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2 benefits of a big, hairy a** goal as we age

Goals have a significant impact on what we do each day, how we live, and how we feel about ourselves. They can be both motivating and disheartening. Motivating when we achieve the goal we set. Disheartening when we under-achieve or miss the goal altogether. Without goals we can become rudderless and life can lack real purpose and meaning.

What’s this got to do with becoming older?

The importance of goals

When thinking or planning for later life, setting goals is as important as our younger years when we often set goals associated with things such as sport, career, or money. Whilst establishing financial goals is important, money alone does not buy happiness.  Ease, comfort, and security perhaps.  But not happiness.  Goals about other aspects of our life give us something to get up for each day – to work towards so that there’s a sense of achievement in our lives.

As I’ve said previously, it would serve us all well if we eliminated the word ‘retirement’ from our vocabulary. Whilst most people do want to stop working at some point, setting ambitious personal goals to coincide with the event is not usually built into people’s thinking.

Crashing age stereotypes

Recently, I had the good fortune to meet a vibrant, active 65 year old woman, Astrid, who had walked the infamous Camino track – a walk of 780km from St Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees to the stunning cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.  The walk takes up to 5 weeks. Astrid shared how many people were either surprised she’d done it, or considered her “too old” to be embarking on such an adventure.

Clearly, age stereotypes and ageism contributed to people’s perceptions of what’s OK and what’s not OK for someone with grey hair and some wrinkles.

There’s more to this story.

Astrid, had a big goal with a plan.

First, she had to wait a year so that her foot surgery and hip injury could heal. Then Astrid worked with a trainer 3 times a week to align her body and strengthen her legs. She joined Weight Watchers to lose 15 pounds to reduce the load on her joints and made a deliberate decision to only carry a day pack for the duration of the walk.  Her heavier luggage was transported to her accommodation each day. And, throughout the walk, Astrid chose the road less travelled in order to enjoy the quieter paths and nature.

Astrid chose a big, hairy a** goal (BHAG).

Benefits of goals as we age

The benefits of a BHAG are twofold:

  1. Ambitious and less ambitious goals contribute to a more active and healthier life. Without them we risk falling into the trap of building our lives around meal times, coffee & cake breaks, TV viewing, holidays, and medical appointments.
  2. By setting goals that are challenging we defy ageism and age stereotypes. Attitudes and beliefs about what older people can or should do are outdated. Longer lifespans require us all to re-think what we do with our lives and be more ambitious and confident about what we can do in our later years.

SMART goals

These are the 5 keys to goal setting.  Make sure your goals are:

Specific: We’ve all heard of the bucket list. It’s a list of the things we want to do before we die. Interestingly, it’s become so much a part of our vernacular, even younger people talk about their bucket list! Goals can be a bucket list. However, the goals for living will influence what we do in our daily lives.  Whether that’s learning to fly a glider or volunteering. If volunteering is a goal, what type of organisation would you seek to work with? One associated with children, the environment, mental health, older people, the homeless, or refugees? The options are endless. Check that your goals match your current interests or are associated with an area you’d like to know more about.

Measurable: Ensure that you have a sense of achievement by putting measurable goals in place.  Simply thinking, ‘I’m going to volunteer’ is noble.  However, you may want to establish a goal of volunteering for a certain number of hours or days per week.  Alternatively, you may choose to work as a volunteer to raise money for a charity. Set a goal of how much money you’ll raise. When you’ve achieved the goal … reward yourself.

Achievable: Ambitious goals are great. And, they may take time to achieve. So, break the BHAG into smaller goals. Imagine trying to eat an elephant. The only way to successfully do that would be to eat it one bite at a time. Big BHAG’s are the same. One step at a time.

Realistic: Ensuring the goal is something that you can actually do is essential. Whilst you may have dreamt of flying to the moon, becoming an astronaut is probably unrealistic.  However, parachuting may not be. Going back to University may be something you’d like to do, however fees may make it prohibitive.  Look for a course via a free MOOC (massive online open community) or attend University of the Third Age instead.

Timely: Set a timeframe for taking action and then completion. All talk, no action leads to a lack of fulfilment and a sense of failure. The action may be as simple as researching which volunteer organisation you’d like to work with. When will you do this? By what date will you have made your decision? Then, when will you fill in the application or call to get on their list? When will you follow up? If not successful, which charity was #2 on your list? When will you fill in that application? And so on. Importantly, be realistic with setting timelines and deadlines.  Don’t make them too short, nor too long. Diarise the actions, or write a list and tick each item off once done. Each tick is another step towards achieving your goal. Another bite of the elephant.

Goal ideas

Ambitious goals might be:

  • Climbing to Everest base camp;
  • Hiking the Kokoda Track;
  • Sailing around the world;
  • Learning a new language;
  • Studying again.

