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
1. What is the big picture of being older?
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?
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?
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.
Contributed by David Solie, Adjunct Faculty, Saint Joseph's College