(1) Retire Lonely or Lively?

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Ever wonder why some seniors retire lonely while others run in retirement with liveliness?

Why do some brains favor lonely and bored over lively and boosted? We may think that loneliness is a non-fixable or fatal toxin for seniors who face stepping down from work or careers alone. The opposite is true though. Actually we can choose between happy or hopeless senior years, because our brains come equipped to repair broken social sensibilities. We enjoy more mental and emotional health when we adopt a growth mindset or open minded thinking where we generate solutions through strategies that bounce us back after challenges. We give all our energy to healing not hurting, to enjoying not enduring!

Not that life guarantees ease or perfection. Seniors who suffer from feeling alone, felt especially isolated during the COVID pandemic. Have you felt isolated or do you know retirees alone and without support as they leave their careers, for instance? We’ve all grieved broken relationships, conflicts with peers, or disappointed expectations that can exacerbate the alienation we suffer when a career no longer distracts us from daily challenges we face. Sadly though, at such times we can cling to dangerous cortisol toxins that tend to torpedo our wellbeing. One couple put it this way, “We feel especially alone with too much time to think about financial or family problems.”

Without planned purpose or meaningful activity we retirees tend to default to boredom or we propagate personal pain by worrying about things we cannot control. Yet to be alone in itself or to be without regular work routines, does not necessarily traffic us in isolation or irreversible misery!

Inner voice makes the difference

Some call it intuition, street smarts, common sense, or emotional health. Intrapersonal IQ, one of eight intelligences we all possess is all of these things and more. It’s also highly responsible for our choices to grow or stagnate, to smile or smirk, to remain lonely or embrace lively, even when we are alone!

Philosopher Paul Tillich put it this way.

“Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.”

Our inner voice dictates the difference! Loneliness comes less from being alone, and cripples us with more pain from a lack of belonging, along with feeling unworthy. We can find ourselves alone or with others and still suffer emotional pain from loneliness. In fact that was my reality for several of my younger years, and was likely a strong motivation behind my 50 years of research that resulted in the creation of the Mita Model for a mental and emotional growth mindset. How so?

Research shows that our inner voice (which is part of our intrapersonal IQ) generates up to 80 thousand thoughts per day and sadly most of these tend to be negative and self-defeating. So we repeat inner critic claims such as … “I am tired” Or, “I’m so anxious.” Our inner critic keeps us in the pain mode and on an average day we encounter about 22 stressors. Fortunately however, that same inner voice is also the key to changing and growing a deeper richness of self, even when stressors strike! The grace and wonder of solitude invites a finer choice to help us step beyond the poverty of self and enjoy a wealth of being alone. To grow the latter is to also increase our Intrapersonal IQ, one of eight intelligences we possess. This intuitive IQ includes emotional IQ as well as what some call “street smarts” or “common sense.” It’s actually not so common after all yet it’s deeply reliant on a growth mindset.

Why alone is not lonely for some seniors

While traditional schools, some senior centers and toxic workplaces left too many of our seniors feeling alone and inadequate, new research shows how we seniors  can develop a healthy mental and emotional mindset to thrive in later years. Annette is one of many retirees who showed me recently how possibilities arise in the most difficult situations. When Annette retired in her 60s with her beloved husband she looked forward to less stress, freedom to pursue personal interests, time with her youngest grandson, and much more travel.

Then suddenly, her partner died and  COVID isolated seniors for months on end. Annette bought a subscription to follow her former love of Yoga.  The only thing that kept her sane during long periods of seeing nobody, and navigating grief alone, was daily Yoga sessions with her online group.

The real work begins with an openness, and when retirees’ choice to grow reaches beyond any fear of failure, these growth mindset practices offer practical guides into gentler and kinder foundations to help us thrive in our golden years. In slow, steady steps we’ll focus away from fixed ideas that hold too many seniors back, and we’ll cultivate skills for issues raised by retirees like Annette with enormous potential for growth at any age. One growth mindset action at a time, expect to shift your energy to love, not fear and to illuminate new and delightful pathways to embrace more of the person we’d like to see in ourselves.

Survey to see your strengths here

Let’s consider, in the survey below, how simple choices for growth can kick-start our brain’s fuel and build beauty that strengthens our mindset and improves future opportunities to enjoy our strengths.

