Coping with Changes that Come with Aging: Beguiling Beliefs
Today we will focus one of the first skills required for coping with changes as we age: changing our belief system about ourselves.
Our beliefs set the foundation for how we see the world. In general, they create the path that directs how we relate to others, shape our goals, and manage our failures; most importantly, they help us develop a framework for how we feel about ourselves and those around us. These beliefs might be: I am smart and can solve any problem in front of me; or, I am shy and need others to reach out to me.
All of our beliefs about ourselves need to be reviewed as we age. For instance, when one of your core beliefs about yourself is that you are smart or strong and you start to lose your memory or balance, you will be shaken to your core. The sense of loss can be quite debilitating. If on the other hand, you never had a belief that you could manage on your own, being alone for the first time will bring on significant challenges. Whatever our set of beliefs, as life throws us curve balls, these beliefs are likely to be shaken, requiring a re-set, a new set of beliefs that fit life as we know it now.
As an example of re-setting a belief, we need to turn:
“I don’t believe that I can cope with this”… into. . .I have the strength, knowledge, experience and support to cope. Or, I have coped with challenges before and I can figure out how to manage whatever comes my way.
“OH NO! This change is awful”…. Into…. Any change is manageable, with time, support and effort. Or, I’m curious about the changes coming my way. What will I learn now?
“Changes that come with aging can only diminish who I am”…into… Some of the changes are quite positive. I have a lot more opportunity to just be me!
“I believe that people don’t value older folk “… into… Older people, like me, have a lot to offer, if we are willing to share it.
How do we make those changes?
1. First we need to identify the beliefs. Pick one that you would like to start to work on. For instance, “I’d like to change my belief that these physical changes in my body mean that I am not as valuable of a person as I once was.”
2. Next, once you have identified a belief, you need to set up questions that confront that belief.
a. “How is it that people ask me to dinner or lunch even though I use a walker?”
b “Who wins a bridge most of the time?”
3. As you ask these questions, you are seeking affirmations that your belief just isn’t true. Make a note of these affirmations. Create a list, such as:
a. No one ever mentions my walker when we make plans.
b. I won the bridge game the last two weeks.
c. My granddaughter loves to come over and chat with me.
4. Ask yourself: if I change this belief, what is the worse thing that might happen? Might you embarrass yourself? Might you set yourself up for rejection? Might you seem too self-assured?
Once you know what you are afraid of, your resistance to changing the belief will start to melt.
5. Start creating a new story about yourself. Your old story: “Nobody respects me because I have physical limitations” now has data that people DO like and respect you, WITH your physical limitations. Your new story can be: “I help others understand physical limitations as I interact with them.” Or “People like me for me, not because of or in spite of my physical limitations”. Keep your new story about yourself front and center to remind yourself, especially when things get tough.
6. When things get tough, be gentle with yourself. Making changes in belief systems is not easy. When you start to fall back on your old beliefs, give yourself a hug and pull out your new story as a reminder.
You now have a step -by -step process for changing your beliefs about yourself. These new beliefs about yourself and the world should help you as you confront the changes that you are experiencing as you age. In the next blogs we will explore other ways to “soften” the aging process, including coping with loss, developing new relationships and coping with fear and anxiety. Stay tuned as we continue to support you as you Embrace Your Aging.