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What I’m Learning From My 84-year-old Dad

A new month & a new season brings a fresh new look for newsletter and I hope you like it. I also thought I’d wrap you up in a little warmth with a story about my Dad.

My dad was a lithographer in the printing industry. A global expert, he regularly chalked up overseas trips to explain a specific printing process involving colour. He was a mad golfer and still is a mad Collingwood fan, with the family joke being that he hangs in there year after year just for the promise of another Pies flag.

Four years ago, the family was told Dad wouldn’t be with us much longer. Without intruding on his privacy, he has cancer and struggles every day. But as time goes on, I’m learning a lot from my strong 84-year-old dad.

Mostly what he’s teaching me is mindset. I’m learning firsthand the power of routine and the power of goal setting. It’s stuff I’ve known for years in my corporate life and it’s what I teach clients, but it’s something really special to see it in action and know that it really works.

I don’t know if Ron understands the effects of what he’s doing, but he insists on setting goals. First, he wanted to make it to Christmas. Then it was my niece’s 18th birthday. Then his and Mum’s 60th wedding anniversary. Now he wants to be 85.

All of these milestones (and smaller ones in between, like the Anzac Day footy match) keep him motivated. He’s staying alive by staying focused on goals, or that’s how it seems to me anyway. He’s determined to be around for lovely family things, and so far, he is.

Then there’s the routine he sticks to every day. Even when he feels like sh&t, he still gets up, gets dressed and has the same huge breakfast of eggs with toast soldiers or a big bowl of porridge with heaps and heaps of honey and muesli clusters on the top. He lays it out the night before, which means he’s optimistic about getting up to make it.

Then he reads the paper, and might sit outside or go for a little walk around the block, followed by a sleep in his chair. It’s not earth shattering and it’s a shadow of what he used to be able to do, but it makes him feel he’s achieved something for the day and used his time how he can.

I strongly believe the goal setting and routines are really supporting his mindset and keeping him going. He’s not giving in.

And I think what I’m learning from Dad is that what he’s doing could benefit everyone. One of the main reasons goal setting and routines can contribute to a longer lifespan is they promote healthy habits and behaviours. For Ron, it’s a nutritious breakfast and keeping his mind active by reading news. Yours will be different. The result is the same: when people have clear goals in mind, they’re more likely to make choices that support those goals.

Goal setting and routines can help reduce stress. Dad loves knowing what he’ll be doing every day and what he hopes to do in the next months or year. When we have a clear sense of direction and purpose, we’re less likely to experience anxiety or worry about the future. The beauty of routines is they provide a sense of stability and predictability which can be comforting and help us feel in control of chaos around us. (Maybe a bit late for Dad, but lower levels of stress have been linked to better health outcomes including a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.)

And then there’s the way goal setting and routines are important tools to maintain a sense of social connectedness, which has been linked to better health and longevity. Dad gets his weekly dose of that via the footy—feeling like part of a community united by the love of a team really boosts him (at least of the moment!). Routines that involve regular social activities—a class, volunteering, you name it—are great opportunities for social interaction and engagement.

So, thanks Dad. When I was growing up, you’d drive me everywhere to sport games and tell me what you thought afterwards. You taught me to drive, to value a work ethic, to look after other people. You’re still teaching me. You’re the best.