Have you ever created a dream list? It’s a great way to reflect on things that bring you happiness. This week Kathie Donovan and Natalie Tommy’s video blog explores some ideas around building your dream list for 2021 and beyond. Click here to watch the video. Enjoy.
I really want this new year to be special, don’t you? 2021 feels filled with possibility and the hope that was lacking in 2020. Even when we don’t have all the answers we’re craving; even though we are still living cautiously, life is moving forward and that’s a great thing. While we’ve had many restrictions on our freedom in the past year, I think it’s time to start dreaming again; to start planning again even if the timeline has to be adjusted.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Eleanor Roosevelt
We humans aren’t happy when we don’t have plans of some kind and that means using our beautiful imagination to create them. The great thing about the world we’re living in today is that we can actually have an experience without leaving the comfort of our home. I signed up for a virtual tour of Florence and Tuscany to remind me of an adventure my husband and I had a few years ago. I know it’s not the same as being there but I’ll get the feeling of having been somewhere other than my living room and that will hold me until we’re free to travel.
Science has good evidence now that virtual experiences, like the tour I mentioned, produce positive emotion, which helps to alleviate the stressors we’re all living with during this Pandemic pause. Nature programs, cooking classes and exercise classes not only relieve boredom but support the all-important social connections we all need to nurture wellbeing.
I wonder what’s on your dream list; what would bring you joy. Are you longing to learn a new language or brush up on one you haven’t used in a while? Are you dreaming of a face to face coffee date with a dear friend or a family reunion? Does your list include travel, an art or cooking class; maybe salsa lessons or are you interested in volunteering?
Dream lists are important because they give us full permission to plan without pressure. Our dream lists have been taken more seriously since Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson knocked items off of their bucket list in the movie of the same name. It feels good to plan something even if you don’t know when or how you’re going to achieve it. Having a list of dreams is enough to keep us curious and engaged as life moves forward.
Equally important, to keep ourselves inspired, is having a reverse bucket list or a reverse dream list. It’s an accounting of all of our accomplishments and achievements to date. We’re so conditioned to check items off of the To Do list and move on that we hardly recognize the dreams we’ve already brought to life. If you dreamed something and did it, that’s cause for celebration. Looking back allows us to recognize how powerful we are; how courageous and resilient we are. It’s also an indicator of where our joy can be found. It’s the fuel we require to keep us dreaming and doing.
I propose that we work on our dream lists. Start by doing your reverse dream list first and write down your achievements to date; then do your future dream list. Beside each item on that list, put one small step you can take in the direction of bringing that dream to life. Remember your dream list is just a guideline without any pressure and it’s always connected to infinite possibility. Let’s dream big and make 2021 our best year yet.
Science has proven that twinkly lights and festive decorations make us feel happy. Well it may have been a very small study, just in my home. So it’s not really scientific; more subjective. My husband jokes that he lives with a Christmas elf. I start sneaking the decorations out around mid-November. I love the simple joys of the season: sparkly lights and evergreen boughs. I love the preparation too but this year we’re putting a different spin on things and I want to encourage you to do the same.
While we’ll miss whatever celebration we’re used to with our loved ones, let’s be bold and focus on what we can do to make the most of the festive season with those around us. Ask yourself how you can show up for your neighbours and allow them to show up for you?
Instead of the annual Christmas gathering we host for our immediate neighbours, we’re organizing a stay at home potluck. On a specified date, each family will drop off two dishes on each other’s porch, we’ll set up a zoom chat to toast the season and enjoy a quieter celebration but a celebration nonetheless. Oh yes the food during the festive season is another favourite of mine. Many of us have our signature dish or treat and I hope you plan to share whatever your specialty is with your neighbours and friends. Every year, I make the plum pudding that my Mum and Godmother prepared as well as the white fruitcake my mother-in law made, so I can keep their spirit close at Christmas.
The fact that we aren’t as free to go shopping this year means that we can reframe that idea too. The real gifts of the season are kindness, empathy, compassion and love. These are gifts we all have an endless supply of and actually increase as we share them with others. A small gesture for a friend or neighbor, a donation to an organization that supports people who need it, especially at this difficult time, could be an expression of your kindness and compassion. Perhaps you could offer a card or a call, a package of goodies or a beautiful heartfelt smile. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. I encourage you to hold nothing back this year when it comes to sharing yourself with those around you.
