Transcript: EP 321 – How to Make Friends as an Adult with Ayse Birsel
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Ayse: So that idea of manufacturing friends gets you to think about what are friendship factories. And I want everyone to know that you can make friends and the ingredients are actually very simple. You need to have shared interests, share space and time, and then have something that accelerates trust.
Dr. Taz: Hi everyone, and welcome to Super Woman Wellness. I’m Dr. Taz. I’ve made it my mission throughout my career in integrative medicine to support women in restoring their health using a blend of eastern medical wisdom with modern science. In this show, I will guide you through different practices to find your power type and fully embody the healthiest and most passionate version of you. I’m here for you and I can’t wait to get started. This is a Soulfire Production.
Welcome back, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Super Woman Wellness, where we are determined to bring you back to your superpowered self. Have you thought about designing a life that you love? Well, my next guest is going to help you do just that. I am so pleased to introduce Ayse Birsel, author of Design the Long Life You Love: A Step-by-Step Guide to Love, Purpose, Wellbeing, and Friendship. She’s a leading life coach. Ayse tells all in her new book, Design the Long Life You Love, giving advice on how to grow a garden of fresh new friends as we grow older. She shares tips from those who’ve done it before, the astronauts of our life, I love this, our elders. Welcome to the show, Ayse. I am so pleased to have you here,
Ayse: Dr. Taz. It’s great to be here. Thank you.
Dr. Taz: You are welcome. So what inspired you to write this book? I’m so curious. I love to write as well, and there’s always an idea in my head, so I’m curious what sparked this particular idea for you?
Ayse: What sparked this idea was I was asked to research aging first with Amazon and then the Scan Foundation.
Dr. Taz: Okay.
Ayse: I teach people how to design their life. So our research was co-designing life with people who were 65 and older. And the outcomes of that research were so incredibly optimistic that I thought I need to share this and change our narrative around aging.
Dr. Taz: Wow. So talk to us about the research then around aging, because many people, I’m trying to change that dialogue too. We’re never done, we’re never over or expired. But talk to me a little bit about the research that you found.
Ayse: You’re absolutely right. 87% of Americans fear aging.
Dr. Taz: Wow.
Ayse: But when we researched and co-designed life with older people, like you said, these astronauts of life, they told us the thrill is not gone, the thrill is on, and that we now have 20 to 30 more years to live, and what a gift of life, and it’s thrilling to be alive. So they wouldn’t deny all the challenges, but they also refuse to be defined by them. And that attitude, this growth mindset of older people, has really captured my attention and I thought we need to learn more about this.
Dr. Taz: So what did you find? So there are definitely elders that have a growth mindset. You see them enjoying life, you see them taking up new skills, starting new businesses, taking on new identities. But then you do also see the ones that start to wither and start to retreat. What is the separation between those two groups? Can you tell why an individual goes one way versus the other way?
Ayse: Dr. Taz, it’s like everything. We have people of all ages. Some of them are introverts and some of them are extroverts, some of them are pessimists and others are optimists. Some love to complain and others turn challenges into opportunities. So it’s like anything else. We have our personalities. And the thing that we heard from, I guess if I were to boil it all down to two words, I would say same different. That we are same different. No matter our age, we want the same things, which are the four pillars of my book: love, purpose, wellbeing and friendship.
Dr. Taz: Not money, not career accomplishment necessarily. Right?
Ayse: Exactly. And I can speak to those as well, but, so of course this is not everyone 100%, but it’s really how we are in life and how we evolve. And I love that idea of same different because it creates empathy for our future selves, as well as empathy for our younger selves.
Dr. Taz: I love that. So you told me you were an industrial designer, right? Correct?
Dr. Taz: How does an industrial designer transition to being a life coach? And then using the principles of design to help people design a longer life and what that life needs to look like, explain that to us.
Ayse: Yeah. So I was telling you I’m an industrial designer and I’ve designed everything from toilet seats to office systems to potato peelers to automobiles, so you name it. And what design is and what designers do is we solve problems. And so we love problems because if you don’t have a problem, you have nothing to solve for. And that’s what I teach people. Life is our biggest design project. It’s full of challenges, problems, constraints, you name it. And using design tools, you can solve those problems and really generate ideas. And when you generate ideas, that gives you hope, and when you have hope, then you can move into the solution space and go towards the future. Simply what I try to do is turn your inner pessimist into your outer optimist using design tools.
