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Many people look at midlife as the beginning of a downward path to the end. In her book, Rock Your Midlife, Ellen Albertson shows us how to make our last chapters our best chapters.
[00:01:34.290] – Allan
So, unfortunately, we're not going to have Rachel on the show this week. But she'll be back next week, I promise.
[00:04:58.400] – Allan
Dr. Ellen, welcome to 40+ Fitness.
[00:05:01.130] – Dr. Ellen
Thank you, Allan. It is so awesome to be here.
[00:05:04.170] – Allan
Yeah. As you got into your story and some of the things that you've done, it's really kind of fascinating because I'm not going to say there's parallels in our lives, but it's like you were a fitness trainer and then you kind of went on and started doing coaching and doing a lot of things online and offline and just kind of building a practice, if you will. Your book is called, Rock Your Midlife: Seven Steps to Transform Yourself and Make Your Next Chapter Your Best Chapter. And I like the title well enough. But there was a quote in the book, and I have to read this quote out loud because this is pretty fascinating and really touched me in a way that I'm like, okay, this is why I do what I do. And it's this, at midlife, you're gifted with an entire second adulthood to know and love yourself on a deeper level to figure out who you are and what you want. And I just thought that's magic. If people would wrap their mind around that one quote, their midlife, the after midlife, after 50, after 40 age, suddenly they're like, hey, this isn't a downward thing I'm facing. This is an opportunity.
[00:06:17.710] – Dr. Ellen
I love that you started with that quote from my book. And thank you. I'm glad it touched you because you were sharing a little bit of your story. And I think we're both finding that I'm having a gas. I mean, I'm almost 60 and I feel fabulous. Why it's so important that there are people like yourself who are telling people, this is how you can be healthy. I've met so many people who are at the healthiest in their 40s, their 50s, even their 60s, and then deciding who do I want to be when I grew up? Because I know my story and I think a lot of us, we were like, climbing this ladder of success, but it was up against the wrong freaking building. You're clawing your way up, you're sweating, you hate going to work every day. And what you can do at midlife is take everything that you've learned, really get to know yourself, what you love to do, what your talents are, the genius you're here to share with the world and create an incredible next chapter. I think that's what we're really here to say, that we're changing the pace of midlife.
[00:07:12.070] – Dr. Ellen
It's not about crisis, it is about difficulty transformation, often with people. But you can really create an amazing 20,30 decades.
[00:07:22.750] – Allan
As I got into my journey because I was in my early, late 30s when I realized I had a massive imbalance in my life. And I was so focused on career that my relationships were sour, my family life was sour. Everything else in my life, fitness and health, everything else, I was just not even scoring zeros across the board. And then career 100. And I was like, So this is not working for me. But it took me about eight years of hitting this, trying this. And I realized one of the problems that I had the whole time through was that I was focused on an outcome of weight loss, thinking that was kind of what I needed to do. And I think most of us approach this problem of midlife. It's weight loss. And most of my clients say, hey, I need to lose weight. But the reality of it is that's a byproduct or a side effect of you actually just getting your life in order. Can you talk a little bit about that? Because you brought up that concept in here. We're focusing on the wrong problem.
[00:08:33.220] – Dr. Ellen
Right. The reason we focus on way, honestly is it's such a specific, easy metric to look at. Like, how do you measure happiness, right? Like, that's really subjective weight you get on the scale. And people are like, wow, I lost 10 pounds. I feel good about myself, but as you said, and I have a lot of clients coming to me too. The first thing they want to do is lose weight. And we start with looking at their life because the reason that they're having that threesome with Ben and Jerry's or that Chardonnay Cheddar cheese have it in the evening is because they're not enjoying their lives. And so by the time 5:00,6:00 hits cocktail hour is like the thing that makes them feel good. So during the day, we're experiencing so much stress, especially right now with so much uncertainty and the pandemic still happening. So what happens when we get these cortisol rushes all day long? All cortisol is the hormone of fight and flight. So we're feeling stressed out, we're feeling tired. We're not very happy. And rather than saying, hey, what do I need to do to manage my stress, to create a life that I love, to find purpose and meaning? We're leaning into dopamine.
[00:09:38.020] – Dr. Ellen
Dopamine is the chemical of reward. It's the sex, drugs, rock and roll, food, alcohol, gambling, shopping, all of those kinds of things. And so again, like with weight, it's easy. We lean into the dopamine. I'll just have this threesome with Ben and Jerry's. Instead of looking at my life and going, okay, what's not working? What do I need to feel more fulfilled? And so when I start to work with people, it's so interesting. We start to work from the inside out. The self talk, the self compassion, the self care, all of these things about treating yourself well and feeling like you're enough. And then come 5:00, 6:00, they're not interested in the food because they're feeling good and they're feeling energized all day, and they're giving themselves what they need throughout the day. But again, I think we're leaning into weight because we think that that's the solution. And I think there's so much in the media about these quick weight loss solutions. You'll feel good about yourself. And particularly for women, our self worth is so much based on our appearance. And when we're happier, we don't feel confident, when we don't feel very good about ourselves.