The brain changes itself with action, so if we wish to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset here we will want to act on our findings in the survey above. An action could be as small as looking at a problem, and then proposing a practical solution, that we try to put into action. Or it can be the start of a larger project which may be to walk for a mile daily, which we invite a friend or family member to help us launch. Whatever shift we choose, it’s best to make it fun, and a win-win to make it more fantastic.

Facts that foster growth mindset choices

Retirees who possess growth mindset use open minded thinking to generate the kind of creative solutions that bounce us back after challenges. It’s available to all who take time to practice it. When we choose growth mindset approaches, we choose an art, science and wisdom of creative reactions that help us reach retirement expectations and beyond. We learn to recognize emotional cues, diffuse down days and generally access a healthier, more agile brain. We reinforce an ability to find marvelous solutions and to filter out irrelevant or knee-jerk reactions. You could say, we learn to  pierce common frustrations and find fantastic bursts of creative insight.

Call it a boost for our brains, we practice growth mindset reactions and allow ourselves to make mistakes as stepping stones to the next adventure. Rather than burn out over excessive demands we ignite motivation for personal passions as we lift potential and confidently avoid judging ourselves harshly when slip-ups pop in. Sounds simple and obvious, right?

Doing more of what we love to do it better

In the following section we’ll experience wonderful ways to reshape restrictive beliefs as we become aware of flexible mindsets that boost social skills, and develop risk-taking proficiencies. We’ll investigate longstanding reactions, enrich new goals, and experience how abled and differently-abled retirees can interact together to ponder significant questions, and arrive at motivational responses.

Expect to flourish in the following section as we read, interact and learn how on some days we survive more by simply hanging in. We’ll anchor daily efforts to remake those persistently annoying mistakes into solid stepping-stones forward. The result? We’ll takeaway magnificent lessons to thrive. As we begin to set and reach daily goals that lay stronger foundations over time, we’ll also build lifelong dreams for our golden years.

Luckily we all have what we need to make a shift from lonely into lively.  Let’s start by replacing the question, “How smart am I?” with, “How am I smart?” Then make time daily to hear in our head, sensational responses about our genuine worth to ourselves and others, beyond any critic’s voice about our shortcomings. The opposite of an active inner critic is an ability to get downright silly and laugh at little things that slip our feet on unexpected banana peels that catch us unaware.

Do mindset approaches or beliefs hold seniors back?

When friends encouraged Evelyn Williams at the tender age of 82 to try out for a national talent competition she doubled-down and recalled other talent opportunities she’d missed. This immovable mindset left her feeling more limits than growing musical skills. That’s until Evelyn reached for Britain’s Got Talent and won the golden buzzer winning response for her performance of Send in the Clowns.

Evelyn’s limiting beliefs made it difficult, perhaps impossible to accept practice needed to improve her voice. By insisting that others are better performers, we resist the reality that our competitors also blew some past gigs, when they attempted to use their skills. 

Our fixed mindset beliefs limit capabilities into hardwired, set-in-stone traits. Failure here equals a stalemate, and affirms inner fears that keep us sticking to only what we know in the moment. Frustrating? Limiting beliefs yield poor performances because, like singers who stop performing we give in to a critical inner voice. We feel stuck within fixed inabilities that keep us running on a gerbil wheel. No wonder we give up, rather than risk new approaches.

Evelyn likely looked at singers who won and concluded she cannot learn musical performance skills because it was too late. Caught in a fixed mindset trap we may avoid practice, unless we become aware that effort and hard work inevitably ends in our success. Victor Frankl described it as not being able to find our deep sense of meaning, and therefore distracting ourselves with meaningless pleasures.

A fixed mindset holds us back because it causes us to believe things about ourselves such as:

“I’m not organized”;

“I’ll never be good at _____”;

“Living alone is too hard”;

“I can’t create”;

“I’m always late”;

“I can’t make friends”;

“I’ll never be able to _________.”

We can all fill in the blanks. Fixed mindsets insist that we give up or drop out. Such erroneous and limiting thoughts comes from flawed beliefs about our ability to perform well. For instance, Evelyn’s fixed mindset initially may have led her to believe other singers were natural performers, while she was born without musical skills to perform.

What transforms a closed mindset into grit and resilience?

Fortunately a fixed mindset can become a growth as we follow one passion or renew one interest, regardless of how small a start we make.

