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Not Knowing is the Worst!

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Not Knowing is the Worst!

By: Tracy Stodart

Part of being human is our ability to think, and therefore worry, about the future.  We know the future existsbut especially in times like these, we don’t know what the future holds Some are estimating that COVID19 will deliver economic, social and political carnage. Is this true? What does this mean for us as individuals and what can we do?  The unknown can be a huge source of distress.   

I for one, much prefer certainty to uncertainty, and I’m not alone.  Research has shown that most people would rather get an electric shock now than maybe get one later.  Its apparently more stressful waiting and not knowing when the shock will arrive than the actual shock itself.  It’s the uncertainty that impacts us the most and we’re hardwired to react to it with fear.  

In a recent study by the California Institute of Technology, scientists imaged subjects’ brains as they were forced to make increasingly uncertain bets.  The less information the subjects had to go on, the more irrational and erratic their decisions became.  As the uncertainty of the scenarios increased, the subjects’ brains shifted control over to the limbic system, the place where emotions, such as anxiety and fear, are generated. 

This tendency lingers from when cavemen worried about what might be about to pounce out of the bushes, a time when overwhelming caution and fear ensured survival. Today, this tendency can be a hindrance, especially in times like these wheimportant decisions need to be made yet there is so little information to support our evaluation of risks.(nice!) 

In recognizing and minimizing our tendency toward a fight or flight reaction, we might be able to cope better in times of extreme uncertainty.  By acknowledging the source of any irrational thoughts, we might be better able to pack them back into the box where they belong and focus on the information we do have to go on.  To manage uncertainty, we need to let our rational brain take charge!    

When we’re stressed, our minds are flooded with negative thoughts, and these escalate the worry and anxiety.  In contrast, positive thoughts help reduce the fear and irrational thinking and can refocus our attention.  Take time to think of a positive and affirming memory and go to this when you find yourself stressed and worried by uncertainty.  Also, try to focus all your attention and effort on what you can do, despite the uncertainty, to better your situation. 

Also, in times like this it can seem like nothing is certain.  However, one tool that may help you manage thisis to make a list of what is known, gather all the facts you can, acknowledge that there are things you don’t know and make the best damn decision you can!  Doing this will give you confidence and will turn down the volume on the worry. When things are as uncertain as they are, there is no such thing as a perfect decision – we’re human and we’re fallible.   

When caught up in worry, we often find ourselves stressing over things that really don’t matter in the big scheme of things.  Working out what the big, hairy issues are can help us prioritise issues and park the irrelevant ones.  In the recent days, I’ve dragged my children through about 9 time zones to sit out COVID19 in rural New Zealand.  We’re in lock-down now and its serious, yet I found myself worrying about the kids missing a day of on-line schooling and me not being able to go to town to buy gas! Good grief!  

When things are as uncertain as they are, we hope for the best, but we need to be open to the fact that we might get it wrong.  If we can accept this, then we’ll also be open to making contingency plans and leveraging our rational brain in the process.   Considering what-if scenarios is importantas long as we manage any catastrophizing.  Ultimately, try to take charge, make a plan to the best of your ability and focus on taking action! And for inspiration consider this; you’ve already survived 100% of your worst decisions, why break the trend?! 

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Hard Times to be Happy!

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Hard Times to be Happy!

By: Tracy Stodart

20th March is International Happiness Day; launched in 2013 by the United Nations to advance happiness as a fundamental human right.  7 years on and COVID-19 has meant we don’t have much to smile about on the 20th March, 2020.  As I write 100 million people are on lockdown as countries battle the virus and there have been over 6,000 deaths.

As I’d planned to write on happiness, I reached out to Dr Louise Lambert, editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology and a positive psychology and happiness expert, for a great quote on brushing off these challenging times.  Instead, she was far more realistic and commented, “To downplay the seriousness of the situation is to insult people’s intelligence.”    Perhaps rather than happiness, she said that, “This was a time to focus on resilience and for people to keep walking” to get through this.  Essentially, Keep Calm and Carry on!

So,it seemed I was somewhat back to the drawing board in my quest for upbeat content to help celebrate International Happiness Day.  However, then Dr Lambert and I discussed some great research that I had planned to use in this article; a massive study of life satisfaction, involving 1.3 million randomly sampled people from 51 countries showing that happiness follows a U-shape over the course of a lifetime.  Those in their late teens and early 20s report high levels of happiness – perhaps they’re just thrilled to be past all that early teenage angst!  According to the study though, it’s a downward trend after that, with people reporting being progressively more miserable until their late 40s and early 50s. 

