The Power of Habits, Attitudes, & Behavior in Aging Healthfully
So far I have discussed many different aspects of the aging process from a variety of perspectives in order to give you a “glimpse” of the complexity of the subject and its depth and breadth making it more than a “scientific investigation”. Scientific research will certainly be providing us with many important answers in the years ahead to some of the KEY questions we are currently asking about the aging process – and why and how it occurs. However, there will ALWAYS be that part of the process (or “equation”) that science simply can’t “touch” and that goes to the “heart and mind” (and spirit too) of the individual and the singular way in which each of us CHOOSES to live out our OWN unique life experience. It is said that each of us IS absolutely distinctive and that NO two people are alike – even identical twins. This is the premise by which we can examine our uniqueness – and the choices we make. Habits, attitudes and behavior play a KEY role in HOW WELL our life choices serve us – or hurt us.
The habits we form over a lifetime are critical in helping us to “navigate” the “rough spots” we encounter along the way. Comfort zones form out of habitual behaviors and tend to “imprison us” and NOT allow us the opportunity to explore our potential and the possibilities that MAY lie before us when change comes. The habits I formed at an early age came from my family’s dissonance and conflict. I retreated into myself and found ways to “avoid” conflict by staying away (as much as I possibly could) from the source of the conflict – my mother and her emotional outbursts and continuous angry, aggressive behavior toward my brothers and me – and my father as well. My father “hid” behind his work and although he was successful in avoiding her anger by being absent, we were not.
Besides attending a very competitive and academically challenging private school for my last three years of high school, I was constantly in the middle of pain and suffering and fights at home because of my mother’s unstable emotional condition. It was a never ending cycle of emotional and mental abuse that left each of us exhausted and eager to leave at our earliest possible moment. I had no friends, no social life, and no opportunities for personal growth because of the situation I faced at home every day and so I became comfortable “with myself”. I never needed anyone or anything in my life and learned to rely solely on my own instincts and intuition. This “way of living” had enormous consequences for me later in my life when things got even more complicated and confusing.
My attitude was simple: “Sorry, you DON’T know what you’re talking about and I DO!” I became arrogant and judgmental and isolated over the years after my Air Force duty was completed. From 1972 through 1988, I clearly made some terrible decisions and choices along the way and blamed others – including my former wife – for all my “screw ups.” When I was finally confronted with a life that had no meaning, no friends, no family, no purpose, and no support around it, I started to realize that my behavior, attitudes, and ultimately my habits had gotten me thrown into a very DEEP HOLE of my OWN making and escaping from it would all “be on me”. I had no one I could turn to for help and nowhere to go for answers except within myself (at least that’s how I saw it at the time). The church provided me with a new spiritual path that highlighted a different way of “thinking – and feeling” about myself and my supposed “shortcomings and flaws”. I began this journey in 1985 and learned I could “feel” differently about myself and be OK with that truth because it was honest and “right” for me. This knowledge gave me the opportunity to ask some of life’s most important questions – those that reached to the core of who I had become – and also who I wanted to BE.
The challenge for me was to honestly evaluate and assess the many roadblocks I had put in my own way over forty plus years of life. I had discovered that I had sabotaged myself by NOT using my talents the way they were intended and choosing work that NEVER suited my gifts or interests. If I had stayed in the Air Force as a Titan II Missile Combat Crew Commander (and beyond), my life would have been “ordered” by the very program I was trained to support and that would have required NO REAL thinking or evaluation on my part. This is just the way life is in the military (it has to be or no one would ever follow orders) and I would have progressed through the ranks, followed the career path laid out by the work I had done as an operational commander, and eventually retired with a great pension and the chance at a second career. We know however, that is NOT how life works – following orders and reading checklists – and that is the dilemma for each of us: What do we DO when the world we have known – and possibly loved – comes crashing down around us leaving a giant hole where our life used to be? This is the crux of the issue isn’t it? Surviving to “choose” another day before the clock runs out on us because of a heart attack or stroke – or cancer. Regret and guilt can definitely kill us!
In the end our habits, attitudes, and subsequent behavior all play a role in the outcome of how we eventually face our lives. My point is that until we “reach for the cause” of our discomfort, we will be forced to deal with the “effects” of our choices and this will NOT lead to permanent or positive change – only more chaos and uncertainty. Healthy aging demands a NEW approach to living and the way I lived my life before I started to become the “real me” – the “fitness guy” – I was living a lie of my OWN making. We cannot encourage others to change when we DO NOT recognize the need to change in our OWN lives. We must become the role models (the example of the change we want to see in the world) for how ALL of us can be better – and healthier – by living AUTHENTICALLY and PURPOSEFULLY so that people can experience this in their OWN lives through our example, making the necessary changes that WILL empower and encourage them to be “who they were FINALLY meant to be”!