Less ambitious goals, but equally valuable, could be as simple as:

  • Volunteering a certain number of days or hours per week;
  • Participating in a community-based activity such as walking or a cycling group;
  • Taking up a past hobby or interest such as a musical instrument or painting;
  • Ensuring that some time is spent with younger people each week/fortnight/month in order to benefit from the youthful energy and enthusiasm that those younger than us bring to a conversation and relationship.

By building on current interests, or exploring new activities, we expand our friendships, bring purpose and meaning into our lives, and increase our chances of a happier, healthier life – right up until the end. And surely, that can only be a good thing.

What are your BHAG’s?

 

Photo by Gautam Arora on Unsplash

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How old is old?

“I don’t feel my age.”

Old isn’t a number.
Old is an attitude.
Old is more likely to be associated with physical or cognitive decline.

Discussions we’ve held with baby boomers reveals that people often feel ten or twenty years (or more) younger than their actual age! Often, old was either someone else, or someone older.

For example, one 60+ male said:

“I still feel the same as when I was 25, but physically I can’t do the same things.”

A female between 50-60 said:

“I don’t think I feel any different to when I was 40. “

Along with feeling younger than their actual age, baby boomers also expressed a sense of confidence. They associate this with an internal sense of knowing themselves better. Women, in particular, feel more confident and declare a sense of freedom with becoming older. This is generally a result of either being empty-nesters or their children being older and more independent. The days of nappies, dressing small children, and Mum as taxi-driver are often behind them.

It was also common for baby boomers to express frustration at being ignored or labeled as “old”. A recurring story from a number of people was associated with a frustration and irritation with news stories about people 60 years old (for example) being reported as either an ‘old person’ or ‘old people’.

 

Males vs Females

Men and women seem to have an awareness that there’s a need to reinvent their life as they age. Awareness that this includes a good diet, exercise, creation of personal relationships, and a need to be doing something beyond travel and relaxation is understood. What we noticed in our face-to-face discussions is that women often embraced this enthusiastically. Whilst men had the same awareness, they could be more confronted as they considered the transition from full-time work to something else. Women had experienced flexible lifestyles associated with being the primary carer in the family and had reinvented themselves throughout their lives. Also, women often had stronger social networks beyond the workplace. For many men, creating a life beyond and outside of a full-time job was a first time experience.

Regardless of gender, everyone that participated in the discussions found a sense of reassurance in the conversation. Sharing stories and views about their lived experience of ageing were viewed as positive, enlightening, and stimulating.

 

Key Lessons

The most important lesson is that ageing is all about attitude.

Three other lessons:

  • Talk about becoming older with friends – share your experiences. Be open and honest.
  • Enjoy the sense of confidence and freedom that comes with ageing.
  • Ignore stereotypes and defy the ageist attitudes often peddled in the media and online.

Of course, ageing also comes with its difficulties. Financial concerns, caring responsibilities, and physical or cognitive decline pose challenges. These will be discussed in the future. Stay tuned. And, if there were anything you’d particularly like to learn more about or understand, please let us know.

 

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What if we acknowledged people older than us in our own culture

Does the Australian culture respect older people? 5 questions worth asking.

I love the welcome usually given prior to a conference, school occasion, or other event in Australia. We’re asked to do two things: acknowledge the traditional landowners as the custodians of this land AND pay respect to Elders past and present. But, has this practice spilled over into a cultural tendency to respect all Elders regardless of our heritage? Read more

Forget Generation X, Y, Z, and Baby Boomers

Generational labels that divide.

Population divisions based on the year we are born.

What if we removed the labels and simply met each other as people, with a variety of wants, needs and challenges that span age?

What would happen to the smashed avocado debate then?

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Occupy age: The movement against ageism

I’m enjoying becoming older.  Not only am I enjoying my life today I’m looking forward to the years ahead as I become even older. I’m curious about what is yet to unfold, yet content to be living in this moment.  I meet many others who feel the same way and numerous others who see the future as one primarily of physical and potential cognitive decline with nothing really to look forward to or plan for in their lives. I believe that enjoying becoming older is something that’s possible for everyone providing we think differently. Needless to say I was delighted when I made this discovery.
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Inspiration from Gloria Steinem

At 82 years of age Gloria Steinem remains optimistic, energetic, and still committed to being a leading advocate for women’s rights. I had the privilege of hearing her speak about her new book at the Sydney Writers Festival. I came away inspired and motivated. Why?

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One simple idea to disrupt ageism.

Getting older is potentially powerful. Nearly 8 million Australians are over 50 years of age – that’s one-third of the country’s population! Yet how we perceive getting older and how older people are treated influences employment opportunities, lifestyle choices, health management, and marketing campaigns. Here’s one simple way that we can all challenge and disrupt age stereotypes.

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