[00:10:43.070] – Dr. Ellen
But I also tell people, too, that weight needs to be an outcome, not the goal, because we don't have control over it. I've seen people, I'm sure you have as well, who are eating right, who are moving their bodies. And the scale isn't budging. They feel a Plateau. And what happens is if we make weight the focus of our journey, when the scale doesn't go down, even when we've been doing the lifestyle change, we feel bad about ourselves. And then we're just like, screw it. I'm going to go ahead and just eat whatever I want in this vicious cycle of beating yourself up and being good and then not good. And I just work with my clients. It's just like, get rid of the diet books, get rid of the weight mentality, and let's focus on health and happiness.
[00:11:27.190] – Allan
Yeah. I remember going to the gym when I was actually doing things right. And so about every third day or so, I would be on the elliptical just burning up a sweat, doing some hit training or something like that. And there was this one woman, and she'd been coming in there for roughly the same amount of time I had. She'd been in there five, six months. And every day she came in and got on the elliptical and just killed herself for the whole hour and a half I was in the gym. So one day I'm finishing up my hit training. It's 20 minutes, and then I'm done. And she just says, what are you doing? You're losing weight. You lost a lot of weight over the course the last little bit of time. And I said, well, I stopped actually paying attention to weight. I actually started paying attention to other things and things I enjoy doing and making myself be myself. And you have a seven step program that is in a big part. I think I stumbled into it. It took me eight years. Someone now can buy your book Rock at Midlife, and you pretty much have given them seven direct steps that will take them the same path.
[00:12:36.970] – Allan
Can you talk about the seven steps and briefly what each step does?
[00:12:41.170] – Dr. Ellen
Yes. And I went through it myself, too. So I've lived it. I've lived with my clients, so I didn't just get there overnight. But the first step is authenticity. And authenticity is so important because if you don't know yourself and if you're not being authentic, there's no way that you can create a midlife. The next chapter that's going to feel fulfilling and good for you. Because if you're being someone else, if you're wearing a mask, if you're trying to live someone else's story or agenda, you're going to keep running into those walls. Why don't I feel good? Why am I not enjoying my life? So what I do is I take people through this is stuff that I've worked on through my PhD and through years of working with positive psychology. Lots of journaling questions and prompts. People can ask lots of various tests that people can take. Like a lot of my clients, I have them take the VRA test, which is a test that looks at various character strengths. It's free. You can get it online to really see what am I really good at? What do I really love to do? What have I always been curious about?
[00:13:46.360] – Dr. Ellen
What did I want to be when I was a kid and sort of just really getting to know yourself, just like you would get to know a good friend. And I think a lot of people don't really take the time to figure out what do I love to do? For me, I had an older sister who is a very accomplished musician and artist, so I kind of didn't do that in my own life. But I always wanted to do more art, more music. So I just bought a ukulele. I just got myself some pencils, and I'm drawing and rediscovering these kind of varied parts of ourselves. So the first step is authenticity. Really get to know who are you? And it's also about embracing your flaws. We're not all good at everything and figuring out what am I really good at? What do I need some help? What do I love to do? What lights me up? And it's a really great initial Breadcrumb on this quest to make an amazing next chapter. That's step one. Step two is to love yourself and really learn to treat yourself like you would a good friend. And this I grew from my studies of self compassion, which I was fortunate enough to study with a woman named Kristin Neff.
[00:14:54.850] – Dr. Ellen
She's kind of a pioneer in this area. A lot of people like question, how do you love yourself? And this self compassion is really the how of loving yourself. And so it's really all about learning to treat yourself like you would a good friend. And when I start working with people, I have them think about when a friend that you love goes through something, how do you treat yourself? I'm sorry, how do you treat them? And then how do you treat yourself when you go through something? And the whole idea is to start to put yourself in those sort of befriending shoes or pretend that you had a wise friend and ask, how would she treat me? And then do that thing. So that's step two, loving yourself is such a game changer, because when you love yourself, you attract what's in your best interest. So you go to the gym, not because you're punishing yourself, but because you want to be healthy, you want to have a healthy life. Personally, I love to exercise. I don't know where we got on this whole bandwagon of exercise is punishment. I woke up this morning and I went cross country skiing first thing in the morning.
[00:15:57.720] – Dr. Ellen
It was a blast. So you start to eat right, take care of your body, get in relationships that are positive, do more things that light you up because you love and care about yourself. So that was a game changer for me. I'm curious, have you practiced much self compassionate for men? It's kind of a different ball of wax.
[00:16:13.580] – Allan
It was. And I'm going to say this word if it bothers you, if there's kids, cover their ears. But I literally thought of myself as a fat bastard. That was literally the words that were in my head as I was going through the beginning of my journey. And that was the wake up. The wake up was, who am I? And I woke up, I was actually I was hungover and I was in Malaysia. And I've been working on this for eight years, this and that, and then just failing over and over, I was back in the same spot. And I just remember waking up and thinking, why can't I do this? Because I'm so good at everything that I have ever wanted to do. I wanted to be good at football in high school, I was good at football. I tried out for the tennis team. I made the tennis team. In College and high school, if I wanted to make a grade, I made the grade. If I wanted to pass the test, I passed the test. When I wanted to get a job, I got the job. I almost had no failure. And I was like, why did that always happen?
