(7) When Seniors Lack Adventure …

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Risk taking need not require seniors to waltz into a bear cave in spring with a steak strapped to our foot. But why do so many seniors lament not taking more risks to enjoy fresh and fun adventures? And that begs the question, what do adventurous seniors have that bored seniors seem to lack? I’d like to submit here that risk-taking seniors cultivate a growth mindset, whereas bored seniors settle for a fixed frame of mind.

More importantly, how does a growth mindset help us transfer any kindness we experience daily onto fearlessly doing more fun and courageous adventures? And how can we seniors open gates of gratitude into life-changing creativity so that risks foster adventures and uptick inner kindness rather than trigger toxic cortisol chemicals such as fear. Replace feelings of fear or inadequacy with an inner care or kindness and our brains begin to experience a calm that runs contrary to that persistent panic that awaits problems in wings that resist adventures.

It’s no coincidence that Helen Keller said, “ Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.”  And it’s no surprise that Keller’s adventures tended to occur mostly outside in nature. Perhaps those tenacious links between kindness and risking life-changing adventures is also what inspired Mark Twain to call “kindness the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” It’s also our widest gateway into creative adventures.

When we think of seniors we know however,  do we think of risk, adventure and nature’s wonderland? Not so much, some seniors admit. Yet such risk is a key condition that fosters health, resilience and prosperity in our elderly years. How then could adventure and a dollop of risk help us to navigate with intention those darker spaces the world slips us into at times?

Perhaps the last person who may see our ruts or rigid routines is ourselves and in fact our brain offers a reason for that inability to see stalls and face failure to spot stagnation. Our bored brains simply default to our basal ganglia where ruts and stagnation reside. You may remember that our basal ganglia is our brain’s mental storehouse of lifelong and often boring routines.  Fortunately there’s no need to remain in sluggish mental swamps though.

Research shows how our brains can change to create new neuron pathways past ruts or outmoded habits. Each time we shift a routine into creating and enjoying a novel approach we lay down a new neural pathway for more of the same adventures.  We reboot our dendrite brain cells for fresh and fun new explorations beyond ruts, whenever we take a healthy risk.

Start small and seniors enjoy more of how new adventures work in our favor:

For instance,  park far away from door,

 walk stairs rather than ride elevator,

 propose a solution to a nagging problem that family or friends cannot resolve,

 invite person of another culture to a picnic lunch in the park, or

 read a trade magazine about the joys of camping or sailing as a senior.

Any of these changes in our thinking can lay the groundwork for added rejuvenation and can decrease our mental and emotional defaults back to boring routines and toxic ruts. How so?

Novelty impacts our intelligence, as we likely have  experienced or observed

Novelty improves our focus and can kick-start an emotional boost in surprising ways. That’s because human brains come equipped to leap-frog forward and come alive when we engage novelty. Memory strengthens and the brain is rejuvenated in the presence of innovation, unique insights, originality or inventions. Ready for a mind-bending  creative boost?

Check out this video to see granny lose her teeth in a daring parachute jump. Would you have taken the dive? Or do you know why not all risk are created equal? Research shows how risk-taking relates to the brain’s dopamine levels and defies logic. Sadly, we too often stifle rather than support highly intelligent risk-takers.

Few seniors would deny that some retirees are more apt to take risks than others, because of their mental make-up. Some crave that zip and sensation when the brain’s amygdala recognizes  peril and the heart thumps wildly in response. Blood pressure increases, our lips feel dry, and fear or stress sets in paralyzing portions. This panic-process spins our brain’s hypothalamus into surges of hormones that trigger the pituitary gland adrenalins and activates adrenal glands near our kidneys to produce excessive amounts of cortisol. Yikes!

It can be a bit like becoming the main character in a horror scene. We breathe faster and blood races through our body, moving away from less involved areas like our stomach and muscles. Have you ever felt butterflies or weak knees from a risky action? It’s the brain’s attempt to help us survive the thriller journey whenever we hitch our wagons to a new star.

Perhaps one adventurous risk we take will open a renaissance opportunity for our senior circle or an entire community. Consider the what if’s below to see our risk quotient for change that involves risk?

What risks have we taken lately and what resulted from our actions?

Let’s say we ask a friend to help us come up with one novel suggestion that others could contribute to for mutual benefits. Could our entire circle  enjoy new adventures in novelty? Or could our risk help to resolve a conflict for ourselves or other seniors.

Risk-taking stirs up and releases dopamine

To risk a solution in a conflict, we might ask, “What action can we suggest here that would leave us all in a better place?”  Risk is our brain’s top ticket to  overcome some conflicts and to reduce a fear such as flying and so we might plan a flight to visit and encourage a good friend.

