Guys: It happens.
You work out, eat right, make positive strides in your life ambitions, and take time for yourself and your family and friends in reasonable balance. Or maybe one or more of these to a lesser degree than others, and you experience some disbalance and disharmony. Or perhaps, you’ve really let some (or all) of these important parts of life fall by the wayside. But still, you go about your life, day after day, as months, seasons, and years pass. And then you notice.
It’s harder (if not impossible) to get motivated for the gym. You opt for more “grab and go” lunches that progress into more fast-food dinners with electronics for company. You spend more time wondering where your focus and energy are going to come from to complete that big project than you do actually working on the project. Mustering the energy to play, whether that is with your kids, your grandkids, or your adult friends… seems like an Olympic event for which you forgot to train. The people in your life? Family, friends, coworkers? It’s not quite avoidance, but you know you play a role in that distant feeling. And intimacy… well, should we even get started on that?
“But, wait a minute. We’re guys, right? This isn’t stuff that happens to us. Right?”
Guys: It happens to everyone, and yes, that includes us. You’re far from alone in this! As a man, you’ve probably noticed that your culture doesn’t exactly encourage you from talking about your worries, your sense of fading virility, your self-admission that your abilities change over time, and that sometimes, you push to do more than is reasonable (or maybe what you feel you “should” be able to do considering your personal history?) and end up actually doing very little, despite best efforts.
So, what now?
As with a lot of challenges, I advocate for my “VALUE” approach here (Value > Accept > Learn > Understand > Engage). From dealing with shame associated with experiencing something for which our society doesn’t offer much room, to finding your new rhythm that carries you through some of the obstacles, to figuring out your new mindset to enter new stages of life with vigor and openness, these steps can help you get started. Applying the VALUE stages to these men’s challenges might look something like this:
Validate: Know that your feelings are neither right nor wrong – they just are. Changes are sometimes going to upset you, even if the “guy rule book” says they shouldn’t. Lose the judgment and gain the right to feel what you feel.
Accept: While you don’t have to like every change, you do have to acknowledge that what you’re struggling with is really happening. And you know what else? This doesn’t have to mean accepting defeat or admitting that “things will never get better.” It actually means, “Even though this is happening, I have been dealing with it and I can commit to deal more effectively.”
Learn: Know yourself, your strategies, and your biases, as they’ve worked for you, to a greater or lesser extent so far. Then set your mind to evaluating these existing notions and behaviors for how well they work for you now, and whether they will continue to serve you. You can be tough on yourself here, but don’t forget to also be nurturing.
Understand: This is taking “Learn” to the next level, and putting it in context. As you figure out your new strategies, recognize that not everyone in your life is going to be immediately receptive. That’s going to challenge YOU further! Understanding means figuring out the importance of your new incentives and how to fit the most crucial of these into your new life game.
Engage: The rubber hits the road! Time to test out some of these new ideas!
With a balance of persistence and self-compassion, you will be on your way to finding new ways to maximize your life pursuits. It isn’t always easy, and it is sometimes helpful to have another set of well-chosen, objective, nurturing eyes. Whether that be a therapist, a friend/family member, a partner, or some combination of these, finding a level of comfort in sharing your challenges and putting your heads together on a plan can be a real boost to your efforts!