[00:17:14.910] – Allan
And then it's not happening in this facet of my life, what is different? And then I realized I woke up. I'm like, nothing's different. The only difference is I'm not treating myself well and I'm not committed. And if I were committed, I would treat myself like someone I love. And the way I kind of equate it is, if you told your spouse that you were going to be at the airport at 05:00 in the morning to pick them up, guess where you are at 05:00 in the morning? And if you treated your spouse the way you treat yourself, you always do that. You never do that. If you use those words, you can't do anything right what you're saying in your head to yourself. But if you ever said that to your spouse, you're probably facing a fight or a divorce. We can't divorce ourselves. So if we really think about self compassion and love, then we stop using those words. We catch ourselves when we're doing it, and we say, I would never, ever say that to a friend. And if a friend ever said that to me, it would really hurt my feelings.
[00:18:18.870] – Allan
So as soon as you can start getting past those words, then you can open up to the possibilities of who you're really supposed to be. That's where we get to the next few steps, where you're talking about getting energy and reprogramming and empowering yourself and doing those things. But until you get past this point, because I think in my opinion, a self love, self compassion piece you have to do this step.
[00:18:45.430] – Dr. Ellen
And it's a beautiful story. And it all starts with that self talk. And the interesting thing is that self critic, as you said, I think you said the fat bastard. We developed that inner self talk before we're ten years old. We developed this inner critic because our caregivers criticize us, right? They tell us to finish everything on our plate and keep our room clean and get good grades. And if we don't do these things, we are in danger of not being loved and cared for. So when we get to be adults, we internalize the voice of our early caregivers. That inner critic becomes very real in our lives. And we think and this is an interesting thing that I realized in so much of my research is that we think that we need the inner critic to motivate us, like you said, to get on the tennis team and to get that job and be successful at work. But the research really shows that the self criticizing actually undermines motivation. Because when you criticize yourself, you shut yourself down, you generate cortisol, you feel bad about yourself. Whereas with self compassion. We want to do those things because we want to be happy.
[00:19:51.970] – Dr. Ellen
And actually, self compassion is very energizing. And unlike self esteem, which for a long time, psychologists really emphasize self esteem, self compassion actually is not contingent on anything. You can love yourself and support yourself regardless of how well you do at the gym, at your job. It's a muscle that you can build that constantly grows. That's why it's such a focal point of my work and the book that if you don't love yourself, you can't create a next great chapter. And it really comes down to being kind yourself rather than critical. To be mindful when you're struggling and suffering. So to stop and notice and say, oh my gosh, that was a tough time right now, particularly the kind of days that we've had. I've talked to so many clients and friends who have had so many losses. And with Covid it's been really difficult, extra challenging to stop and say, what do I need right now? And treat yourself like a good friend. And also to understand this concept of common humanity that we all make mistakes, we all fail. It's part of the human condition. So I'm so glad that you have been discovering this yourself.
[00:20:55.810] – Allan
Yeah. So now the next, the third step you have is about energizing yourself.
[00:21:02.290] – Dr. Ellen
Right. So if you want to have a next great chapter, you've got to take care of your body. So in this chapter, I really just summarize my 30 something years in the health and wellness field. So diet, it's not complicated. The media wants you to think that you have to go on some crazy diet and eat really weird foods or cut certain things out. But it really comes down to eating more plants. So really personally, I try to get between seven and ten servings of plant foods every single day. Plants are so important, they help to reduce inflammation. If you are trying to lose weight. Plants contain fiber, which is the part of the plant that we don't digest. They fill you up without filling you out. If you're going through menopause, those plant fibers can help you with menopause symptoms. And it's really in my work, I've really found if people add more plants in, it crowds out other things. So eat more plants. Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't have eaten. So really sticking to whole foods, foods that aren't processed, staying away from things like added chemicals, added sugar, and then eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed
[00:22:11.510] – Dr. Ellen
So if we did those three things, if we ate more plants, ate more whole foods, really didn't stuff ourselves, we would really be healthier and get to a healthy weight. Certainly with movement, I recommend at least 25 minutes a day. I think at midlife, less is more. We still need to build muscle. At midlife, we start to really lose our muscle mass after 30. If people don't do strength training, their muscle mass really erodes at a very quick level. It's also one thing I found so interesting in my book is that women at midlife need more protein. So the protein requirement in general is .8 grams/kg. At midlife, we need one to one and a half grams per kilogram. So we actually need more protein to support that muscle mass. The lower estrogen levels we think about bone loss, but we also can have muscle mass loss due to the estrogen. So the bone building is really important. Stretching is also really important to do that with your exercise and of course, cardio. And as far as nutrition, D is very important. You live in Panama, so I'm sure you get plenty of D.
