“I really appreciate having an older lady in my life for guidance and wisdom,” a young client said recently.
I looked over my shoulder, to see who this older woman was, only to realise that she was referring to me! Since when had I become the older woman, I thought. I still feel the same as I did when I was in my 20s.
I found it challenging when the first signs of uninvited lines marked my face, and silver strands appeared around my hairline. I remember being annoyed that my fitness level had fallen to an all time low, and that losing weight had become tougher than ever before. I was irritated with marketing companies for taking advantage of this information about me. Encouraging me and my generation to look good and feel great all the time: smooth those wrinkles, dye that grey hair, wear contact lenses not bifocals, go to the gym and flatten that belly, run a mile a day and stay strong, get your teeth whitened before you lose them, and the list goes on.
I know that appearance can have an impact on one’s confidence but I didn’t want it to be my main focus. And I didn’t need anyone reminding me of all those negatives; the voice in my head did a good job of that by itself.
My husband brought home a book entitled The Hundred Year Life. My initial reaction was, “Surely not!” According to the author I could have another forty something years to live and at least twenty more to work, if I chose to. Retirement was not my goal. I made a snap decision there and then; it was time to take control of my own life, no one was going to do it for me. It was time to focus on me and create my future.
I was eating well and exercising regularly, aware that both are crucial for healthy ageing. I realised that the part of me which warranted the greatest attention, was inside my head. My thoughts and state of mind are extremely influential on how I feel about myself, and the world around me. For me to stay positive and enjoy mid life, both needed to be handled with care, understood, guided, trained, built-up and looked after as much as any other body part. I could no longer afford to neglect the power of my mind.
I imagine my life like a game of Snakes and Ladders. Sometimes I get a lucky break and climb quickly, other times I land on a slippery slope and have to start all over again. With 100 squares on the board, one for each potential year of my life, I am more than half way to the finish line. I can’t afford to leave my future to chance anymore. It is time to prepare a winning plan and play this game of life by my rules.
For some people the idea of living 100 years is exciting; for others it is a terrifying thought. Most of my peers tell me that they only want to live that long if they can have a good life, by that they actually mean a healthy life. I don’t know anyone that wants to live the second half of his or her life feeling tired, fearful or lacking enthusiasm for each new day. So how does one go about achieving a great life and having it all as they age? The steps I have learned and implemented in my own life boil down to three main things: what you think, what you say and what you do. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
What you think
My first big ‘aha’ moment came when I read about the impact our mindset has on the outcomes of our life. Professor Carol Dweck was the first to explain the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. I always thought I was fairly open minded but when I looked at my life I realised that some of the situations I was in, were as a result of my fixed mindset.
A person with a fixed mindset will be challenged by change. This person may see mid-life as the first step to retirement, and see retirement as the first step to the grave. When the fixed mindset feels overwhelmed it will run away and give in to obstacles, it will blame and argue and consider itself too old to improve. The root of this behaviour is an unwillingness to step out of a comfort zone into the unknown.
You will hear someone with a fixed mindset say things like: “you can’t change it, we’ve always done it this way.” They find it difficult to see beyond what they have been brought up with. Things are either right or wrong, there is no middle ground.
On the other hand, someone with a growth mindset will give things a go, and work through their fear and limiting beliefs. This mindset is happy to learn from failure and is open to feedback. This type of thinker sees mid-life as a time to be grateful. They are likely to be thankful for having a bit more available cash in the bank, for having more time on their hands, they are usually excited to take up a new hobby and they often see this stage of their life as a new beginning.
Someone with a growth mindset would say, “I’m not comfortable with this, but I’m willing to give it a try.” They are open to ideas and to seeing life from someone else’s point of view even if they don’t agree with that person’s conclusion. For me the turning point was when I shifted my mindset from menopausal woman, past her sell by date, waiting for retirement, to youthful female in her fifties open to new opportunities for the next 50 years. I didn’t know what those opportunities would be or when they would appear but being open to them gave me a sense of hope.
What you say
Are you aware of the impact your language has on your state of mind, your wellbeing and your future? When I read my diary from a few years ago I couldn’t believe how depressing the entries were.
I had no idea at the time that I was making myself feel worse by reinforcing my negative view of life in words on paper and in my head: can’t, won’t, don’t, dislike, hate, angry, sad, worried etc. It makes depressing reading. When I was first introduced to the idea of powerful positive language and it’s uplifting affect on the mind and body, I was sceptical. When I was forced to try it, my mood lifted instantly and my whole outlook changed.
Try the following exercise now. Write out a few negative sentences, for example: I can’t do this; I’m no good at that; I should visit my old neighbour. When you read your sentences be aware of how they make you feel and where in your body you feel that affect. This type of language attributes to making us feel negative about the activities that we have to do and about ourselves.
Now I would like you to notice the difference when you say: I can do this. I am so good at that. I choose to visit my old neighbour. Try to avoid words like: should, ought to, have to and instead use words like: want to, excited to, decided to. You will soon begin to notice the language of those around you.
What you do
Some people are motivated by external gratification, for example money and status, for others it may be an internal sense of making a positive difference, or the joy of using their natural skills for the benefit of others. It doesn’t matter which drives you, what really matters, is that you understand why.
Making your choice this way means that when times get tough, as every new venture does, these reasons will keep you going. My reasons for doing what I do now are: connection and the sense of belonging, healthy ageing, being a good role model for my girls and satisfaction that I have something positive to contribute to my community.
What do you really, really want in your 50s plus years? Take a minute to write down your answers, be honest with yourself. Remove all limitations. Let your imagination soar. Why do you want this? How can you go about getting it?
What do you want from life? Share with us in the comments.