This Pandemic pause has brought stress for sure and it’s brought beautiful gifts. We know now that we are better together and some of us have learned to appreciate support from neighbours and even strangers. Let’s all dig in and see where we can make a difference for those around us, to ensure that this festive season shines bright like the North Star.
Are you afraid of heights, flying, insects, needles, storms or public speaking? If you are, you’re certainly not alone. Fear is as old as the human race and is deeply rooted in our operating system. Its role is to protect us against a perceived threat and may be as simple as mistaking the top of a cherry tomato for a spider or as serious as feeling that our life is in danger.
In the spring and summer of 2020, it feels like we’ve been overserved with fear. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have more questions than answers and we feel uncertain about the future. While fear of the unknown is real, our thoughts about it are not always real. What we think is powerful and we need to keep in mind that our thoughts lie; they lie a lot.
Unfortunately we can easily buy into negative thoughts and if we want to enjoy life, even in this time of the pandemic pause, we need to take charge of our wellness on all levels. We need to eat properly, get rest, exercise, drink plenty of water and manage negative thinking to reduce stress.
It’s important to recognize when our thoughts are inaccurate. Credit goes to bestselling author and speaker Byron Katie and her method of asking ourselves four questions when those pesky negative thoughts attempt to take over.
Choose one thought. For example: we’re never going to get out of this pandemic.
- Is this (negative thought) true?
- Answer: I really don’t know.
- Can I absolutely know that it is true?
- Answer: no.
- What happens when I believe that thought?
- Answer: I feel afraid.
- Who would I be or how would I feel without this thought?
- Answer: I would feel that I am in charge of my future.
It’s time now to turn the thought around. Ask yourself this question: what is the opposite of that thought?
Answer: We will get out of this pandemic.
American psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen supports Byron Katie’s method; he created the term ANTs or automatic negative thoughts, referring to the gloomy or complaining thoughts that seem to multiply in our mind.
If fear based thoughts have ever held you back from trying something new, again you’re not alone. The problem is though that these thoughts, left unchecked can create an undesirable result and steal joy, when we could be having fun. When we recognize our automatic negative thoughts for what they are, we can stop the multiplying and refocus our thoughts on something more positive.
Dr. Amen has several categories for ANTs (automatic negative thoughts), among them:
-Always thinking: when we think in terms of always, everyone, never, no one, everything and every time.
– Focusing on the negative: only seeing the bad in a situation.
-Fortune telling: predicting the worst possible outcome.
-Mind reading: we believe we can read someone else’s thoughts (and they’re not good) without them telling us or without us asking.
Dr. Amen advises that once we’ve identified the ANTs, we can remind ourselves that it’s simply a thought and that thoughts aren’t truth. Then we stand up to them and don’t allow them to limit our joy and finally we flip the ANT to a PAT (positive affirming thought). In the example we used earlier: ANT (automatic negative thought) we’re never going to get out of this pandemic. PAT (positive affirming thought) we will eventually recover from this pandemic and I plan to enjoy myself every day until we do.
As with any new habit that benefits our wellness, it takes training to chase away the ANTs; the great news is that as we practice, we take power away from negative thoughts and gain control over our attitude and ultimately our happiness.
In this extraordinary time of uncertainty, we’ve had to adapt at a rapid rate, even though our world feels like it’s in slow motion as the pandemic pause continues. The type of change we’re facing all over the world with quarantining, physically distancing and wearing masks is unmatched and it can take a toll on us. Nobody has an answer for when the COVID-19 virus will wrap up and the not knowing as well as the changing social norms we’ve had to adjust to can make us feel anxious. In many ways we’re witnessing a different world emerging and in the transition, sometimes we can feel overwhelmed and even powerless.
Wait a minute! We’re not powerless that is unless we believe we are. Let me explain. In the previous blog, I talked about physicist and kindness expert Dr. David Hamilton’s side effects of kindness and how giving and receiving kindness has health benefits like lowering blood pressure and inflammation. He also talks about how kindness positively influences our relationships. It’s important to recognize that how we feel has an impact on our wellbeing. While we are fundamentally resilient, it turns out we flourish when we turn to others for support, whether its family, loved ones or the community we live in.
“Kindness to you is kindness to me and kindness to me is kindness to you.” Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist in Psychology Today
Over the last few decades, researchers have been studying what is now called positive psychology. It’s the scientific study of the qualities it takes for individuals and communities to thrive. It includes examining how nurturing positive emotions such as joy, appreciation, kindness and love improve our happiness and can have an impact on the wellbeing of others.
