Growing Older or Getting Old?
9 Strategies to Thrive at Midlife and Beyond
No matter our age today, we’re ALL growing older every day. This is simply a fact of life. The question becomes – How can we live our best lives? How can we flourish and thrive in this season of our lives?
Midlife and beyond is filled with possibilities for next steps, seeking meaning, new learning, and maximizing our strengths and potential.
More and more of us are finding ourselves in the “second half” of life. According to the US Census Bureau, baby boomers, who began turning 65 in 2011, will all be over 65 years old by 2030, and by 2050 the population 65 and over is projected to be almost double what it was in 2012 (US Census Bureau, 2017).
In recent years, interest in adult developmental transitions has exploded with new terms including: the second beginnings, second half of life, third act, and renewment. These concepts provoke a renaissance for envisioning the process of growing older. In contrast to negatively-biased stereotypes of simply getting old, the new paradigm conceptualizes the second half of life as a time of remarkable opportunities for growth and deepening, emotional and spiritual development, increased freedom, and engaging life in ways that amplify purpose, authenticity, and the wisdom acquired with experience.
Research by Laura Carstensen, PhD, Director of the Stanford University Center on Longevity (Mather & Carstensen, 2005) suggests a “positivity effect” as we grow older. Carstensen reports that older people tend to be happier. As people see their future times as more limited, they are more likely to focus on feeling good in the present moment and tend to experience fewer negative emotions. Carstensen says when she delivers lectures to undergrad college students about the positivity effect, she tells them that the best time in their lives is yet to come.
A key factor to living the best lives we can muster is resilience, the capacity to bounce back from life’s challenges. Resilience skills help us adapt effectively as we face challenges, stress, and difficult experiences. This empowers us to figure out what we can change, what we can’t, and do what we can to live as full and active lives as possible.
For each of us the answers are different, but some commonalities point us toward living more resiliently in the second half of our lives. According to the National Centenarian Awareness Project, these commonalities include: being physically active, having a network of social contacts, a sense of humor, personal courage and strong will, a tendency toward optimism, and an ability to be adaptable in life (Adler, 1997-2017).
9 Strategies to Thrive at Midlife and Beyond
Midlife and beyond can be a time of personal growth – expanding and blossoming toward new possibilities. Here are a few ideas:
1 – Rely on and help other people. Getting involved in relationships and building social connections really matters. Engage with friends and family. Become involved in groups and communities. Seek and foster relationships in which you feel that you can count on other people and they can count on you.
2 – Speak less and listen more deeply. Listening quietly and attentively can improve and deepen relationships, helping you be more aware of what’s happening to other people and enabling them to be heard.
3 – Savor the Good Stuff. Pause and notice life’s small pleasures. Paying attention to even the briefest moments of joy offers opportunities for renewal. Savor the first flowers of spring, the touch of a pet, a moment to offer kindness to a friend. Surround your living space with photos of loved ones and happy times.
4 – Seek meaning and purpose. Let a meaningful or challenging event help you think about and prioritize what’s truly important to you. Sit quietly and pay attention to what the inner part of yourself is saying. When you have a few free moments, write down what you feel is your purpose in life – what you believe is truly significant. Re-evaluate aspects of your life and make changes as you can.
5 – Continue to learn. There are lots of ways to continue to learn. Practice a new skill at home or at work. Learn to dance, to cook, or fix basic household problems. Take a class on-site or on-line. Embrace that hobby you’ve been thinking about. Begin to learn a new language.
6 – Solve challenges and problems actively. If the way you approach a problem isn’t working, try a new strategy. Identify the problem, brainstorm ideas for solving it, take a look at each of the possibilities, and decide which one to try first. Seek relevant information, be flexible, and bring in people you trust as resources.
7 – Take care of your physical health. Be physically active. When you begin an exercise regime, remember to start slowly and gradually build toward your goal. Check in with your health care professional on a regular basis and as needed when you begin a new exercise program.
8 – Manage Your Reactions to Stress. Using relaxation strategies, such as focused breathing, mindfulness in which you focus on what you are doing in this moment, meditation, or guided visualization can be helpful for managing reactions to stress. Many resources are available for learning these strategies, including several resources on my website, Ilene Berns-Zare Coaching, and my Psychology Today blog, Flourish and Thrive:
- Narrated Mindfulness Meditations
- Mindfulness Blogs
- Train Yourself to React with Greater Ease and Calm
- Mindful Adults, Mindful Kids
9 – Partner with a Certified Life Coach. Working with a Certified Professional Coach can help you see your life in new ways, maximize your strengths, and move toward your personal and professional best. According to research conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (2016; 2018), 93% of clients who partnered with a coach reported satisfaction with the experience. If you’d like to inquire about coaching or try a free 30-minute coaching consultation, click here.
“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth…not going all the way, and not starting.”
– The Buddha
- Adler, L.P. (1998-2017). National Centenarian Awareness Project.
- Carstensen, L.L. (2006). The influence of a sense of time on human development. Science. 312(5782).
- Mather, M. & Carstensen, L.L. (2005). Aging and motivated cognition: the positivity effect in attention and memory. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 9(10). 496-502.
- U.S. Census Bureau Population Projections (Retrieved on 10/25/2019)
Ilene is a Featured Author on PsychologyToday!
Read her blog series Flourish and Thrive: Navigating transitions with mindfulness and resilience.
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Ilene Berns-Zare, PsyD, PCC, CMC is an ICF Credentialed Professional Coach, Psychologist, Educator, and Speaker. Ilene helps people live their best lives by bringing mind, body, and spirit into flow with their strengths, callings and potential. She inspires clients to find fresh perspectives and access their full potential as creative, resourceful, whole persons. Find Ilene online and access free resources at http://ileneberns-zare.com.
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