All About You (Part 1)

When writing this post in my head I was struggling hard not to make it sound too much like a New Age piece, with elements of spirituality and meditation because these things do have a kernel of truth at their root and, when we reach a crossroads in life or are seeking ways to give new meaning to our lives, introspection is a necessity to ensure that the road we will take is the right one for us.
Why is this so introspection important?
Simplistically the better we can understand ourselves, our motivations, our beliefs and our values, the better we can build ourselves a life that truly fulfils us.
But before we can really start searching and understanding those things, we need to acknowledge one important fact that has hindered our lives so far.
We are very good at lying to ourselves!
There is a huge list of cognitive biases that impact on our thinking and our perception of ourselves and the world around us. Many of these biases will be dealt with in later posts but for now it is important to recognise that how we perceive ourselves is just that – a perception.
Do this simplistic exercise:
Write down a list of 10-20 things that you can’t do.
Now working down that list how many things fall into the following categories;
            I could but I don’t know how to
            I could but I don’t have the confidence to do so
            I could but I don’t really want to
            I could but it would be wrong for me to do so
            I could but I don’t have the time/money/resources
            I could but to do so would have a detrimental effect
How many genuine “I cant’s” do you have left? My guess is not many, obviously there are some, usually based around physical issues. So for the vast majority of things we say we can’t do what we really mean is;
I could but I have come up with a reason not to do so.
Some of those reasons are very legitimate, e.g. climbing Mount Everest when you have a condition like COPD is likely to be detrimental to your health as you struggle to breathe at altitude. However other reasons are just an excuse not to step out of our comfort zones.
One of the keys to personal growth is learning to take time to challenge the beliefs we hold, especially if they are hindering us in what we want to achieve.
We are all very good at making generalisations and, because of that, we tend to lump things together in a way that hinders our thinking.
For example, someone might say they are not very good at communicating with people but if you dig further you find that is not quite true. If you ask, do you mean all people or people in a certain context? They may answer, all people but it is worse at work. Probe further, all people at work or specific people, again the may narrow down the field. Throw in another question, so you have never communicated effectively with anyone at any time? And you start to break down that belief which is just a generalisation developed from a specific instance.
It is harder to do that to yourself but it is something worth trying to do because as you break down barriers in your own thinking you can move forward in your life with much broader horizons.
Remember your life is all about you.

The Inevitable Truth

There may be many different factors that can impact on our mental well-being as we go through mid-life. These factors are dependent on our personal circumstances, our personality and our own sense of self. Yet there is one common factor we all share.
Mid-life means we are getting ever closer to later life.
And there seems to be some law in the universe that states time goes quicker the older you get, so the second half of the mid-way point will seemingly fly past! As yet (at least at the time of writing!) neither the secrets of immortality nor the Fountain of Youth have been discovered, so we need to prepare for later life.
Not that later life need be something we should worry about. Just look at the number of over 70s running marathons nowadays or the number of pensioners enjoying world travel.
But to be one of those people we need weave the preparations for later life within the goals we develop to improve how we feel right now.
There is an increasing body of scientific knowledge that shows both physical activity and mental stimulation help us live fuller, richer lives in our later years. Physical activity helps keep us mobile, prevents falls and more able to do the daily activities in life that we take for granted today. Mental stimulation helps prevent cognitive decline, keeping our minds sharper and, again, keeps us able to do those daily activities.
Obviously we can’t truly predict what will happen to us in the future but surely it makes sense to make sure we face the future in the best possible shape we can.
Balance is the key.
You may have decided that you want to run that marathon, which is a fantastic way to maintain that physical health to see you into later life, yet you need to use some of that time away from training to stimulate your mind. On the flip side, if you plan to write that novel that has spent years gestating inside your mind remember to take some time away from your keyboard to get in that physical activity.
Of course, as we plan for our transition from mid to later life we have to consider finances. Obviously many have already got those financial plans and pensions in place but for others, even some of those with pensions in place, there will be concerns about how they will cope in later life – another cause of stress in mid-life.
Now it is unlikely you will be able to persuade Bill Gates, Richard Branson or Jack Dorsey to hand you over a million or two, so it is time to take a reality check on your financial future and, once again, weave this into you vision and goals for the future. After all there is no point having a goal to travel more unless you have the money to back up that plan.
Rather than letting the thought of getting older and hurtling toward later life get us down we can start, right now, to build a vision for our future that embraces later life because, after all, it is the inevitable direction we are heading.

