The best is yet to come!
~ Attributed to William Shakespeare
Undoubtedly we become what we envisage.
~ Claude Bristol
January 29, 2016
One of the challenges of mid-life and beyond is the perception that our bodies and minds are on the decline. We used to be sharper, we could remember all nouns without pausing to find the word, and we used to be able to do more things – and faster. This line of thinking is undoubtedly a recipe for frustration and despair – change headed in a not very good direction. But the good news is that the facts say otherwise!
Indeed there is evidence that for women, the 50, 60, and 70 plus years can be a time of enhanced creativity associated with a resurgence of energy that we did not previously have. This can mean opportunity for new adventures, interesting projects and work, and a sense of purpose that contributes to a zest for living. I am no expert in the field of neuroscience, but research findings are challenging long-held myths about the brain, and reshaping our beliefs about what is possible to achieve. Here are a few things to think about:
- Post-menopausal women, much like adolescents, experience new brain growth that lays the foundation for a kind of rebellious behaviour (I don’t care so much what others think attitude) in the area of the brain associated with emotional learning.
- It is the hormonal shifts (reduced levels of estrogen and oxytocin) that help keep us more emotionally steady and better able to deal with stress. As a result we may feel more inwardly directed and inclined to enjoy our own company. For many women, this is making peace with what we have to deal with in life. There is evidence that we are calmer and better able to see situations in a more objective perspective.
- Our cognitive skills are in pretty good shape – this applies to men as well. Our minds are able to retain many of our abilities that we do well and take on new ones. While our ability to recall details may not be what it once was and psychomotor skills may take longer to acquire, abstract reasoning skills and verbal abilities may improve with age.
- The ability to synthesize is enhanced. In other words, we are able to take into account what we have learned – the wisdom gained over the years – and integrate or re-organize that knowledge in a new way. Our ability to synthesize life experiences and knowledge means we can exercise better judgment. This is often seen as increased thoughtfulness and wisdom gained through a lifetime of experiences.
- Brain function can also be improved through mindfulness. Results from a Harvard study showed that mindfulness not only is associated with a sense of peace and relaxation but also has cognitive and psychological benefits. Practicing mindfulness can produce changes in the brain associated with compassion and introspection.
- Regular exercise is also associated with improved cognitive function, so keep moving!
The transition through mid-life and beyond is not necessarily bumpy but it may be. But remember that we simply are re-calibrating what is important, and realizing that priorities (“I don’t want to put in such a long day at work” or “I want to deepen this relationship”) are shifting.
All of this is to say is that deeply held assumptions can be overturned. Our brains are not hard wired to deteriorate. Growth and creativity are ongoing. Midlife and beyond can be a jumping off point for new adventures in spite of personal limitations and responsibilities we may face (ageing parents, changed financial status, health issues, and so on).
We have the life experience; we have the knowledge and skills; and we have the wisdom and judgement to take giant steps. Can we then unleash the potential and take a risk? Can we envisage a future that is exciting and full of possibilities? Cast aside the myths. The best is yet to come!