The 40 Ways to Master Your 40s
It’s your best decade. Own it.
Congratulations. You’ve reached the best decade of your life. But are you really getting the most out of your 40s? Or do you feel somehow lost, like a piece of driftwood bobbing aimlessly about an ocean? If so, it’s time to take control. Here are the greatest ways you can challenge yourself, upend your routine, manage your time, find happiness, seek out better and more meaningful friendships, and ultimately be a better, kinder, and more productive man. And for more advice on how to live life to the fullest, here are the 50 Ways to Be a Better Husband, Father, Leader, and Athlete.
Draw Clearer Boundaries
Drawing clear lines between work, life, and personal time is essential for a guy in his fourth decade. “In our 20s and 30s we tend to over extend ourselves, and create unhealthy habits when it comes to work life balance, and family/friend relationships,” says Christopher Stroven, a counselor at Kalamazoo Integrative Counseling. “It’s important in our 40s to realize areas in our life we need to establish boundaries so we can develop healthy relationships along with a healthy work/life balance. Establishing boundaries will decrease stress, leading to better personal health.” And here are the 10 Ways Successful Men Cut Stress.
Change Up Your Dating Routine
Whether you’re in a committed relationship or on the dating scene, you’ve probably got a standard formula for what you like, whether it’s a go-to bar, restaurant, or activity. Try changing it up. Instead of meeting for cocktails after work, meet in the morning and watch the sunrise. Instead of dinner and a movie, go play some mini golf. Break your routine and come up with something a bit adventurous. Your date will thank you. And while you’re at it, memorize these 15 Ways to Impress Any Woman.
Master the Art of “Medium” Talk
Stop wasting your time with small talk and put more energy into having deeper conversations. This might mean opening up more to friends and partners and encouraging them to do the same. This is called “medium talk,” which New York’s Jesse Singal describes as “nudging a conversation briefly toward the darker side of things to force both participants to get real for a second, to actually engage with someone despite the fleeting nature of the exchange.” If you’re having this “medium talk” on a fancy date, make sure to avoid The Seven Biggest Mistakes You’re Making at Fine-Dining Restaurants.
Unlearn Your Expectations
People in their 40s think they’ve seen everything. But don’t let your expectations stop you from getting more out of life. “When you enter your 40s, you realize life is not always black and white. Things are typically gray and messy,” says Stroven. “Allowing yourself to move through your 40’s without expectations will open new opportunities for yourself, renew your outlook on life, and give you permission to genuinely love the people around you.” Also, check out The 15 Essential Skills to Master in Your 40s.
Stop Checking Email So Much
No matter how often you check your email, it’s probably too much. So set certain times during the day (or week) when you’ll check your email and let your colleagues know that’s when you’ll be looking. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but the result will mean more time for deeper, uninterrupted thinking and working during your days. When you do open your email, it will be with full concentration and focus. Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, has turned not answering emails into an art form and offers lots of tips for how to cut back on distractions throughout the day. One tactic: engage an autoresponder, which is also one of our 11 Ways to Curb Your Smartphone Addiction.
Make a “To-Who” List
Older guys likely have a long to-do list of stuff for work, home, and family. But you might also consider making a “To-Who List” of people to spend time with or just check in with. Leadership consultant Gary Bradt, who coined the term, describes how to do a To-Who: “Whoever it is, write down their name and commit to connecting with them that day. Write them a note, give them a call, drop by their cubicle or take them to lunch. If they are not available to connect with that day, schedule time with them now to get together in the future.” You should also read up on The 100 Easiest Ways to Be a Healthier Man Right Now.
Think of Relationships Like Escalators
“Are they bringing you down or propelling you upward?” asks Roe and Don Polczynski Jr., business and personal leadership experts and the authors of the new book Changing Your Equation. “Those that suck the life out of you and leave you drained are not adding value to your life. They are a distraction from the best life has to offer.”
In your 40s, you shouldn’t be wasting your time with people who aren’t adding to your life, so as much as possible, leave behind the people who are negative forces and dedicate more time and energy to those who bring out the best in you. For more, here are The Secrets of the Best Relationships.
Know that you don’t know everything
Yeah, you probably think you know a lot by this age, but the people who live life to the fullest know they always have much more to learn—professionally and personally. “We as men can get complacent with our journey and catch ourselves merely existing,” says Jeff Bergman, a performance coach and motivational speaker (who has survived testicular cancer, cardiac arrest, and stroke). “Much like the world-class thinkers and pioneers of our time, absorb the very principles that led them to greater heights—seek mentors and develop a progressive mindset.” For more great advice, check out these 20 Things That Only Men Over 40 Know.