Appreciate the Small Wins

There always seems to be plenty of choice around to help you achieve your goals.
The problem is knowing what it is you actually want to  achieve  in life. Mid-life, in particular, can leave us searching for a sense of purpose as things change in our lives.
You could, for example, have had children leave home, an event that challenges many people who have focused so much on being a parent. Perhaps you have found yourself stuck in limbo at work doing the same old job while watching high flying youngster being leap-frogged above you. Or, for no discernible reason, you could find yourself not knowing where your future lies.
Now if, at this point, someone comes along as says “you need to be setting goals for your future” they could be doing more harm than good.
You could well find yourself sinking further as you struggle to come up with those long term goals, knocking your confidence even further, or you could rush headlong into some vision without thinking things through properly and then, in a year or so, find that this new goal is not what you really wanted and you are back to square one, only this time with a lot less enthusiasm to start over again.
If you don’t know, right now, where it is you want to take your future start by taking small steps outside your comfort zone and explore the possibilities before  fully committing  to heading in one direction.
First of all take a little time think of something you would like to do, something relatively small. Is there a hobby or interest you have always fancied pursuing but never got around to doing? Was there an ambition you had way back in your youth that has always been unfulfilled, perhaps you just want to make the effort to get fitter and healthier, maybe you have a favourite holiday destination and would like to learn the local language.
If you want to consider your current working life, what is one thing you could do to make a change there?
Once you have that one thing you would like to do  commit yourself  to pursuing it for a whole 3 months!
YES JUST 12 WEEKS
If you would like to be fitter but have not exercised in quite a while  commit yourself  to walking at least 30 minutes a day, perhaps increasing that to an hour a day in the final month.
If there is a hobby or interest you want to pursue check out local courses at adult education centres, these usually run in 12 weeks slots, or if you are unable to find what you want locally, check online for courses.
Currently I am studying using udemy.com which is easy to use and reasonably priced but there are plenty of others out there to suit most needs.
The point of the exercise is to complete that 12 weeks. By completing that 12 weeks you have  achieved a win. You have been successful.
As important you now know if you would like to pursue whatever it was you did further or, perhaps, if it was not for you after all.

Personally, when I started my study with the Open University, I did not quite know what I wanted to study. So I took two modules one in computing and one in social sciences. The computing module I found interesting but the social science one I found fascinating so that was the subject I continued (and continue) to study.
The most important thing though is  commit yourself  to that 12 week programme. Start building your future through discovering what it is you really want to do rather than leaping head first in to an idea that, ultimately, may not be what you want or really need in your life.

By  successfully completing  those small wins you open up a whole host of things to set you on your way. Firstly you begin really developing that positive mindset, you decided what to do – positive thought and you went out and did it – positive action. Do that a few times and what have you got – a successful habit and, perhaps, more importantly, you start to gain confidence in yourself and your ability to succeed.
Additionally the small tasks will help you develop the bigger picture of where you want to be going forward. You may discard some ideas but others will guide you  onwards to achieving  bigger and better things. The small wins are the beginnings of the foundations on which you can build the rest of your life.

Appreciate the small wins they are the start of something bigger.

Positive Mindset An Introduction

Mid-life can assail us with a whole host of negative thoughts. Perhaps about where we are in life, or perhaps about our health or even, perhaps, about our looks.

The problem with thoughts of any kind, though, is that whatever thought is at the forefront it tends to dominate what we see in the world around us.

Just to illustrate, a few months ago I had to buy a new car. I ended up buying a second-hand Hyundai i30. I had never considered buying a Hyundai but circumstances – i.e. the right size car at the right price – led me to sitting behind the wheel driving it home. Then the inevitable happened, from having never even registered seeing a Hyundai, the road suddenly seemed full of them. Everywhere I went over the next few weeks I saw just about every model available and, quite probably, just about every colour available.

