How a dog changed my thinking about aging

When I decided to get a dog, I decided to change my life.

Really.

I figured that it was time to shake up my life… I’ve done that a few times to say the least, but a dog really does make you sit up and say…mmm.

I’ve always had a type-A personality, driving myself to achieve more; greater education, more advanced skills and higher work positions. It all meant a great deal to defining who I was. I had grown accustomed to the titles and rewards and, to be completely transparent; I liked it. I felt strong, worthy of the work I was doing and well-positioned in my field. My life seemed completely focused until recently. I didn’t anticipate how a little furry friend would make me realize there were other worthwhile things happening and I just wasn’t seeing them.

 

As we close in on Active Aging Week across North America for our 70+ adult population, research suggests that people with a positive perception of aging will outlive negative thinkers by 7½ years. Positive thinkers achieve better health and cognitive capabilities, and they maintain independence longer than their negative counterparts.

Well, with only a decade until I reach 70, maybe it’s time to ensure my positive attitude stays strong, open and is backed by less stress and more life balance. As therapist and clinical counselor, Joanne Weiler says “keeping a positive mindset isn’t always so easy. As we age, we find ourselves confronted with a tremendous amount of change — career change, changes in relationships, grief and loss, and of course, changes in health. Admittedly — those changes can make growing older stressful.”

Working in the active aging business, I look for ways and information to help others age well, with a lifestyle and optimism that fits their best-view of themselves now and for the next 30–40 years.

I’ve heard over and over again from our website readers, writers, athletic types and friends that, they feel differently now as they get closer to 60, and they are perplexed about the change in their mindset.

So, what is the change they’re talking about?

At first, I wasn’t sure I understood myself, but maybe now I’m getting the ‘hang.’ Particularly after having experienced a number of Joanne Weiler’s described changes; career, relationship, loss and yes… as much as I hate to admit it, the physical tone of the body and mind.

There is enough medical evidence about male and female hormonal changes to suggest the strong relationship with hormones and physical changes as we age, but beyond that, there is also a change in our thinking; what excites us and brings lightness to our being. We need to be open to these new thoughts.

My long-time friend and clinical counselor, Deb Braun told me, “You have to be honest with yourself. For a lot of us, it’s about letting go of certain obligations and roles that we may have played in our younger years, intentionally becoming more-free and connecting inward.”

So, what did I learn from my dog?

Maybe it was the endless dog walks at early hours and wanderings through the trails that made me think more about what I really desire in the next 30–40 years of my life. In the end, as Weiler suggests, it’s is really about creating the life you want. In other words, it was up to me. So, here are three life lessons I’ve learned from Fido:

1. Revel in how excited your dog is to see you.

Transfer that feeling to family, peers and friends. They deserve your attention, not just your head nods. You will learn a lot from listening.

2. Enjoy your health and fitness the way it is ‘right now.’

You don’t always have to conquer every mountain or be the ‘competitor’. It took me awhile to slow down and simply walk the dog, rather than thinking I had a new training partner.

3. Change is good.

Sometimes change is hard and it can even be painful but, change lets us know we are alive. It opens up new opportunities and ideas we may not have looked at before. Hanging out with my dog gives me time to think about these changes with a calmer mind.

picture credit: Unsplash