As we approach the age of 50, many of us experience a midlife crisis. Your eyesight starts to deteriorate. You develop various aches and pains.

Then one day, you realize that you have less time on this planet ahead of you than behind you. You panic. You think, “Wait a minute. This cannot be happening to me. I haven’t accomplished anything yet. I haven’t become somebody. I haven’t even started to live!”

You wonder, “Is this all there is? Then what’s the point of living? What’s the purpose of my life?”

 

🤔 Why Do We Have Midlife Crises?

Prior to your midlife crisis, you don’t feel like you’re mortal. Of course, you know that one day you’re going to die. But that fact isn’t really in your conscious mind. You act like you have unlimited time. Then your father dies or someone else close to you dies. BANG! You’re forced to realize you are mortal and the end is much closer than you thought.

Why does this painful realization happen when we approach 50?

 

📖 Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal ExperienceIn his book, “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D. says, “We grow up believing that what counts most in our lives is that which will occur in the future.”

Your teachers tell you to study now so that you can get into a good school. You choose a major at a college to help you get a good job. You work hard so that you can get promoted. You save money so that you can enjoy your life after you retire.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “We are always getting ready to live but never living.”

You’ve been postponing living your life for a brighter and shinier future. This way of thinking has worked up till this point. But when you get around age 50, you start to see the end. You realize, OMG! This is it! There isn’t any brighter and shinier paradise waiting for me after continuing to endure life’s trials and tribulations.

 

😕 How Do We React to Midlife Crises?

People respond to a midlife crisis differently. Some people make a bucket list with all the places they want to go and start checking off one item at a time. But every time you come back from a trip, you notice that emptiness you felt before is still there.

Some people deny the realization and keep themselves busy doing what they’ve been doing. They work even harder to get a bigger raise and higher position, then buy a fancy car or a bigger house with beautiful marble countertops.

You will feel happy when you get a raise or move to a bigger house. But just like you can adapt to comfortably sized elastic pants, you’ll soon adapt to the higher salary and bigger house.

This is called “Hedonic Adaptation.” It’s like going up an escalator the wrong way. No matter how hard you try, you always end up where you started. You keep aiming for a bigger raise, fancier car, and more power. Your external life may change, but your internal mind is never satisfied. Eventually, you realize that money cannot fill the void in your mind.

Some people find their midlife crisis unbearable and give up on their lives. They lose themselves to alcohol or drugs. Some people even take their own lives to escape from their painful reality.

The severity of everyone’s crisis varies, but we all try to look for ways to escape from our inner battle.

 

🌱 Take Control of Your Inner Life, Your Consciousness

If you are in this situation, what can you do to help yourself? Csikszentmihalyi says, “It is true that life has no meaning, if by that we mean a supreme goal built into the fabric of nature and human experience, a goal that is valid for every individual. But it does not follow that life cannot be given meaning.”

Yes, life can be given meaning and the only person who can give meaning to your life is you.

You might wonder, how can I give meaning to my life and make my life more fulfilling?

The first step is to take control over your inner life, your consciousness. As long as you depend on external conditions or wait for somebody else to fill the void in your inner life, it will never be filled. As I wrote in another post, only you can make you happy. It’s because it is only you who can change the filters you use to interpret everyday experiences, that is, your life.

 

🌀 Optimal Experience, “Flow”

Have you had an experience when you were so absorbed in an activity that you didn’t think about anything else? Maybe you were in a mountain bike race. Maybe you were drawing a portrait. Maybe you were playing piano at a recital hall. You felt like your body and mind were perfectly in sync and you felt “high” from being so focused on the activity.

Csikszentmihalyi calls this condition “flow” and this is the key to make your life more fulfilling.

 

🌈 One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way

You might not have achieved a state of “flow” in your adult life. But you surely did when you were a child. In a book I introduced in another post, “One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way,” its author, Robert Maurer, says that children’s brains have not developed yet and they lack the abilities to recall the past and anticipate the future. Therefore, children are absorbed in their activities and focused in the moment.

Fortunately or unfortunately, as you get older, your brain develops. You gain the ability to recall the past and anticipate the future. You need this ability for your survival, but you end up spending too much time dwelling in the past and worrying about the future. Because of this tendency, you’re always living in the past or future, but never in the moment. This leads to a feeling of emptiness. You need to get the feeling of “flow” back into your life to feel fulfilled with your life.

 

💡 How Can You Get “Flow”?

Here are the essential steps to produce “flow” that Csikszentmihalyi outlined in his book.

Steps:

1️⃣ to set an overall goal, and as many subgoals as are realistically feasible;

2️⃣ to find ways of measuring progress in terms of the goals chosen;

3️⃣ to keep concentrating on what one is doing, and to keep making finer and finer distinctions in the challenges involved in the activity;

4️⃣ to develop the skills necessary to interact with the opportunities available; and

5️⃣ to keep raising the stakes if the activity becomes boring.

 

🎭 No Strings Attached

Do your activity, whatever it is, without thinking about its future rewards or punishments. Give yourself permission to do things just for the sake of doing them, not because they will be beneficial for your future work or bring you more money. Remember, no brighter and shinier future is waiting for you. This is it!

 

🦋 Transformation

Csikszentmihalyi noticed the common characteristic among all the activities that gave people “flow.”

“It provided a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality. It pushed the person to higher levels of performance, and led to previously undreamed-of states of consciousness. In short, it transformed the self by making it more complex. In this growth of the self lies the key to flow activities.”

This feeling of growth is indispensable to feel happy and fulfilled in your life.

 

🎯 Do This Now:

Find a way to get “flow” from an activity you are doing by following the steps above. Csikszentmihalyi says “flow” can transform even the simplest physical act. Of course, you can get “flow” by playing sports, musical instruments, or engaging in arts like painting or creative writing. But you can also get “flow” from activities such as gardening or even cooking if you become an active participant in your life and look for possibilities for growth.

Focus your attention on getting better and indulging in the process. Gradually, increase the occasions that you are in a “flow” state. Eventually, your whole life will begin to “flow” and you will gain more inner harmony. By embracing the concept of “flow,” you can overcome your midlife crisis and live a more fulfilling life.

Remember, the key to a meaningful life is within you, and it’s up to you to unlock it!