Not that it’s an easy one and done shift. A pandemic and a surprise blizzard left me completely alone on my 75th birthday, and I can honestly say the day started a bit sad but I was not lonely. In the end I actually had an awesome day, where I felt grateful to be alive and healthy at my age. Loneliness is not the result of external triggers but is rooted in our learned reactions and thought patterns rooted within our internal reality.

When we let go of sad feelings and deliberately embrace joy in who we are, when we feel loved and valued, we welcome time alone to think, plan, grow and relax. Our intrapersonal intelligence (which we can literally grow daily) determines our ability to enjoy alone times with courage, and without fear of feeling alienated. When we practice the joy of being alone with self as a fun and treasured friend to be with, that time spent alone actually awakens our sensibility for on-going self-worth and we strengthen our inner value.

Why do setbacks rarely set some seniors back?

We all experience setbacks where we doubt our inner worth, especially if we face racism, sexism, ageism or gender discrimination from family, friends, or faith-circles we trusted. That is when inner awareness can help us to work through misunderstandings, and let go of unmet expectations. Rarely easy but often rewarding!

If we refuse to internalize painful messages that eroded our confidence in younger years, for instance, we begin to solidify antidotes no longer riddled with isolation struggles. Sure, we’ll make mistakes along the way, and may even internalize a few toxic messages occasionally. Our growth mindset usually takes time and practice to learn how to love the experience of being alone and enjoy feeling fulfilled at the same time.

Our brain on loneliness

First glances  show people for whom loneliness replays in spite of friends, family ties, or holiday get-togethers.

It comes from and sustains a low intrapersonal IQ. Loneliness can spread its toxins in a sense of misery, or fears of lost opportunity  stored in our amygdala, and that rerun reaction explains feelings of isolation regardless of cheerful situations we may encounter.

Loneliness increases cortisol stress chemicals which explains why we suffer at times from feelings of isolation even at family feasts where others enjoy holiday happiness. How so?

• Pleasure centers in our brains, show lonely people as they light up with stored images or icons of gloom, faster than with our far fewer stored images of other people who enjoy solitude or model its wonder.

• Lonely people tend to increase their sense of alienation by not seeking out interactions with others, as they don’t see how these interactions will satisfy personal friendship cravings.

That scrooge image, where a person may have loads of money yet no friends likely illustrates best, the human brain on loneliness. Not surprisingly, imaging of a lonely person’s brain also shows less activity in areas of the brain that understand other’s views or needs, and so further distance themselves from social bonding.

Loneliness is bad for our health

Still unsure if loneliness comes more from your gene pool or from social experiences?  Researchers show how toxic outcomes from loneliness may be a bit of both.  Feelings of isolation often lead to serious cases of depression, obesity, high blood pressure, heart problems, and many stress related illnesses that reshape neural pathways in your brain.

Yes, loneliness is that serious. We now know that if we remain alone and suffer loneliness, we tend to die younger and also enjoy less quality of life in senior years. Mother Teresa described feelings of being unwanted as “the most terrible poverty.” The Dali Lama often reminds us that loneliness is more choice than fate. Remember “alone” is a mere state of being, while “lonely” is a toxic state of mind.

 Choice makes the difference here!

If loneliness is bad for your health, and if feelings of isolation are often choices, is it also true that people choose health problems that come from a sense of abandonment?  That answer is less evident in the research and yet will likely be quite clear if we engage our intrapersonal or intuitive intelligence and reflect on how we change and grow mentally.

Loneliness calls for an Intrapersonal reboot

The way we think and act determines if we stall or step-up our intrapersonal IQ, which contains emotional IQ and our ability to increase mental health in spite of difficult situations.  

People with higher Intrapersonal IQ roll forward, in spite of setbacks that can pull us down. Lower intrapersonal IQ, in contrast, sticks us into ruts and stalls us into tired routines. Complete the survey below to determine your intrapersonal IQ score out of 10.

The benefits of growing higher intrapersonal IQ include a lifetime of contentment, even when others might expect us to be anxious or stressed. The counterpoint to low intrapersonal IQ which fills us with cortisol’s toxins, is an ever growing intrapersonal IQ, which ensures we remain deeply content and resilient, even in the face of disappointment, failure or life’s underbelly that can try to sink us when we least expect. Worth a shot at intrapersonal growth in any one area above? Each time we act with higher intrapersonal intentions, we grow new neural connections to rebooted directions. Spot any high road toward the wonder and delight of increased intrapersonal IQ here?