[00:23:18.520] – Dr. Ellen
But here where I live in Vermont, I take vitamin D every day. Most people living in the north are deficient in vitamin D, but 50% of people are. So it's super important for your immune system, for bone health, for even how your mind functions. And then I think rest is really important. It's so important to rest between workouts, giving your muscles time to heal and grow stronger. It's also really important to make sure that you are managing stress and resting during the day and also getting 7 to 8 hours of good sleep and of course, also staying hydrated. So things we've heard before. But I think again, just having really simple, smart goals for yourself, maybe getting an accountability buddy, hiring some help, someone like yourself who can help people get that accountability and hit the mark is so important. But taking care of your health is really important. A lot of people are just blaming it on I'm getting old, I'm getting tired, I'm gaining weight. But you really can reverse any kind of health challenge that you're experiencing at midlife. So that's number three and number four is to reprogram your brain. So I think at midlife we do start to not be quite as sharp.
[00:24:29.860] – Dr. Ellen
I know myself sometimes it's hard to remember everything. I think part of that is that our minds are so full of so many things and we're not as mindful as we could be. So we're not just focusing on just doing what we're doing while we're doing it. So mindfulness is really important for your brain. It's interesting to note that at midlife and at any point in your life, you're always making new neural connections. So your nervous system, your brain, your neurons are always making new connections. So if you've experienced issues in your life, whether that's trauma, depression, memory issues, you can reprogram and rebuild your brain through things like mindfulness, through taking time and writing things down, which helps commit things to long term memory by really doing more of what lights you up, what's important. And of course, exercise is super important for your brain. And eating right is also important for your brain. Your brain is one of your most nutrient hungry organs in your body. It uses about 20% to 25% of your calories every day. So taking care of your brain means taking care of your whole body. There certainly is a brain body connection.
[00:25:44.450] – Dr. Ellen
And also a lot of interesting things I talk about in Rock your Midlife, about the microbiome. I don't know if you have come across some of the research which is this. We have an organ that's not really part of our body. It weighs about 4 pounds and it's made up of microorganisms. So bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, a lot of them are very good for our health. They help with our digestion. They actually can help with your immune system and with your mood. And you can build a healthy microbiome again, eating more of those plants, eating less sugar, having less alcohol, less additives, and then also eating what's called probiotics. So you're eating some healthy organisms yourself, so you can take a probiotic supplement, or you can also eat things like sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt, which contain these microorganisms. So that's step four is reprogramming, working on your brain.
[00:26:40.930] – Dr. Ellen
Step five is about empowering yourself. So for me, your empowerment really starts with that step one, authenticity. So knowing that this is who I am and this is what I'm meant to do in the world, it's all about having power from within. So often we look from power from without, so we look to other people, we look to our job or organizations to make us feel good.
[00:27:05.340] – Dr. Ellen
But empowerment is really drilling down and saying what makes me happy? What do I want to do in the world? What are my geniuses and what are my strengths? And also I combine in Rock your Midlife this idea of authenticity with the law of attraction, which is simply this idea that, like attracts like. So the energy that you put out attracts energy to you. So if you are positive, if you're working on yourself, you're practicing that self love and that self compassion, you're going to attract opportunities and people in your life who are going to feed your soul and feed what you want to do in your next chapter. If you're walking around complaining and feeling bad about yourself in your life all the time, then that's where you're going to be stuck. It doesn't mean that you need to be a Pollyanna. And difficult things happen. And we need to hold ourselves when we're sad, when we're grieving, when we're frustrating, but we need to not sort of push those emotions down, but really take care of the difficult emotions. And then we can sort of get to this neutral ground with things like gratitude.
[00:28:14.540] – Dr. Ellen
And then we can really work on more of those positive emotions, like joy and happiness. And so that empowerment is some emotional up leveling, as well as really being yourself and putting yourself out in the world in the most powerful way you can.
[00:28:29.140] – Dr. Ellen
And then moving to step six. So I love step six because what happens is after you've done step one through five, you start to change. It's like you've been that Caterpillar, and then all of a sudden you're like, oh, my gosh, I'm coming out of my Chrysalis. I'm the butterfly. My wings are drying. The only problem is the people in your life might see that and think that you're still the Caterpillar, and you're like, no, no, I'm a butterfly. Can't you see? Like, I'm colorful and I'm flying and I'm eating nectar. And so in this chapter, which is called Rehab Your Relationships, I give people three specific techniques to really work with the people in your life. So the first thing with that is really to get your people pleaser. And you're a good girl. A lot of us have people pleasers. It kind of goes back to what I was saying before about early caregivers, wanting everybody to like us.
[00:29:20.850] – Dr. Ellen
So really saying yes when you mean yes and know when you mean no. Putting yourself first, it doesn't mean that you're selfish. It just means you've got to put on your own oxygen mask right before you can support other people. I teach people something called the nonviolent communication. So specific techniques to communicate with people, which really involves getting your needs met and then also setting boundaries. So really, I have people go through an exercise where they create a personal bill of rights, where they really decide, this is what I stand for. This is my bottom line. And if you cross it, these are the consequences. And I think we don't do that a lot. I don't know how good how it is with men so much because I work mostly with women, but having a bill of rights and just deciding this is what I stand for, whether it's with work, whether it's people that you're in intimate relationships with. But it's super important to get your needs met, to set boundaries and to really work on those relationships.
