Very few people seem to be consciously aware of their innate human need for personal growth, self-actualization, achieving their potential, enlightenment – however you want to put it. In others, this need has been unconsciously re-directed towards the accumulation of wealth, power, family, notoriety, fame, or a million other possible things we think will make us happy. However, whether we are aware of it or not, we all have a need to continually be improving our lives – but this improvement may not be in the same areas our society has taught us will bring satisfaction.
This drive manifests more subtly than our other driving needs for sex, survival, social interaction, love, or self-esteem. This need can also be distorted into striving to achieve our society’s images of the “good life” or in becoming a “perfect” person – however you might define that for yourself. This need to develop towards our potential is generally stronger in those of us who have already fulfilled our more primary needs – but it is there in everyone, always lurking in the background and urging us to stretch the limits of our capabilities.
The purpose of my work at this time is to teach the theory and practices of Dynamic Aging, which is a whole new way of viewing the aging process – one that is much healthier, more consistent with our natural human instinct to always be improving ourselves, minimizes the effects of age-related decline for as long as possible, actually improves our quality of life, and is in alignment with a world characterized by accelerating change. And, while this might sound like a lot of work, it will actually make your life a lot more fun and satisfying.
What is Dynamic Aging?
Dynamic aging is a practical, systemic, and proactive approach for getting older in today’s extremely complex and rapidly changing world. It applies the latest research and practices from multiple scientific disciplines – gerontology, positive psychology, neuroscience, sociology, cognitive psychology, physiology, systems theory, and developmental psychology – to provide a motivated older adult with the knowledge and means to:
• Improve their quality of life and levels of happiness,
• Offset or even reverse many of the effects of age-related decline,
• Increase available energy levels,
• Become fluidly adaptable to rapidly changing and unexpected life circumstances,
• Find new meaning and purpose, and
• Achieve their unique potential during the last third of life.
In our society, the word “dynamic” is rarely used to describe the aging process. This is because most of us believe the final third of life is a time to “retire,” pull back, slow down, relax, engage in enjoyable activities, have a second childhood, and so on. The evidence for this is found everywhere; from the advertising we see in magazines, over the internet, or on TV – to movies and television shows that depict older adults in various stages of cognitive and physical decline. And, this point of view is supported by the vast numbers of older adults who believe that retirement is the appropriate way to grow older – and therefore act out this view of aging everyday.
On the other hand, the word dynamic can be used to describe someone who is full of life and self-directed energy, constantly interacting with and learning from their environment, and continuously growing and changing as a result of this interaction.
Both of these views of aging have an appeal to certain people. The first seems easier to some. We tell ourselves: “Why buck the system? Why not just go along with whatever most of the other people are doing? Kick back, enjoy life – I have been working my whole life and deserve to relax, now that my career is over and my family has been raised. I will develop hobbies, play games, travel, spend time with the kids and grandkids, maybe take a class or two in the local Learning in Retirement program, volunteer some of my time to helping others, and so on.”
Doesn’t sound too bad for a couple of years – but for the rest of your lifetime?
On the other hand, many of us are cognizant of a driving force within ourselves to constantly become more self-aware and achieve our innate potential – physically, cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually. We understand that older adults are living longer today, and what a tremendous opportunity this creates for the development of our inner Self – becoming the best person we can be, improving our quality of life, and adapting gracefully to the increasing number of life changes coming our way.
Believe it or not, we actually have the ability to choose which theory of aging we believe in, and act out our lives accordingly. Modern science, through the use of brain scanning technology, is showing us that we truly are what we believe. We can choose to slowly dis-engage from the world, and/or try to stabilize things for as long as we can – or we can choose to find new meaning and purpose in life, interact mindfully with new ideas, new people, and new ways of doing things, keep as mentally and physically healthy as we can, adapt fluidly to all the life changes that are constantly occurring, and explore our unique potential as a human being. Perhaps we can even achieve what Abraham Maslow called “Self-Actualization,” or what Eastern traditions call “Enlightenment.” Nearly anything is possible. The choice is simply ours to make.
Making this choice is imperative to the dynamic aging process, because otherwise there is a tendency to allow inertia to make the decision for us. And, if we give in to inertia and do nothing differently, we will never know what our potential might have been.
We can choose to take a more passive approach to our own aging process – hoping that we remain happy, live a long life with minimal physical and mental decline, and die without regrets and peacefully in our sleep. This appears to be what most people have chosen – possibly because a better alternative has not been widely understood. However, this approach seems to be at least partially delusional, while also requiring a certain amount of “denial” and lack of foresight.
On the other hand, we can choose to get out of our existing comfort zones, expand our qualities and capabilities rather than allow them to contract, interact with the world in a more meaningful and energetic manner, grow and develop as a unique human being, and live every moment of our life to its fullest potential. This mindset will require a major change for most people, but it doesn’t really require any additional work. All that is actually required is a change of mind.