Dr. Taz: So give us an example. Let’s take my mom. I love my mom to death, but she has always been more of a pessimist. Always have heard her say, “I’m about to die or going to die,” or, “This is going to happen,” or, “That’s going to happen.” How do we change somebody like that? How do we change somebody who’s seen trauma, who has busted it, who’s been divorced, who never remarried? How do we change their mindset to help them design a life that, hey, you still got 10, 15, 20 more years, make it count, make it amazing. So how do we do that?
Ayse: I love that question. Also, very close to you, your mom. It reminds me of my dad who was a lawyer, and lawyers are trained to be pessimists.
Dr. Taz: Right, right. Something’s always going to go wrong. Exactly.
Ayse: I’m not going to go there.
Dr. Taz: Yeah, totally.
Ayse: So the tools that you could think about, how to turn your pessimism into optimism, is first of all just acknowledge that problems are part of life. And the whole trick is how can you see those problems as opportunities and lean into them. So one thing that’s really important is to have empathy. And here it’s having empathy for yourself. So your mom having empathy for yourself, but also you having empathy for your mom, that this is her character traits and she’s a pessimist, and you might not be able to transform her completely. She might not be able to transform herself 100%. Just acknowledging that pain is the first step, that there is discomfort in one way or another.
And then thinking about this very simple question, what if? What if? And with that, thinking what if instead of complaining, I saw this as an opportunity, or what if my mother, for example, instead of crying, she tells me, “I’m going to laugh because it is what it is. What can you do?” So what if the question is a great reframing to get people to think about the same things differently.
And then collaboration is the third thing because when we collaborate, we have other people’s opinions and it opens up our perspective to different ways of thinking about the same thing. So in this case, I could say, okay, your mom, who could be her collaborator? Her friends? You? And so instead of her trying to do everything herself, are there places where you could collaborate and give her a different perspective? And show that what gives people hope is to see solutions in different places. And so maybe seeing somebody else do something differently or learning how to make friends, new friends, that kind of reading my book. Those are the things. Actually, that would be a good experiment, Dr. Taz. Don’t you think?
Dr. Taz: Yeah, it would actually. I should try that on her for sure. Well, one of the things you have already talked about, so you said, let’s see, let’s see if I remember correctly. We all desire at any age or stage, love, purpose, friendship. What was the other one?
Dr. Taz: Wellbeing, okay.
Dr. Taz: So we’ve got these four pillars that we all desire at any stage of life. As we’re planning and designing a life around those four pillars, many people will say it’s difficult to find love, it’s difficult to make new friends. Right?
Dr. Taz: Many of us have the same friends from college or high school or our graduate programs or friends that we made as our children were growing. How do you get out of this love, friendship rut, so to speak, when you’re moving into a different phase of life?
Ayse: So I have four tips for each one of these pillars to get us started.
Dr. Taz: Okay.
Ayse: So tip number one is, and these tips actually come from our elders who have lived the longest. Tip number one is to learn to love yourself. There’s a very easy way to do it, but it’s a habit. So it’s easy, but making it into a habit takes a little bit of time. So every night before you go to bed, you get in front of the mirror and you tell yourself, “I love you.” You look yourself in the eye and you go-
Dr. Taz: Oh, wow. Okay.
Ayse: “I love you.” And combine this with something like brushing your teeth so that it’s easier to make it into a habit. And you need 21 days to retrain your brain. So if you can do this 21 days, you start to teach your brain to love yourself. And what does that mean? It really means having self-compassion. So that that’s tip number one.
Dr. Taz: Okay, I like that one.
Ayse: Okay. Tip number two is we often have ready-made purpose. Ready-made purpose, what do I mean by that? Your work gives you a sense of purpose. Your family gives you a sense of purpose. But as we get older, we need to create self-made purpose. And self-made purpose goes beyond all the social constructs of work, school, family, and it’s something that you generate yourself. So how can you create self-made purpose? Think about the ways you create meaning. This could be through being creative, it could be teaching others, it could be learning, it could be helping others. It could be fighting for something you believe in. These are all ways to generate self-made purpose. So that’s tip number two.
Dr. Taz: Okay.
Ayse: As you can see, there’s this sense of self-love.
