You probably know growing older requires changing certain habits for the sake of your health. Well, you should be doing the same for your mental health, as well. And that means changing the way you think. After all, if you evolve your belief system into middle age—shedding outdated ways of thinking that are no longer useful—you’ll find that you’re a much happier person.
To help you do exactly that we’ve laid out here all of the harmful beliefs you should definitely shed by the time you reach your fifth decade—all backed by the relevant experts and professionals. So read on, and feel your spirits rise! And if you’re looking for some fun facts about growing older, see the 40 Things Only Over-40 People Own.
I Will Be Happy When____
You can fill in the blank, and you probably have many times throughout your life, convincing yourself that the right job, partner, or vacation will transform who you are and magically bring you happiness. Well, until it doesn’t and you are back where you started.
Nance L. Schick, a lawyer and mediator, says this is an outlook that can trip people up when they’re younger, leading them to put off happiness today as they focus on what they do not have.
“Yes, I will celebrate when I meet my income goals, take a dream vacation, or experience something wonderful for myself or a loved one, but I don’t have to wait to be happy until then,” she urges. “I can find something to be happy about every day—or create a fun experience to bring that happiness to me. It’s no one else’s responsibility, and I will only create my own disappointment by waiting for God, Santa, or a magical fairy to bestow it upon me.” For more help finding happiness in the present, don’t miss The 50 Greatest Happiness Hacks.
Budgets Limit You
When your parents put you on a budget, it means you aren’t able to spend as much as you want on fun stuff. But as you get older, you realize that budgets have major benefits and are the opposite of limiting. According to Schick, since getting on a budget, “I feel more balanced or complete because I know I am not overspending in any one area. I am never sacrificing my financial freedom goals for instant gratification or my self-care because I feel like I should be more generous. I have a fair plan to take care of myself and spread the wealth.”
Schedules Are Limiting
Getting older, we realize that budgeting our time, like budgeting our money, is actually more freeing in the long run.
“I can much more easily choose whether to attend an event or take on a project because I can see when I have time in that budget area for something new,” says Schick. “I no longer say yes out of guilt, which often left me in regret and others disappointed.”
Weaknesses Are Holding You Back
Whether it’s a disability or personality trait we view negatively, the things we believe to be our weaknesses can often be turned into strengths—though it takes years and experience to realize it. That might mean delegating tasks that aren’t our strong suit or using the request for assistance as an opportunity to strengthen a relationship, but taking the right steps to work around a “weakness” can end up benefiting you significantly in the long run. And for more great advice for maximizing your days, check out these 10 Morning Habits Destroying Your Productivity.
People Can Easily Be Labeled
“I used to think people were good, bad, smart, stupid, funny, or boring, and I would expect them to always be this way,” says Schick. “I am actually all of these things at various times and under different circumstances. I can’t think of anyone who isn’t. We are all complex beings that respond to our environments (internally and externally).”
To grow out of this belief system, it takes getting older and being surprised by people we once thought were one thing then realized were more complex than we realized.
“It doesn’t mean I can’t be annoyed or that I have to continue relationships that are harmful, but I can still love these people from afar. I don’t have to be hateful,” says Schick. “Hatred typically hurts me more than it affects them.”
Those Who Disagree with Us Are Wrong
When we are younger we have a tendency to see those who don’t share our opinion as wrong—period. But getting older gives us the experience to appreciate that people, and their viewpoints, are much more nuanced, and that even those who hold opinions we find ridiculous can be right about other things. By the time we’re in our 40s, we appreciate that someone who disagrees with us is not necessarily “wrong.”
Someone Else Is Calling the Shots
“No one is the authority of you except you,” says wellness and relationship expert Bianca Rodriguez. “By the time you’re 40 you’ve hopefully realized that all the answers you seek reside within. You have the power to choose what is best for you and take action to honor that.”
Things Should Be Taken Personally
Repeat after me: It’s not about you. This is a truth that can come as a surprise to a self-obsessed 20- or 30-something who reads almost every success and failure in deeply personal terms. You know: you didn’t get the job because the interviewer didn’t like you, or you got the promotion because you are such a great person. It takes firsthand experience to realize that in most cases, something that went well or poorly was not related to you personally.
Keeping up with Trends Is a Must
Whether it’s having this season’s luggage set or catching up with the latest binge-worthy show, we can spend much of our younger years chasing trends in an effort to ensure we have something to talk about at cocktail parties or around the water cooler.
But as we get older we appreciate that while a little cultural literacy is important, we can have plenty of fulfilling conversations without being a pop culture savant.
Life Is Fair
“Life is not fair,” says Rodriguez. “I can’t tell you why, but believing that it is sets you up for major disappointment. After 40 years on Earth you have likely experienced a traumatic loss, unfair treatment, or awareness of suffering in loved ones or the world at large. Accepting that life is painful sometimes can help you develop coping skills to ride life’s ups and downs more.”