We have to take action to bring out the benefit of these positive forces and the great news is that it’s not difficult. An interesting fact is that kindness, appreciation, love and any expression of them connects us to others whereas judgement separates us. As humans, we’re hardwired for judgement, so we have to work at releasing the hold it has on us and switch to a more relaxed and frankly kinder way of viewing others, if what we want is to feel good in our relationships.
Whether we’re volunteering at an animal shelter, dropping off some flowers or home baking for someone or listening to a friend share a challenge they’re experiencing, being generous helps us to see our lives as meaningful. We create opportunities to learn about others, increase our self-confidence and have some fun along the way. It can feel uncomfortable if we’re not used to contributing or being kind. It takes moving out of our comfort zone, facing fear, feeling vulnerable or uncertain to create a better result and when we take in in baby steps, it really is work worth doing.
When we give to others and receive with appreciation, we make our bond stronger. I’m sure you’ll agree that pretty much everything we do in life is about relationships, whether it’s at home, at work or in our community; how we operate in those relationships determines how we feel about them. Just like we take care of our home or office space to make it better, doing the same for our relationships is important too. By making a contribution and operating with kindness, we create purpose and meaning for ourselves. In addition, we influence those around us to take action themselves. We have the power; we can make a difference. If each one of us takes on this responsibility, together we can create a groundswell of good that will help make our world much better. After all a little kindness goes a long way.
Doesn’t it fill your heart when you see a person being kind?
In this turned upside down world, kindness powers us up when we feel disheartened. People are stepping up to serve our most vulnerable, we’re showing appreciation and celebrating the everyday heroes working on our behalf to take care of us and communities are learning the value of having and being good neighbours. It seems kindness is reviving our faith in humanity.
At one time it was thought that human beings were selfish but as scientists unlock more about the complex nature of being human, new conclusions are being reached. While we are very interested in our own survival and success, studies reveal that generosity is in our biology and our evolution.
Before our lives were disrupted by this pandemic, we had a narrower focus on our own needs, our family’s needs and our next right moves toward feeling successful. Along came a major disruption that actually cracked people’s hearts wide open. There’s more empathy in our world than ever and more generosity springing from that empathy. Most people are just doing the right thing by helping others, however they can.
“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.” —Princess Diana
Dr. David Hamilton a physicist and kindness expert talks about the five side effects of kindness.
1. It makes us happier as our brain releases chemicals that increase dopamine and we get a good feeling.
2. Our hearts are healthier. That good feeling produces oxytocin in the brain and the body which increases nitric oxide, reducing blood pressure.
3. Being kind slows aging; again oxytocin helps reduce inflammation in our cardio vascular system and slows aging.
4. Being kind and generous makes our relationships better.
5. Kindness is contagious. According to Dr. Hamilton it has a contagion factor of five; each act of kindness impacts five people.
“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” —Scott Adams
If we’ve learned anything in this pandemic pause, it’s that we certainly can’t control world events. What we can control though is how we respond to world events. Perhaps you’ve been quite content in your life in this unusual time or maybe you’ve been feeling anxious or frustrated. Or maybe it’s all of the above. Whatever you feel is just fine and it stands to reason that our feelings are all over the place. So what does this have to do with kindness you may ask?
Well, if you’ve been feeling content and happy during this period, you can share some of that goodness with others through acts of kindness. If you’ve been feeling anxious, a good way to shift that energy is…..you guessed it…by focusing your attention outward on acts of kindness for others. Let me say here that an act of kindness can be a smile, it can be listening to somebody, it can be monetary or it can be sharing your talent as in baking for someone, writing a card or a thoughtful email.
I don’t think there’s been a better opportunity in history than right now to tap into the vision that each one of us can make a difference by being kind.
I’d like to invite you to become a VIP member of The Secret Kindness Club, where we do acts of kindness every day for others and don’t tell anybody. No further action is required to become a member; initiation begins with your next act of kindness.
Here’s your first challenge. Notice the next three people you encounter and say something kind to them. It can be wishing them a cheerful good day, complimenting them on something they’ve done or something they’re wearing. Notice their smile, thank them for something or acknowledge them by saying hello. Be courageous; make the first move and discover for yourself how your kind acts can help change the world. Welcome to the club!I started a private Facebook group called The Secret Kindness Club, where we can share our acts of kindness and be inspired by others. All you have to do is ask to join.
