Tuesday, May 31, 2011

June - A Month of Habits Good & Bad

I'm frustrated because I've lost my focus and motivation for my self proclaimed midlife crisis and need to get back on track. This month, June, I am going to take a good hard look at my habits in terms of what's working, what's holding me back, and what's missing. I truly believe that the only way to change and accomplish my  lofty but still nebulous goals is to get a better handle on my daily routine. 

I work from home, my schedule is flexible, and I'm fortunate that I call pretty much all the shots in my day. It's a great position to be in, but it's easy to get distracted. Other than my magazine deadlines, no one really cares if I write or if I'm setting up interviews or doing research. So it's easy to accept a lunch invitation, play a game of tennis, or take a walk. The distractions are fun and pleasurable, but they can't come at the expense of my writing and quest to redefine myself or I'll never accomplish anything. I need better habits.

I sat next to rock star Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins at the Chicago Make-a-Wish Ball last weekend, where he was honored for his longstanding commitment to the charity and raffled off one of his guitars. In addition to supporting this worthy cause and recording an album, Billy is also writing a book. 

I admire his habits.
"Do you have a particular writing discipline?" I asked him. Of course he does. He writes stream of conscious for an hour a day, every day, and aims to produce at least 2000 words in that time. 

Damn, I thought enviously, 2000 words is incredibly prolific. I can struggle for a days over a 500-word column. Of course I spend most of that time revising and editing, not writing. But I also spend it surfing the 'net, checking my email and eating Triscuits.

Anyway, here's my first new habit for the month of June: I will post here on Forty Fabulous six days a week. Yes, by the end of June I will have no fewer than 25 posts. My posts may not be as well-researched or thought out as I'd like. They'll probably contain grammatical errors, repetition and cliches. But if I'm serious about this writer gig, I have got to friggin' develop the habit of consistently producing written work. 

I intend to examine my other routines - as well as those of successful, inspiring people I want to emulate. I hope that these tidbits and discoveries will be useful to YOU, so please, make a habit of checking back!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Crazy in Your 40s? Honey, you're as normal as Pie

video image from amazon.com
The best-selling book, Yes, Your Teen is Crazy, explains that during adolescence, teenagers go through a volatile, hormone-driven period of bona fide mental instability. And you know what? Women in their forties do too.

During the years before menopause, estrogen levels can fluctuate wildly, resulting in mood swings, insomnia, forgetfulness, hot flashes, weight gain, and general freaking out. And even though the changes are perfectly normal, it's no fun feeling like you're going nuts.

You need to know about this phase, my Forty Fabulous friends, because it may affect you much sooner than you think. Thanks to more stressful lifestyles, symptoms are hitting women earlier than they did in our mothers' day.
"It used to be that a reliable guide to when you might expect menopause is when your mother experienced it. But the mothers of today's groundbreaking women knew nothing like the level of workplace stress and environmental toxins we live with today." Gail Sheehy, The Silent Passage.
In fact, many women start experiencing these symptoms in their early forties - even while they continue to have regular periods. I'm well down the path. In the last year I've had times of feeling weirdly at odds with my body. It's unpredictably hot, or bitchy, or tired, or horny, or bloated, or pumped up. I feel like I'm in hurricane season; constantly waiting for a storm to hit.

For women who don't know what to expect, it can be not only confusing, it can be depressing. In fact, Sheehy found in her extensive research, that on average, women reported the poorest sense of well-being at age 47 (exactly my age when I started talking about this midlife crisis.) The hormonal stuff is disconcerting enough, but when combined with the big changes that come at this time of life - kids leaving home, parents becoming more dependent, marriages being renegotiated - it's no wonder that women in their late forties feel stressed out.

The good news is that that the downer is only temporary. Sheehy found that women rebound in their fifties, and have the highest sense of well being compared to any other stage of their lives at age fifty-three!
"A profound change in self-concept begins to register with rising exhilaration for many women as they move into their fifties," Sheehy writes. "They often break the seal on repressed angers. They overcome the habits of trying to be perfect and of needing to make everyone love them." 
Yippie! Look, I have no desire to become the menopause poster child, but I do think this topic is unnecessarily taboo. No one wants to admit to experiencing these changes; just mention the word and watch your girlfriends shudder in revulsion. I think we're afraid that  going through menopause means crossing over to irrelevancy and cronedom.

