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This past year and a half has been a doozy. For all of us. While recognizing the impact to some was far more devastating than to others, I'll take a moment to avoid relative privation and focus on a particular kind of difficulty this “stay home; stay safe” mentality (mandate, dictate, overreach) has caused.
Having just jumped into trying to overcome the stereotypical midlife crisis lows, being thrown into the midst of worldwide chaos was a huge blow to my progress. Not only was my ability to follow through with many plans completely hampered due to outside forces, but the motivation to keep pressing forward was countered at every turn, internally.
Who cares if you are productive whilst maintaining your home, if you aren't allowed to welcome anyone in to enjoy it? What does it matter if you implement a great business plan, if you are forced to close your doors in fear? How do you plan for the future, when unemployment and inflation are rising?
With so much uncertainty, the desire to (for example) make YouTube videos just flew the coop (along with my children).
When Midlife Credo began, three years ago, the plan was to produce weekly videos. I certainly did not reach that goal, but the numbers are telling.
- August 2018–January 2019 23 videos
- February 2019–July 2019 15 video
- August 2019–January 2020 26 videos
- February 2020–July 2020 14 videos
- August 2020–January 2021 3 videos
- February 2021–July 2021 2 videos
Here's the sad visualization:
While I had hoped to ramp up this year, I came to a near standstill. Instead of the growth I was hoping for—with a goal of 10,000 followers—I stagnated. As of this writing, I'm at 8,052 subscribers, having gained less than two hundred in the past month. (But, can I really complain when I haven't posted anything since early May? No, I take the blame!)
Obviously government mandates and restrictions aren't the only barriers to living a good life. Health issues, relationship challenges, financial distress, and many other things can overwhelm our natural desires to progress, serve, and make the world a better place.
In spite of enormous issues in the world—most out of my control—I know for a fact that I would be happier and more equipped to make a difference in the world if I were not overwhelmed by the challenges and uncertainty.
How do you move forward in challenging times? How do you make plans amidst uncertainty? How do you remain hopeful with so much negativity all around?
Given that I haven't solved my own problem with this yet, I'm in no position to give advice. If you have found solutions, please share in the comments.
Here are a few ideas I'm going to try to employ over the next few weeks to kick myself into a better mindset:
Focus On Your Future Self
I'm in the middle of Jordan B. Peterson's Future Authoring program. If you're ready to dig deep into your life, this is a great (and challenging) program.
One of the first steps in the process is to carefully describe what you want your future to look like. This required thinking, planning, and analyzing. But you know what brought me a to a complete standstill? It was the next step. That required me to write out what I did not want my future to look like. Kind of the anti-future I was trying to avoid.
Working through that—and realizing the very real possibility of going down that path—is very uncomfortable. I know it will be worthwhile, but I have to build up the nerve to push through. (I will!)
If you've worked through JBP's program (or something similar), I'd love to hear your experience.
Revamp Your Morning Routine and Your Nighttime Routine
In 2019, early in my midlife makeover, I created a morning routine and a nighttime routine. These were very helpful in moving forward with my life. However, after a year or so, they didn't serve me as well.
Some things weren't necessary (or helpful), and needed to be removed entirely. Others needed to be added. Some just shifted around (like my adjustment from working out in the morning, to heading to the gym in the evening).
In spite of that, I never took the time to formally change my written routine. Given my penchant for lists and details, avoiding taking that action meant my routines were haphazard and, therefore, not as productive.
This week, I'll be redoing both routines to help me kick off and wind down each day intentionally and mindfully.
Decades ago I taught goal setting as one of my conference speaking topics. The feedback I got, was that one of the most helpful things I presented was a two-step process for making goals work:
- Set a very achievable goal that is impactful, but not overwhelming.
- Divide the goal into action steps, make the first step ridiculously easy (so simple that you'd be embarrassed to say you didn't complete it!), and then to do the first step, right then and there.
We're employing Newton's first law (paraphrased):
Action overcomes inertia. And once you are in motion, you will tend to remain in motion. So make the change from doing nothing to doing something as easy as possible.
A couple of weeks ago in church, a woman made a comment that stood out to me:
Sometimes the Lord can't guide you unless you're moving.Tami Sylvester
That was a reminder to me that I'm unlikely to get even divine intervention unless I'm already doing my best to move forward. God won't stand me up and push me down the road. But God might give me some directional insights.
Shock Your System
I already suggested you revamp your morning and evening routines, but this idea is more drastic. Get out of your comfort zone. Create some excitement. Do something you have never done before.
Rather than just switching your exercise routine from morning to evening (as I did), try a completely new and challenging workout. Instead of hopping on the stairmaster at a different time of day, try out a dance class, take up rock climbing, or get a workout buddy.
Instead of going to dinner and a movie for your next anniversary, try a serious couples adventure weekend like we did a couple of years ago!
This month (to celebrate our 36th anniversary), we'll be doing a somewhat adventurous, but also romantic getaway. More details to come!
Warning: unpopular opinion coming at you!
It's no secret I'm as much a fan of self-love as I was a fan of the self-esteem movement of a few decades ago. (I'm not. At all.) Long story short, I don't believe that we feel better about ourselves by focusing on ourselves, by stroking ourselves, by congratulating ourselves. (Nor in having our parents, significant others, peers, etc., do it on our behalf.)
Rather, I think real self-esteem comes as a side effect of other esteem. Sincerely, I do.
When we see the true inherent value in others, it rationally extends to all others—ourselves included. And when we accomplish things—and make a true positive impact on others—we feel better all around.
