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Beyond Midlife: “What If I Don’t Know What I Want?”

Midlife and post-midlife are distinct phases of your lifespan in which you’ll experience unique psychological events.

If you want to be healthier and happier in your midlife and post-midlife, it’s a good idea to make the most of these life phases – to help them be as meaningful as possible.

Life has Many Developmental Stages

Psychoanalyst Erick Erickson believed that – in midlife and beyond – there’s an impulse that inspires you to nurture things that will outlast you.

  • Around the age of 45, you might feel a strong temptation to reinvent yourself. You’re flirting with the realization that it’s time for something new.
  • Around the age of 55, you might then begin to feel the urge to contribute to the world by making positive changes that benefit other people.
  • Around the age of 65, you feel the desire to experience more feelings of wisdom, fulfillment, and acceptance – and so you’ll start making specific choices that will give you more of those exact feelings.

Midlife Stagnation

Not everyone rises to this challenge.

Some try to avoid these major life phases by becoming rigid and ideological. They watch television opinion shows that reinforce their worldview and anesthetize any urge for change. They’re not looking to expand their perspective or to dramatically improve their health, relationships, productivity, or community involvement.

It’s an understandable response to midlife. Personal growth can sometimes seem exhausting and a bit scary. This dynamic helps explain how the term midlife crisis was coined.

Midlife and Post-Midlife Are Important Stages in Your Own Development

Often, the best way to contribute to society and benefit future generations is to concentrate on being the best parent you can to the children you already have.

However, if you’re over the age of 50, your children might be old enough that they’re already on their own path and require less daily mentorship from you. Alternatively, you might not have children, and this, too, means that somewhere deep inside you’ll feel an urge to tap into your unique talents and skills – however large or small – and use them on behalf of humanity.

From the perspective of self-improvement, your life is not yet over just because you’re over the age of fifty.

Your work is not yet done.

But that work might look differently from this point forward.

 

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Midlife and the Forks in the Road

Lots of experts can advise you on how to get what you want. There’s usually an assumption that most people already know exactly what they want but they just haven’t figured out how to achieve it yet.

There is far less guidance available on how to first identify what it is you actually want. The remainder of this article is devoted to helping you identify what you actually want in midlife and beyond.

 
 

Three Signposts Toward a Stellar Midlife

As you journey into midlife and beyond, you can search for clues along the path that point you in the best direction. Here are three of them.

1. Follow Your Envy

Envy is considered a negative emotion, and it usually is. However, one surefire way to turn envy from a negative into a positive is to let that envy provide you with valuable clues about what matters most to you and what might be missing in your life.

Using a hypothetical example, let’s say you learn that an acquaintance of yours has been promoted to head chef at a restaurant, and you feel a flare of envy:

  • Acknowledge that you feel envy.
  • Start peeling back the layers of that feeling.
  • Ask, “what specifically about this do I envy?”
  • Is it the public recognition of a job well done?
  • Is it the increase in income?
  • Is it having a career in a bustling environment with interesting sounds, smells, and people?
  • Is it the artistic preparation of gourmet meals?

You might find that it’s not being a chef that you envy, but some aspects of the process that you find desirable. Keep exploring your envy until you’ve identified all the aspects you can.

Interestingly, after you spend time honestly feeling and evaluating your envy, you may end up no longer feeling envy at all, but rather, you will feel acceptance. In many cases, you’ll even be left with a feeling of celebratory happiness and acknowledgment of the other person’s accomplishments.

2. Follow Your Endorphins

Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi helped establish the concept of flow, identifying it as a highly focused mental state conducive to productivity – in which one is dropped into a zone where time seems to no longer exist.

It’s not exactly the feeling of joy, but it’s close.

It’s not exactly fulfillment, but it’s close.

Flow is a state of being that occurs when you’re doing something that is uniquely well-suited to you.

Flow is you having an optimal experience. If we broke it down to science only, we might say that your glands and central nervous system are secreting peptides that act on the opiate receptors of your brain, increases feelings of pleasure and well-being. But if we choose to look at it spiritually, we might say you’re doing an activity that is in some way aligned with your soul’s purpose.

If you experience an activity the provides you with the sensation of flow, that is a clue you can follow.

In what ways is that activity satisfying? How might that inform the ways in which you choose to spend your time and energy from this point forward?

3. Use Contrast

There’s another method you can use to establish how best to spend your time and energy in midlife or post-midlife.

It’s a bit counterintuitive, but it works: start identifying what you absolutely don’t want.

Next, you use contrast – which means asking yourself, “Well, if I don’t want that, then what is the opposite of that?”

I’m not a big fan of dwelling on the negative. Spending too much time in negative thinking can begin to impact your brain chemistry in a way that is disadvantageous.

However, I do believe in spending just enough time in the negative to identify a problem and then switch quickly into solution mode.

Sometimes, identifying what you don’t enjoy is a lovely first step toward the ultimate realization of what you do enjoy.

Thriving in Midlife and Beyond

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you what I’ve learned about having a deeply satisfying midlife – and that’s to get as physically healthy as possible.

This is easier said than done, of course, but it’s true nonetheless.

Adopting an advanced-level anti-inflammatory diet can make all the difference. It will improve your mental clarity.  The benefits of this are not to be underestimated. As inflammation lessens so does brain fog. The ability to sustain focus, self-motivate, and achieve goals is increased.

Additional benefits to an anti-inflammatory diet are that your joints become more supple (knees, feet, hands, lower back, hips, shoulders, and neck), your posture improves, your energy level rises, and the fat deposits around your waistline shrink significantly. After you’ve successfully adopted this lifestyle diet, exercising regularly becomes much easier – making the positive results exponential.

Additional Sources for Midlife and Post Midlife

Psychosocial Developmental Stages of Erik Erikson – https://www.verywellmind.com/generativity-versus-stagnation-2795734

Optimal Experience and Its Role in Development – https://nuovoeutile.it/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/2002-Flow.pdf

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