How comforting to know that our happiest, most exhilarating years are still ahead!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Gratifying Benefits of Breathing Deep

The Labyrinth is one of the many places to catch a breath
at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, MA
One of the things that was constantly reinforced during my stay at the fabulous Canyon Ranch was the importance of deep breathing. Not just in meditation sessions, but in lecture after lecture and in every exercise class, we were asked to focus on our breath. I even took a breathing lesson, which sounds kind of ridiculous, but actually isn't. Apparently very few of us know how to breathe properly. We run around panting like little hamsters, feeling all frantic and worked up, instead of taking the deep belly breaths we need to maintain our health, vitality and peace of mind.

It's not difficult to breathe deeply but you do have to pay attention to achieve it. Here's the basic technique I learned at Canyon Ranch.
"Assume a comfortable position. Mindfully relax your body, releasing any areas of tension or constriction. Observe your breath. As you inhale (through nose), the lower edge of the rib cage and the abdomen should expand. As you exhale, the opposite should occur. Do not force the movement of the abdomen. Allow the breath to naturally move through the body."
Breathing deeply from the diaphragm has many benefits. Not only does it lower stress and blood pressure, it balances our immune system, reduces cravings, improves circulation, and even lessens hot flashes!

But there's more. Different breathing techniques can be used to relax, to energize, to fall back asleep, and even  to achieve orgasm. Yep, that's right. Just check out the video below to see how easily it can be done, as sex educator Sheri Winston demonstrates. (Don't worry, it's not pornographic, just a bit noisy.)

Now, this particular technique was not taught at Canyon Ranch and I myself have not mastered it. But as for the benefits of deep breathing, I'm sold.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Vision Board Video

Hey, take 2 minutes to check out my latest video which is part of a series I've been producing for the fantastically delicious site, The Succulent Wife. I've talked about my vision board experience before, but it's so gratifying to see things on my board show up in real life!

Life is Good and I'm Goofing Off

Is happiness bad for my work ethic?
I haven't written much this month, not because I'm over my midlife crisis, but because I've been too busy having too much fun.

The first week of May I took myself to Canyon Ranch, a beautiful, inspiring spa and health retreat nestled in the Berkshires in the little town of Lenox, Massachusetts. What a luxury to spend five days on my own, learning the latest about longevity and prevention, revamping my diet, stepping up my work out,  and indulging in some much needed pampering.

Canyon Ranch isn't cheap, but I consider the investment to be completely worth it, both for me and my family. Since I've been home I've been moving more, drinking less, eating better, thinking positively and sleeping like a baby. Ah! Now that was a vacation.

I thought I'd be writing a lot about my Canyon Ranch experiences, but you know what? I just haven't felt like it. Since I've been home both the weather and my social life have picked up. My husband and I tore up the dance floor at a Cinco de Mayo bash, a girlfriend threw herself a 50th birthday party at the local wine shop.  I had plays to see, walks to take, a basketball team to root for.

This weekend I took my son on a college visit trip, and even though we were plagued by thunderstorms, delays, and diversions, we had an incredibly special couple of days together. I'm so damn excited about his future, I can't help but feel a little fired up about my own.

So you see? I've been happy. And therefore not at all inclined to produce work. Which makes me wonder - are happiness and ambition incompatible? Does productivity and achievement require a person to be perpetually dissatisfied? Must there always be a problem to fix or a flaw to correct in order to progress? Is happiness making me lazy? 

Whatever. Instead of questioning my enjoyable state of being, I think I'll support Penelope Cruz's philosophy of life.

"My ambition is to be happy," says the talented beauty.

Mine too, Penelope! I may be goofing off, but I'm smart enough to enjoy the good times (and thank god, the good weather) when they come along.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Maria Shriver Struggles with Midlife Transitions

I was saddened to hear that Maria Shriver and husband Arnold Shwarzenegger are separating. I've always loved Maria since her days hosting the CBS Morning News in the 80's, and her marriage to the muscle bound action star turned Governor seemed to work in a weird, mismatched way.

The journalist, author and mother of four, now 55, has faced many changes at midlife. She lost her father earlier this year and ended her stint as California's first lady. In this video from her website, mariashriver.com, which was posted a few months ago, she expresses uncertainty about the future and the pain of making transitions.

I like her more than ever and wish her well, wherever her transition takes her.