Try getting outside yourself and your personal problems and struggles. Find ways to make the lives of others better. I find it is most rewarding with personal interaction, but if that's not possible, do whatever you can.
It feels good to do good.
Get Fresh Air & Sunshine
This used to be part of the foundational understanding known as “common sense.” Somehow, this past year and a half, many have been convinced that the way to health and safety (physical and mental) is to stay indoors, sequester, cover their faces, and avoid human contact. (And, now, it's to inoculate yourself with an undisclosed formula that is, yes, still in clinical trial.) They've even been convinced that it's the only “kind” and “loving” way to behave.
If we could set aside the (very real) delusional psychosis that has set in, it's obvious those ideas are completely contrary to real human needs and well-being.
Even ignoring the disease-averse, depression-averse, obesity-averse properties of vitamin D, the benefits of moving your body in nature are well known.
Get your body outside at least once a day! Soak in some sun. Breathe deeply. If at all possible, break a sweat.
Look around at the amazing world and fill yourself with gratitude!
Make a Vision Board
Vision boards are nothing new, but having a visual reminder of what you want to focus on can help keep you moving forward.
20 years ago I tried to make a “dream book.” It was a binder that was (in theory) going to be filled with reminders of my future hope and plans. I still have the binder. It has a pretty cover. And it's empty.
A few years ago I made a “vision wall.” It was a space on a wall in my office that had photos of things I was working toward. Within days I became blind to it and didn't notice it. It stayed there—unchanged and unchecked—for about three years. Finally I took it down last year when I started my office makeover.
Failed attempt #2.
I'd like to try something like this again, something to inspire and motivate me. I haven't decided on a method that might work better.
Do you have ideas or thoughts about visual/physical motivation that gets you excited?
Journal Every Night
There are many valid reasons to journal. I'm not going to form a comprehensive benefit breakdown here. But there are a couple of things worth noting.
Gratitude journals are a time-honored way to see the positive in your life. Just knowing I had to notate things I was grateful for at the end of every day, propelled me to see those things more readily.
Rather than driving mindlessly, I find myself paying attention to what is around. Simple things. I really see the mountains and clouds and rainbows. I notice businesses I have driven by dozens of times, but never noticed. Rather than just tuck my head down and look straight forward, I see people.
When I'm having a rough day, I still have to search out what was good, who was kind, what blessed me.
Sam and I have become fans of author Benjamin Hardy. (I often listen to his motivational YouTube videos while forcing myself to complete my cardio routines at the gym. (Which might explain my sometimes incoherent voice text ramblings left as comments on his videos. Anywho…))
In a recent video (incidentally about a nighttime routine), he recommended journaling three wins for that day at the end of every day: forms of progress; things you did well; things that you learned; things that advanced you.
I'm going to add that to my nightly journaling. So here is my new 3×3 journaling plan:
- 3 things points of gratitude (my rules: exclude all the “usuals” like family, home, health, etc.; be specific; don't repeat points from other days)
- 3 wins for the day
- 3 big things to do tomorrow
Have you tried a specific type of journaling? What has worked for you? If this is helpful to me, I will update with a post or video later.
Organize One Space
If your slump is partially due to being overwhelmed with disorganization, streamlining your spaces can do wonders for your outlook and motivation. Organizing is one of my loves. Organizing spaces, events, projects is fun for me. (Sometimes I think I like the planning and arranging more than the actual using or doing. Is that zealotry?)
When teaching organizing workshops (whether for physical spaces, educational plans, business pursuits, etc.), I found the best way to start (again) is small.
If you're going to control the disaster in your home, for example, do not start with the kitchen! Start with one drawer in the least used room in your home.
If you want to organize your personal things, don't start with your wardrobe. Start with your purse. Or even your wallet.
When you start to see progress in bringing order from chaos, it's very motivating! It snowballs. It also helps relieve stress and makes regular activities easier to manage.
Full disclosure: after completing a particularly daunting organizational project, I have been known to revisit that space multiple times a day, just to feel the calm and appreciate the order.
Right now I'm finishing up a full kitchen makeover to be followed by the pantry. (Video to come…someday!) Trust me, once it's done, I'll be hanging out in my pantry just to relax and soak in the good vibes.
Read a Challenging Book
The last thing I want in midlife (and beyond) is to focus on leisure and drinking. What a waste of life and health! Instead, I want to constantly move forward, be challenged, and do hard things. Keeping your brain active is especially important in midlife.
Break away from scrolling social media and binge watching sitcoms. Read something. Read something that is more than amusement and distraction. Read something that makes you think and work and look up words you aren't sure of.
My next reading adventure (and I'm posting this precisely to get me to take action on it) will be Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. Not a summary. Not the abridged version. I'm going to wade through it, as slowly as I must.
To be honest, right now I'm about as excited about this as I was when I ran a marathon (to “celebrate” turning 40). But I know that when I'm done, I will feel a sense of accomplishment along with the satisfaction of having learned important lessons.
Have you read anything recently that challenged and inspired you?
How Do You Motivate Yourself in a Midlife Slump?
Perhaps the key to coming out of a slump is to see it coming on and proactively avert the course. What are the signs of an oncoming slump? (Not that we could have predicted Covid-19, lockdowns, etc.)
What is your magic for avoiding or pulling out of a slump? I'd love to hear your wisdom!
Alison Moore Smith is a 59-year-old entrepreneur. She has been (very happily) married to Samuel M. Smith for 38 years. They are parents of six incredible children and grandparents to two astounding grandsons.
She is the author of The 7 Success Habits of Homeschoolers.