To risk a step forward in areas we failed in past we might jot down a few small steps in the direction of success in the area we’d failed in past. 

In each case our brains come equipped with the wonderful support of dopamine, a drug that helps us risk adventures that generate innovative solutions. So it makes sense to ask: “How do we increase dopamine so that we face risks without fear?”

Dopamine is stimulated by doing adventurous incentives, and by taking risks at a rate we enjoy most. Reward ourselves for taking risks that benefit all and dopamine follows. Like most of the brain’s best approaches, however, it’s all about balance.  Too little dopamine causes boredom in many seniors, and yet too much causes impulsive behaviors or can cause stuttering. The most creative seniors have the best dopamine balance. But do we have enough?

How we and others describe our creativity in action is how we discern our dopamine  “We are drowning as a society,” George Lucas said, “But we need to create knowledge and pass it on to the next generation.” Do you agree?

Our brains hold adequate dopamine fuels to build enviable visions, muster confidence to start again, and take creative risks. It’s up to us to access and use it though. It may feel more natural to muster original designs than many people realize, but it usually involves courage to step past cynicism and naysaying in ourselves and  in others before we are ready to risk innovation of any relevance.

You may remember how our amygdala (or our seat of  emotions) performs a primary role in capturing and extending opportunities to support our risk taking.  It helps us to  generate new creations. That may include a trip to an exotic country for the first time or it may simply start us on a path to reading mystery or historic novels for the first time.

In fact our amygdala releases chemicals to spark the creative energy we need to live genuine exhilaration and zip on the other side of  boring ruts and rigid routines. It’s usually a matter of choices seniors make, rather than our current living situations.

With each creative or adventurous action we build new neural pathways for more steps in adventurous and lively directions. Creativity is much like George Bernard Shaw said: “Some people see things as they are and ask, “Why?” “I dream of things that never were and ask, Why not?”  That curiosity includes an interest in growing our naturalistic IQ.

Have you ever wondered why some people appear more attracted to nature than others? 

Or did you know that our brain comes with its own unique naturalistic intelligence?  Nature teaches us how to live life to the fullest, by providing lessons from an outside environment, to extend mental growth. You may relate patterns that show how frogs develop from eggs to tadpoles, for instance, to create solutions for life’s changing faces in other developmental areas.

Naturalistic, like other intelligences, tends to grow stronger as seniors enjoy nature, research weather patterns, relate to pets, hike along park trails, or enjoy the bubbling brook on a windy day.  Watch the stars, moon and galaxy for patterns and movement and you begin to stretch naturalistic acumen as astronomers do.

Collect rocks, study shells, or identify insects, and you’ll grow dendrite connections for more of the same.

People strong in naturalistic intelligence will likely offer the best solutions to help others respond to global warming threats. Yet all brains are equipped to observe nature for lessons in successful living and in caring for their naturalistic surroundings.

Naturalistic often joins together with additional intelligences. In this video, for instance, music is used to create a background of appreciation. Hike in the woods to categorize trees and you take advantage of bodily kinesthetic intelligence, and so on.

What does this video communicate about nature’s perspective on:

stress

peace

relationships

care

freedom?

Would we also agree that nature could inspire adventure that opens up our sense of fun?  Or does it seem reasonable to us that nature adds value at times to mental relaxation and harmony that seniors also crave?

Let’s say we pick up a small guide to bird watching and invite a neighbor to join us at the park. We might carry the guide in our pocket to check out facts as we walk

Here are a few further ideas to carry our bird watching fun into additional fun and adventurous opportunities. Seniors might …

1). Create a haiku about our bird watching venture.

2). Sketch or paint one bird related scene that impressed us most.

3). Compare birds we observed with similar or different birds in another area.

4). Team with other bird watchers to create a poster or project to reflect our findings.

5). Plot and organize statistics about birds we observed.

6). Write a song to describe or reflect on bird songs we listened to.

7). Plan our next hike and predict what birds we may observe there.

8). Consider a day from one bird’s view and log our adventures from that perspective.

9). Additional ideas that engage our multiple intelligences?

Our actions miraculously alter our brains to help us adapt to both healthy and scary risks. When certain chemicals rage through our brain, we’ll likely notice our pupils dilate,  which is the mind’s way of allowing us to see encroaching dangers before they strike.

Meanwhile, in a millisecond our immune system prepares to deal with oncoming threats, and emergency supplies of glucose releases along with intense increase of muscle activity.  Some people call this the mind’s preparation for our fight or flight decisions.