The apparent reason why people hit their lowest at this time is because they are often wrestling with the most senior job of their lives and all the challenges this entails.  Many also report the challenges of obnoxious teenagers and aging parents as particularly impactful on reported happiness. 

Anyway, this U-shaped curve suggests that if you’re on the high side of 50, things are looking up!  The best part is that happiness continues to increase well into our 60s and longer, especially if our health holds up!  In fact, in 2016, research from the UK Office for National Statistics concluded the most joyful age bracket was 65-79. A similar research study in the United States pegged the peak years for overall satisfaction with life between age 60 and 69.

Apparently, connectedness and physical activity are two big influencers in the happiness we report.  Sedentary activities like watching television and staying at home impact happiness while being more active and socializing, volunteering, walking and exercising support higher levels of happiness. 

So, the research tells us that people our age are happier than we’ve probably been in decades!  It also tells us that happiness is a journey, and that the tough times of our late 40s and early 50s pass.  Perhaps here we can draw parallels between the U-shaped curve of happiness and our current and very real crisis with COVID-19.  I sincerely hope that we reached the COVID-19 equivalent of our 40s and 50s and that we can all quickly move into some better times. In the words of Dr Lambert, if we keep walking and remain resilient, we’ve got a lot to look forward to!

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Are you psychologically ready to retire!?

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Are you psychologically ready to retire!?

By: Nanette Fairley

The end of full-time employment can trigger enormously liberating feelings,but it can also cause anxiety and fear.  If you type ‘retirement planning’ into Google, it almost exclusively comes back with articles on financial planning for your retirement.  Sure, this is important, but the psychological aspect of retirement is just as important and one we often neglect.Set aside any financial concerns for now, and ask yourself these six critical questionsto determine if you are psychologically and emotionally ready for this transition. 

 

  • Do you have a plan in place for how you will spend your life post full-time employment?

We plan our weddings and the birth of our children.  Planning what you will do after you retire is just as critical.  You’ll no longer have the structure that employment brings and this can create a void that some find difficult to fill after the initial honeymoon period is over.  Thinking through your plan prior is really important to making the most of this time of your life.  What will you do?  How will you spend your days?  If you are not sure how to progress this, consider completing a course specifically designed to help you develop your What’s Next plan, or work with a coach who can support you to think it through. 

 

  • Have you thought about your new identity post full time employment?
    Leaving a job also means leaving a job title and this can cause feelings of loss. If you have been saying you are an engineer or a nurse, what do you say now?  What is your new purpose?  How will you contribute?

Visualise who you want to become once you are no longer working as a teacher or lawyer.  Write it down and then build it into your plan for the future. 

I like what one author, Ken Dychtwald, has shared in his book ‘Age Wave’. He said, ‘the storyline of retirement will be less about winding things down and more about transforming oneself.  Rather than becoming elderly, we become elders – wise, well-travelled and deeply experienced.’ How can you build that wisdom and experience into your new identity?

 

  • If in a relationship, have you both discussed your plans with each other and found a happy medium?

Agreeing on how you will spend your life,post employment, with your spouse can be challenging.  One may want to retire, and the other work for several more years.  One may want to travel and the other spend time closer to home and grandchildren.  The research shows that those couples that plan together, and better still, retire together, find retirement significantly more satisfying. 

 

  • Are you ready for the upheaval that this transition will bring?
    While the initial euphoria of ditching your 9-5 may last weeks or months, life will change dramatically and any change, even good ones, can make us feel out of sorts for a while. One individual I met said it took him a good three years to ‘find his feet’ after being retired against his wishes. 

Think about what you have done to help in the past when managing big changes (new job, arrival of a baby, loss).  What strategies helped?  Perhaps looking after yourself a bit more or not doing everything new at once.  I remember once I started a new job, moved house and bought a new car, all in the same month!  While these were all good things, I felt totally out of sorts at the time.  You might like to introduce one new thing at a time and, once it feels comfortable, try something else new.

 

  • Do you have a network outside of work?

Having friendships and community is critically important post retirement as they contribute to our positive mental health among other things.  One study has found that retired men are 40% more likely than employed mento experience depression. 

