Stop going through the motions and live more intentionally in midlife

Do you feel like you’ve just been going through the motions? Almost like you just don’t really have a direction in life. For a lot of us, it goes like this: Wake up tired, rush around, take care of things, get exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed, become irritable, go to bed and sleep restlessly. 

And, a lot of times, we are staying busy, because, well, what else is there to do? If we didn’t stay busy, what would we do?

For many years, this was my life. 

Later, I realized that what I was doing was mostly numbing or avoiding my feelings. Feelings of sadness, loneliness, boredom, regret, fear, and anger. I didn’t want to feel those things. I wanted to feel excited and happy, but those feelings were fleeting.

So, I stayed busy to avoid my feelings. I also napped to avoid everything, used substances to “calm my nerves,” and binged on junk food for “pleasure.”

If you’re edging towards midlife (or already there) and this has been your life, you might be thinking, WTF, something has to change. I can’t be 45 with no direction in my life. Or, maybe you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that this IS life and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I knew I wanted more from life, but I always thought that whatever I could “do about it” would take too much time, energy, or money. And, I didn’t believe that I had any of those things, so change was just another thing that I avoided. 

But I was wrong about things being too hard. Later in this post, I’ll talk about what helped me stop going through the motions and finally find a direction in my life.

Mindlessly going through the motions without improvement – can be its own form of suffering.

Angela Duckworth
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1. Fear

If you’re like me, you might be letting fear keep you stuck. I listened to my thoughts that were telling me that change was HARD. And, life was already HARD. Why would I want to add MORE difficulty? 

First, those thoughts I was having were not reality. They were thoughts that came from my brain trying to protect me. Stepping out of my comfort zone was scary. And to our brains, scary means life threatening. Well, nothing I would have done to make changes in my life would have been life threatening.

A lot of times we are uncomfortable doing things that are unfamiliar to us. So we stay in that “comfort zone.” Most humans have some fear of change. It’s normal. 

Sometimes we fear being alone or abandoned. Oftentimes, we fear being judged or criticized. These fears can come from childhood or life circumstances, but they are also fears that put our brains on alert. Again, our brains are trying to help us survive and being alone or outcast was something that would put humans at risk…back in the day.

So, our brains actually try to stop us from doing things that could cause us harm. However, being judged or criticized isn’t actually life threatening, nor is being alone.

fear of change leads to having no direction

2. Perfectionism

Perfectionism (really masked fear) keeps us stuck at that place with no direction in our lives. For me, it was because I would tell myself things like:

I don’t have all the information yet to make the right decision. 

For years, I thought I should go back to school for a Master’s Degree. But, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. So, I put it off because – what if I chose the wrong degree? And, I wasted all that time and money? So, I waited/put it off and I never did go back to school. 

I have to do ______ first. 

I struggled with my weight after having kids and I also smoked. I used to tell myself that I couldn’t exercise and be a smoker! I would have to wait to really start an exercise routine until I quit smoking! (I know…stop shaking your head.)

I have to wait until ________before I can do it. 

For many of us who are moms, we think we need to wait until our kids are older or out of the house before we can do anything for ourselves. Because, it’s our job to take care of all the things when we have kids, ya know? (Which causes us to feel unappreciated and taken for granted, right?)

Things have to be perfectly in place at just the right time for me to do this.

And, does that perfect time ever come? No, because – perfectionism.

3. Lack of Confidence

I hate that so many of us just put off making any change – change that would actually help us get unstuck and find some direction – because of a lack of confidence in ourselves. A lot of us deal with a real “imposter syndrome.” 

And, in fact, in several studies on confidence, women tend to underestimate their competence while men overestimate theirs (The Atlantic: The Confidence Gap).

Even though we may actually have the education, intellect, experience, and wisdom, it’s more likely than not that we will NOT take an action or pursue something we desire due to a lack of confidence in ourselves. 

So, we won’t apply for that promotion or new job.

We won’t try to start that business we’ve thought about for years.

We won’t go back to school.

We won’t leave a bad relationship.

We won’t sign up for something or join a group.

We stay where it’s comfortable and get stuck with no real direction in life.

Then, we start creeping towards midlife – around age 40 – 45, we start thinking – OH NO, time out!

don't have a direction and time for a change


1. Awareness

In order to stop doing something, we must first become aware that we ARE doing that thing. And, like the title of this post says, oftentimes, we are just going through the motions. We go through our days – our lives – on autopilot. Which means we are likely UNAWARE of what we are doing. 

We might know deep down, but like I used to do, many people just push those thoughts away or numb their feelings about the thoughts. (Read this post – Awareness vs. Avoidance Coping.)

