How to get through liminality
We now know that traversing the liminal space can be challenging, and there is one essential tool to help you along the way and that is to manage and potentially change your mindset about time.
In midlife, people begin to focus on the limitations of the second half of their life – realising that life isn’t forever, and often a sense that time is running out can begin to develop. Questions arise such as: ‘Do I have enough time to change?’ and ‘How long are these changes going to take?’ There can be a very real nagging sense that time is key and that it is limited, and this type of thinking can cause challenges for midlifers.
Everybody who comes for therapy or is experiencing a challenging time of life wants immediate change to alleviate the pain – and who can blame them?! It can be very tempting to implement a massive immediate overhaul of your life when you realise how you have been living, and how certain people, relationships or jobs have been contributing to your unhappiness.
However, trust me when I say this is too much too soon. Decisions, actions, and behaviours carried out without self-awareness and from a panicky place can mean you end up right back at square one. So, breathe. You have time to make the changes you need to make. Let’s just be as certain as we can be that they are the right changes, those that will benefit you the most.
Our subjective sense of time plays such an important part in midlife and in personal motivation. If we feel that time is running out and that our future is limited, this can reduce our choices, making us reluctant to start new projects or to see through an idea that might lead to something fulfilling. If you can broaden your perspective on time, it will help negate the potential trade-off you might make if you rush to change things quickly.
Time is a precious resource and an essential contributor to happiness. How people spend their time can greatly impact their well-being. When we are younger, we set goals that are focused on expanding knowledge or goals that need time for us to research and collect information about. Time was generally experienced as open-ended. There was time enough to take a gap year, study for a part-time qualification over several years or go out with different people and explore your sexuality. As we get older, our perception of time becomes more constrained. We tend to prioritise goals in terms of how quickly they can be achieved. In turn that prioritises our current emotional state and our sense of well-being, rather than expanding our horizons as it did when we were younger. We plan to immediately relieve those emotional states we would prefer not to experience, such as anxiety. We dislike our jobs, so we shift companies; we are unhappy in our relationships, so we have an affair or leave to bring some fun into our life; we feel depressed, so we see the doctor and are prescribed antidepressants – all in an attempt to alleviate the feelings we don’t want to feel.
It’s hard to experience uncomfortable emotions, but in midlife a shift in time and perspective is needed.
Pausing, and being able to tolerate the emotions we don’t want, will allow us to consider our next move and can help to ensure we address not only the physiological symptoms but also the cause of our distress. Gauging your perception of time If you feel that your time is constricted, then you feel rushed. You might feel you don’t have enough time to make necessary changes, so will have to compromise, which will then impact and compromise your life decisions. Elongating your perception of time can have numerous positive effects. If you’ve ever had bad news delivered to you, or been in an accident, or tripped and fallen, you may have experienced a sense of time standing still or moving slowly. As we grow older, we can experience a sense of time whizzing by: here we are at Monday again! There seems to be no definitive research or explanation of why time seems to speed up as we get older. What I do know is that in my experience, people make better choices – those that are more worthwhile, fulfilling, and meaningful – when they don’t exclude options because they will take longer to complete. Yes, you could take a short course in computer programming at a local college, but if this is truly your passion, why not enrol in a part-time degree, because in three years’ time, you could have a new career that could capture your interest through to retirement. You could do a six-week coaching course on salsa, but what if you chose a year-long course on modern ballroom dancing and begin to enter competitions and socials, meeting people with similar interests?
Take a longer-term (but realistic) perspective on your life and the changes you want to make. As Goethe said, ‘We always have time enough, if we will but use it aright’.