While we all have the best intentions of staying in touch when someone moves on from work, but this is not always achieved.  If many of your social connections are people you work with, this may leave a gap.  So before retirement, think about where you would like to build connections and begin to do so.  Join a rock choir or sports club if you have always wanted to but never had the time.  Foster these relationships outside of work as they will remain once you’re no longer working full-time. 

 

  • Are you ready not to have a monthly pay check?

This question is not so much about how much money you have but more aboutyour need for security.  It is very definitely a mindset we need to shift from working and saving to retirement and spending.  A friend was well set up financially when beginning to think about retiring but he felt very uncomfortable about never having a pay check again. If you think this could be an issue for you, think about moving to part-time work initially.  You will then still have the ‘safety’ of some income whether or not you need it. 

 

Remember, finding your new normal takes time.  However, if you have thought through the above questions prior, and you have a plan for your what’s next, you will be more psychologically ready to work through the transition and enjoy your what’s next after full-time employment.

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Life After Work: Understanding the Third Age

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Life After Work: Understanding the Third Age

By: WhatNextology Team

The Third Age is a term that’s gaining more and more traction. But what is it, and what does it mean for you?
The WhatNextology Team

What Is the Third Age?

We tend to look at life as comprised of three stages: childhood, adulthood, and old age.Childhood consists of our formative years, wherein we get our first knowledge of the world and all of its beauties. Adulthood, on the other hand, is where we are put to the test — we take on more and more responsibility, attain more independence, and mature. Lastly, retirement is the period when we can finally dedicate all of our attention to ourselves and our loved ones.

While this three-part perspective aligns roughly with all of our lives, it lacks nuance. And this triggered the concept of the Third Age.

How the Third Age Came to Be

The Third Age is a term put forward by Peter Laslett in the ’80s. He was an English historian active throughout most of the 20th century’s latter half. He coined the name to capture a phenomenon that has been becoming more prominent in more developed countries in the 1900s.

Namely, the average lifespan has been on a steady increase for the last century or so. That is mainly due to improved healthcare, nutrition, and working conditions. Whereas once mortality rates were highest in one’s fifties, reaching one’s sixties, seventies, and eighties became more common. Nowadays, someone passing away in their sixties feels too sudden and unjust, like a life cut too short!

While the average lifespan improved drastically, the retirement age remained pretty much the same: around 65although it is moving and is 67 in some countries. As a result, those who retire have much more life to live than was previously the case. As it turns out, our old way of categorizing life into three segments doesn’t acknowledge this period of freedom from work-related responsibility combined with great health and the ability to lead an active life.

But the Third Age addresses it well. It describes that time in people’s lives, mainly after leaving full-time employment or family responsibilities, when they are vital and active and live independent, vibrant lives.

What Is the Third Age Like?

Those in their Third Age will almost always tell you that it’s a wonderful stage of life. It basically captures the best of both worlds: you enjoy all the freedom of an adult while experiencing none of the burdens of working. It’s the payoff for the nine-to-five grind you’ve been putting yourself through for decades. But unlike the old days, when you enter your Third Age, you have the energy to engage with the world.

Not all older adults speak so highly of this part of their lives, however. The sudden change in lifestyle, one from daily work to great freedom, doesn’t sit well with all. Some feel like they have plenty of work left in them. Others might love their job too much to give it up while they’ve still got wind in their sails.

Eventually, though, most do settle into their new way of life. They pick up hobbies or pursue passions they’ve never had time for before. Such a different lifestyle may feel uncomfortable or strange for them at the onset, but they eventually like any change it becomes the new norm.

The Most Important Lesson About the Third Age

If there is only one thing that you should keep in mind about the Third Age, let it be this: preparation goes a long way. The more you plan, the less you need to worry about when crossing into this stage. Saving up money, investing in projects, relocating, whatever — set all the pieces in place so that you can make the most of this time.

However, no amount of planning can prepare you for your upcoming journey if you’re missing the essential element — the right mindset. Seeing the Third Age for what it can be — the perfect opportunity to dedicate time to yourself and your dreams with no 9-5 to hold you back. Hopefully, it is a time when you can finally do all the things you wanted but never got the chance.

With all that in mind, if you begin thinking and planning early, you’ll make the most of this part of your life. There are plenty of resources that you can rely on for help. For instance, WhatNextology specializes in exactly that: helping you create an inspired plan for your Third Age.

All in all, this part of a person’s life could prove to be one of the most fulfilling! All you have to do is put a bit of forethought into it and maintain a positive mindset. Get ready to make some more fantastic memories!

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