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The Power of a Good Reframe

18 July 2017 - Dr Jan Orman

I think I’ve finally found a cognitive reframe that works for me – and it’s all about terminology.

I spend a lot of time helping people find new ways of looking at things – ways that help them manage the things that are troubling them by developing new perspectives. I don’t seem to have been quite so successful in doing it for myself lately.

Here’s the thing. At 62 I am a year older than my mother was when she died and a number of years older than my father was when his dementia began. Lots of family members of my generation are falling apart. I look in the mirror and don’t like what I see, bits of me hurt more than they used to, especially in the mornings, and sometimes by the time I open Google I can’t remember what it was I was looking for! But hey, I hear you say, isn’t that normal? Not in my world view I’m afraid.

On the up side I don’t have anything physically wrong with me (maybe I was adopted?) and I’m still working effectively. I’ve reached a stage where I can choose the hours I work and the type of work I do and there is no financial pressure to work if I don’t want to. I really don’t have anything to complain about.

Nevertheless, feel miserable, I do!

Could it be because taxi drivers have started acting surprised when I tell them I am going to work? Or is it because shop assistants in trendy stores look at me as if I shouldn’t be there? Or perhaps it’s because my friends are talking about “retirement living” or preparing for their year as “grey nomads”?

Or could it be because politicians and the media are constantly on about the cost to the community of the aging population?

I am neither a young adult worker nor a retiree – and I don’t plan to be the latter for quite some time. So what am I? And what am I going to be in the next few years?

This is the article that has finally convinced me that maybe I am not just a burden on society. It’s an optimistic position that makes the point that it is the lack of a category for healthy older people that is the problem, and that the lack of a word to describe that phase of life drives cultural attitudes. Just as calling them “teenagers” empowered  adolescents in the mid 20th century and gave them a sense of identity, maybe calling people like me “Pre-tirees” or even OWLS (Older, Working Less, Still earning – I prefer “Still useful” but that’s just me) will give us a sense of identity that supports our purpose and worth in the community.

It only takes a little shift in thinking to make a huge difference to how you feel about yourself and the world.

For more about cognitive restructuring (reframing) here are some interesting articles, which explore ways to change thinking and how to reduce stress by cognitive restructuring. Especially interesting is a video of Aaron Beck, the father of cognitive behavioural therapy, talking about cognitive distortion and the use of cognitive restructuring in depression.

Dr Jan Orman
Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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