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Quiet things seem loud in the early morning as everyone sleeps. The creaking of the door as it opens, the slam of the screen door as it closes. Yet I make my way to my special spot in the corner of the old porch on the back of my Texas ranch house.
My neighbors’ cows are scratching their backs on the fence this morning, their tan and brown coats shimmering from the early sun and their long horns catching the light.
The heat is more intense than a sauna, which I suppose is good training for my upcoming trip to Africa. But it will be spring there, so it may not be this hot.
About last week: When Sunday Coffee failed to appear in your mailbox, some of you wrote, wondering where it was. First, all is well, nothing is wrong. I just needed a break. I had flown to Florida and spent the entire week in the long meetings where we plan our year, work on our budgets, and try to dream up new ways to help people discover and live their dreams.
When I travel, I try to make the most of each day so I don’t sit idle in my hotel room (have no fear, I always have paints if I need them). So one night I had a meeting I needed to do in person, one night I visited my 92-year-old mom and my brother, and one night I met with two dear old friends.
Mom’s dinner was the highlight for a couple of reasons, the first being I just don’t get to see her enough and it’s a red letter day when I do. I am so pleased she is able to live on her own, in her own home. Though I offered to take her and my brother to dinner, she insisted on making it. There is no cooking like Mom’s cooking, and it’s a chance to eat old comfort foods I rarely eat anymore, and a chance to catch up. I thought she was doing great. And it was the first time in years I’ve been with my mom around my birthday, so this was even more special, since it was on the eve of that event.
A Working Birthday
The next morning, on my birthday, my team, which I am so honored and proud to have, had balloons and vegan cupcakes waiting. Of course they then treated me to another day of meetings, and then I drove a couple of hours to a distant airport, boarded a flight, and arrived home about 11 that night.
I have to admit that hardly anything ever takes the wind out of my sails, but during the week I had not slept well, had picked up a touch of a stomach virus, and I arrived home feeling exhausted — and I awoke exhausted the next day, when I had a schedule full of appointments, and a list of important chores and family things to get done for the weekend. And so on Sunday morning, when I normally awaken early for the quiet and to write, I slept and slept, waking late, just in time to rush to get to church. So please forgive me for missing a Sunday.
From all of this, I picked up a few lessons, one of which is that you can power through something if you need to, no matter how bad you feel. Though I would not say my knife was the sharpest in the drawer during the last couple of days of meetings, when you get involved, you tend to forget about not feeling well.
Second, nothing new: If you don’t sleep well, everything gets out of whack fast. Though we all try hard, sometimes we can’t control what is spinning in our minds or causing us not to sleep.
Grumpy and Out of Character
Third, attitude is everything. It holds us together. I noticed the worse I felt, the worse my attitude became, and I got grumpy and even had a brief moment of poor judgment and lashed out at my team during a meeting over something minor. I later apologized, but I know that you can put a lot of chips in an emotional bank account, and one moment of negativity can wipe out your account with others.
I try to be a great boss (I hate that word) and treat my team with respect, but when a leader fails to lead and becomes a dictator, a team suddenly stops being a team and instead becomes a bunch of people in a job they want to leave. I try to avoid going there, ever. But I’m human, though I should have taken a deep breath instead and not said a word.
An Abusive Boss
I suppose if there was a silver lining to acting that way, is that it got attention because it was so unusual from me. I’ve worked in the past for bosses who yelled all the time, scolded all the time, and after a while it all blends together. It doesn’t stand out as anything different, so their message gets ignored. I once worked for an abusive boss who also threw things — which is how you knew he was really mad. The yelling was so normal that you just assumed he was an unhappy guy whose only way of dealing with things was yelling. Eventually his wife left him because he physically abused her. Sad.
A Reunion of Old Friends
After my first day of meetings, I had the pleasure of meeting with two men I’ve known for probably 30 or more years. One used to work for me, and we’ve remained good friends since he left to start his own business. The other, who used to be a competitor, is someone I always liked. I see the one on occasion at radio industry events, and the other I have not seen in 20 years, so it was a special but alarming treat. Both men are exactly the same age, 71.
