How to make midlife-changing decisions
(It's often the small ones that actually make the difference).
If I was to ask you what where the most important decisions you’ve made that have impacted on your life, you’d probably go for the headliners. We often think it’s the big decisions that transform our lives, don’t we?: the subjects we pick at school, the college we apply to, the person we choose to love long, the house we buy, the decision to have children or not, the job we take. You know, the juicy ones that often feel like a crossroads, because turning left or right takes us in such different directions, it feels seismic.
Yet what I’ve learned from my own life, and the work that I do as a coach for women in the messy mayhem of midlife, is that often it is the slow burn, building impact of the little decisions, the habitual habits, the subtle course-correctors, the seemingly innocent choices we make that can transform us the most.
A huge part of what I do as a coach for women in midlife is help them find clarity around the best decisions they can make for themselves now, and in the future. Yes, this is often those bigger crossroads decisions - What do I need at this age, at this stage of my life? What’s next? Who am I? How do I learn to thrive after years of being on survival or emergency mode? (This last one comes up a lot, a lot, A LOT).
But I also mean the small but so significant ones. Ones that may feel minor at the time, but end up having such a huge impact on your life (and the lives of those around you) that you’ll look back and break out in a cold sweat thinking about what your life would have been if you had’t done that.
I was in Italy recently with my brother and 86 year old dad. (There’s one decision: to make time every year to go away for a few days with them because while life is so busy, I don’t want to fall into the trap of being so busy doing, I forget to be being).
My dad was a 60+ a day smoker when I was growing up. One day, in his early 40’s he announced he was stopping. That decision changed the course of his, and his children’s lives. A year later he ran his first marathon. We grew up seeing active parents and have brought that into our own adult lives. On our recent trip my 86 year old dad hiked a challenging cliff walk in Cinque Terre with us that would never have happened if he hadn’t made that decision. Well, he wouldn’t have been here with us for starters.
Just before I left for the trip, I made the decision to take the first hour of every day for myself. Every morning I got up and did some yoga sun salutations (to the rising Mediterranean sun) on my balcony.. my breath connecting to my body in a way that I only learned just before I turned 50. Now it is a decision. Every. Fucking. Day. And it has been life changing.
Therapy. There’s a decision. Changed my life and that of my kids. You don’t walk away from a damaging marriage without baggage you don’t want to carry. It cost money. It was hard. But it has changed my and my kid’s life because I’m a better person for it, and therefore a better (not perfect by any stretch!) parent.
Going back to college. Aged 47. Oh yeah baby. I remember the day I signed up. I had to put the first term’s fees on my visa card as I didn’t have the money, but I’d been on such an adventure of psychology discovery (a daily life-changing decision to keep learning and figuring out this thing called life), I just had to keep going, and buy the next ticket on that journey. Changed my life, my career, and hopefully the lives of the women I coach. The multiple little decisions - to read certain books, to stop drinking post-breakup Gin every night and start exercising, to start really investing in me as a person. Not just money, but time. Building time to reflect, to move, to reboot into my daily routines has changed the fabric of my daily life.
Yes, the big decisions change the course of our lives, but it is the habits that run our lives.
Finding the time for me amid the mayhem changed everything. Not just the crossroads, but multiple little decisions.
The time is always there, you may just have to prioritise you over someone else and that feels reeeaallly uncomfortable. But uncomfortable doesn’t mean wrong: it means you might be shifting a social narrative that your only value is to be all things to all people before you can be something and someone to yourself.
Some of the decisions my coaching clients make aren’t just the life-changers, but are game-changers: decision to walk more. To reflect more. To get help. To prioritise their health. To say no. To say yes. To say ‘me!’. Something as simple as a sea swim. Joining a fitness group. Asking for advice. Realising self-limiting beliefs. Realising potential. Understanding that courage is not about not being scared, but about being afraid and stepping out of your comfort zone anyway. That. That has changed my life.
I’m now on holiday with my three daughters (I promise, I’m not always on holiday!). I let them know that the first half hour of every day is mine (they’re teenagers so lying in bed and don’t care anyway!). I go on to the balcony and stretch and breath, I write my journal and I set my intentions for the day.
To be here while I’m here.
To let the small stuff go.
To accept my worries but not let them define my days.
To try really hard to make the shift from Director of Operations who is responsible for everyone’s happiness, to being me, separate from (alongside) my role as mum.
What little habits and choices are you making that will build up to have a profound impact on the quality of your life? Every day choices that affect so much of your today, tomorrow and future. Take some time to think about what decisions you, and your future self need you to make. I’d love to know in the comments.
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