Navigational Thinking and Being Older

We see things not as they are, but as we are…H.M. Tomlinson

Navigational Thinking is an effective strategy for recalibrating perspective. It offers aging adults a process to create a more useful attitude about being older.

Navigational thinking mimics the strategy that pilots use during an in-flight emergency. Pilots resist the natural response to panic by focusing their attention on a set of predetermined questions that lead them to useful thinking about the best course of action to save not only their lives, but also the lives of the passengers who are counting on them.

Although Navigational Thinking acknowledges a decline in outlook is a normal response to upheaval of being older, it insists that a course correction is not only possible but is necessary to preserve quality of life.

Navigational Thinking is designed to capitalize on the unique opportunity aging adults have to orchestrate a different outcome. To accomplish this, it provides them with a new thinking ritual they can use to change the internal discussion they are having about their experiences. It taps into the cognition-emotion connection in the brain and redirects the emotional intensity of being older into a more useful, positive perspective.

Navigational Thinking is comprised of three reframing questions that increase control and facilitate legacy. They can be used at any time and in any situation.

This is not a quick fix that will magically transform a negative attitude back into first half optimism. Rather, Navigational Thinking is a rebalancing tool for the distorted thinking that being older creates, a cognitive reframing system that slowly begins to restore a more sustainable and nurturing perspective.

Navigational Thinking questions can be asked in any order. All three questions begin to reverse the myopia of “problem fixation” that a negative attitude imposes on aging adults by redirecting their focus to new insights, choices, and solutions.

The questions have no right or wrong answers; they are not a test. They offer a starting point for a new internal conversation. Like all cognitive strategies, they are most effective when written down, reconsidered, annotated, and shared on a regular basis.

1. What is the big picture of being older?

The years forever fashion new dreams when old ones go. God help the one dream man…Robert Goddard

Aging brings with it losses and recovery. This is not a new experience for aging adults who are veterans of life’s give and take. Yes, being older has painful setbacks, but at the same time it mobilizes new channels of courage and resiliency in a world where time is no longer vague or intangible. It also fosters a deeper gratitude for family and friends who anchor love and support. Aging adults are free to savor both the past and an amplified present with just enough time to make a difference.

2. What are my choices in being older?

Ever tired. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better…Samuel Becket

Aging takes its toll. It is easy to become defeated by losses and setbacks. Withdrawal and isolation are common is a society that venerates youth and sees aging as pathology. Despite these emotional and cultural headwinds, being older still offers the opportunity to dance with circumstances. Aging adults are free to set the agenda and see what happens. They are equally free to change their minds, be out of character or reclaim a dream. The same is true for disengagements and amends. It is also possible to do nothing and dance with the gift of each day. Aging changes many things but choice survives it all.

3. What can I learn from being older?

The wiser mind mourns less for what age takes away than what it leaves behind…William Wordsworth

Aging leaves in its wake lessons about being older. First and foremost, aging adults come to understand that life is hard for everyone. This transformative insight paves the way for an inclusive empathy through patience and kindness.

Second, aging adults have come far enough to see that life always works out of its own volition, an insight that marks the limits of their control over life’s drama. Aging adults are called to adopt a new perseverance that is less apologetic about being older and more accepting of the opportunity life presents without fanfare or limits each day.