Artful Aging

Dare to Imagine Life Beyond Your Comfort Zone

I have learned a new phrase. I was reading an article authored by social psychologists Mary and Ken Gergen, when I was struck by their reference to “no sweat” living. Although we may claim a belief that aging can be a time of new learning and involvement, in reality, we often become more and more content to remain engaged in activities we know are satisfying and comfortable.

According to the Gergens, there are significant costs to that type of “no sweat” approach to life. Our thinking, imagination, and potential are not challenged, nor do we learn new things. Excitement and enthusiasm are diminished, the reproduction of brain cells slows, and the couch becomes the destination of choice.

Ring a bell? It did for me. Are you wedded to things as they are, or are you willing to take a risk and try something different?

Here’s a little quiz to start you thinking.

Over the past three to six months, how many invitations to do something different have you accepted?

Have you initiated a new activity with others, or do you become involved only when others suggest it?

How often do you read a book on a topic you typically would not choose?

Have you learned something different recently?

Do you avoid situations because you assume you won’t enjoy them?

Admittedly, venturing into new territory does take more effort than remaining in your comfort zone, and there is some risk in trying new things and nurturing new relationships.

Disrupting our ordinary, however, can be highly satisfying—perhaps in unexpected ways, as the individuals below found.

Susan liked her alone time and her routine. Once persuaded to attend a series of music appreciation lectures, she found considerable pleasure in learning more about the composers whose music she enjoyed.

While declining physical mobility and dexterity made staying home an easy choice, Mary found satisfaction by volunteering to sort donated goods for an organization that provided clothing for recently released felons searching for employment.

Finally, one group of friends decided to disrupt their ordinary by scheduling monthly mystery outings. Two members of the group were charged with planning each month’s surprise. No one knew what the activity was unless a dress code was involved. Their mystery gatherings have included trying new foods; attending concerts, plays, and ethnic community events; and even a trip to a karaoke bar. The group found each of the mystery dates to be full of surprises, laughter, and the fodder for wonderful stories.

Of course, deviating from the status quo doesn’t necessarily mean doing something new. It might mean delving deeper into your current interests. Talented in the use of one medium, an artist enrolled in classes to become more proficient using another medium in her work.

So, make a plan to disrupt your ordinary, and recruit a friend for your adventures. Whatever you do, know that the benefits of being fully engaged far surpass the comfort of “no sweat” living.

Linda Henry writes regularly on topics related to aging, health care, and communication and is the co-author of several books, including Transformational Eldercare from the Inside Out: Strengths-Based Strategies for Caring.  She conducts workshops nationally on aging and creating caring work environments. Her volunteer emphasis is age-friendly communities.


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