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Friday, February 1, 2013

A Can-Do Attitude

I recently read an article in New Mexico's Senior Review called "The Benefits of a Can-Do Focus." I've been thinking about this over the past few months as advancing age has caused some unwelcome physical changes.

For example, I no longer have the muscle strength in my legs that I am used to after 33 years of running, as well as several years of intermittent bicycling and hiking. This change is particularly noticeable when I try to hoist myself up a large boulder on the hiking trail, or ride my bicycle up a hill. I also don't bounce back as quickly as I did in the past from a strenuous day of physical activity. But rather than dwell on these changes, I decided to accept them, to continue to stay physically active, to focus on and appreciate the things I still am able to do.

I no longer run, but I walk  3 to 4 miles every day. I no longer go on 10- to 15-mile hikes, but I still am able to hike 5 or 6 miles at a time for several days in a row. I am in better shape than nearly everyone else I know, regardless of age. So I appreciate what I can do, not what I am no longer able to do. I can't lift a 50-pound bag of flour at the food pantry where I volunteer, but if I grab one end and another volunteer takes the other, together we can hoist the bag onto the table.

According to the article, research shows that it takes a mere 21 days to change an old habit. Most people begin to notice a difference after only seven days of awareness and effort. After two weeks, people begin to instantly self-correct their slip-ups. And after 21 days, the new habit should be pretty well in place. Isn't it worth an investment of 21 days to make a positive change in our life? Focusing on what we still can do is so much more pleasant than dwelling on what we can't do. And that can-do focus will make us happier overall.

Sure, we all have bad days. We all have setbacks, disappointments and failures. We get angry. As we age, we inevitably have aches and pains. I have arthritis in my hands and elbow. Sometimes the pain makes it too uncomfortable to do something I enjoy, such as cooking. When that happens, I either ask my daughter to help out, or I take an ibuprofen and a break and wait for the pain to subside.

Complaining tends to beget complaining and for me, a foul mood, but a positive attitude can lighten our mood as well as the attitude of those around us. Did you ever notice how if one person starts laughing, a chain reaction of laughter often ensues? Wouldn't you rather be happy than always complaining? I know that I sometimes still fall into the trap of complaining. But when I realize what I am doing, I at the very least stop complaining.

Taking on a positive attitude and focusing on what we can do and what we have creates and attracts new energy and a more positive environment. And we never know when our positive attitude will give a much-needed boost to someone else. Nobody wants to be around someone who is always complaining and negative. Negative energy attracts more negative energy. Positive energy attracts positive energy. I have been around people who are incredibly negative about everything, and it drains my energy just to be near them.

So rather than worrying about what it is we can't do, how about celebrating what we can do? How about making a real effort to be happy. As Abraham Lincoln said, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."