[00:30:21.130] – Allan
I think with me, like you talked about men, and I think the reality of it was that I was so focused in one facet of my life that those relationships were gone. Any of them that I still had were the toxic ones that just seemed to cling on because they'll cling on till the end. And I was like, okay, I have to get rid of the toxic people in my life, particularly the ones that I can, because there were some that I couldn't because they were like my boss. Get rid of some toxic things and then start looking and seeking out the people that bring you joy, the people that you know are good people for you, the people that are going to support you. Jim Rohn says you're the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. And 15 years ago, if I would have put that list together, wrong people. And so now I make a point of spending the time, my time with the people that I care about the most, and I know care about me. And so they're lifting me up versus tearing me down all the time.
[00:31:31.230] – Allan
And so even as a guy, you might not think about it a lot. But if most of your time is spent with your drinking buddies at the bar after work and you guys are just tearing down beers, buying each other rounds, and that's all good and fun, but that's your path. That's who you're surrounding yourself with, and that's going to leave you stuck. So you've already done these things. You're trying to beat us butterfly. Maybe not a butterfly for a guy. Maybe we're moths, I don't know. But you've become something better than that and it's time for you to move on.
[00:32:06.650] – Dr. Ellen
That's awesome that you did that. It's difficult, though. I know myself before I made these changes, I left 25 year marriage and substances were a part of our social life, and now I'm so much more judicious. I mean, I might drink occasionally, socially, occasionally have a glass of wine, but my new man in my life may be on say, we practice kind of yoga together. We go cross country skiing, we got a tandem bike, and we have a tandem kayak. And I think that's really the relationship thing is so important because often when I start working with people, I'm sure you noticed this, too, Allan, is that people are really scared. If I make these changes, what's it going to do for my relationships? If I lose the weight, how am I going to go out to that restaurant and order things and say, well, I don't really want to drink, I don't enjoy doing this anymore? Or what's going to happen with my primary relation, my marriage? If I lose weight and I get in shape and I change my lifestyle and my husband or wife stays the same, what's going to happen? Am I going to lose friends?
[00:33:04.060] – Dr. Ellen
And so that's a difficult question that I think a lot of people when they're sort of thinking we're sort of at the beginning of the year and people are thinking about change, and I think covid made people really reevaluate their lives. A lot of thinking, gosh, if I change, what if, what if this happens? And what if that happens? And that's again, I talk about this a lot before the steps, talking about getting unstuck and immunity to change. Often we have something deep seated. So I'm sure it was hard for you to think about, gosh, if I change my life, if I'm going to get up at 05:00 in the morning and get to the gym, well, that means that I can't go out for those drinks with those guys. And if I say, Gee, I really want to start finding new friends, what's going to happen with those relationships? But I know myself when I cleared away some of the old relationships, new relationships is space for new relationships. And there's lots of really amazing people out there who can support you and love you, who want to have a healthy lifestyle. But there's a lot of fear, I think around.
[00:34:00.670] – Dr. Ellen
And that's something that I also, when I work with people looking at this immunity to change. I've had a lot of clients who don't do the self care because they want to be available 24/7 for the grandkids. And they think, well, if I join the gym or if I take that yoga class or that self development thing, then I won't be available to babysit all the time. And they don't even realize that they've got this underlying belief feeling like, well, I won't be needed then. So sometimes you have to really look very deep. And I think this weight loss spiral keeps people in a very stuck place where they never have to look at what would happen if I really did change, what would really happen if I stopped dieting? And I just said, you know what, I'm going to start focusing on my lifestyle and really make some deep changes.
[00:34:46.070] – Allan
Let's talk about the 7th step on this. And then I do want to jump in and talk a little bit more about fear, because I see that a lot.
[00:34:53.230] – Dr. Ellen
Sure. The 7th step is enlightenment. So enlightenment spirituality is really all about connecting with your passion and purpose. And we're all here for a reason, and there's a lot of problems in the world. So we all have talents and gifts to share with people. So this is really all about how to connect with your soul and your spirit. You might want to rediscover religion that you experienced when you were younger or just experience a new spiritual path. So I give people a lot of specific things they can do to create a spiritual practice, to create a relationship with their soul. I like to say that you are a soul having a human experience, maybe flip that around, said thinking, I'm a human, I have a soul, and I kind of go to Church on Sundays, and I experience it to see what's it like to connect with your spiritual self. I mean, for me, a lot of that is doing various yoga practices, certainly being out in nature, nothing to me connects me more with all that is than just being outside and seeing the birds and the snow and the trees. So lots of specific things that people can do, because I think when we get to the midlife, we're wiser and we want more of that type of connection.