Marriage Transforms You
Plenty of romantic comedies end with a big wedding. But those who have been married or in a committed relationship know that entering into marriage is actually the beginning of a new kind of personal effort.
“Marriage is one of the most challenging endeavors you can undertake. Have you seen the divorce rates lately?” says Rodriguez. “Still, society has its grip on our psyches that marriage is the end goal. Using marriage as a ‘solution’ to one’s personal issues such as loneliness, invalidation, and financial instability, is a terrible idea because marriage comes with its own issues and is not easy by any stretch.”
Self-Criticism Is Healthy
“By the time your 40, it’s time to stop being shy when it comes to loving yourself. Go on the retreat. Date. Explore pleasures you always wanted to experience,” says Bernard Charles, author of Rainbow Revolution. “And there’s no one to answer to but yourself. Loving yourself leads to a better understanding of your place in the world, and you’re bound to be happy.” For further proof, know that finding happiness usually means not trying so hard.
It’s Self-Centered to Accept a Compliment
“You should realize by 40, that a compliment is a generously given so you better buckle up for the bounty,” says Charles. “When you let yourself become mindful of those magical moments by accepting the compliments, you allow the person giving you the compliment to feel good too. ‘Mutual mass-appreciation’ is what I call it.”
There’s No Place for Humor
“Whether it’s in school, work, or even during heated relationship arguments, people tend to dismiss the value of humor and laughter,” says David Bennett, a certified counselor, relationship expert, and co-author of seven self-help books and co-founder of Double Trust Dating and Relationships. “When you reach your 40s, experience tells you that most things you thought were serious and important (and even deathly embarrassing) were actually pretty funny looking back. So, if you say ‘you’ll probably laugh about this later,’ go ahead and laugh about it now.” If you’re looking to add some humor to your workday, don’t miss these 30 Office-Friendly Jokes That Are Actually Funny.
Things Get Better With Time
“Things get better because you work to make them better,” says Bennett. “People who have found financial, relationship, and personal success didn’t get there by simply passively letting things happened. They worked hard and enjoy the benefits.”
The Right Partner Can Fix (Almost) Everything
“When you’re in your 20s and 30s, it’s easy to think that if you just got into a relationship (or took it to the next level, like marriage) all your problems would be solved,” says Bennett. “When you’re in your 40s, you realize that relationships often cause just as many issues as they solve. A more realistic view is that whether you’re in a relationship or single, you get out of life what you put in.”
Seeing a relationship as just one component of a fulfilling life will lead to a much more fulfilling and healthy life.
Sex Is Mainly Physical
“Intimacy is more than just physicality,” says David J. Demko, Ph.D., clinical gerontologist and doctoral grad University of Michigan. “So, seek pleasure, but also attend to giving pleasure to your partner. Copulation does take longer, but longer can be better, allowing more time for touch, embrace, soothing whispers.”
It’s Your Parents’ Fault
“Your parents were only being who they were, be that controlling, careless, addicts, alcoholics, or fabulous,” says Kac Young, Ph.D., an author, counselor, relationship expert. “They did the best they could in the situation at that time and they may have gotten a D or an A+, you are not them and you can fashion your own thoughts, feelings and beliefs.”
It’s Other People’s Fault
You may have had a boss who frustrated you or an ex who wronged you, but if you’re continuing to blame someone for your condition well into your 40s—whether it’s emotional, professional, or financial—you’re living your life in a counterproductive way. As you age, you should redirect those feelings back to yourself and look for ways to improve.
If Only Someone Would Help
“When turned 40, I kept hoping that my now ex-husband would start a business with me,” says Rhian Sharp, president and CEO of Sharp Medical Recruiting and HR Consulting. “One morning I woke up and thought ‘you know what: I’m perfectly capable of starting this on my own. It would have been good if he was 100% on board but I needed to do this for me.’”
Your Partner Will Always Be There No Matter What
It’s not true. Relationships require work and dedication—period. And if you need help, see the 50 Ways to Keep Your Marriage Fresh.
Putting Things off Reduces Pressure
When we’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed by a project, it might seem like the perfect solution is to put it off for a bit longer. It takes seeing this strategy consistently fail or produce sub-par work—sometimes over years—before you realize how counterproductive procrastination really is.
You Can Change Your Partner
“When we were younger, many of us continued in rocky relationships because we thought that if we just tried hard enough, we could change our partners,” says Bennett. “In your 40s, you realize that personal change is difficult, let alone changing another person.”
You Should Stick With Your Partner, No Matter What
“We continue to make excuses for the people in our lives who do not contribute to our success,” says Sharp. “Take a good look at your mate. Does he or she value you, are they making you be a better person?”
If the answer to these questions is “no,” chances are they are going to continue to be “no” for the duration of the relationship.