Many of our members look to us to get them started or to help them gain a fresh perspective. It’s a beautiful thing to see people transform right before your eyes, as they meet people of a similar age, with similar interests and ways of communicating.
Aging well requires a commitment to shifting your mindset to become open to new ideas, be mindful of the present, look forward to the future while embracing the wisdom of the past. These vibrant young-seniors are youthful but not obsessed with being young. They don’t realize it all the time, but they are blazing the trails for the next generation of seniors. Setting the benchmark for what should be expected to age well and live well.
Many of them believe that the best is yet to come in terms of their needs, and they are grateful for the wisdom and the time to reflect on what they want from life now and into the future.
Rachel Henry, Wellings of Picton, says, “for example, many of our members recognized that they were alone more than they wanted to be. They didn’t necessarily want a partner, but they wanted people around to socialize with, laugh with, and share some good stories with. Wellings is a good place to meet people, laugh, and find opportunities to connect with the greater community.”
Volunteerism is an excellent example of engaging in the greater community at something you find fulfilling. Wellings is committed to connecting our members with staff who are educated in aging well and community service leaders and local initiatives to encourage participation outside the community.
There are so many opportunities to connect, such as community centers, community gardens, festivals, providing art classes, yoga teaching for seniors, cycling clubs, and walking or hiking clubs. The possibilities are endless. Further, we have found that the people we engage in the volunteer realm are healthier, happier, and seem to wake with a sense of purpose. This is important because it involves the mind, engages people in conversation, and keeps us more youthful.
As we age, we tend to become less social, as our friend group shrinks, but there are people all around us, we just need to find ways to connect our passions and hobbies with people who share them. Unfortunately, many people would equate independence with going it alone. Still, we know that to maintain overall good health, we need some element of social interaction. Everyone’s needs are different, but we do know that too much isolation isn’t good, especially for seniors.
Successful aging or aging well means different things all over the world. Still, a common thread seems to be taking the steps necessary to stay connected.
We are proud to be a great resource to many volunteer organizations and would be happy to be a resource for you, should you need us.
If you know of a volunteer organization that would benefit from the 55 plus community, let us know.
Enjoy this TED-X talk from Cathleen Toomey, it really resonated with us:
In this extraordinary time, are you feeling unsettled or uncomfortable? I know I am; for many of us, this disturbing feeling is a reflection of what’s going on in our world, where we don’t know much for sure. The fundamental fear we’re experiencing has an important role to play for our survival and protection.
But fear is a trickster; it can make us do and say strange things. Let’s not ignore or repress fear; rather let’s call fear out; face it head on. Let’s get clear about what we’re really afraid of and name it. If we’re afraid of getting sick, remember that none of us is in charge of the virus, only our thoughts about our wellness. So a better focus for our thoughts would be on our wellness, right? The idea of naming what we’re afraid of takes away some of its power and puts us in charge of our thoughts, words and actions.
Calling out fear, the con artist helps us gain perspective, enabling us to navigate with compassion, empathy and kindness for ourselves and for everyone around us. It’s my view that these qualities are our true nature but when fear takes over, we overlook them because we go into survival mode and focus on our primal needs. When we ask fear to take a back seat, we create space for our superpowers of empathy, compassion and kindness to support us in keeping fear managed.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama
Compassion arises when we feel for someone in a challenging situation without experiencing it ourselves. Empathy flows when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and feel the experience they’re having. In this unprecedented time, empathy is everywhere because we are all experiencing the same threat, so we can appreciate how each other feels. Both of these beautiful human qualities come quite naturally to us but when fear is present, we have to make extra effort to lead with them rather than leading with fear.
“I choose the path of kindness. The more you extend kindness to yourself, the more it will become your automatic response to others.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer
If you bump up against a challenge with another person either in their behavior or something they say, remind yourself that just like you, this person is doing their best to do their best. Call on your endless supply of kindness and compassion to help you navigate and be mindful of your words. If what you want to experience from others is kindness and compassion, make the first move and watch what happens.
