Artful Aging

Clear out the Mental Cobwebs and Make Space to Thrive

mental cobwebs

I was talking with a group of people recently when one woman said vehemently, “Well, I can’t learn new things; I am too old.” To which a 90-year-old replied, “Speak for yourself!”

Their exchange reminded me how our minds can be so full of old ideas, attitudes, and experiences that interfere with moving on. Much like dust bunnies that build over time, these mental cobwebs continue to accumulate unless we periodically clear them out so we can replace them with new understandings.

From childhood, we have an understanding of our capabilities. If we believe that we are incapable of doing or learning new things, undoubtedly life’s experiences will only reinforce those impressions. So as we age, we may see ourselves as even less capable, especially if we believe that aging is a time of diminishment. Of course, age can be used as an excuse for not wanting to engage.

A number of those cobwebs are connected to behaviors of denial and procrastination. Some of us are “what if-ers”—you know, the folks who like to prepare for life’s possibilities, making decisions and taking control before we are forced to do so. But people for whom denial and procrastination are their “go-to” responses may find it difficult to contemplate making early decisions.

While most of us don’t deny the need for auto and health care insurance because we know the value of being prepared, a surprising number of people procrastinate on making a will or writing advance medical directives documenting what we want (or don’t want) at the end of life. Taking these steps doesn’t mean we are employing negative thinking. Rather, they are empowering, and getting this paperwork done takes the burden of decision-making off our loved ones.

Consider how we decide where to live. A retired couple decided to move to a lake home. As they aged, however, they found it increasingly difficult to manage—but they stayed, believing that the lake would encourage family visits. Not surprisingly, as their grandchildren became teens and then young adults, visits became less frequent. While having a sizable home with extra bedrooms may make us feel good, a dose of reality is in order.

If we continue envisioning a home on a sprawling property surrounded by horses and a garden, it may be hard to see ourselves in another setting, even as we age and are less able to maintain such a space. Family members often report that their parents are reluctant to consider a move because they are not “ready yet,” whatever that means. Although it may be difficult to take charge, planning ahead and creating a new internal vision of what our home looks like can make us feel good.

So what are the cobwebs taking up your space? I continue to check on my own because when I clear them out, I know how satisfied I will feel.

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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