[00:36:08.520] – Dr. Ellen
And hopefully we've created more space and time. And we know that so many people at midlife are quitting their jobs. Right. They're just thinking about gosh, you had that same experience saying that, I don't want to do this anymore. It's not making me happy. So the big piece of being happy is finding your passion and your purpose, connecting with things like gratitude, so I really dig deep into spirituality as well as sort of the positive psychology behind things people can do to really be happier, more joyful.
[00:36:38.960] – Allan
Yeah. Now with fear, you had two acronyms, and I think these kind of sum it up of the kind of the two sides of this. And the first acronym was false evidence appearing real. And the second was face everything in rise. And the two sides that I see there is the first one is most of the fear we have is not rational. And it's more of like a worry, something like you said, the what if, what if this were to happen and then you're afraid. It's like, well, I don't want that to happen, so I just won't do this. Or the other side of fear is just a point where you sit there and say, you know, I've put up with being this way or being unhappy, and I deserve more. And you talked in the book about how there was, like you of happiness down to midlife. And now we're in this bottom of the trough. And as soon as we recognize that, then the fear should start to dissipate because of the opportunity, like I said, the opportunity to go back up the other side of that view of what we see over the course of most people, not everybody but most people is that opportunity to find the same kind of joy we had when we were children.
[00:37:53.330] – Allan
So can you talk a little bit about fear and a little bit how we can overcome fear?
[00:37:58.070] – Dr. Ellen
That's a great question. Yeah. Well, the first thing is to understand the neuroscience behind fear. So we have this living brain, which is our amygdala that's in the back of our brain. It's the primitive part of your brain that is there to protect you from danger. It doesn't care if you're happy, doesn't care if you're fulfilled. All he wants to do is keep you from being eaten by a Saber tooth Tiger. So it's great if it's 100,000 years ago where, yeah, you could get eaten. You had to protect yourself. There was danger around every corner. But in today's world, if you're listening to this, you're not in any danger of getting eaten right now, right. Where you're perfectly safe. But we have to understand.
[00:38:39.900] – Allan
Well, the lady at the PTA meeting might shoot my head off, but that's about as bad as it's going to go.
[00:38:44.800] – Dr. Ellen
Yeah, exactly. We've got this part of our brain that is really trying to protect us. And then we've also got what's called the default mode network that runs down the center of our brain, which is constantly scanning the environment for what could go wrong in self definition. So again, your brain is just looking around, and this part of our brain evolved again hundreds of thousands of years ago when we were in tribes. There was a lot of social comparison where you had to figure out where do I fit? So maybe somebody was good at cooking and somebody's good at hunting and somebody's good at healing and somebody's good at creating clothes. So we all have to sort of figure out where we fit. But now we've got this crazy social comparison where we literally can be online with millions of people comparing ourselves to other people. So we're constantly scanning the environment for what could go wrong? My check could bounce. I could lose all my money, or I could lose my job or I could lose my marriage. So we're constantly worrying about that. Worrying about where do I fit in, what's my status? So the first thing is to really just call it out.
[00:39:49.910] – Dr. Ellen
Just fear is really in your mind. So what I like to say is name it you tame it. Just say, this is just fear. This is just my brain. And a lot of times it shows up. The worry shows up in rumination, which rumination comes from the root of it is ruminants, which are I live in Vermont, so I don't know you probably don't have a lot of cows in Panama
[00:40:10.070] – Allan
there are some
[00:40:12.590] – Dr. Ellen
we've got goats and cows and sheep and ruminants chew their cod. Right. They chew the grass and then they chew it again. So it's chewing things over and over in your mind. Again, the neuroscience we do this because if I think about my problems all the time, if I think about 04:00 in the morning and I'm worrying about, like, my boss and I didn't get this assignment on time and what's going to happen to me? We think if we worry about it, we're going to solve it. But Ironically, what happens is it keeps us stuck and out of problem solving mode because all we're doing is chewing the problem over and over again in our head. So the first thing is just to name it, just to call it out and say, this is just fear.
[00:40:51.350] – Dr. Ellen
It's just part of being human. May be giving yourself a little self compassion because you're having this thought mindfulness can be really helpful. Learning how to focus your thoughts. Whether you start a meditation practice just you just have to be long. Just watching your thoughts for five to ten minutes a day or finding ways throughout the day to sort of focus on your breathing. Calm yourself down. So the first thing is name it you tame it and then feel it you heal it. So where's fear showing up in my body? So emotions are felt experiences in your body. So often fear will show up maybe it's a tightness in your throat because you don't want to speak your truth. Or you might feel it around your heart because it involves a relationship or often it's in our bellies. Right? We're afraid. So name it you tame it and just let it come and go. And then a couple of other tricks that I like to use, see if you can change fear into excitement. So fear and excitement or anxiety and excitement are very similar in terms of the physiology. So when we're excited or we're anxious, our pulse might go up, we might sweat, we might flush.
