Examine your exit style
Everyone has an ending style and by midlife we’ve all been through enough losses, broken relationships, job changes, house moves and switching our hairdressers (the hardest!) to have developed a pattern. Recognising your personal pattern is key when it comes to how to clear your mind.
Do you ‘ghost’ people and silently slip out of their lives? Do you make abrupt choices to end, without thinking through the decision fully and then regret the choice after it’s too late? Do you linger too long, feeling guilty or focusing on the needs of the other rather than yourself?
Think of yourself at parties (remember those?). How do you leave? Do you dash out the door early when no one’s looking? Or do you signal your exit by starting to do the rounds of goodbyes, thanks and air-kissing, only to start up another conversation just as your taxi appears?
In other words, are you a dasher or a lingerer?
My ending style, pointed out to me by my perceptive friend and Coaching Heads partner Jo, is to metaphorically run to the exit several times to test my reaction before finally making it through the door after several false starts. She’s not wrong. It took three resignations to leave one job.
Your ending style matters when it comes to a mind-clearing exercise, because it can be unhealthy. After all, resigning is a pretty high-risk strategy if you’re not yet sure you really want to leave! Have a think about your habitual style: Is it helpful or would you be better doing things differently?
Turn your endings into beginnings
Endings matter because all new beginnings start with endings. We need to have a clear out of our mental cupboards in order to make way for new possibilities. Want to know how to clear your mind? This is an effective place to start.
In midlife, probably for the first time, your brain is ready to contemplate what it is that you want and how to become the person you really want to be. Although it might not feel like it when you’re trying to find your reading glasses for the 10th time today, in midlife you are actually at the peak of your learning, reasoning and problem-solving powers.
Listen to that inner voice
As Carlo Strenger and Arie Ruttenberg wrote in The Essential Necessity of Midlife Change (Harvard Business Review Feb 2008): “There is no period better suited to inner growth and development than midlife, when many people learn to listen to their inner selves.”
When your inner self starts to speak up it can be an uncomfortable presence. It can make us feel anxious about our future. What once motivated us can now seem irrelevant. We might realise that some of our friendships or family relationships don’t really work very well for us.
These feelings are uncomfortable, so very commonly we fight them. We use denial, anger, ‘if-only’ thinking (if only XXX happens, then I’ll be happy). We apply the strategies that have always worked for us before, even harder.
Write a let-it-go list
To move forward and clear our mind, we need to update our old programming that we are likely to have learnt from parents and carers. It’s programming that we’ve soaked up without questioning. This includes the rules, assumptions, beliefs, old realities and self-image. We need to update our operating systems and discard some old data to make way for new. Mind cleared!
Take a moment to contemplate: What would be a joy to let go? What losses could be liberating and clear room for new creativity and exploration?
These are some areas of your life you might want to consider for a decluttering review.
Your role in relationships with friends and family: Not the whole relationship perhaps, but, as an example, maybe you are fed up with your role as the ‘reliable’ one that sorts out everyone else’s problems?
Parts of your career: Maybe you want to end working full time, end the commute, end the stress?
Old thoughts and beliefs: You don’t believe that David Cassidy is the only man you’ll ever love, so why are you still living your life by other beliefs that belong to the 1970s?
Some youthful ways: Inevitably we have to say goodbye to some parts of our youth – but there may be things that we don’t regret leaving on the other side of 50. For example feeling self-conscious, high heels or drinking on a school night.
Give up your “nevers”
Psychologist James Bugental coined the phrase “the nevers of mid-life”. Some of our “nevers” may be trivial and easy to acknowledge and leave behind. Others might involve grieving for something that has been psychologically present in our minds, but was never really available to us in reality. For instance:
I’m never going to have children
I’m never going to make it to the top of my profession
I’m never going to be fabulously wealthy
I’m never going to be a size 10
There is a great opportunity in midlife to re-examine some of our expectations, beliefs, pressures and ideas that we learned in the morning of our lives. And as we let them go, we open up to the possibility of a much more authentic and purposeful agenda for the afternoon of life, based in reality.