Hyundai i30
This is the result of something being at the forefront of our mind and, if you are on the road shortly after reading this, you will probably start noting Hyundai’s everywhere too!

So when we have negative thoughts plague us everything around us seems to work against us. Negative thoughts spiral, an issue that may have begun at work will, sneakily, begin to affect our home life too.

It is not an easy spiral to escape from but if we can bring the idea of a positive mindset into our minds we can start to move forward and away leave the negativity behind.

I am using the term “positive mindset” to distinguish it from “positive thinking”.
The term positive thinking carries its own baggage. From blind optimism which ignores any potential issues that may need to be dealt with to the idea that you can get anything you want just by willing it into existence.

That latter idea, sometimes called the law of attraction, may work for some but only because they are, subconsciously, using a positive mindset. Because, as in the Hyundai example, if something is at the front of our mind we are going to pay more attention to it. So someone trying to will themselves rich should notice more finance related things around them, the difference between success and failure though is the action they take. They may notice financial information but unless they invest they are not actually going to increase their wealth.

Simply a positive mindset is positive thinking + positive action.

Elite sports stars illustrate this best.

They will use positive thinking and visualisation to see themselves performing and winning but they know that none of that is of use without the sacrifice and hard training needed for them to be truly successful in their sport.

So if we want to improve our own lives as we work through our mid-life years we need to adopt a positive mindset. This will involve deciding what it is we want out of life, what goals we need to adopt to achieve that and, while realising that every path in life has ups and downs, remaining positive that we will achieve those outcomes.

Subsequent posts will elaborate more on developing a positive mindset and goal setting but, for now, why not take one positive action and click on the subscribe button so that you don’t miss those future posts.

A raison d’être – why this blog exists

Mid-Life – a time for many of us that can lead to questioning our purpose in life. We may not have a full blown mid-life crisis but the little doubts and worries creep in, leading to those nagging, anxious thoughts that hinder our general outlook on life.

Many of us feel, on one level, like we are still 21. We are increasingly aware of the reality of the physical changes occurring once we are past our ‘prime’, be eyesight diminishing, hairline receding, joints creaking, waistline expanding or any of the multiple other possibilities.

Yet, perhaps, we are less aware of the psychological changes and issues that also besiege us. As we age our experiences and knowledge expand, our successes and knock-backs influence what we believe about ourselves. Modernity assails us with new stressors in life, we have children staying at home longer because of the difficulties in them getting on the housing ladder and mid-life could see us both carers for grandchildren and parents. In the workplace we could find ourselves under pressure from young high flyers or simply with job uncertainty in the current, seemingly ever fluctuating economy.

While the traditional image of a mid-life crisis – men trying to regain their lost youth – is, perhaps, an exaggerated example, the fact is, mid-life is a time of personal challenge. A time when anxiety, stress and depression can be caused as we attempt to re-evaluate our lives and where we want to go from now on.

This blog, I hope, will give you a guide to help you through these struggles. With tips to how we can grow into a new phase of life.

This blog serves both altruistic and self-serving purposes.

It is altruistic in that it selflessly gives ideas, advice, and tips on developing and growing through mid-life issues.

Self-serving in that it acts, for me, as one of the ways in which I can grow and move forward in my own life.

Back in the year 1999, when I was in my late 30’s I began studying Social Sciences with the Open University. A decade later I achieved my Master’s degree in the same subject and, since then, I have continued to study human and social behaviour in one way or another.

Yet what was the point of all of this study, it occurred to me, unless I found a way to pass on the learning in a way that would benefit others? Having had my own crisis of identity caused by redundancy and difficulty in getting employment I have been toying with the idea of how I can help others get through some of these issues and show how we can change in a way that not only makes us feel better but, as a result, improves the lives of those we love and, hopefully the wider community.

That then is the reason for the existence of this blog, I hope you find the future posts of use and helpful in your path in life right now.