A Physical Change
Though I had seen photos on Facebook, when I arrived I was shocked to see one old friend as an old man. When I last saw him, he was vibrant and full of life. Sadly, he looked like death warmed over. He was moving slowly, he kept forgetting things mid-sentence, and though his old personality shone through, his language was defeatist and negative. He had been in the hospital two weeks before, in a coma for two days, almost died, and was talking as if these were his final days. Though we had a great time talking about old times, I was sad and disturbed to see my friend deteriorating.
The Polar Opposite
When the other friend arrived, he was exactly as I remembered him from 20 years before. He had a sparkle in his eye, a big smile on his face, and a spring in his step. He was upbeat, fun to be around, and looked 50 — he was all positive. He talked about all the things he was doing, all the people he was seeing, about some of the projects he was doing to bring in income, and what he was thinking of doing next.
Keep in mind that both of these men used to be the most fun, upbeat, happy-to-be-around people, always filled with jokes, laughter, and with the momentum of a freight train. People wanted to be around them, which is why both had such successful careers.
Yet at this dinner, one was beaten down and running out of life, while the other was upbeat and full of life.
Why Were These Men So Different?
One of the reasons I could not sleep that night is because I was so disturbed by my time with them. Why is it that one was thriving and the other was dying? The thought of losing an old friend was daunting. What could I do to help? What was the difference between the two, who had started out the same, yet one ended up beaten and bruised.
It’s Not About What Happens
It first crossed my mind that life had just beaten one of them down. His business had failed 15 years ago because the market changed, his wife had left him, and his grown child had ended up doing drugs and has spent a life in and out of rehab. This man had served his country in Vietnam, was dealing with PTSD issues that came up later in life, and was on lifetime disability, meaning he could not get a job and make money without losing the security of those benefits.
But as I started thinking about it, the other had also been beaten down. He lost his wife, the love of his life, just two years ago, and he lost his first wife 17 years before. Yet today he is upbeat, vibrant, and even dating a younger woman.
So why the difference?
First, I have to say we cannot always control our health or the things that happen to us. But we can control how we accept or perceive them, and we can take actions toward prevention with diet, attitude, and exercise.
Deep Emotional Dive
But over the years I could see the one friend fall into a deep emotional dive. He just never recovered after his wife left him. He was continually frustrated and beaten down with the problems with his child, and when his business died, he just decided to stop and live the rest of his life on his savings. When he received government disability and an inheritance, he could survive the rest of his life without work.
My perception is that he had no mission in life. He had a lot of time, but was not using it for a bigger purpose. Which may be what contributed to his downward spiral.
I’m not here to judge anyone. I don’t have that right, and we don’t know what someone has gone through until we have walked in their shoes. Nor do I know how I would react if I lost the love of my life and my kids turned to drugs. All I can do is love him, and if he asks, offer my thoughts or opinions.
My Advice, If Asked, Would Be…
If he did ask, I’d probably suggest that being alone with your thoughts all day isn’t a great idea, and that he needs to find a bigger purpose, perhaps volunteer work for some cause, to use the great skills he developed over his life. I’d also recommend something that gets him around people, where he can feel he is contributing to help others, and maybe even a hobby (can you guess which one I would recommend?) where he can do something that challenges him, and be in nature and around other people. Being in a cave is the worst thing you can do when you’re down and depressed.
Be On Guard
I can tell that when I’m not feeling well, my mind starts to go into a downward spiral, and it would be a lot easier to stay in bed. Yet I know if I don’t pull myself up, force myself into getting out there no matter what, I could easily slip into a funk that would get worse with each passing day. I know that when I skip yoga or going to the gym or even talking a walk, my brain stops functioning normally. I don’t feel as good, my outlook isn’t as good, and I start allowing negatives to creep into my life. If I’m not social, and if I have no mission or purpose, things worsen. If you wonder why I stay so busy, it’s because it keeps me healthy, happy, and engaged. We have to be on guard constantly so we don’t get pulled down.
What Is Your Story?