[00:41:56.360] – Dr. Ellen
But if we turn that into excitement, like when you're in a roller coaster. Right. You're like, this is scary, but you know that you're safe. So see if you can just flip it around and say, you know what? For me, I love public speaking, but it also creates a lot of anxiety. So I turned into excitement. I'm really excited to speak today to share my truth and my passion for midlife. So change it in excitement if you can. And then I think my favorite technique is just focusing on breathing. So even the Navy Seals use this four X four X four X four breathing. They call box breathing. So what happens is when you breathe in for four, hold it for four, exhale for four, hold for four. It calms down your physiology. So what happens is you turn off that fight and flight, that cortisol, and you fire up your rest and digest. So simply doing a few minutes of deep breathing or simply breathing in really long exhalation, the long exhalation really helps to help you reset your physiology. There's so much that we can do. Listening to music is another powerful thing.
[00:43:08.300] – Dr. Ellen
So if we listen to music, that either you could listen to Rocky. Right. If you wanted to turn that fear into excitement, or you might listen to something that kind of calms down your nervous system. That's really helpful. And essential oils are really great. So those are just a couple of techniques. But I talk about fear a lot in the book because frankly, it's something that keeps so many people from moving forward. If you look at the research, it's so interesting that children, they have their fear animals, they get over it. Right. If you see an animal that's fearful, they go through their stress and then they reset. We don't do that as much at midlife. Right. We stay in this chronic stressful situation, which, of course, is creating a ton of inflammation and is really at the root cause of so much of our health. So maybe for motivation, see if you can really work on your fear and anxiety and your chronic stress as a way to help yourself heal and feel great in the coming year.
[00:44:03.500] – Allan
All right. Now, for a lot of us, this is never going to be a straight line. So even if we go through the steps and seems kind of linear because there are seven of them and some of them might take us a little longer, I think we all know that. But eventually, as with all things, issues are going to come up. And one of the things you said in the book that I thought was really interesting because I used to say this about my brother that he was happily miserable. But you used the term comfortably uncomfortable. And that kind of touched me because I was going to go one of those moments that you're saying for a lot of us, we don't want to get outside our comfort zone. Now in the book, you had 21 tips for getting unstuck. Can you just share some of your favorites?
[00:44:47.810] – Dr. Ellen
Sure. I would say it's interesting. There's so many things you can do. One of the greatest things to do is create a new habit. So if you take a look at the research on breaking habits, making habits, it's better to replace a habit that is not serving you with a new habit. So I'll give you an example. Let's say, for example, every day at 03:00, you get hungry, which is kind of your cue to eat. You go to the vending machine and you have a candy bar and a soda. And then the reinforcing reward is you kind of get a little bit of a lift from your fatigue so you could create a new habit. So instead of that habit, you can go ahead and stock up and have snacks in your desk, things like healthy portions of nuts, fruit, maybe sugar free yogurt and water to stay hydrated. And so when 03:00 hits, you get that hunger sort of fatigue thing going on. Instead of walking to the vending machine, you grab your healthy snack, you grab your water bottle, and you go for a 10,15 minutes walk. And your reward is that you feel energized, you feel good, but it's not this kind of energy that comes from sort of the sugar caffeine high and then crashes.
[00:46:03.440] – Dr. Ellen
So creating a new habit is a really great thing to do. Another unstuck thing I love to do is declutter. Declutter a drawer, declutter a closet, declutter your garage. It is so freeing and energizing to declutter some aspect of your life, and it creates space for something new. It creates a sense of accomplishment. I think we all love to do it. So just put something on your calendar for some time that you're going to do a little bit of decluttering.
[00:46:32.330] – Dr. Ellen
Another thing is to just do something new. So go somewhere new, drive to a new place at work, read a new morning newspaper, make a new friend. Just create some newness in your life. Create a new hairstyle, change your hairstyle, change your hair color, wear a color you don't normally wear. But just doing anything new, I think, again, we are creatures of habit. It's so interesting when you look at the literature, something like 45% of the things we do every single day are automatic. Things like we tie our shoes, we make our coffee, we take our shower, either first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. You've got to shake it up and try something new.
[00:47:12.230] – Dr. Ellen
I really also like rising with the Sun, super energetic to really get into the circadian rhythms where you are living. So I get up usually with the sun. I love watching the sun set and the sun rise in the morning. You actually have more energy when you're kind of on those vibes with the sun. So just really just trying to do some new things. And I give 21 tips in my book, so if you're feeling stuck, just do something new. Getting accountability buddy, is really awesome as well. So having somebody who's also trying to make some changes in your life, learning something new. So I think I was saying earlier in the episode, I just got myself a ukulele, and so learning to play the ukulele, I'm creating those new things, those new brain neural connections in my mind, which are so awesome. Make a bucket list. That's another awesome thing to do. Make a bucket list. Actually, we don't even have to call it a bucket list. We can call it the next chapter list, right? So it's not about things I want to do before I leave the Earth, but things that I really want to do in this next chapter, I think we have space and time.
[00:48:21.960] – Dr. Ellen
Kids are empty nests. Maybe we're downsizing a little bit from our work. We're downsizing our home. But don't just fill it up with the same old, same old. Do something new because there is really a million things to do in the world and everything is so accessible right now. So get really conscious about it too. Maybe a little bit less television. I think it's so tempting to fill our days with TV. So maybe being a little more judicious with your media time and really picking something that you want to learn and do this year.
