In the 1950’s there was a science fiction movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man. It tells the story of a man who is exposed to a strange cloud while on a boat. Soon afterward, he starts to shrink…and shrink and shrink. At one point, he is relegated to being chased by a cat and living in a doll house. Eventually, he just…disappears. The movie had terrific special effects for its day, but it also had a message, making it a cult classic.
That movie, in a way, is a metaphor for life. Once we reach adulthood, we start a slow but hopefully long decline. Our bodies shrink and ultimately die––“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. That is reality and we can’t change it other than living our lives to the fullest.
After recent contact with many baby boomers and seniors, I thought that in a way, many over 60’s are shrinking. The shrinking is not so much in the physical sense though most of us do lose things such as height and muscle mass. The shrinking I am referring to is “shrinking thinking” instead of “possibility thinking”.
Shrinking thinking may take the form of reducing activities because of financial constraints or because work may have ceased and individuals lose their spirit. This appears more prevalent in men. Wives often complain that since retirement, their husbands sit around bored and have no passion for living. We also see some women who seem to have lost their purpose for living once the children are grown up and living their own life. These women can become infested with the shrinking disease.
The Shrinking Solution:
Thankfully, none of us will shrink to the level that actor, Grant Williams did in the movie. All of us, however, are susceptible to a loss of spirit, passion and drive as we age. The good news is that we can do something about this.
1. Define Your Purpose
Without a purpose, life can be meaningless so it’s important that we create a purpose if we don’t have one even as we age. The secret is to find what it is that inspires us. Sometimes that can be difficult to be articulate. What do you dream about? Is there something you have always wanted to do but didn’t have time to do? What do you value in life? Your purpose will come out of those things in life that you value most.
Once you know your purpose, then you become inspired. When you are inspired, you become filled with passion. That passion leads to action in creating and fulfilling goals. It is very important to write out a purpose statement and to read it with regularity. The statement can be one paragraph or several. What is most important is that it reflects your true innermost desire.
2. Your Brain – Use It or Lose It
Think about it; when you were in your 20’s and 30’s you were busy, perhaps studying in college or working in a challenging occupation. Your brain was constantly stimulated and if you were raising children as well, you learned how to multitask.
Let’s move forward a few decades. Retirement is looming and suddenly the mental stimulation declines––if you let it. Without having a new strategy, the brain can go into shrinking thinking and ultimately wilting before its time. Here are some things that you can do to stimulate the brain and create new nerve connections:
- Take up a musical instrument or singingWrite a book
- Do brain exercises such as crosswords and online apps such as Lumosity
- Take up dancing
- Go on a different sort of travel adventure
- Learn a new language
- Start a new business
- Learn new computer software
3. Keep Active
All the research now indicates that regular exercise even into our senior years increases longevity. An Oslo study of men in their 40’s started in 1973 found that by 2012 those men who exercised even 30 minutes, six days a week were 40% less likely to die.
Exercise helps to maintain muscle tone, it protects the brain from dementia and has many positive health effects such as reduced incidence of diabetes, reduction of inflammation, lower blood pressure and lower rates of depression.
So instead of being shrinking men or women, let’s be superb and “growing” even as we age. The alternative is much less appealing.