These mental tools to help us escape unhealthy risks or dangers are not a reason to run from the fun and adventure discussed in this post. Instead, we may wish to embrace Paulo Coelho’s warning regarding risk and adventures, in his words: “ I refuse to walk carefully through life, only to arrive safely at death.”

Looking for more naturalistic intelligence? If we spend excessive time breathing in refreshing scents of spring, surrounded by sounds of brooks running, or captivated by natures’ change for different seasons, we likely possess good amounts of naturalistic intelligence.

We’ll gain more IQ from nature  though, by using patterns and designs found outside in a natural surrounding to solve problems faced in any situation. We might observe different soil types, track animal footprints or compare tree patterns.

Or we may gather rocks for a landscape that positions rock formations in ways to enjoy nature’s beauty and captivate naturalistic wisdom.

It may be far too simple to say use it or lose it, when we consider that we possess more than one or two intelligences. For better balance why not take brainpower to new levels. 

First, survey our multiple intelligences and we will see what’s stronger and what lesser personal acumen would be fun to  expand. Then let’s plan one activity today that involves a strength we most enjoy, and another that dips into a weaker area we hope to strengthen, for a smoother ride in one of the areas listed above.

What shifts would we choose for an additional adventure that would engage our naturalistic  intelligence to take an unforgettable risk for a senior adventure?

Why not add that adventure into our bucket list today, and enjoy the risk it invites while we expect the best IQ boost possible for a person with our benefits and barriers?

Our brain’s hippocampus will do the rest. It will releases a shot of dopamine in response to novelty we activate according to Anthony Grace at the University of Pittsburg. A feedback loop takes place that involves chemical and electrical interactions between dopamine and our novel or unexpected events.

In contrast, our quarantined brain lies to us and insists that traps of depression, panic, fear, and anxiety offer no exit strategy into fun senior adventures.

This mental and emotional lie may appear supported by the National Institute of Mental Health reports that well over 58 million people suffer from anxiety disorders. This series of five blogs, however, offers 50 proven exit tools for our personal escape to decrease anxiety in tough times.

Let’s remember to start with an enjoyable risk we’d take to steer our brains beyond boredom.

Not that we hope to waltz into a bear cave in spring with a steak strapped to our foot. Nor should we expect anxiety problems to flee instantly.  The steak to the foot story could result in a vicious battle that would surely erupt in that cave, and we want to avoid such risks. Nevertheless a fun or adventurous risk separates us at times from the calm or emotional quiet we crave and the calamity or chaos we live through boredom.

Risk like Martin Luther King, for instance,  and we can propel a dream beyond frustration that many hold toward tragedies such as racism. What dream do we hold that’s worth risking an adventure  trek to the peaks?

If we lack awareness of our brain’s wheelhouse for stepping out of comfort zones, while hanging onto comfort, we likely sense danger lurking, and miss extravagant opportunities. Risks are actually made harder by hiding out alone in safe zones, just as sailing is impossible for a ship hidden in a dry dock.

We train best for risks when times are calm or trusted friends are nearby to determine
how well we’ll weather challenges with nobody watching our back. Faith may make a difference for some seniors too. Risk-takers who believe pray for instance, and may trust God in chancy situations or when stepping into unknown territory may go wrong.

We all fail at times, yet we can learn through taking risks, not to cringe and run when disappointments challenge our emotions. Most agree that a gamblers’ blind risks likely lead to regrets. But are you aware that most seniors interviewed wish they’d taken more risks in life. A survey showed the majority of seniors regretted not taking more risks while they still could. Interestingly, we build capacity for tackling challenges by tackling them.

Our courageous or adrenaline-building actions prime our brains for stepping outside comfort zones without stress. We would rather look forward with hope than look back with regrets.

Healthy challenges at any age add the chemical dopamine to fuel and awaken our unique mental capabilities as well as sharpen our vision to deflect danger.  Risk amps up courage to drop untested assumptions or anxieties about a friend or loved one, and simply trust they care even if care is not evident.

Would you agree that when we take well planned risks to move forward, our unruffled responses to life and to others tend to improve? As one senior joked, “No panic here! If I get lost I simply change where I hope to go.”

Helen Keller, in spite of blindness,  held that if we want adventure, we risk

We simply act  and the brain does the rest, even without support from others at times. We too can improve our lives in difficult areas, and reshape prosperity, when we recognize the brain’s proclivities to progress. As Keller did,  we simply risk and persist on the other side of loss.

Taking stock of risks that failed and those that help us live without anxiety on a tough day, we don’t need to snatch up a spare seat on a rocket ship, sky dive without a parachute or join a gang for thrillers.

Our exhilarating free fall towards astonishing new experiences comes after we make choices that illustrate an awareness of how our odds are always stacked in gravity’s favor. Nor do we need to flirt with disaster in order to risk adventures that remove stress and add zest to senior years.