I’ve talked in the past about the stories we tell ourselves, and that sometimes we have to let go of a story and create a new story so the old story no longer controls us. You and I, and everyone we know, has a story, and has had some horrible things happen in their lives. Some absorb it and spiral down, while others get tired of repeating their old story and allowing it to hold them back.
Why Drive Matters
I turned 64 this week. Yet I still feel like I’m 15. I have more ideas than I can execute, and I’m committed to working and not retiring. In fact, I’ll be announcing a major project that will be the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my entire career, which should keep me busy for decades to come. I’m involved and engaged in the radio and art communities, where I love the people. I travel about 30-plus weeks a year and I’m always out doing something, whether it’s leading a paint group to Africa, which will happen next week, leading a paint group to Canada in early October (join us), leading a group of art collectors and artists on a behind-the-scenes art tour in Italy later in October, leading a convention of figurative artists in November, and meeting the leaders of the radio industry in an event the following week at the Harvard Club in New York.
The Battle in Your Brain
I’m not saying any of this to say, “Hey, look at me.” That’s not really in my DNA anymore, to be insecure and brag. I’m saying it because age is a battle with your mind. We’ve all been so conditioned that 65 is where we hang it up to relax and enjoy life that it’s a signal to some that the work life is over and the fun is just beginning. Yet I’ve always operated on the idea that it had all better be fun because you never know if you’ll even make it to 65. Sadly, I’ve had lots of friends along the way who passed far too young. What matters is that their lives were rich and full and fun during the time they had.
Watch Your Words
I’ve talked about this before, but seeing evidence in a side-by-side comparison has really made me take notice. Though some are blessed with good health and good genes, it’s the mindset that contributes to the outcome, and there are studies to support that. Therefore I’m constantly pushing things out of my head, telling myself it’s not like me to think that. And my prayers are often about pushing things out of my head that should not be there. I intentionally never refer to getting old, because I don’t believe I am. Yet I have friends who started saying they were getting old at 45 — and ended up dying young. Coincidence? Hard to really know. But words matter, and there are certain things I never say to myself, like “I’m getting old,” “I’m dying,” “This is killing me.”
So what about you?
It doesn’t matter your age. What stories are you telling yourself that give a message to your subconscious mind? The longer I live, the more I see evidence that the subconscious mind is responding to the messages we implant there.
Are the repetitive thoughts and stories you tell yourself hurting you or telling your body to shut down? Though some will read this, laugh, and say it’s utter nonsense, it’s what I believe to be true.
What, At My Age?
Recently when I was approached about this major project (sorry, you’ll need to wait a year to find out), the first thought that came to mind was, “Should I be starting something like this at my age?” As I caught myself, I pushed it out of my head and told myself, “Of course I should. I’ve never been more ready, my mind has never been sharper, and it’s the perfect time.”
Our brain’s subconscious mechanisms default to negatives to protect us. Our conscious mind is the only thing that can overcome these negative defaults.
You Choose What Wins
Will and attitude win. I’ve watched it over decades of my young life. You and I have a choice, no matter what our circumstances. If you choose life, choose to make the best of your current circumstances, no matter how dire they may seem. Choose to be an example of how to live, or even how to die.
You may find fault in this idea, and I honor you and your thoughts. This works for me. And one day someone may say, “It didn’t work for him after all.” But I’m not going to live a story that the government decides for me because they think 65 is when I should stop. You and I should not live the stories others set for us. We should live the stories we set for ourselves.
Don’t Accept Bad Advice
The choice is life or death, living or dying, thriving or existing, active or inactive. We don’t have to accept our circumstances; we can try like mad to change them. A year ago I was in agony, in so much pain I could barely stand. My doctor told me I needed to live with it and accept it. I went to a different doctor. I worked hard for a year experimenting with different solutions, and I’ve been pain-free for the past three or four months. Churchill said, “Never, ever, ever give up.” I say never, ever believe something just because someone else believes it.