Alter Your Diet to Reflect Your Age
“The era of cheeseburgers, pizza, and beer for every meal without gaining an ounce is past,” says Robert Weiss, relationship expert and author of Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating. “You don’t need to give these things up entirely, but you can no longer eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and expect to stay fit and healthy.” Bonus: here are the 40 Unhealthiest Foods if You’re Over 40.
Stop and Reassess Your Career
Ideally, your 40s are a time when your career is cruising along. But for plenty of guys, it’s when they stall out—either they lose enthusiasm for the work they are doing or realize this is not the work they want to be doing the rest of their lives. Either way, it is a good time to stop and reassess.
“It happens, whether it’s family pressures, financial pressures, or just situations that come up, people constantly end up in careers that leave them less than fulfilled,” say the Polczynskis. They advise looking at several factors—financial benefits, life balance, cultural fit, and opportunities for growth and continued learning—to determine whether or not you’re in the right line of work. If your current career isn’t striking the right balance, “There is still plenty of time to change,” say the Polczynskis. “There is plenty of time to have the career you truly want to have.” For more career advice, here are The 25 Ways the Smartest Men Get Ahead at Work.
Consider Going Back to School
Going back to school to sharpen your skills or get a professional license might be just the thing to do. “Your age shouldn’t stop you from embracing life-long learning,” says Roe and Don Polczynski Jr. “There is still time to get that degree you always wish you had or to learn the skills you need to advance.”
With a proliferation of online and night courses, and even the most prestigious universities offering remote learning and flexible scheduling, it’s easy to enhance your education without disrupting the rest of your life.
Work Your Muscles
You lose about 1 percent of muscle mass per year beginning at age 40. That makes it more important than ever to keep working those muscles once you’ve entered this decade of life. Keep up a steady workout regimen that keeps you strong, flexible, and able to tackle whatever the day might throw at you—physically or otherwise. For some excellent fitness routines, here are The 10 Ways to Gain Muscle Fast.
Get a Style Consultant
You know how to dress yourself. But you’re busy, so you can probably use a little extra help. In fact, now might be the time for a full review of your wardrobe. Whether you’re tapping the assistance of an in-store expert, a freelance “image consultant,” or someone who is part of a larger organization, if you live in a medium-to-large city, there is no shortage of options for enhancing your personal style. These consultants can be booked to come to your home and help you sort through what you own, help you get rid of what you don’t wear, and decide on what to buy. Sure, they charge a fee, but the result is fewer clothes you never wear and a sharper personal style than you may have realized you had.
That said, be sure to check out The 20 Definitive Style Rules for Men Over 40.
Buy Better Soap
Are you still using the same soap and deodorant you used in your 20s?
It’s probably time to switch it up. Your significant other will notice, and chances are you could use something that offers better moisturizing than whatever boring bar you’ve been using. There are a million artisanal soap companies out there. Better yet: Try a few different ones until you settle on the one that’s best.
Get Enough Sleep
You need sleep. According to Robert Simpson, MD, assistant professor in the University of Utah’s division of pulmonary medicine and a sleep medicine specialist: “Primary sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, circadian rhythm disturbances, and things like restless legs syndrome—they all are worse in the 30s than in the 20s, worse in the 40s than in the 30s, and so on. For men, it’s more or less a linear progression.”
For help, here are 10 Ways to Sleep Better Tonight—Guaranteed.
Do One Big-Picture Task Per Day
It’s easy to get pulled in 12 directions the moment you get to work and end the day feeling like you’ve accomplished nothing. To avoid letting your day (or week, month, or year) become a series of reactions to things you didn’t plan, start each morning by writing down one “big-picture” task for your life or career that you plan to work on that day. This might be updating your resume, or brainstorming ways to improve your department, or some other task that’s not urgent, but could yield great returns down the road.
Take a Mini Retirement
You’ve taken plenty of vacations in your life, and while they help you recharge and come back to your day-to-day life with more energy, the effect soon wears off, usually because you didn’t fully unplug. In your 40s, whether you’re at a comfortable place in your career or considering a life change, it’s a good time to go big and take a weeks- or months-long “mini retirement.” Find a destination that inspires you and dedicate yourself to fully immersing yourself in a different culture and lifestyle for a month or even more. For travel ideas, here are The 11 Ultimate Adventure Vacations.
Learn a New Skill
You’re still in the prime of your life, both physically and mentally, making it a good time to try something new—totally new. Learn to play the harmonica, build a cabinet, or cross-country ski. If you need inspiration, check out John Kaufman’s book The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast!, in which he learns to play the ukulele, windsurf, computer program, and many other skills—each in less than 20 hours. For more inspiration, here are 30 Life Skills Every Man Should Know.