The Four Core Beliefs
The Dynamic Aging Process is based on a set of interconnected beliefs. Each person will in turn have a set of personal beliefs which interact with the beliefs I am about to describe, so it is probable that everyone will have their own unique understanding of the dynamic aging process. However, there are at least four core beliefs most of us will need to get this process rolling:
1. Face the New Reality
We must first understand and believe that we have been given the potential to lead an additional 15-25 years of productive, happy life. If you are currently 65-70 years old and disease-free, you will likely live to 90 years of age or beyond. Few of us think about how we are going to live these extra years. Are we going to be crippled, in pain, sick, blind, demented, and pessimistic – or are we going to be vibrant, interested, joyful, healthy, mentally sharp, and optimistic? Most of us never look at these questions truthfully, or ask ourselves what has to actually be done to achieve our desired results – because the natural human tendency is to take our current living conditions and project them indefinitely into the future. We keep doing and acting as we always have, believing it will continue to provide us with the same results. This has probably never worked, and it certainly doesn’t work as one gets older. So, the first step is getting over our denial, and facing the new reality of a potentially much longer and healthier life.
2. We can Choose to Proactively Optimize our own Aging Process
Once we figure out we will probably live a lot longer, and get over our denial to realize we might have to do something different in order to optimize these additional years – then it also becomes important to understand how we might positively influence the course of our extended lifetimes. What will be our quality of life – if we do nothing, if we do something, or if we do a lot? What are the smart things we can do to improve our quality of life, and what are the dumb things? We can hasten our own age-related decline through inertia, inaction, and/or the pursuit of enjoyment. Or, we can positively impact our own aging process by following some combination of the practices outlined in my classes – customized perhaps to our own temperament, experience, capabilities, and preferences. Once we believe it is possible to proactively optimize our own aging process, then we must choose to do something about it. Genes play their part, but the choices we make are equally or perhaps even more important – and these choices are largely up to ourselves. So, the second core belief is that we can significantly improve our quality of life as we get older, but we must choose to do so. And remember, not making a choice is making a choice.
3. Believe in the “Progress Principle” and the Power of Positive Personal Development
I think we must also understand and believe in the natural process of adult development within us. If “adult development” doesn’t resonate with you – then call it maturity, wisdom, growth, self-actualization, enlightenment; it doesn’t matter. If you are reading this blog entry and have continued this far, you have probably already made significant progress along these lines, and likely aware of the many positive changes you have already experienced over the years. All you need to do is recognize this growth process for what it is, realize how much happier you are as a result of experiencing it, and then make further development a conscious intention. I believe most of us are born with an inner drive to consistently become a better person (Progress Principle, Self-Actualizing Tendency, Enlightenment Drive, etc.), although there are many things that block this drive from fully emerging in its purest form. Adult development is a natural by-product of engaging meaningfully with our surrounding dynamic environment. Recognize this drive in yourself – and flow with the energy it provides. So, our third core belief is that the more proactive we are in our own development – by engaging more completely with the positive people, ideas, and new ways of doing things that are constantly being presented to us in our environment – the more energy, joy, and meaning this will bring into our lives.
4. We have a Purpose but must find it for Ourselves
Finally, we must believe that we can find new purpose and meaning in the last third of life: something that puts a fire in our belly when we wake up in the morning, gives us renewed energy, and keeps us inspired to be alive. What generates passion in you? Maybe it is improving your workplace, making life better for your children and grandchildren, helping others through your actions, saving animals from death or extinction, social action, teaching others, creating beautiful artwork, spirituality, or whatever. The answer – if addressed truthfully – will be different for each of us, and it doesn’t matter what we individually choose to give our lives meaning. We simply need to find our passion in something larger than our Self, and doing something that will grow as a result of our efforts. So, for the first time in most of our lives, we have been tasked with finding our own self-directed meaning and purpose. The fourth and final core belief is that we can.
If you can integrate these core beliefs into your own personal belief system, it will become possible for you to engage more completely with your own dynamic aging process. This in turn will lead to greater self-awareness and growth. Then, through your interactions with others, this will hopefully lead to a more open, systemic, and tolerant awareness throughout the world.
Perhaps there is also a more collective purpose for aging adults, and a more general reason why we have been given an extra 15-20 years of life. If we can keep growing and developing throughout most of these years, humanity will achieve a new and higher collective consciousness – one that seems necessary today in order to deal with all the world’s problems created by people of lesser consciousness, and who are motivated by hatred, greed, and self-centeredness.
Using older adults’ innate potential for wisdom as a means of positively shifting the consciousness of the planet might seem a little pretentious, but is still a worthy goal – because it is possible. This is what I find so exciting about living today, where we can have instant communication and interaction with other people located all over the planet. One idea – the right idea at the right time – can easily spark a revolution (of consciousness).
As older adults, we now face an entirely new stage in life – in numbers that are currently staggering and continuing to grow. Conventional retirement seems to me nothing other than a cloak of denial – something that obscures the emerging reality of a world having unlimited potential for those willing to do the work. So, the big question is “how are you going to spend your extra time” – retirement, or a re-engagement with life to finally discover your life’s potential? The choice is yours.