Not Giving Power to the Wrong Thoughts
Today is a good day to have a chat with yourself about what you believe and how you want to change your story. I can tell you that if you repeat your new story enough, your old story will fade. Don’t give it power over you. You get to choose how you perceive your situation. You get to choose how you can change it or what you believe about it. You deserve the best. You still have time to change the world, to make an impact or impression on others, and to make the remaining days or years the best they can be. It lies within you. Wake it up.
PS: You can interact with coffee in the comments section of CoffeeWithEric.com (just scroll to the end of any post and join the conversation). That’s also where you can point others to sign up (or you can of course forward these to them). I’d love to hear your thoughts, and if you place them there, others can see them too. Or you can respond privately. I try to respond to every single e-mail.
I feel like one of the luckiest men alive.
I knew and spent time with my grandparents as an adult and had all four for many years into adulthood. Three out of four lived into their mid-90s, which is a strong indicator of good genes.
I’m also blessed to have both of my parents, and they remain active, mentally alert, and very engaged. In fact, my dad flew out to the Plein Air Convention by himself and hung out with us for a couple of days before he went on a photo expedition. He wanted to see what his kid does for a living and be supportive. I’ve got a great dad and mom who support me.
Of course I tell my triplets, age 15, that I fully intend to be in their lives for many decades to come because I want to know their great-grandchildren…
Which brings me to something I spoke about on stage at the Plein Air Convention. It’s about aging.
Time Is Running Out…
I often tell the story of a relative who in his late 50s started talking about how he was “getting old” and needed to start the process of planning, because he would not be around long.
Perhaps he was half-joking, but I remember telling my wife, “He’s right. If he keeps talking about getting old, he won’t last long.”
As it turned out, he passed away soon after.
You see, our subconscious mind has triggers; they trigger our bodies to react to what we’re telling the brain. Our body is getting one of two signals: the signal to live or the signal to die.
The body takes those signals and produces what it needs to live, or to begin the process of deterioration. There are “signals” that impact life … our thinking, our level of exercise, our diets, our social lives, and our mental engagement.
I don’t even like to utter or type the words “I’m getting old” because I’m very protective about not putting this thought into my head to trigger negative action in my subconscious mind. If I do, it’s only as an example, and then I make a conscious effort to tell myself, “That’s unlike me to think that way.”
Though you and I don’t know when our end will come, I think it’s important to manage our thoughts and feed the right triggers, so that no matter our chronological age, we don’t trigger ourselves into a dying mode.
You Have to Train Your Brain
Instead of saying those words when I have a cranky back or a pain, I don’t utter anything age-related. Instead, I simply tell myself, “I need to fix the problem.” I then work very hard at not accepting physical limitations. After all, they may be age-related, but are usually caused by the lack of something else, usually proper diet or proper exercise.
Two years ago I popped a disc in my back when doing a stretch at the gym. It was painful, and it slowed me down. I refused surgery and kept going to professionals until I found some who told me there were other ways to address the issue. As a result, I went through a lot of chiropractic, rolfing, acupuncture, a little yoga, and even some new forms of deep tissue work, along with stretches and exercises to build scar tissue.
The problem is 100 percent solved, the disc is back in place, and the back is stable. Had I accepted the diagnosis of surgery first, or one doctor telling me, “It’s just part of getting old, you’ll need to learn to live with it,” I would not be where I am today.
There I go, talking about my health…
Have you noticed that often this is the topic when older people gather? My dad said, “I need to find younger friends, because the older ones only want to talk about their health.”
You Become What You Think About
What you talk about, what you spend your time on, is what feeds your mind. I try to avoid talking about my health, and I try to change the subject when friends start sharing their aches.
Frequently I scold people for using “getting old” kinds of phrases. The other day I scolded a nationally known speaker who teaches positive thinking. He did not even realize he was doing it.
In Art Marketing Boot Camp at the recent Plein Air Convention, I did a segment on building “the ultimate retirement” business as an artist because I hear from so many people who want to ramp up their art careers fast after they retire from their lifelong career. Many ask if there is time.
My answer is that you should assume you have unlimited amounts of time. The key is being engaged mentally, socially, and physically. Don’t place limits on yourself about how much time you have left. Assume you have a lot, because you can hold a paintbrush till your last breath.