It takes mental muscle to live with uncertainty where we can least predict possible woes. Yet, if we’ve ever considered that life itself is inherently risky from dawn to dusk, no safety is 100% insurable.  A key recipe that defaults us to stress is our choice for safety at all costs. Fear increases when we place ourselves unprepared at the mercy of inevitable and uncertain risks of life.  Just like those many seniors, who regretted too few risks taken during their lives, unprepared and unwilling, we get tossed and tumbled with unpredictable winds of change.

The key is to know when and how to take adventurous risks. No need to begin as if we’re an elf in a Grim fairy tale climbing latest whimsy to secure the treasure of a golden ring. When we believe that life offers more wonder than ruts and routines, we advance as our confident selves, sidestepping those who see our steps as showboating, and beyond those who’d rather we simply play it safe at all costs.

When we give ourselves permission to do something we’ve never done before we also cast nets wider and fulfill passions and purpose worthy of a finer legacy. As we become comfortable taking risks, we also get quicker at moving on from shortcomings and failures. We begin to live a life of excellence, regardless of age or situation. We climb new mountains beyond scary shortcomings that held us back in past, we cling to courage and aspire to enjoy excellence.

Life’s trials may test us as seniors, and may shape us, yet they don’t need to rob who we are. We can resist fear for the rewards and treasures of winners, who risk slip ups daily, knowing that life is a series of experiments and that the sun will rise again tomorrow with new lessons in its wings.

Even when we feel averse to adventure, and in spite of dares that didn’t go as planned, we each hold a warehouse of tools in our minds to help us take risks that lead to freedom, fun and exhilaration.

It’s our reflection about problems or possibilities which provides a positive or negative result. Sure, if we toss all our talents in one ring, any dare may be a dangerous one.

For Helen Keller and for us seniors, there is no adventure in living a life without risk. Her caution that life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all, reminds us not to grow timid and squeamish by not daring at all. To sit around, think about risking only when things are perfect is to immerse ourselves in all facets of a tumultuous outcome, far short of Keller-like ambitions.

Risk-taking offers seniors a force of courage and humility that radiates from the inside out.  Let’s face it, most ventures worth pursuing come with their fair share of risks, and may be costly, but they pay dividends in courage too. And have you noticed that its handmaiden, humility offers us that secret sauce with nothing left to prove to anybody and with courage overflowing in spite of challenges?

What sparks seniors most to leapfrog over their brain’s natural protection tactics against perceived peril, and to throw ourselves into bone-rattling risks, that could cost a life?

1. Our brains are said to be wired more for thrills and adventure. The brain’s limbic system that triggers a sense of thrill and adventure tends to be more active in seniors who take risks. The center of drive and motivation, it sparks a desire for risk and for experiencing new things.

2. Men take risks more than women, and male risking tends to be more dangerous than adventures that attract or involve women. Men tend to go more for racing and thrill movements while women who risk peril, tend to take health related risks such as smoking or excessive drinking.

3. Age and intellectual proclivities are said to impact risk-taking also, and can also alter the nature of adventures pursued. Maturity, in seniors for instance,  may lower physical risks and raise financial or social risks. An older and more experienced person may take risks in their uniquely skilled areas.  Sensational seeking behaviors are not only connected to a person’s intellectual capacity, though, they also link to a person’s developmental levels.

Individual differences in how seniors think and act can result in some people taking more risks and certain kinds of risks. Can you think of a senior strong in any of their eight intelligences,  who takes risks to develop that capability even further?

SESSION 7 – WHEN SENIORS LACK ADVENTURE

Two – Footed Questions to Address Mita Growth Mindset Senior Sessions

1). What’s in nature that I would enjoy most?

2). What do you think of when you think of seniors and daring adventures?

3), What would it take to embrace more risk taking in our lives?

4). What has been our biggest barriers to taking healthy risks for more adventure?

5). What one good idea to open our minds to related to risk taking for adventure?

6). What are some seniors more prone to risk than others?

7). What (if any) are key conditions that need to precede adventures with risks?

8). What can we do to enjoy nature more and grow through naturalistic adventures?

9). What new adventure is worth senior’s open=minded investment today?

FINAL Question:  What’s one activity we can do to remove a fixed mindset and add a growth mindset for this topic?

Let’s discuss with a another open-minded senior what Paulo Coelho said about risk and then let’s plan one fun adventure outdoors to do together and then share our results in the next meeting.

Paulo Coelho’s warning regarding risk and adventures, in his words: “ I refuse to walk carefully through life, only to arrive safely at death.”