Give Your Time
You should spend more time doing things for others. Numerous studies have found that volunteering, even for just a few hours, will significantly boost a person’s sense of happiness and wellbeing. It also will make you look like a responsible, kind person to friends and dates. So check out VolunteerMatch or a similar service and take a little time out of your week to do something for someone else—and you’ll end up helping yourself in the process.
Have an Annual Credit Checkup
You’re older and therefore wiser with your money. But no matter how conscientious you are about paying off your credit card, you should annually check your credit card score at annualcreditreport.com (or a similar service). This will ensure you don’t have any blindspots—that Banana Republic card you used once for the discount then forgot about, that American Express card you barely use but comes with an annual fee.
“It is easier to ignore credit issues when you are younger, but now is the time to regain control,” says Scott Florin, a consumer protection attorney and owner of Florin Legal, which deals with credit card lawsuits. He adds that as many as 25% of credit reports have errors that adversely affect the opportunity for credit or less favorable interest rates. And check out How the World’s 15 Richest Men Got That Way.
Yeah, yeah, you’ve already heard how important it is to set aside some money. But whatever you’re saving each paycheck (and hopefully you are saving at least a little bit), chances are you could be slipping a bit more into savings. Earnings for men peak at age 48, according to PayScale, so it’s only going to get tougher to set aside earnings as you get older—and retirement will soon be fast-approaching. Also: Don’t get caught up in comparing how much your coworkers or friends have tucked away in their 401k. Research has found that peer pressure can actually dampen the amount that a person saves. Here are The 20 Savviest Investment Moves to Make Right Now.
Don’t Be Afraid to Spend Your Money
Sure, this sounds like a strange suggestion to include right after advising you to save more, but paradoxically you will get more out of life by saving and spending more—just make sure you’re spending your money on the right things. “Don’t sock away all of your hard-earned money for a rainy day,” urges Weiss. “Yes, do plan for your future (and your kids’ education), but make sure you enjoy your present as well. Buy something or invest in something you can enjoy on a regular basis—a new set of golf clubs, a mountain bike, a cool car, or whatever.”
He says that you should consider this a gift to yourself and that “if you are happy and healthy today, you’re more likely to be happy and healthy down the line.” For tips on how to spend your money, here is a list of essential items to own.
Start a Passion Project
Set aside some time each weekend—even just an hour—to work on something creative you’ve always wanted to do. Work on that novel or screenplay you’ve had kicking around. Take up painting or the piano. In your 40s, you might feel like it’s a bit late to start learning a craft, but it will be a lot easier than waiting until you’re 60…or never try it at all.
Stop Keeping Up With the Joneses
By your 40s, you’ve probably realized that envying what others have doesn’t yield very good results. You’re far more likely to find success—in your career, relationship, and passion projects—by setting out goals for yourself and measuring your progress based on those, not what others are doing or what they think of you.
Imagine You Have Nothing to Fear
Before you make a big decision, consider what you would do if you had absotutely nothing to fear. “When fear is the force behind the decision, the resulting course of action will usually limit the possibility of a fulfilling outcome,” says Heidi Krantz, a certified life coach based in New York City. “When clients can tune into their inner wisdom, they can make decisions which originate from a much more powerful place of strength and the resulting action has a much greater chance of leading to long-term happiness.”
Go skydiving, run with the bulls in Pamplona, or visit a nude beach. Or maybe just compliment someone or strike up a conversation with a stranger. If it makes you uncomfortable, it’s probably worth trying. You may find some ways to scare yourself with this list of 50 Things You Must Do Before You Die.
Listen Twice as Much as You Speak
As a guy in his 40s, you’ve got plenty to say and a good amount of experience to share. But when it comes to relationships, both professional and romantic, it pays off to follow the aphorism, “You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that ratio.”
“If you ask questions and truly listen, you will quickly learn a great deal of information about exactly who the woman is that you are interacting with,” says Krantz. “Listen to what you actually hear and not what you want to hear. That is a challenging differentiation to adhere to when there is physical attraction in the mix, but I encourage you to be true to what your ‘two ears’ are correctly hearing.” For more great advice, here are actor Hugh Jackman’s Life Lessons.
Rethink Your ‘Type’
If you, like many guys, are reentering the world of dating following a breakup or divorce, you might fall into the habit of pursuing your “type”—a woman with certain hair color, body type, profession, or otherwise. Sure, this worked in your college days, but now that you’re a full-blown adult, it’s probably time to reevaluate this approach. “Instead, shift into evaluating each woman as an individual based upon her unique characteristics,” advises Krantz. “You will not likely enjoy dating a category long-term, but you have a great chance of a long-term, fulfilling relationship with a woman who you have connected with because of exactly who she is.” You should also try The Best Dating Apps if You’re Over 40.
