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Over 60? Time to Refire! The best is yet to be! say life coaches at UCSD forum

Morton Shaevitz, Ken Blanchard and Mary Walshok discuss new models of aging at a UCSD forum.
Morton Shaevitz, Ken Blanchard and Mary Walshok discuss new models of aging at a UCSD forum.
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“I want to try and help older people make the rest of their life the best of their life,” author, business consultant and motivational speaker Ken Blanchard told a gathering at UC San Diego’s Price Center Ballroom March 12.

The event was presented by the UCSD Extension Career Channel and sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Mary Walshok, associate vice chancellor of public programs and dean of UCSD Extension, served as moderator.

“Getting older should not be a sentence, but rather an opportunity!” Blanchard declared, speaking about his new book, “Refire! Don’t Retire,” which he co-authored with UCSD School of Medicine psychiatry professor Morton Shaevitz, an expert on new approaches to aging.

Blanchard has authored more than 60 books, including “The One Minute Manager,” a classic that has sold 13 million copies. Shaevitz, his collaborator, practices at Scripps Clinic, is the chair of Geriatric Psychology for the California Psychological Association, and is a professor at the UCSD School of Medicine.

“We hope to encourage people to ‘Refire!’ and that involves developing an attitude of embracing the years ahead with enthusiasm rather than apathy,” Blanchard said “Our book urges those in their 50s, 60s and beyond to view each day as an opportunity to enhance their relationships, stimulate their minds, revitalize their bodies and grow spiritually.”

The audience, which filled the hall to near capacity, was composed almost exclusively of older adults. Two seniors, who might have already read the book, rode scooters into the lecture hall in an age-defying gesture! The discussion unfolded into a wonderful and inspiring presentation, which both uplifted and brought tears to many eyes.

The authors explained that “Refire! Don’t Retire” was conceived during a four-hour plane trip from San Diego to New York, which serendipitously brought Blanchard and Shaevitz together. The result is a manual for approaching later life.

The authors look at Refiring from four vantage points — the heart, the head, the body and the spirit. In their book, the experiences of several older adult couples trying to come to grips with the Refire! Approach, are used to illustrate the main points.

1) The Heart

The first key to Refiring is to work on the heart and emotions to improve and enhance relationships. The authors say to “look for the pearl of good that exists in everyone,” and “begin loving people even when they are doing unlovable things.” Further, they advise one not keep score or hold grudges, but forgive.

They put forth the reminder that our dogs never get mad even if we are late, but are always happy to see us.

The authors further recommend focusing on positive things or what is right, rather than what is wrong, and to develop a plan for making the world a better place.

They suggest always being open to new experiences — to reach out, force yourself to stretch, break old patterns, and put yourself into totally unfamiliar situations (aka the “Nothing Ordinary Rule.”)

They advocate being part of a “Last Minute Gang,” which does new and different things together, even if at the last moment. To succeed, they said to set or remember your Refiring goals every morning and evaluate how well you did that day, every night.

2) The Head

The second step to Refiring the whole person is to Refire the head (the mind, the intellect). The key here is to always keep learning. Even if you are 100 years old, they argue, you should still be learning every day.

“Growing intellectually is like oxygen to the deep-sea diver: without it you die,” noted Shaevitz. “If you are not continuing to learn, you might as well lie down and let them throw dirt on you, because you are already brain dead.”

To this end, they advise taking classes in unfamiliar subjects or turning your work skills into some kind of advising or mentoring project, focusing on “significance” rather than “success.” They urge you to be a voracious reader and become familiar with all the new technology, such as texting, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, to better communicate with children, friends and relatives.

3) The Body

For Refiring the body, Blanchard and Shaevitz focus on diet and exercise. They recommend eating mindfully, not mindlessly. They say to eat less, but better, and not to do anything dumb — like eating a whole pizza. They suggest losing a little weight, if needed.

Shaevitz said, “My research has shown that less than 20 percent of people over age 65 do any exercise at all.” He recommends the “minimally effective dose,” which is walking 30-45 minutes a day, five or six days a week.

In addition to the cardiovascular benefits of walking, the authors recommend flexibility training, as in yoga or stretching; strength training, as in lifting weights; and balance training, as in standing on one leg.

4) The Spirit

The fourth dimension of Refiring involves working on your spirit. The authors suggest finding a way of getting in touch with the marvelous mystery that we, as thinking, caring humans are, and the wonder of life that is all around us.

Rather than focusing on what’s wrong or your inadequacies, Blanchard and Shaevitz say it’s important to count your blessings and look for pathways to inner peace. How so? Focus more on giving than getting.

Finally, to help manifest the four paths of Refiring, the authors suggest joining a “Refiring Gang,” which is a group devoted to supporting each other in approaching life with gusto, energy and zest.