Becoming aware is so important, but can be done easily. Just two things can help you become aware of how you are going through the motions:

What is Mindfulness? Jon Kabbat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, defines it as paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement. 

So, during mindfulness meditation, we are focusing on the present moment while paying attention to what’s going on inside of us or around us. It is a practice of bringing ourselves back to the present moment. Thoughts naturally come into our minds, and we just bring our focus back to the moment. And, without judging ourselves for “losing that focus.”

Doing this strengthens our ability to be more aware during our day-to-day activities. Instead of “going through the motions,” we can stop and notice those motions as well as the thoughts we’re having about those motions.

For example, the other day I got angry at my partner and I held onto that anger for the entire time that I was mowing the lawn. I knew that I was holding on, but I was refusing to let go (not healthy). 

I was aware of these feelings and thoughts and I could have chosen to breathe and release those feelings…which I did later on. But I held on to the anger way longer than I should have. It didn’t do me a bit of good. However, the fact that I was aware of this is a huge improvement over how I used to be. Years ago, I could have held onto that feeling of anger for the entire day – and let it ruin a perfectly good Saturday. 

When we put our thoughts out on paper – there they are – what better way to become aware of those thoughts, right? That is, if you allow yourself to spill those thoughts out onto the paper (or computer screen).

I found that it’s super beneficial to let your thoughts stream. Don’t censor yourself when you’re writing. I would do that. It was another way of avoiding what I was really thinking and feeling. Journaling doesn’t have to be a long drawn out thing either. It can be 5-10 minutes a day of writing out how you felt that day or the day before.

I have some great journaling prompts to get you going with starting a regular journaling practice. Click here to sign up for some free questions/prompts you can print out or use in your own journal. These are called the Love Your Life Journaling Prompts.

journaling to help when you have no direction in life

2. Acceptance

When you become aware of what’s going on in your head, you also want to be OK with what’s going on in your head (all of your thoughts and feelings). There is no need to judge yourself or think you’re some awful human for being “imperfect.” 

Maybe you haven’t made all the “best” choices or you wish things could have been different. Ok. That’s all – ok. What you did or didn’t do does not need to be critiqued. Critiquing our choices or thoughts or feelings will only lead to more avoidance and more going through the motions. 

Acceptance is made easier by staying in the present moment. When we go back and rehash what did or didn’t happen, we aren’t in the present moment. When we worry about what the future might bring, we aren’t in the present moment. The present moment is all that we have control over anyway.  

3. Action

The action to take in order to stop going through the motions is to change your thoughts. I know,  you can’t just flip a switch and poof, thoughts changed! But, it’s not as hard as you might think. 

There are a lot of reasons we continue to think the thoughts we do. 

Our beliefs.
Our circumstances and the people around us.
Limiting our exposure to other ideas.
Change can be scary (the whole comfort zone thing).
We get some “reward,” which could just be that we are “comfortable.”
We aren’t being intentional about our thoughts. Let’s focus on this one reason in particular. Our thoughts just run on autopilot.

When we have more awareness of what we are thinking and aren’t being judgmental of what we’re thinking, it becomes much easier to change our thoughts. When we’re just chugging along on autopilot, our thoughts can run rampant, and you never know where you might end up! 

Practicing mindfulness (remember – it’s paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement) helps bring our attention to those thoughts, and consciously choose to think something differently.

So, when I was angry at my partner (admittedly, for too long), I actually did choose to stay in that space. I knew it wasn’t good for me, but I WAS aware of it. And, a little later, I “came back to my senses” and made the choice to think differently about the situation. Yes, I was angry, but it was a minor thing that pissed me off. It really had no bearing on anything, in fact. And, I could express my feelings calmly and we were able to move on. 

Another example of this is when you become aware of a thought like “I’ll never be able to get this done,” you can change that thought to something like, “This will be challenging, but I’ve done it before so I know I can do it this time too!”

So, you’re intentionally changing your perspective on this project or task. You are looking at it in a more positive light. 

Changing your thoughts interrupts you when you’re just going through the motions. You can step back and say, hey, that’s not the kind of thought I want to have. That’s not the frame of mind I want to be in. That’s not the way I want to show up today.

If you’re feeling like you have no direction in your life and you’re just going through the motions, all of these things – Awareness, Acceptance, and Action – will help you find that direction and lead you on a path towards living in a peaceful state of mind. 

You can stop living your life on autopilot, stop avoiding what you perceive as hard or scary, and start living intentionally! 

What thoughts will you intentionally change? Leave a comment and let me know. Or, send me an email. I’d love to hear about your personal situation and talk about things that have worked for me!


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