Nurture the One You’re With
“If you’re lucky enough to still be married, please don’t divorce,” advises Zoucha. “For one, your lady has been saving up her sexual prime for just this time. Plus, if she’s stuck around, she’s probably a good woman—she has inside her the ability to steady you and draw out your greatness.”
He adds that if the relationship is not going great, a guy should try and fix it rather than trading his partner in for a “younger model.” There is a wealth of benefits to a partner who has known you for decades, beyond the relationship itself, and those are often worth working for. For more marital advice, here are The Seven Ways to Make Your Marriage Last Forever.
Show More People Your Value
It’s tempting once you reach your 40s to go on autopilot when it comes to making friends or business connections. You have likely built a strong network and may feel it’s less of a priority to build new relationships. “Just be yourself, ask questions and then when you have the opportunity to give, you give advice, experiences, things that make you you, and it will all come back to you as well through others,” says Paul Kirchoff, founder of EPX Worldwide, an invite-only networking/adventure group, which takes groups of entrepreneurs on high-end outings. “You have value to give others. Keep this mindset. If you believe you have value to offer in networking, you don’t need to do the hard sell.”
Also, it’s time to bone up on The 40 Best Things About Being in Your 40s.
Get Rid of Junk
De-cluttering is all the rage these days. By the time you hit your 40s, there’s an excellent chance that you have accumulated way more crap than you need, and studies have found that its very presence in your life could be stressing you out and hampering your creativity. So get rid of it. “For every activity or possession you take on, recognize what you need to do to open up that space,” says Barbara Waxman, a leadership coach for adults in their 40s and above. “Simplify your possessions, your activities, your relationships. If it energizes you, keep it. If it depletes you, consider disengaging or releasing it.”
“Bundle” Your Activities
Which means: overlap your various roles so you get more done in the (limited) time you have. No, this is not the same thing as multitasking. “It’s not driving and talking on the cell phone—it is exercising with a friend or finding a diet partner,” Waxman says. If done right, you both activities that you bundle will enhance each other. For example…
Add Adventure to Your Networking
The happy-hour corporate networking or alumni event might be a good way to make business connections, but to create a deeper connection, consider something more unconventional. “There’s always something new and valuable you can learn from experiences and relationships,” adds Kirchoff. “The experiences create a bonding among peers in an environment where much more meaningful, transparent conversations about business and its challenges can occur when compared to your usual networking mixer.”
Delegate and Outsource
Once you hit your 40s, there is no excuse for you to be spending any of your day on mindless work or time-consuming errands. Review what takes up your time during the week and figure out ways to pass it off to others. This might mean delegating tasks at work to underlings or interns (or speaking with your boss about taking mundane tasks off your plate). If you work for yourself, it could mean outsourcing your tasks to others, whether using virtual assistants through platforms such as Elance or Guru, or hiring someone to handle errands through TaskRabbit, housecleaning through BidMyCleaning.com, and so on. Get these mindless tasks off your schedule so you’ll have time to work on what you actually want to do.
Write Down Your Mission Statement
Know what you’re doing. “Clarify and list what it is you value in your life, from ethical values like integrity, truth, and compassion, to those things you want in your life on a regular basis, like friendship, humor, service,” says Waxman. “Use those values as your own sounding board: Are you living your values? Do those around you share your values?”
This concept comes from the book Beyond Juggling. The idea is to set up flexible work arrangements, such as working remotely, that will allow you to fully unplug for periods of the day. These are the times when you can engage in high-level thinking. As the authors write: “A hallmark of successful techflexers is their ability to keep the information superhighway from flattening their lives.”
Learn from Your Elders
Even in your 40s, you’re still a young man, and can get a lot more from your 40s by paying attention to your elders. “We are in a prime position in our 40s to learn from those who came before us and take our well-being to a higher level if we learn and collaborate,” says Bergman. You can also learn from The 40 Coolest Celebs Over 40.
And Learn from Your Juniors
Likewise, you will get more out of life if you pay attention to what those younger than you are doing. Don’t resent the younger go-getters in your office, or be annoyed by the new kids showing up at your favorite hangouts. Figure out what you can learn from them, and they’ll probably be eager to learn what they can from you. Also, here are The 20 Best Ways to Relive Your 20s.
Announce Your Intentions
“Once you feel comfortable with your sense of purpose and roles, announcing what you plan to do to the world will free you up by committing you to the course you’ve consciously chosen,” says Waxman. “The more you talk about what you want to do, the more allies you’ll attract.”
Be Grateful for What You’ve Got
By your 40s, you’ve probably built a pretty good life, with great friends, a great spouse or partner, and hopefully some savings. But however good you’ve got it, it’s easy to lose track of how much you have to be grateful for. Make a habit of stopping to appreciate what’s great in your life. And for more advice on living your best life, here are The 50 Best Ways to Be a (Much) Better Man.
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