Why can it be so damn hard to keep motivated as we get older? It almost seems like there is some hidden switch that flicks over from ambitious to plodding the moment we hit middle age. As if life is throwing out a big ass mojo anchor to hold us safely against some sort of inspirational king tide.
“Slow down there big fella, you’re not as young as you used to be you know.”
Oh Really? Well I’m not as old you think I am either.
Pffft. Life. What does it know anyway?
Apparently, more than we think at times.
So, what exactly is ‘Motivation’..?
I reckon if you asked, ten people would give ten different definitions and probably all would be correct. And no doubt there’s plenty of life coaching programs doing the rounds that would do their best to give a definitive answer but for the sake of this post let’s call it this:
So where does it go?
Well buggered if I know really, but for a lot of us it does go. Not overnight of course, even though it seems like it does. It just ever so slowly slips away until all of a sudden everything is just too damn hard and takes too much time and effort.
I am more than happy to use myself as an example because for a while, I was the poster boy for motivation zero. Without realising it I had evolved into the fifty-plus man I once swore I would never become. Comfort zones appeared without warning. Indifference slipped into the everyday.
Ways became set.
Inflexibility became the norm.
On the plus side though, I became absolutely brilliant at what I knew. At what I was comfortable with. I could set a behaviour in concrete and never even consider an alternative. I became a master at the art of not changing.
God how I hated change.
Motivation and age
At first, it wasn’t easy to pinpoint just when this behaviour began because thirty or so years ago, I was as far removed from an un-motivated life as was physically possible.
Back then, change was another word for opportunity. The future held countless possibilities and as it is when we are young, that future seems endless. I was young and I was going to be the first person to live forever.
Yes. Weren’t we all.
But somewhere along the way to fifty-plus, I lost that spontaneity of youth and replaced it with the stodginess of middle age. Suddenly, music became too loud, kids drove too fast and the current generation had no damn respect for anyone but themselves.
Bloody hell. I was getting old.
And let’s be honest, if we are to believe statistics, each and every fifty-plus male has lived well over half his life. Which is pretty f^**#d when you think about it because reaching fifty is no walk in the park. We are not born to reach fifty. Fifty is something we’ve EARNED. And now that we are here, one eye should start to focus on reaping some god-damn benefits of all that hard slog. Children gone, home owned, retirement pending and long days doing whatever the hell we want.
You know it really should be one of life’s no brainers:
- Life half over.
- All the time that we want.
- A world full of opportunities.
What more motivation could we need?
Well yeah. But it doesn’t always work like this does it?
Taking our foot off the gas
We don’t all step on the brake in middle age (and you best believe it, fifty-plus is definitely middle age), some of us accelerate in a crazy rush of adrenaline and begin, as Stevie Ray Vaughan sang, living life (very much) by the drop. For others though, our motivation either remains in a state of limbo or slowly begins to diminish. Limbo is the better of these choices. At least in this state there is a chance our motivation can be resurrected back into a state of action. But once the slide begins, we can have a hell of a time getting our fifty-year old asses back into gear. There are signs to what is happening. Actually, there are billboards spelling out in big, bold text exactly what is going on.
So often though, we just don’t see them.
For me, a growing disinterest in my job was the first sign. This was followed by a total loss of interest continuing with a project I had been working on faithfully for almost six years.
Then my energy seemed to decrease. I became quick to anger and began avoiding many of the activities I had enjoyed up until then. My personality was also changing quite drastically. It was easier to isolate myself than be part of a crowd and it was far, far easier just NOT to do something rather than have to make the effort to do anything.
Of course, not everyone who finds themselves on a motivation downer is going to have it the same. Some of the other fifty-plus males that I know, even though they appeared equally as less motivated, cited entirely different reasons than mine. However, with things now as they were, it didn’t seem right just to go about things in a state of acceptance. I wasn’t particularly enjoying the place I was in. I was living it, sure. But not enjoying it.
A little effort is better than none at all
So, I did the one thing that I could think of that would take the absolute least amount of effort. I got on-line. Exercised enough self -control to avoid ogling at porn and instead began researching motivation, the lack of it and how age can be, for many of us fifty-year olds, a significant factor in its reduction.
And would you believe I actually learnt something. A lot of what I read correlated with what other men my age were actually saying. I’ll be buggered.
There was truth to be found on Google!
What I also learned, well maybe not learned because I have lived this particularly masculine trait for the last fifty-two years, is that without prompting, men don’t talk about stuff much. Men our age especially. Its generational. There’s a stigma attached to feelings. A weakness even. Men don’t ask for emotional help. Neither do we ask for directions. Its how so many of us were raised.
However what surprised me a little was that when I DID open my mouth, the men that I spoke with had a reasonable amount in common. Age of course, but primarily our vocation. We shared a job that by nature, tends to draw people together. Working in the emergency services does this.
