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Understanding midlife and the importance of a growth mindset

Increased longevity means that the period known as midlife can now extend from 40 to 70 (some suggest it is even longer, starting earlier and finishing later). This 30+ year span encompasses significant life transitions for which many are ill-prepared. In midlife, we are usually viewed as fully formed, yet new research suggests that this is a life stage where we are most in need of support to develop resilience, a growth mindset, and a renewed sense of purpose. While it is a time of life when we are called upon to re-evaluate and reflect on what is most meaningful to us, there is very little institutional support to help navigate this period.

A recent white paper (also see the Ted Talk in our e-news) explores these issues in detail, describing how we are missing the opportunity to cultivate, support and apply the wisdom that often comes with age.   Instead, the focus on lifelong learning is usually on the importance of upskilling, especially digital skills to ensure we remain competitive in the workplace. Meaning and purpose are seen as individual endeavours, benefiting individuals rather than understanding how clarity around these issues can drive motivation and creativity.

Some have tagged the core phase of midlife (from 45 to 65) ‘middlescence’ because much like adolescence, it is a period of high density life events, from career, family and relationship changes, to physical, emotional and social changes, often requiring significant resilience. To manage this life stage, a growth mindset is highlighted as particularly important. It is characterised as having an openness to new experiences and the capacity for self-examination and introspection.  It also includes a willingness to challenge our own world view including our assumptions and beliefs. A fixed mindset by contrast, is underpinned by a belief that talents and characteristics are set by midlife and the ability to change or develop is limited.

A growth mindset can assist us in overcoming a deeply embedded societal narrative of ageing as decline.  Research has shown that the negative stereotypes about getting older actually reduce life expectancy, while a positive mindset increases it. Both the research, and midlifers’ lived experience indicate that there are more gains than losses for those in middlescence and beyond.  Apart from the fact that people are often at the peak of their earning capacity, they also have improved emotional stability, crystalised intelligence, comfort with physical appearance, increased emotional intelligence and greater creativity. A better understanding of and access to, health and fitness opportunities can mean that midlifers are healthier and fitter than they have ever been.

The authors of the white paper coin the term ‘longlife learning’ to emphasize the fact that we are living longer healthier lives and that learning is not just about building knowledge. They emphasize that it is also about learning to navigate significant transitions, building resilience, discovering the value of meaning, learning ways to enhance intergenerational relationships and questioning what we know. All of this is underpinned by curiosity.  Rather than being fully formed, this stage of life is an important part of adult development and particularly significant for preparing us for a healthy and active “elderhood”.

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