THE BLOG
07/24/2014 04:23 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2014

What's Your Boomer EQ? Part 1

Those of us Boomers who have reached the post-50 phase of life have done so anticipating a gentle transition to a reduced work schedule, retirement, travel, hobbies and quality relationships with family and friends. However, as a dear friend and colleague once counseled me, our own expectations can be the cause of our biggest disappointments. It can come as a big surprise if any our anticipated dreams do not materialize.

As Executive Director of Kids' Turn (San Francisco), I developed a curriculum based on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) designed to help separating parents and their children navigate the conflict when a family reorganizes. I left that position in 2013 to focus on a major life transition (see Retirement Relocation Is Not for Sissies here). As my husband and I work together to craft a new life in a new community, I am encountering more Boomers. I've come to realize the Emotional Intelligence skills we taught Bay Area families have a solid application for those of us traversing life changes for which we have no roadmap.

Our retirement is not that of our parents. We are living longer and are healthier than our parents; many of us contribute resources to adult children, grandchildren and even to our aged parents. Our vitality and intellectual curiosity stimulates new ideas for avocations or even employment. All of these experiences broaden our opportunities for new situations and relationships with the people who are in them.

The expression, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" predicts our newer relationships will develop the same way all our others did -- that we will repeatedly seek out familiar settings and personality types -- even the toxic ones. I am suggesting that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) can be a useful guide to finding fresh ways to navigate new friendships and circumstances. The results can be validating, empowering and even life changing. To that point, I am providing an EQ roadmap for Boomers in a series of five blogs.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) was developed in the 1990's, and articulates the value of people understanding themselves and how they react in situations, then using that understanding to improve their relationships with others. Simple, right? Not always.

Step #1: Know Yourself The first step in EQ is to "know yourself." Boomers might have an advantage here as we have lived long enough to develop consistency in the way we react to situations. Our children are hurting... we jump into fix things. A partner/friend is angry with us... we become argumentative or withdraw until the storm blows over. Someone cuts in front of us in the grocery check-out... we become angry and create a scene. A loved one criticizes... we are hurt and retreat to lick invisible wounds. For most life episodes, you can predict how you might react based on your own life history and the memory imprint in your brain.

This would be powerful knowledge if all our reactions were favorable. Unfortunately, negative life episodes are part of the equation and may have left us wounded and anxious. It is the unfavorable feelings that create anxious energy and can inhibit our spontaneous willingness to move forward with a new adventure. Rather than embracing a new possibility, we become stuck in old habits.

Here's an example: A friend of mine, long divorced, gets upset whenever there is a family gathering and she has to encounter her ex-husband. She divorced her husband over twenty years ago and they both moved on with their lives. Unencumbered by an unhappy marriage, her career soared and she is now comfortably retired. Her ex-husband married a younger woman and started a second family. There are still family events where she is expected to attend (wants to attend), but sadness and tearful episodes in anticipation of seeing her ex impede her enjoyment of celebrations.

What to do? We will examine solutions for my friend in the next blog: Manage Yourself.

In the meantime, the next time you anticipate or are having a Boomer life experience and negative feelings return for a visit, record the feelings. Write them down somewhere using your own words (ex: sad, worried, frustrated, gloomy, rejected, angry, miserable ). Naming strong feelings often diminishes their impact. Don't spend energy on extensive self-examination to figure out WHY you feel that way. The fact is, you are having the feeling and it is part of who you are. The trick will be how to effectively manage the feeling so it doesn't manage you.

This blog first published here.