A Good Life Means Being Happy All the Time
“Life is not going to be 100% rainbows and unicorns all the time and that is okay,” says Erin Wathen, a wellness and life coach at EW Wellness Solutions. “It is how we handle or don’t handle it is where so many of us get into trouble. Having a negative emotion isn’t fatal, if we acknowledge it and allow it to happen. To refuse the emotion and to instead go to alcohol, creates problems. To try and distract ourselves from an emotion with a bag of cookies, creates problems. To roll around in the emotion, blame other people, and throw a temper tantrum about how unfair life is, creates problems. Once we accept that life can bring all the spectrum of emotions, life gets much easier.”
Everyone Is Watching
“Usually, nobody is,” explains Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics.
He calls this the Spotlight Effect—the idea that we are being noticed by others, when in fact nothing of the sort is happening.
“People will occasionally feel this way when they do something embarrassing in public, but more often than not, people mind their own business and are preoccupied with themselves,” says Backe. “Those who suffer from various forms of anxiety experience this effect more, but we have all had similar moments.”
The Grass Is Greener Elsewhere
“If you’re in your 40s, you’ve been around, you’ve gained experience, you’ve lived,” says Backe. “You should probably know by now that even if it looks as if someone else’s life or condition is much better off than yours—the truth is probably far from that. The fact is you can never truly know anyone else’s tragedy or comedy in life.”
Carrying a Grudge Is About Principles
If someone wrongs us in some way, we are justifiably upset. But to refuse to let go of the fact that someone did something we didn’t like for months or even years is not a principled stance, it’s actually dysfunctional—a truth which it can take us years to appreciate.
It’s Rude to Say “No”
We grow up believing that declining someone’s invitation or a boss’s request is rude—that saying yes to everything is the best way to keep everyone happy. But over the years we discover the cracks in this outlook when we find ourselves overbooked or overwhelmed, unable to do everything we’ve agreed to do and either have to flake on what we agreed to or cut corners. It’s then that we realize that saying “no” can actually be the most respectful thing we can do. And for more tips on how to keep your stress levels low, don’t miss The 50 Top Secrets of a Perfect Work-Life Balance.
Staying Home Is Antisocial
Oh, please. Hiding out for a night is one of the most functional and healthy things you can do.
Your Value Is Related to the Number on the Scale
“This can become a crippling belief,” says Amy Jordan, CEO of WundaBar Pilates. “I used to struggle with the scale, weighing myself 10-plus times a day and it would significantly affect my mood. A few ounces down (yay!), a few ounces up (the sky is falling!). I tossed my scale over a decade ago and put them in a closet if they’re in a hotel room. They serve no purpose other than data, and if you are fit, strong and feeling good, they’re irrelevant.”
Focus on the Future
“Focus on what you are doing in the present moment,” advises Jordan. “I used to make myself crazy running from appointment to babies to meetings and realized finding a few moments to breathe and focus my energy on what was in front of me improved my clarity and peace—quality versus quantity.”
In for a Penny, in for a Pound
We’ve all made investments that turned out to be less than wise. But it takes experience to realize that once we’ve already spent money on something that hasn’t gotten results, putting more money toward it is a bad idea. That car we keep spending money on to repair, that gym membership we keep paying for even though we haven’t gone in months—it takes experience to realize when we are sending good money after bad.
Putting Down Others Raises Your Status
It can feel good in the moment to talk trash about a co-worker or mutual friend who is getting on your nerves. In the process of putting down someone else, you may feel better. But over the years, you learn that this kind of bad-mouthing is less rooted in your own superiority than your insecurity, and that putting others down tends to diminish you in the eyes of others—and yourself.
Your Worth Is Tied Up in the Value of Others
“Make a list of your latest successes, it doesn’t matter how small they are,” suggests Patricia Young, a certified professional and holistic coach who runs Inner Prosperity Academy. “Also, make a list of gratitude for all your talents, strengths, and all the amazing things and people you currently have in life. Cherish what you have in life and don’t focus on what you think you’re missing.”
That You’re Not Good Enough
That is, not good enough for a particular job, a particular partner, or some other ambition you may have. It’s what Young calls “a common barrier to living our best life. Many times we think we don’t have what it takes to be successful, to live our dreams. When we let that inner critic’s voice convince us that we don’t have what it takes, we’re sabotaging our own happiness and we’re keeping ourselves playing small in life.”
She suggests that once you get to your 40s, you should know how to reprogram negative beliefs about yourself with positive affirmations and self-talk.
Your Experiences Are Who You Are
“Whatever happened to you is not who you are,” says Young.
Past Dictates Future
That goes for career prospects as well. While your professional experience is often key to shaping your next job, by your 40s you’ve likely changed careers a few times and seen how the right opportunity and connection at the right moment can change the direction of your life, and that your work history and résumé can play only a minor part in a transformative career change.
Stay in Your Comfort Zone
“Growth will always come when you step up and step outside of your comfort zone, and when you’re open to learn from every one of your experience,” says Young.
Everyone Matures With Age
“I am shocked at the number of 40-somethings I see on social media who are just as dramatic, lovesick, and reckless as they were in high school,” says Bennett. “Some people mature and make progress in life, while others stay their same dramatic and immature selves.”
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