Rewire ahead to ensure holiday well being.

Don’t allow your birthday, or a family holiday to go south. With a few mental adjustments, alone times need not come at personal expense during any holiday season. Fortunately, we possess a unique ability to rewire negative emotions  stored in our amygdala – from feeling isolated and bitter –  to fully expecting fun and adventures alone or with others in holiday seasons.  How so?

Act now on what we’d value in our future.  Research shows how actions literally reshape our brain for reaching more of what we expect.

Smile, regardless of how we feel, for example, and our brain’s plasticity changes in our favor. The action triggers our brain to create new neuron pathways toward a happier reality.

Give even a small gift of encouragement or support, without conditions, and in spite of personal loss.  In response, our brain raises levels of serotonin chemicals for sustainable well being.

Mimic the actions of a person we most admire for their holiday spirit, and our brain rewires dendrite brain cells for more of the same admirable spirit in us. Develop hope within multiple intelligences at the same time, and our brain rewires itself for further growth in that area.

Laugh, especially at ourselves, and not only will others laugh with us, but our brain will create enzymes for clear thinking, better learning and adventures brimming over with possibilities in spite of turbulent times.

Discover one new insight by converting a rut into a renewed reality we’d like to see in ourselves. Phone one person we dislike today and invite that person to lunch to find out what’s working well in their life. Curiosity and this call moves our brain’s basal ganglia from the rut of loathing into newly created possibilities lived from within our working memory.

Support one person who thinks on the opposing side of our own holiday views, and watch how our concrete defense of that person will leave us mentally able to override our brain’s default for ruts that held us back in past.

Our actions shows us new possibilities where we may have slipped into limiting problems in past.

See how brain based recommendations here carry us beyond hopeful or positive thinking? Do a few simple behaviors, and our brain does the rest to cultivate inner value that kicks in to help us enjoy time alone.

Use any one of the above brainpower boosts as tools by simply doing a related act and we also spark brain cell regeneration for more satisfaction to enjoy alone time over any holiday.  Or create a brain power tool of our own and then use it, in spite of troubled or lonely times. Scientifically speaking, these tips come from neurogenesis research on how adult brains can grow new cells or regenerate old ones.

Senior Session 1 – Lonely or Lively

Two – Footed Questions to Address Mita Growth Mindset Senior Session 1

1). How does what we say and do daily impact why do some brains favor lonely and bored over lively and boosted?

2). If we feel lonely over breakfast, how does that impact what we do the rest of our day?

3). How does the brain help us to feel OK if two friends plan an outing without inviting us?

4). When down and feeling alone, how does our inner voice keep us down or get us back up?

5). Why do we feel too old, too weak, too alone, and  where do these feelings lead us?

6). Why do some feel lonely and others find options that only seem open to a few?

7). Why do moods make us lonely and how can our brains disperse miserable moods?

8). Where are new opportunities when ruts attempt to keep us alone?

9). Are we ever too old or too worn out to change, grow and improve a lonely situation?

10). What might we do when life loses its lustre and leaves us alone in regrets?

11). How can we savor and sustain our zest in solitude?

12). How can we live alone and spend endless hours alone without feeling lonely?

13). How can we experience the wonder and fun of time spent alone without anger, anxiety or agitation?

FINAL Question:  What’s one activity we can do to remove a fixed mindset and add a growth mindset for this topic? Start small. 80 thousand negative thoughts seems overwhelming to most of us. But what if we upgraded the first thought of our day. Or perhaps we end our day with one note of gratitude, and jot that reason for thankfulness down in a notebook on our bedside table. Worth a try to communicate vibrant colors where we once showed only sorrow if alone during a festive event? Looking to help a peer or loved one amp up their anti-loneliness quotient? Then choose one of the suggestions above to enjoy the growth we all can enjoy during our careers and after retirement.

How will you focus on doing something enjoyable today as a way to liven up your fun and playfulness?

Dr Ellen Weber‘s Growth Mindset Materials and Publications Below:

Grace Mindset Book – audio

Grace Mindset Book – paperback

The Teen’s Growth Mindset Workbook – paperback

Growth Mindset Interactive Materials at TPT

Mita (Growth Mindset) Strategies in Class and Beyond

Student Assessment that Works – a Practical Approach