Just like this virus spreads in ways we don’t really yet understand, kindness spreads too. Physicist and kindness expert Dr. David Hamilton explains that the Covid 19 virus has a contagion factor of 2.5 which means that every person who spreads the virus spreads it to 2.5 people. Each of the 2.5 spreads to 2.5 and the number increases just like compound interest. The contagion factor for an act of kindness is 5, which means that every act of kindness impacts 5 people and when we multiply just like compound interest, kindness can be a very powerful force.
“We can’t control the wind but we can adjust the sails.” Unknown
We can’t yet control the virus but we certainly can control our thoughts and face our fears head on. When we focus on how we can be of service in a very positive way for others, there’s no end to what we can do to make a difference. Consider a smile, writing a note, making a phone call, giving someone a compliment or simply listening as acts of kindness. Remember how kindness spreads and how good you feel when someone shows you kindness; then ask yourself how you can get busy ensuring we have more than enough kindness to go around. Live well, stay well.
I was a dedicated smoker for a few decades of my life; I’m not proud of the fact but what I am delighted with is that I was able to stop. Smoking is a stubborn habit. It took me about seven attempts before I was able to gradually stop smoking successfully. To help me get through the withdrawal from nicotine, I was encouraged to do more aerobic exercise, eat more protein and leafy greens. I didn’t really understand why these new habits helped but they did. It turns out it was about focusing my thoughts on feeling good through healthier practices and not focusing on the negative feeling of giving something up. It worked! I’ve been free from cigarettes for almost thirty years.
Our brain is a powerful supercomputer; it’s involved in everything we do. The brain has connections that run throughout our body; it determines how we behave and how well we think. I remind myself often that our thoughts are really the only thing we have control over in life. We can’t control events and we can’t control other people. Our thoughts are so powerful that they can be sabotaging, even debilitating when left unchecked; they can also be a powerful positive force when we manage them well.
Negativity is so easy to buy into and that’s mainly what our thinking mind serves up. It takes a focus on something other than our random thoughts to shift us out of negativity, especially when there’s so much fear in the world but it is important to take ownership of our thoughts and direct them toward a good result, just as I did with giving up smoking.
What sounds like a daunting responsibility can be managed by having a healthy foundation; then building on small shifts to produce long-term positive results. It’s important to get good nutrition, good exercise and good sleep; these are the pillars of a healthy mindset. If you want to improve any of these, start investigating how you can develop better sleep habits and ask your doctor to check your blood work to ensure that you’re not deficient in important minerals and vitamins. Exercise is a natural anti-depressant and we need to treat it like medicine. I love yoga and practice it regularly; I find it really helpful when it comes to stress management, feeling calm and having clarity. Start small with any of these healthy practices and be kind to yourself as you learn something new.
Now that we’ve set the foundation, we can start building on.
I wasn’t always a grateful person; in fact I grew up feeling like I never had enough and that I wasn’t enough because that’s what I learned at home. There was more emphasis on what we didn’t have and who we could never be instead of learning to appreciate what we did have. In adulthood, after realizing that this line of thinking was sabotaging my best efforts to be happy, I chose to teach myself to focus my thoughts on what I had to appreciate, starting with small shifts. Try this: look out the nearest window and pause for a few minutes. Notice the colours you observe; notice the sunlight or cloud formation in the sky. What makes you feel good about what you see? Pay attention to that. If you can’t see, listen, even to the quiet and appreciate that you can hear. If you can’t hear, notice your breath and be grateful for that.
It’s all about bringing our attention into the present moment and appreciating life exactly as it is. Even on days when life sucks, there is something to appreciate. In this small practice of focusing our thoughts on the good instead of the random negative thoughts our brain serves up, we create a brighter result. Next step for me was writing down five things I’m grateful for every day until it became a thinking habit; if it was a bad day, I’d write ten things. The truth is, the more grateful we are, the more there is to be grateful for.
Despite what your thoughts tell you, your brain loves a challenge. Learning to talk back to negative thoughts is an important habit to cultivate. Ask yourself if the negative thought is really true and if it’s not true, please correct it. When you do, you take away its power. Instead of allowing your thoughts to run your life, work on learning new things. It’s through learning that we develop new connections in the brain and enhance its capability. There is absolutely no age limit on learning and in fact when we stop learning, our brain slows down. We have to work it like a muscle.
Small, no fail steps are the building blocks of good sustainable habits. It’s important to recognize that we’re all beautiful works in progress; the goal should be to constantly improve and not to win anything or anyone’s approval. Do your best to feel your best you’ll find yourself willing to keep going and growing.