This week in the Brain BS™ Blog and Podcast, we are going to explore what it is like to be a woman aging in this country. We will examine some of the misconceptions that come with getting older and why we should challenge them. I will also share a few strategies that can help us to improve our quality of life and ensure that the best years of our lives are still ahead of us, despite societal norms that may suggest otherwise.
Okay, let’s begin with some of the common challenges we may face as women getting older in this country. Sadly, one of the biggest hurdles is accepting physical changes related to our appearance. Pretty sure this does not happen with the guys to the extent it does with women. As women, we start to feel invisible and insignificant as a result of weight gain, sagging skin, and wrinkles to name a few. We start to feel unattractive or can even feel self-loathing, and we do not realize that thinking this way is optional. Whenever we are judgmental and critical of ourselves, that Brain BS™ is going to cause us to suffer needlessly. We think we feel so bad because of what we look like but really it is because of the way we are treating ourselves.
Another challenge we may face as aging women is learning how to make ourselves a priority. Now I am sure there are some exceptions to this rule, but in general it is difficult for women to set clear boundaries and reinforce them in the workplace and with their families. Why is that? Because women have been conditioned their entire lives to believe that their needs are not as important as everybody else’s. We have been taught to people-please and not rock the boat in an effort to ensure that people like us and approve of us. We have also been led to believe that if we did anything other than that, we would be perceived as selfish, unprofessional, or a bad mother God forbid.
In addition to throwing ourselves under the bus on a regular basis, we also worry about what other people think if us as we get older. We wonder if they notice all the changes we are subconsciously trying to hide. We get so focused on what others might think of us that we don’t even worry about what we think of ourselves! Instead of staying in our own heads and determining our own self-worth, we try to get into other people’s heads to figure out what they are thinking and use that to measure our self-esteem. The only problem with that approach is we are just projecting our own thoughts onto another human without realizing it. There is no way to understand how another human is thinking unless they tell us. Even when they tell us, our brain filter is going to receive it differently than how they said it. Worrying about what other people think of us as we age, robs us of our personal power in a profound way. It is also an exhausting and ineffective way to approach our relationships no matter how old we are. All that matters is what we think of ourselves.
Other challenges associated with getting older may include decreased sex drive, decreased stamina, decreased balance, decreased cognition, decreased mobility, decreased everything it seems! Getting older requires us to incur many losses as our bodies age with some of those changes being harder to accept than others. Obviously decreased sex drive is not going to have the same impact on us as decreased mobility or cognition might. The fear that we may not be able to age at home the way we want is a cause for concern for many aging women. There may also be future concerns about managing finances and being able to take care of ourselves if our husbands die and were the primary bread winners. The uncertainty of the future and how it will play out can lead working women to wonder when we should retire or if our retirement plan is adequate. It could also be that we are worried about how retirement is going to play out with so much time at home with our spouse! We think we have so many things to worry about:)
So now that we have discussed some of the age-related changes we might experience, I want to explain why we should challenge them. My main argument here is based on a twofold premise which is first, that thoughts trigger feelings, those lead to actions, and that is how we get our results. The second part of the premise is that thoughts are optional so why would we choose to think negatively of ourselves? As aging women, we can just as easily look in the mirror at our image and decide we love the way we look instead of choosing to be critical of ourselves. As hard as it is to believe though, women don’t know that until they are told that by somebody who does know. I really thought that the negative way I felt about my looks and my body was based on facts and was non-negotiable. Adjusting to the physical changes I incurred in my early fifties caused me a great deal of pain because I did not realize my thoughts about the changes were optional, even if the age-related changes were not.
In terms of getting comfortable making ourselves a priority as a middle-aged woman, I am not going to lie. It requires courage and a willingness to experience significant discomfort. Don’t get me wrong, the discomfort is going to be there either way. It is just a matter of which kind of discomfort we want to experience. We can choose the kind that comes with personal growth and learning how to set boundaries, or the kind that comes with apathy and staying stuck in our negative brain habits and patterns. I recommend choosing the kind of discomfort that comes with truly loving ourselves enough to make us a priority. We cannot continue to treat ourselves poorly and expect different results. As far as all of the changes related to aging that I mentioned earlier, we get to choose how we look at all of them, whatever they may be. Whether it be decreased sex drive, stamina, balance, cognition, and/or mobility, the only way it will cause us to feel anything is the way we are thinking about it.
Now let’s talk strategy ladies! First and foremost, we always get to choose what we want to think in any given situation. This is a skill worth acquiring because it is truly the only thing we have control over in our lives. Expecting or waiting for other people to change their behavior or for a situation to hopefully improve on its own, is super disempowering. If we can commit to trying to be the best version of ourselves that we can be as we age, it will change everything. Yes, it will require persistence, resilience, and discipline to stay focused on our own brains instead of external factors or people, but it will pay off. The love we will cultivate for ourselves and the peace of mind we will experience when we relinquish attempting to control others and age-related changes, is truly well worth the effort.
This next strategy is coming from my heart and one that really resonates with me. DO NOT believe that the best years of our lives are behind us no matter how old we are and no matter how many losses we have sustained. It is total Brain BS and nothing good comes from thinking that way! If we believe that thought, our brains will only see evidence to support that thought and overlook all of the positive stuff in our lives. Instead, we must work on approaching life with a future-focused mindset and not let a number mess with our heads. There is no such thing as past and present, that is a mental construct made up by humans. There is only now and the gifts of the present moment. Missing those moments because we are not open to them would be a travesty.
My next tip is to accept the temporary nature of life and that age related changes and death are inevitable. If we were all supposed to stay the same as we got older and live forever, we would. Clearly, there is a purpose to us getting older and sustaining a variety of losses is part of the human package. Instead of rejecting this or fooling ourselves into thinking some of us are going to live forever, how about really taking the time to appreciate and be grateful for life while we have it. There is no alternative option to this! We cannot change that we are all going to die at some point, so focus on really living instead. Don’t play it small and safe on the sidelines, get out there on the field and make some big plays happen. Take advantage of this amazing human experience and honor it as the privilege it is! Also take time to prepare for when we die, so that it will be much easier on the loved ones we leave behind.
This last point I want to make encompasses all of them, but is worthy of repeating and having its own paragraph. The biggest problem us humans have is our inability to accept reality. If it is not the way we want it, we reject it. Then we add more suffering to it by judging it, creating drama around it, and totally buying into the brain BS our ego is offering us. We must remember that we are not our thoughts, we are the observer of them. Learning how to differentiate between the brain BS our ego offers us and the message we are receiving from our higher selves, is the key to everything. Knowing how to manage our minds is how we live up to our potential and create the results we want on purpose. It is how we live our best life!
In conclusion, there are many misconceptions and Brain BS™ that come up with aging as a woman in this country. We need to challenge those norms and approach aging in a proactive way that improvs our quality of life and ensures the best years of our lives are still ahead of us. We must accept the terms and conditions of being human and learn how to manage our minds to create the experience we want as we age. Join me in the Brain BS™ Podcast to discuss this further!