I still stand by the statement that men would prefer not to talk about what goes on in the inside and none of the males I know are going to be joining a self help group any time soon. However the job has an odd way of building trust. I guess the guts of what I’m saying is that there is a time and place that men will talk. It’s just best to pretend that it’s got nothing to do about what they are feeling.
So, following are a list of reasons (hardly exhaustive of course) as to why our sorry asses sometimes struggle to get hold of the day to day. And I say day to day because days generally turn into weeks, weeks into months and on it goes. Because what we do or don’t do daily multiplies over time quite quickly.
This is how we develop habits.
Nail down behaviours.
Retreat into comfort zones.
It’s how we first start to lose that motivation.
Let’s have a look at some of the reasons:
- Fear of failure
- Low self esteem
- Lack of confidence
- No faith in our own ability
- Adverse to change
- Fear of being criticised
- Feeling burnt or worn out
- Bone ass lazy
And some physiological ones:
- Decreasing testosterone
- Overall physical condition
You don’t need to be a Rhodes Scholar to see that many of the points outlined above are enmeshed to some degree. Below is what I eventually came to realise about myself:
- Same job for roughly 17 years.
- Feeling burnt AND worn out
- Adverse to change and no faith in my own ability to attempt something new.
- Fear of failure /lack of confidence.
- Decreasing testosterone
- Negative view of most things
- Motivated for only a very select number of activities
- Basically, a cranky miserable f**k
All of which combined to make me feel like I was treading water in winter, cold as hell but way too lazy to swim to shore.
Making a change
So, what did I do?
Well, I started with the hardest step of all. I dropped the masculine ego and embraced a little humility. I stopped being a dogmatic prick and began listening to what those closest to me were saying.
I then took a long hard look at my behaviour and I realised that I needed to make some changes.
And this is one of the main points of this whole post…
Motivation doesn’t mean you have to start training for your first marathon. To begin with, think of motivation as nothing more than wanting to change a behaviour.
Or, on the other hand, looking to develop a new one.
Motivation to initiate something fresh. It doesn’t need to be total re-invention, even just motivation to listen is a perfect way to begin. And I think we all know as well that introspection is not always easy either. Looking at how WE are is a damn sight harder than judging the behaviour of others. Helping ourselves is often one of our last thoughts as males because so often it is just that much easier to help others.
After all, we are men. We fix things.
But who better to take that first step toward change than ourselves? Mindset is so much because mindset initiates behaviour. Motivation BEGINS with mindset. So, you think you have low self-esteem? Turn off the TV and type ‘low self-esteem’ into Google.
That simple act is itself a motivated one. (I could link to that but it kind of defeats the purpose).
And thus with a few keystrokes a subtle change in mindset has begun.
Scan an article. Maybe follow a link. All of a sudden you are motivated to read a little more…
“Well, sheee-it, that sounds just like me.”
And now you’re learning something.
Because it’s what we tell ourselves that counts. It’s the language we use. The internal language that cycles endlessly inside our heads.
When we say, “I can’t”, then it’s pretty well sorted that we won’t. “I can’t” is motivation destroying language. “It’s just the way things are” or “it’s just the way I am” are equally as destructive. Passive acceptance rapes motivation. “Yeah, I’m out of shape, but hey, that’s just what happens, what do you want me to do, I’m fifty.”
A Final thought
If any of this is starting to sound a little familiar, you’re not on your own. Motivation, or lack of it, is not endemic to fifty-plus males. But sometimes it’s a hell of a lot easier to listen to someone who is actually living the age of fifty.
Who is right there. Doing it. Actually UNDERSTANDS what being fifty is all about.
Because with fifty comes wisdom.
This is our trade-off for decreasing testosterone and increasing belly fat. Oh and yeah, many of us do become a little heavier. Heavy and wise. Sort of Buddha like. After all, we have been there, done that. There’s no need to ask us, because it is around this period in our lives that we begin reciting ‘back in my day’ stories. Usually to someone far younger than ourselves who is jumping out of their skin to race off and try yet another new and interesting thing.
Begin a project.
Learn a skill.
Travel to a remote location with nothing more than a change of clothes and an attitude. Funny that.
Just like we did.
And do you know what the problem with this is? It’s definitely not in the motivated person trapped, out of some form of gentle consideration, listening to our stories about the past. The problem is that the ‘back in my day’ stories imply that your day, our day, my day is well and truly in the past. It implies that our best days are behind us. That opportunities for new experience, have been….
….and now are gone.
So, you think you’re dead and buried at fifty?
Well go think again.
(By the way I’m not a doctor, life coach or a psychologist. What I am is sometimes egotistical, self-opinionated and un-willing to do anything until I am damn well ready. In a future post I plan to discuss a diagnosed condition I never dreamt I would suffer from that crept up and punched me squarely in the face. A good portion of this post came from learning to deal with that).