Dr. Taz: Yes.
Ayse: Self-made purpose, right?
Dr. Taz: Yeah.
Ayse: So number three, the wellness tip is less regrets because so many of us have regrets. And as we get older, our buckets get fuller and fuller. And so this is a tip or a trick I learned from my friend Ron Carruci, who’s the author of To Be Honest. And he says, “Make an inventory of your regrets, then pick three and write a letter to those three regrets.” And once you do that, you let them go and say, “I don’t need your services anymore.” And then if you can, read that letter to somebody else who’s not going to offer you any advice, but just hold that space for you. And with that, as you read those letters, just let go of them and feel free. And this is a technique that helps you manage your regrets. So that’s number tip three.
Dr. Taz: Three.
Ayse: Number three.
Dr. Taz: These are good. I love them. I’m actually writing them down like them so I get them right. These are great.
Ayse: I love your podcast, and I was listening to you and thinking, okay, I need to give your listeners tips because that’s what you do to bring out their superpower. So I came ready.
Dr. Taz: I love it. I love it.
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Ayse: And tip number four is about what you said earlier, more friends. How do you make fresh friends? Because our friends are our lifeline. They do prolong our life. And to make new friends, think of a gift, something that you can gift somebody else, and start gifting people, new friends or even strangers. So for me, for example, I take a book with me everywhere and I gift people my book, and it kind of is an expression of love. And I have this other friend who, Lee Kim, actually who taught me this trick. She makes these beautiful hats out of pipe cleaners. And if somebody compliments her hats, she gives them the hat. So she gives her hat.
Dr. Taz: Wow, gotcha,
Ayse: It could be anything. It could be just a flower. It could be a photo you took. But that gifting, you know what it is like? It’s like when we were kids in the playground and we share our buckets or gift our sandcastle or something like that, or a candy. And that’s like the beginning of our friendships from childhood. It’s the same idea.
Dr. Taz: That’s so true.
Dr. Taz: That’s so true. We always share something and that’s how we become friends. Even in school, we sometimes share notes or share a dorm or share something, and that’s how-
Ayse: A cooking. Exactly.
Dr. Taz: Yeah.
Dr. Taz: Oh my gosh, I never thought of that. Yeah, there’s something about the art of gifting that I think is very special. And I think with the Amazon age, everything can just be delivered to everyone. But I think it’s the art of handing you a gift, right? It’s like the in-person exchange of something.
Ayse: Exactly. And expressing your love for someone, even if you don’t know them. These days, actually after I wrote this book, so I’m an introvert, but the book helped me become an extrovert vis-a-vis friends. So now when I go into a party or a conference into an environment where I don’t know people, I go with this idea of I’m going to make a new friend. What if I’m going to meet someone I’m going to be friends with for the rest of my life? And it completely changes my attitude. And I remember to bring something. Before I had my book, I had these simple bracelets that I would gift. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
Dr. Taz: I love that. I love that. And so you are able to generate friends even later in life. Right? That is possible.
Ayse: Yeah. In the book I talk about love is found, but friendships are made, and if friendships are made, we can manufacture them. So that idea of manufacturing friends gets you to think about what are friendship factories? And I want everyone to know that you can make friends. And the ingredients are actually very simple. You need to have shared interests, share space and time, and then have something that accelerates trust. So for example, when you go and take a class, the fact that you are learning together accelerates trust, and you’re in the classroom in a certain, it’s a specific space and time. And so thinking about those things and looking at those opportunities of where are places where there’s shared time, space and interest, and something that accelerates trust.
Dr. Taz: I love that, yeah.
Ayse: Another accelerator of trust is when somebody introduces you to somebody else that accelerates trust.
Dr. Taz: Right, right.
Ayse: And just paying attention to those things. And I think for older people, this is not even a question of do I want to make friends? It’s really I need to make friends just like I’m walking for exercise, I’m taking my vitamins, I’m eating fish. I was listening to you and I love that you love Mediterranean diet.
Dr. Taz: Oh yes.
Ayse: I’m Mediterranean. So it’s just kind of that kind of idea of like, oh, Mediterranean diet is good for me. Oh, friendships are good for me, and here’s how I can make friends.
