An article in The Telegraph made uncomfortable reading last week – well certainly for me. The author highlighted a study carried out by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology that found “… 54 plus is the specific age at which we struggle to motivate ourselves to try new things.” Backed up by a professor of psychology and health at the University of Manchester, apparently “we no longer feel the need to achieve great things.” Seriously? The author of the article went on to describe her own attitude to age as “… like a comfort blanket that envelops the mind and body; the consequence is the drive for excellence – or even getting up off the sofa – is no longer important.” Of course, I understand – each to their own – and we all age differently, but the notion that, statistically, a sofa is deemed more appealing in our middle years than stepping out into an intoxicating world of prospect and chance is alarming.
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I’ve lost count of the number of women I know who reached fifty and beyond and seized new opportunities with unrestrained glee, started new businesses or changed the course of their lives – all without a backward glance and with the zest and energy of a twenty year old. I have friends who travelled to far-flung corners of the earth because they finally held an age when, as responsibilities diminished, their new found freedom was exhilarating and most definitely not to be wasted. Books are being written, degree courses taken up, house moves, new relationships. Surely this is exactly the time to embrace the wisdom of our age and take it forward into new beginnings. Frankly, my vitality and drive for opportunity is as powerful now as it was in my thirties! 

I wonder if perhaps there was an element of the times we are living through in this article. If anything is going to sap our energy, create anxieties and allow inertia to pervade our lives, then it is this pandemic. Going into another lockdown – rightly or wrongly – is depressing and we feel the slump. At a time when the organisational thrill of Christmas usually envelops us, any forward planning is now off limits. The structure in our lives is beginning to dismantle again, and with the uncertainty of what lies ahead, it’s hardly surprising our motivation is potentially going to be at a low ebb. Last week I caught up with my great friend Miranda Voyle-Wilkinson, a psychotherapist with practices in London and Surrey. Chatting together about the article and the concept of motivation as we go into our middle years, I was fascinated by what she had to say.

“Two negative forces lie at the end of our bed every morning – lethargy and fear. They are powerful demotivators which, when we are struggling to find direction, can overwhelm our vitality and drive. The way I see this later stage of midlife is that we have an important choice to make – renewal or stagnation. If we let the forces of lethargy or fear overwhelm us we will stay small and in stasis. That is an awful lot of life not well lived! We have vastly underestimated how much adult life we still have ahead of us when we reach 50. In the last 100 years the average life expectancy has grown by 30 years. At the age of 52, if I outlive my grandmother by 10 years, I am only half way through my life.

We used to look at life as working years and then retirement, but this model doesn’t take into account what has been labelled as ‘middlescence” – the period from 45–65 where we still have much to offer and are not yet ready for retirement. The suicide rate in middle age has risen consistently over the last 20 years – so to ensure that we turn towards life rather than away from it, we should challenge ourselves to use this time as one of deep personal exploration and growth, rather than stagnation. We can re-evaluate what we want from life and on our own terms, unearthing our dreams and becoming the author of our own life story.

The key is to embrace curiosity and wisdom. The journey of life is not one going consistently down to the bottom of the graph. Growing older suggests a one dimensional perspective of the passage of time and the deterioration of the body, but we can have and should have a far more interesting metamorphosis, with the focus on a movement away from ego-based demands and a soulful quest towards wholeness. This journey, when approached with curiosity and wisdom, can be deeply personal and powerful. We can start to be a little more selfish. We can learn not to carry excess baggage, becoming firmer with our personal boundaries and learning how and when to say no. It’s all about working out which mindsets still work for us, which new ones we may wish to explore, and finally the ones that we can now gladly discard.”

Perhaps there are many out there, as the study suggests, who feel that reaching a certain age is their gateway to a less stressful, more comfortable and relaxed life. To me, this is a life less lived. As Miranda says, with potentially so many more years ahead of us, these years have to be for us, and I intend to make sure that my life continues to be as full as I can possibly make it.

Miranda is a UKCP registered integrative psychotherapist and relational coach. To contact her for an introductory consultation, visit her website www.mvwtherapy.com or email her on mvwtherapy@gmail.com

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