Five Will Get You Fifty
Five years ago I read an article that said if you can live just 10 more years, there is a strong chance you could live 50 more years. The reality is that technology is rapidly changing. In fact, some billionaires are working on 3D-printing human tissue into new hearts and say they will eventually be able to 3D-print a full human body with perfect health.
They also say they have transferred a brain from one mouse to another, so a mouse who has learned a maze can have that information moved to the other mouse — without surgery. What they are saying is, if they can combine brain-transfer tech with 3D body printing, you could, in theory, live as long as you want to. Perhaps you’ll find it controversial, but I think it just might help me know my great-great-great-grandchildren and play volleyball with them.
I’m Not Insensitive
Look, I know there are true and real issues, like illness and injuries, that many of you face. I was approached by a woman at the convention who was living through horrific chemo treatments and was not yet out of the woods. I don’t in any way mean to make light of the situations you or your family or friends may be going through.
But I also don’t entirely trust traditional MDs. I’ve read about a lot of new technology in use today for various issues that my own doctor is not even aware of. Though there is a lot of untrue stuff selling hope on the Internet, there is also a chance to research and find legit solutions. New things take time to be adopted, and many MDs want to be cautious and make sure the science supports it.
People ask me where my energy comes from, because I tend to walk fast, get up early and stay up late, and manage to crush through a lot of work and some very long convention or painting event days at things like my Publisher’s Invitational in the Adirondacks or Fall Color Week or my Russian Art Tour.
Frankly, I used to fall asleep in my chair after dinner every night and I lacked energy. Switching to a vegan diet, eliminating all grains from my life, and juicing greens every morning have a lot to do with my energy. I also see a nutritionist every year to adjust my supplements. Oh, I still see my MD, and I make sure I get my key vitals and heart checked frequently. Plus I’m at the gym an hour every weekday, doing weights and cardio. But I don’t want you to think for a second that I’m pushing this on you. Everyone has to find what works for them.
So Much to Do, So Little Time
I may be proven wrong in all of this, but at least I’m fooling myself into thinking I can play a role in extending my life. After all, there is much to be done, and I’ll need a lot of time to do everything I want to do.
Many of you reading this are of an age where you need to reconsider your thought patterns and the behavior that supports your energy level and health. Chances are a lot of things your MD says cannot be reversed can be reversed.
Others are a long way from it, but it’s best to understand it now so that you’ll be ready when you do face it.
Hello … You’re Dead
I’m big on watching what I put into my mind. My friend Kaye and I were on the phone one day and she was telling me about caring for a friend of ours who is dying of cancer. She said, “I’m not sure how much longer I can take this. I work a full day in my company and then I work hours on his care. This is killing me. “
I stopped her and said, “Kaye, for your own benefit, please don’t use the words, ‘This is killing me.’ Your subconscious will pick up on that.’
She then scolded me for telling her about this positive-thinking BS.
Kaye died the next day.
Do not feed your mind things that trigger dying. Feed your mind to trigger life … long, healthy life.
It may sound like positive-thinking BS, but there is a lot of recent evidence to support it.
Most importantly, ask yourself what you believe and what you’re telling yourself and if it’s supporting what you need to get done before your time comes.
A friend of mine asks himself every year, “What am I doing that is not supporting my ability to live a strong, healthy, long life?” Whatever he comes up with, he quits.
He quit smoking.
He quit eating meat.
He quit eating dairy.
He quit sitting around and started taking walks.
He quit gluten.
Forgive me if I’m preaching. I only want the best for you.
Your mission for this week?
- Maybe ask yourself what you’re doing that does not support your longevity.
- Catch yourself. Every time you make an OPR (Old Person’s Reference), set off a mental buzzer and say, “That’s unlike me to think that.” And please stop uttering words like, “I’m getting old,” or “I’m old.” Old is a relative term, and with the new technology today, you might not even be halfway there.
- Be careful about other mind-altering words, like, “I can’t take this anymore. This is killing me.”
Have a great week. Thanks for sharing coffee with me this morning.