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If a midlife crisis is getting you down, don't despair. If it's too late for that advice, then close your eyes, take a deep cleansing breath, and get ready to step forward with faith. You really can make your second half the better half—but it will take some tenacity, self-discipline, and a good dose of self awareness.
Get ready to dive in with five ways to tackle that midlife crisis and turn things around.
#1 Be Smart About Midlife, Not Stupid
One of the hallmarks of the midlife crisis is indulging in really dumb stuff. Stereotypical middle aged idiocy includes:
- Overspending on extravagant and unnecessary stuff in at attempt to feel rich and successful
- Overindulging in food, alcohol, and drugs in an attempt to feel good
- Overstepping bounds of decency and honor—having affairs, getting into porn, etc.—in an attempt to feel desirable
- Overemphasizing youth and desperately getting alien-making surgeries and dressing like a junior high student in an attempt to feel younger than you are
You can choose not to engage in those destructive behaviors! Just because you are aging and life isn't precisely what you expected it would be, you are still the master of your fate. Say no to doing dumb things. Use your brain. (This is kind of what you'd tell your teenager, right? Keep your wits about you. You've earned them!)
It may take some time to figure out a smart plan to move forward in this brand new phase of midlife. That can come later. But at least you can avoid doing dumb things that will set you off on the wrong path and may even be irreparable.
#2 Do a Midlife Life Audit
Choose an aspect of your life to analyze and evaluate. Decide what aspect of your life you’re going to audit, or evaluate. I use the following categories
Decide how you will measure you success with each area you want to improve. Examples could be:
- Time (per day, week, month)
- Frequency (times done)
- Numerical (pounds, repetitions, distance, quantity, etc.)
- Monetary (value)
- Satisfaction (scale from 1–10)
Analyze your current position in this area. Determine what is working and what is not. Figure out where you are right now.
Determine where you want to be in this area. Brainstorm some ideas to improve your life in this area. Create some specific goals that will bring you closer to your ideal.
Create an action plan for getting where you want to be. Break your goal project down into doable steps and start taking action.
#3 Understand the Midlife Happiness Curve
In his book The Happiness Curve, Jonathan Rauch shows that life has a predictable U-shaped trajectory with regard to happiness. We start out in highly optimistic, unconquerable, competitive youth. As we move through a period of growth—learning to deal with the real world and our own limitations— we enter a long, low slump in the middle, which begins to rise in our 50s. As we grow, learn new tools, and shift our priorities toward compassion, family, and more enduring things, we experience more contentment, wisdom, and happiness.
The key takeaway is to realize that this “crisis” is really just a necessary and temporary phase in life that helps us move to become better. It's not permanent! Transitions are hard psychologically. Recognize this is just another life event. While you might feel discouraged today, you are not on a continuous downward trajectory to the grave. (Good news!)
I had my first (of six!) babies at age 23 and my last at 39. Anecdotally, I'd say that having younger kids when you enter your 40s delays this curve to some extent. When you are in the midst of baby and toddler care, it's hard to find time to worry about retiring and dying! But when my fifth graduated from high school in 2018, my curve became a steep cliff into a dark abyss very quickly.
This book isn't just about the academics of the slump, but has idea to avoid the difficulties it presents and to help you start moving on the upward path.
#4 Accentuate the Positive in Midlife
Undoubtedly there are many good things in your life you can choose to focus on. Sometimes our fears and anxiety push those positive thoughts and things right out of our minds. I know “mindfulness” is one of those too-hyped buzz words these days, but the rumination and dread about getting older is a case where this practice can make a huge impact.
Mindfulness — a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
In this case, don't just focus on the present moment—because our habits surrounding this might be to focus on the worst case scenario—but to intentionally focus on the positive in the present moment.
Some examples of intentionality in your everyday activities:
- As you walk from place to place, take time to look around at the beauty of nature, smile at people, breathe the fresh air, feel the sun's rays and appreciate the vitamin D that is soaking in.
- When you drive on your commute, notice the order of the roads and the beautiful views you see. Appreciate the convenience of your transportation. Take a minute to be considerate of others on the road.
- When you get up each morning, think of three things you are grateful for today. Say of prayer of thanks for what you are blessed with.
- When you shower, think about how good it feels to have fresh, warm water at your fingertips. Notice how great it feels to have a clean body.
- When you prepare a meal, think about that long supply chain that was in place to make it possible to have such an amazing selection of food available at reasonable prices. Notice the smells and tastes and appreciate them.
- Think about the blessings of people in your life, pets you love, and the ability to serve and bless others every day.
- Notice that you are alive! You have the opportunity to do great things because you are here.
#5 Take Full Responsibility for Your Midlife Success
Perhaps your life up to this point hasn't been perfect. Perhaps your life has not gone according to plan. Welcome to the real world and to universal life experience!
Whether your life is not where you'd like due to your own poor decisions or outside force out of your control—or a combination of both, like most of us—you still have agency and can choose what you do going forward.
There's an old song I heard in the 90s. It was called Start Where You Are. The message of the lyrics was that whatever your current circumstance, you can choose to start anew, today. Wherever you happen to be right now, you can start moving toward a better place.
No matter where you are today, you can choose to create a better future than you would otherwise have by continuing on the same path.
Stephen Covey wrote about each person's circle of influence versus their circle of concern in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (another selection available in both audio and ebook on Kindle Unlimited). For most of us, the former is a subset of the latter—we are concerned about far more things than we have influence over. But if we spend our days ruminating over thing we cannot control, we are choosing not to focus on those things over which we have power. And nothing happens.
Stop blaming your past, your circumstances, your parents, your boss, your neighbors. Stop looking outside yourself for the source of your problems. Look at what you can do. Take responsibility for those things and do them!
You can take steps—tiny steps if necessary—to start moving you forward. You can conquer that midlife malaise, that midlife crisis, that midlife slump. You can make your midlife amazing! Start today.
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.