxious.

What can you do to thrive, rather than languish, even when life seems to conspire to sap your energy? When you practice these techniques daily, you will begin to thrive.

Increase your "positivity ratio."
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity has discovered that we require a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative experiences in order to thrive.

We can intentionally practice being receptive to positive experiences every day to inoculate against the normal negative ones that come our way. Positivity, Fredrickson, says, involves a mindset of openness to experience, appreciation of little things, curiosity about people and the world, and kindness. It is heartfelt, not Pollyanna-like.

Positive experiences can be anything from bathing in aromatic oils or taking a walk with a trusted friend to eating a delectable meal or being inspired by a stranger's story. Get in the habit of noticing all of the positive experiences you could incorporate into your days.

Stay in the present. When we are mindful of the present moment, instead of dwelling on past injuries or worrying about the future, we put ourselves in the mindset of positivity. An exercise I sometimes do with my coaching clients is to ask them to do a mindfulness meditation on an orange.

It goes like this: Pick up the orange, feel it with your eyes closed; notice the textured surface; smell it. Begin to open it up with your fingers at one end. Notice the smell of your fingers as they dig into the orange peel. Remove one orange segment, Lick it before biting into it. Notice the taste in all parts of your mouth. Be aware of the dripping juice on your hands. Bite off a small piece and notice the texture, smell and taste. Continue to be aware with all of your senses as you eat as much of the orange as you want. You can practice mindfulness about anything you choose -- watching a sunset, walking your dog, or selecting food at the market.

Savor to make the positive last -- sharing a private joke with your adult child, listening to your favorite music, observing nature, cuddling with your pet, tasting a good meal. Savoring is a cousin to mindfulness.

We all develop a tolerance to even the most wonderful moments in our lives. People who think that the birth of a grandchild or taking a longed for vacation will make them ecstatic, quickly acclimate to the experience and it loses its punch. Positivity researcher Fred Bryant, author of Savoring, suggests ways to make positive experiences last. Here are a few of them:

  • Share positive feelings with others.
  • Describe it out loud to yourself.
  • Take a mental picture and highlight what's positive.
  • Practice gratitude; keep a journal about it.
  • Stop negative thoughts, such as "I don't deserve this," or "It won't last." Replace them with positive ones.

 
Engage in activities that focus your attention. This involves doing new things or extending and deepening what you already do. Learning a new language, taking a course, practicing a new exercise in the sport of your choice, or doing something creative can be focusing experiences.

I recently started doing art work (see my store on Etsy.com). I never did any art work prior to last year when I interviewed a creativity coach on my TV show, Alivelihood: New Adventures As We Age. I spent three hours at her studio and knew I was engaged, focused, and mindful. Since then, I've created a small studio space and work at my collages whenever I can. I'm in flow, in the zone.

Use your "Signature Strengths" daily. See the website of the "father" of positive psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Flourish. The assessments on his website are free and downloadable. The Signature Strengths assessment helps to focus your attention on your positive traits.

Seligman conducted a study with 577 people who've accessed his website. He found that after they practiced one of their top strengths in a new way every day for just one week, their happiness increased and their depression decreased. And this continued at a six-month follow-up. How much longer might your happiness last if you develop a daily habit? Practice expressing one of your top strengths in a new way each day.

Stay tuned for the next installment of "Thriving Over 50." If you struggle with implementing these exercises because your "shoulds" or your negative self-talk gets in the way, engage a life coach to help you dissolve those gremlins and keep you accountable to your goals.