” There is nothing older than not wanting to grow old. Our world presents us with a disastrous image of old age. We are afraid of dying badly, of ending our lives alone, unloved, perhaps dependent or suffering from dementia. Instead of confronting this fear, we ward it off by clinging to our youth, in a rather pathetic state of denial. In so doing we run the risk of missing out on what I call” the work of growing old”- that is to say cultivating a positive awareness of ageing.”
These are the first words in Guy Robertson’s book, Ten Steps of Positive Ageing. He’s quoted from the work of Marie de Hennezel, a French psychologist and palliative care expert.
” Ageing is inevitable but getting old is optional” is the tag line of Robertson’s book. Published this year, 2020, his book explores personal change in later life. I’m usually suspicious of STEPS books… whether it’s ten steps or sixteen. They often become a reductionist approach to complex issues and ageing is very complex, personal and culture bound. The Balinese, Aboriginal or Tibetan peoples have very different perspectives on ageing than we do in the West. I’m also a hardened cynic when it comes to the ” think positive” movement. when your partner dies positive thinking won’t hack it! But I’m curious, so when my little parcel of books arrives after some late-night online shopping, I’m interested to see what this book contributes to our understanding of ageing.
Robertson’s book is a mix of inspirational quotes, some research in the field, self-help surveys and reflection tasks. It’s well – organised, easy to read and has some useful insights. He acknowledges cultural and social influences on ageing but the exploration is minimal and probably outside the scope of this short sharp read. Robertson tries to do many things- appeal to publishers, attract the target age group, send key messages and straddle the divide between a book grounded in research and a self help manual that engages individuals with very different starting points in their approach to ageing. Oh and if that’s not enough he also offers a positive ageing playlist! Yep. This includes Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell, Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran and even I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair by George Jones!
What are the key messages of this book about ageing well?
Step 1: Facing up to your own mortality
We collude with others – our families to pretend it wont happen- it will! Death will knock for us and eventually for them. ” He who is not busy being born , is busy dying.” says Bob Dylan. Facing the fear of death, making it an acceptable conversation topic, using reflective practice, dealing with our own regrets and disappointments, finding peace in who we are- these are all elements of ” the work” of acknowledging our ending.
Step 2: Fact check the fake news about ageing
These are the false assumptions we scoop up from the world around us without critical examination- sex stops after 60, ageing is miserable, memory loss and dementia is unavoidable, old people are a burden on society, and so on. Robertson explores and dispels these myths and gives practical advice on brain training and wellbeing.
Step 3: Watch your attitude
This is an exploration of your attitudes and beliefs about ageing and lots of surveys.
Step 4: Safeguard your convoy
Who is coming along the journey with you? Partners, friends, family, a good doctor, support specialists, community? Happy individuals are socially connected. there’s also material on relationships, bereavement, loneliness and more surveys!
Step 5: Adopt a mindful outlook
“At the end of the day I can end up totally wacky, because I’ve made mountains out of molehills. With meditation I can keep them as molehills.” Ringo Starr.
The benefits and practice of mindfulness is explored here.
Step 6: Broaden and build your well-being
Measuring and maximising your optimism and practising gratitude are key components here.
Step 7: Learn from your past
Conduct a life review. Re author some of the stories about life that you have been carting around for years but no longer serve you well.
Step 8: Establish what is most important to you
I love this quote form Mark Twain… “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” So true…this chapter explores purpose and meaning in your older years and is I believe a crucial conversation in the ageing process….one with yourself and your ” convoy.”
Step 9: Create a vision for a new later life
Motivation, a positive ageing vision and visualisation are explored here.
Step 10: Build your resilience
Developing a resilient mindset is central to this chapter on positive ageing.
This is a good book. I miss research rigour and probably want less is more – fewer steps , more depth, but Guy Robertson has identified some of the critical issues of ageing well and I’m glad I put in the time to read, do the survey and journal on some of the issues raised..along with listening to the Ageing Positively playlist of course!