[00:48:50.810] – Allan
I love all of those. I define wellness as being the healthiest, fittest and happiest you can be. What are three strategies or tactics to get and stay well?
[00:49:01.610] – Dr. Ellen
the first thing I would say, progress, not perfection. So we haven't really talked about perfectionism. I talk about it a lot in the book. Rock your midlife. But perfectionism will just kill any wellness strategy because let's say, for example, you set this goal and you say, I'm going to work out every single day or I am going to eat this perfect diet. I've got this diet plan. I'm going to follow it. If you are a perfectionist, if you mess up what happens? You give up. You're just like, okay, I didn't do it right. I feel bad about myself. And I see this all the time with a lot of the people I work with are recovering chronic dieters. We see this. They go on these diets, they do it perfectly. They fill out their Journal, they do all the things, and then all of a sudden they blow their diet. They have one dinner out, or maybe they have a little bit of alcohol and inhibitions go down and they have slip up and then they go right back to the same old crappy, standard American diet, same thing with workouts. You miss a workout and then all of a sudden you miss too.
[00:50:06.960] – Dr. Ellen
And then you stop working out completely. So focus on the progress that you're making. Focus on the fact that I'm going to just carry an Apple in my bag and when I need a snack, I'm going to eat that or I'm going to start a walking program and I'm going to walk for 25 minutes every day. Maybe you'll do 45. And I love this idea, too, of set smaller goals to say, I'm going to just do three push ups. And while you're down there, you'll do ten, but you've got to sort of start out with small things that I love. You're probably familiar with Mel Robbins, who talks about the five second rule. Another great way to get over fear is just count to five and just do it. Do something small and focus on the progress you're making, not perfection. And when we're talking about goals, it's so important to set smart goals, which I'm sure Allan, you help your people set smart goals, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time sensitive. And these are things that you have control over. A lot of people set goals like, I'll lose 25 pounds. Well, that's not a smart goal and you don't have control over.
[00:51:10.290] – Dr. Ellen
But you have control over something. Like every day after lunch I'm going to take a 20 minutes walk or something I've been working on. One of the things I struggle with is eating late at night and my fiance and I are really trying hard to eat earlier in the day and just say, okay, we're going to not have anything after 08:00 and I'd like to move it to seven. But setting a smart goal, maybe even like three nights a week, we're going to have dinner at 07:00 and we're going to stop eating by 08:00. So set smart goals. And then I would say a thing too is and this is something that I focus so much on in my work and my book. Have fun. We've got to get away from this punitive attitude around weight loss. When I started my career 30 years ago as a registered dietitian, people would come into my office and I would say, Why are you here? And they said, well, my doctor told me I had to see you. And then I would ask them, what did you have to eat last night? And they would say, Well, I knew I was coming in to see you.
[00:52:11.730] – Dr. Ellen
So I had a double stuffed crust pizza, an ice cream or a steak. And they didn't want to be there and they weren't at the stage of readiness to make change. And it was all because you've been bad. So now we're going to punish you by eating this diet that is this draconian, 1200 calories or 600 calorie diet. And you're going to be miserable. Healthy eating is really fun. Like my partner is an amazing gardener and I am so inspired by what he grows and what I can Cook and we love to work. I don't even want to call it work it out. I mean there's nothing we like better than getting on our town and bike and going to the next island and biking for three or 4 hours. You're exhausted but it feels fabulous. I love doing yoga and I love lifting weights and I love eating healthy. So just get away from this attitude that being healthy is some punishment for your earlier sins in life. And I guess at a fourth, no matter where you are at, if you are breathing more is going right than wrong. You have like 32 trillion cells and all they want to do is keep you alive.
[00:53:21.650] – Dr. Ellen
So thank your cells. I like the dog barking to emphasize that right. Thank your cells. Treat your body. Weld stop beating your body up and learn to love yourself, practice and self compassion with my research really showed is that it really will help you with your body image. Focus on your function and feeling good. Don't worry so much about how you look. I think we also need to focus too on you can be sexy and beautiful. I'm at 60 and I feel more beautiful and sexier and healthier than I've ever felt in my life. I'm slowing down a bit but I think I'm gorgeous and I love my life and I'm having so much fun.
[00:54:01.470] – Dr. Ellen
Thank you, Dr. Ellen, if someone wanted to learn more about you, learn more about the book, Rock Your Midlife, where would you like for me to send them?
[00:54:09.720] – Dr. Ellen
Just go to themidlifewhisper.com and I'm easy to find. That's my website and I'm the only midlife Whisperer in the universe as far as I know. Also you can just go to Amazon and put in Rock Your Midlife and the book will come right up for you.
[00:54:24.730] – Allan
You can go to 40plusfitnesspodcast.com/525 and I'll be sure to have links there. Dr. Ellen, thank you for being a part of 40+ Fitness.
[00:54:34.330] – Dr. Ellen
Thank you, Allan. It's been such a fun conversation. I'm looking forward to more conversations in the future.
[00:54:39.640] – Allan
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