Dr. Taz: I love that. I think these are all concepts that happened very naturally in a different society when we walked places, when we lived in smaller communities and we were able to interact and we were kind of a little dependent on each other. “Can you watch my child? Can you watch my dad?” That type of thing. And as we’ve gotten further away from that, it’s almost like we have to be deliberate with this, right? It’s not natural anymore. It’s not happening naturally, so it has to be a deliberate effort to manufacture friends and to love yourself and to carry on some of these tips and things like that that you’ve suggested.
What about love? I think love is a hard one. What do you say to love?
Ayse: I think mean loving yourself is really important. The other thing that’s in the book that’s actually one of my favorite chapters is I interviewed Cindy Gallop, who is a maverick advertising executive who talked to me about love. She has started a startup called Make Love Not Porn. And she said, “Ayse, do you want to…” And she’s 62, so she said that she is the most visible member of the most invisible segment of society, older women. And so I have her in the book talking about what she calls her patented guide to dating.
Dr. Taz: Yeah, wow, okay.
Ayse: And it’s amazing. It’s amazing. And I would recommend that for everyone older and younger. The first thing I did did after I interviewed Cindy was to go to my teenage daughters and say, “Hey, you need to follow these rules.” And her number one rule is it has to be somebody nice.
Dr. Taz: Yeah.
Ayse: And she says a lot of people on dating apps and whatnot, they don’t think of nice as a quality, but nice is the number one quality. And again, recognizing that we’re same. No matter what our age, we need love.
Dr. Taz: Yeah, absolutely.
Ayse: Often we assume you’re older, you don’t need love anymore.
Dr. Taz: Right, right.
Ayse: No more intimate love for you, and that that’s really not the case. It’s not true.
Dr. Taz: Oh my goodness. I love this. Well, these are all incredible tips. As you’ve gone on your own journey and designed your own life, what are some of the lessons that you hope to pass on to all of us or things that you’ve learned yourself?
Ayse: You were mentioning this different cultures. So I come from Turkey and-
Dr. Taz: Oh, I was just there. I was just in Istanbul. I loved it.
Ayse: Oh my God. Yeah, we have to talk about that.
Dr. Taz: Yeah.
Ayse: So the Turkish culture in the Middle East and Asia is a culture that reveres elders, right? And in a way, I left Turkey behind as a young person because I wanted to be in a culture that reveres younger people. And that’s what I found in the States, where we love youth. And I found all the opportunities that I wanted at a very young age, and I think it’s a beautiful thing to be able to have that. But as you get older, you realize you also need the other side of a culture and a society that reveres its elders. And I think in the States we have the opportunity to be both. And so these intergenerational relations are really important for us individually, for us as corporations, and also as a society.
So I would say from my perspective, just when I look at my life, I learned that it has to be young and old together. And a very simple way to put that into practice is, we were just talking about friendships. When we did our research, one of the participants told us, you need to have friends who are nine years younger and nine years older.
Dr. Taz: I like that.
Ayse: And I love that. And it made me realize most of my friends are older. They’re my mentors, they’re my heroes. I don’t have many young friends. And that notion of nine years is, of course, it’s just a number. It gets you to think about younger and older in a kind of tangible manner. But now I’m making a lot of effort to have younger friends. And that intergenerational approach I think is really key because we have so much to learn from each other and to teach each other.
Dr. Taz: Definitely. Well, this is an incredible conversation. I love the idea that you can design a long life, that you’re not going to expire, that there’s not an end point or a sell by date for any of us, and that we all kind of want the same things at different stages of our life: love, friendships, wellbeing, purpose. So we’re all seeking those. And as I think about my aging parents, it’s just something definitely to take back to them as well. So thank you so much for sharing this with us. For anybody who’s watching and listening and might want to connect with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Ayse: The best way for them to do that would be aysebirsel.com/newsletter because then they’ll get my newsletter.
Dr. Taz: Okay.
Ayse: And know everything that I’m doing, whether it’s our podcast or other events. And it’s A-Y-S-E, B like boy, I-R-S-E-l.com/newsletter.
Dr. Taz: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I appreciate it. And I hope you guys are all inspired to maybe make a new friend, maybe give somebody a gift. Who knows? Lots of great tips in this episode for really designing the long life that you love. Really appreciate your time today. And for all of you watching and listening to this episode of Super Woman Wellness, remember to rate and review it and share it with your friends. I’ll see you guys next time.