Prevent a Midlife Crisis

Jul 21, 2022 2 Min Read
midlife crisis
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Photo by Norbert Kundrak on Unsplash

Preventing a Midlife Crisis with Two Simple Mindset Shifts

This update is for those of us in our 40’s, 50’s and even 60’s. It starts with a story…

A close friend of mine ran a successful business. He owned/ran a boutique hotel together with a chain of restaurants. He no longer does. The main reason was that he had (what he in retrospect now realises) a midlife crisis that led to him slowly removing himself from active involvement in his family affairs (which consequently led to a divorce) and investing his funds in frivolous business ventures which went bust.

Coupled with the challenges of Covid and the fact that the hotel and restaurant business is always a tough business, the company buckled under this pressure. The business blew up its finances and this friend ended up having to sell his stake in the company and today works for someone else. Having lost his home, family and life- savings, he now lives with his sister at the ‘tender’ age of 56. What happened? In retrospect, a midlife crisis.

Is A Midlife Crisis Inevitable For All of Us?

Is a midlife crisis inevitable? If not, how do we prevent them? While these questions seems complicated and quite personal, Harvard Professor Arthur C Brooks believes that almost all midlife meltdowns can be prevented with just two simple mindset shifts.

Scientists had previously thought that midlife crises were a normal part of the aging process. They have recently changed their tune and Brooks believes that a ‘crisis’ is not our unavoidable fate. To avoid crashing into regret and mortality and making poor considered decisions when we hit midlife, Brooks insists that we need to make two small but profound changes to our mindset.

Mindset Shift 1 

Focus on Gains, not Losses

Aging is inevitable. As you get older, you are going to lose physical strength and speed and eventually some mental flexibility too (although science has also found that these mental slowdowns actually happen much later than we commonly expect). Understandably, this sets off feelings of panic in many people. I can relate to this. I recently attempted to resuscitate my tennis playing days and started playing aggressively (almost daily) again. Initially, I was doing well and was making progress. Then, inexplicably the knee started acting up before I developed tennis elbow. Ignoring this initial pain signs as nothing more than part of the process of getting better, i.e. growing pains, I ignored the pain signs until my elbow finally buckled and I couldn’t even lift a cup at one stage.

A visit to the doctor confirmed my fears. It was not part of my development into a better tennis player. I was no longer 25 and my body needed rest. According to Brooks however, this feelings of despair we may feel at our weakened muscles and faltering memory are unnecessary and that we should be focusing on the other half of the equation. Some skills may get worse with age, but lots of other important ones get better.

Stagnation, which can lead to a crisis, happens when you try to fight against time, whether you are desperately trying not to look older or struggling against changes to your skills and strengths. Generativity comes from accepting your age and recognising the new aptitudes and abilities that naturally develop in your 40’s and get stronger through your 50’s and 60’s. These includes the growing ability to see patterns clearly, teach others, and explain complex ideas – what psychologists call ‘crystallised intelligence.’ 

Still skeptical? There are multiple studies today showing that certain important skills from emotional intelligence to some types of creativity actually get better as we age. It is also relevant here to point out that the average age entrepreneurs who go on to run successful businesses started their business was at 47 – probably due to the fact that the skills and experience gained in your younger years make you a more formidable leader. The same applies to people who make significant ascensions up the corporate ladder to become C-suite executives. So, the message here is focus on what you are gaining as you age instead of obsessing over what you are losing.

Read More: Positive Thinking and How to Practice It

Mindset Shift 2 

Focus on Subtraction, not Addition

According to Brooks, the good life is often gained by subtraction rather than addition. He advocates we adopt a tool called the ‘reverse bucket list’ to figure out what commitments, stressors, and miscellaneous other junk we need to remove from our schedules and brains. Apparently, this process of pruning is key to avoiding a midlife crisis too.

Early in life, success usually comes from addition, i.e. more money, more responsibility, more relationships, more possessions. Life in early adulthood is like filling up an empty canvas. By midlife, however, that canvas is pretty full, and more brushstrokes make the painting worse, not better. We need to change our life objectives by stepping away from unnecessary duties and responsibilities and make more time to think, read and reconnect spiritually – the work we need to do to reengineer ourselves.

Related: How to Find Fulfilment by Taking a Step Down

While these two mindset shifts may seem easy enough in theory, we all know that focusing on the positive and saying no more often can actually be fiendishly difficult in real life. But we need to persist with these two mindset shifts.

Summary

Whether or not you opt for some formalised approach to grappling with middle age; the truth is that middle age will inevitably grapple with you. Knowing a bit of the psychology of how successful people transition away from youth and into a flourishing middle adulthood could help boost your peace of mind and maybe even your career.

 

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Shawn is the founder and chief executive of LS Human Capital. He can be contacted at shawn@Lshumancapital.com

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