The 8 Life Skills You Must Learn in Your 40s

I turned 40 last year. It was not celebrated in quite the same way as when I turned 18, or 21, but it's a milestone nonetheless. And it got me to thinking…what should I be learning now that I have hit this major landmark? What can any of us who are in our 40s learn to make life even better, and prepare for the next 40 years? Here are eight of the best life skills you can embrace once you reach the big 40.

1. Overcoming Procrastination

When we're young, it's easy to think that there's plenty of time to do this, or that, later. But after hitting "middle age," perspective is everything. You should realize that there is no time like the present to get things done, but also that you must have achievable goals. Saying "That's it, I'm redecorating the kitchen this weekend" will probably lead to failure because you have set yourself too great a task in too short a time. Instead, portion out the tasks ahead into very attainable goals. So, this weekend, you will remove the wallpaper from two walls, and choose new paint or paper from the home improvement store. Use your smartphone to set these goals, and have a checklist. When you see the list getting shorter, you'll feel good about your progress.

2. Meditation

Say meditation to some people and they think you're some new-age whacko or "hippie." But meditation is simply a way to internalize and focus on ourselves, rather than the hectic world around us. It's a way to find a little peace, without grabbing a drink, watching TV, or flat out falling asleep. This is awareness, and helps us achieve an emotional balance. It's very easy to get started, too.

You need to find a place in your home, or office, free from distractions. You cannot do this with constant interruptions. Then, make yourself comfortable, but don't lie down. This is no time for a nap, this is about being focused. Sit up straight, preferably without the help of back support. Begin to breath, in and out, and pay close attention to your breathing. Some people use an affirmation or chant, some like to listen to some instrumental music or sound effects. Others simply focus on their own heartbeat. This is about finding time for you, and some inner peace. Do this for 15–30 minutes per day, and you will be amazed at the results it generates for you.

3. Yoga

On the back of meditation comes another skill that many people confuse. Yoga is obviously not meditation, but it can bring about some of the same benefits. It can internalize your thinking, and bring you a great sense of peace and relaxation. However, yoga is also good at this time of life, when our bodies aren't as supple and regenerative as they were 20 years ago. There are many types of yoga available, including bikram, power, ashtanga, iyengar, hatha, and more. Try your local athletic club for yoga classes. Some employers even offer them for free, as they are very beneficial to the workforce.

4. Patience

They say it's a virtue. When we're kids, we don't have it. When we're in our 20s, we fake it. By the time we're in our 30s, we often let it slide because "I've been doing this a long time and I deserve what I want, when I want!" Now, after hitting 40, it has dawned on me that learning how to be patient is something I should have done a long time ago. And it's not difficult.

The most important part of learning patience is figuring out what triggers your impatience. For example, one of my biggest bugbears is lateness. If people aren't on time, I get irritated…quickly. Or at least, I used to. Now, I try to remember that my attitude cannot change their schedule. I can either be annoyed, or use the time wisely. I breathe deeply, remember what good things are happening on that day, and realize that some things are just out of my control.

5. Arguing

In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to argue with other people. Then again, it sounds like quite a dull world, too. Arguments happen wherever there are other people to argue with. They are unavoidable. However, learning how to argue is going to save you a lot of time, energy, and even money. In our youth, arguments can be childish and uncivilized. There can be name-calling and hurtful statements. The arguments can start out being about something small, and end up becoming monstrous. Knowing how to argue well, or fairly, can really be of great service to yourself, and those around you.

Try to see things from the other person's point of view. Always think before speaking, and make sure that whatever you are saying has a positive intention. You want to reach an agreement, not hail yourself as a victor and puff up your chest. If you're in your 40s, you should be beyond such trivial wins anyway. You want the best for both parties, and you get that by listening, having empathy, and working as a team trying to solve a problem.

6. Forgiveness

For many years in my 20s, and even into my 30s, I had a passionate dislike of certain people. And the reason — they did something to me that I just couldn't forgive. As it turns out, the "unforgivable" acts were very easily forgivable, I was just young when I was hurt, and let it build up into a mountain of disdain over time. This is no way to live. A famous quote says "holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." Oh, how true.

So, start learning how to really forgive people now. You don't have to forget what that person did to you, but you can make a concerted effort to talk it over with them, and offer your genuine forgiveness. Remember, the person suffering the most from these feelings is you. The other person probably doesn't think about it half as much as you do, so let it go. Forgive them, move on, and you'll feel better.

7. Thinking on Your Feet

You could also call it decision making, but that doesn't put the emphasis on time. I was in a restaurant a few weeks ago, and I heard a couple trying to figure out what they were going to eat. After 20 minutes, they still hadn't decided. It was starting to become a heated argument, and for what? The difference between ordering lasagna or spaghetti? In many aspects of life, quick thinking is invaluable. And the biggest enemy of it is self-doubt, or second-guessing. By the time you hit 40, you should know what you like, what you want, and where you're going. Trust your gut, listen to yourself, and stop umming and aaahing. This doesn't mean making hasty decisions, but it does mean getting to the right decision quickly, and confidently.

8. Letting Go

We have a dogged determination to stick with things in our teens, 20s, and 30s. If we give up, we fail. We don't want to be seen as failures, so we will often keep on going with something that should have been dead and buried long ago. This can apply to anything, from personal projects and careers, to relationships and ambitions.

Now, I know some people will think "You should never let go of your dreams," but what if your resoluteness to achieve something unattainable is getting in the way of something that could be just as great? Some teens want to be astronauts. Is that something to keep gunning for when you hit 40? Are you in a relationship that you keep promising yourself will get better? Maybe it's time to let go. It can also be as simple as walking out of an awful movie. Think about it. Time is a precious resource, and one that we have less of every day. Is it worth sticking things out when we could move onto greener pastures?

What lessons have you learned at 40?

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Ryan Smith

I'm 23 and I'm beginning to see the truth behind this. I don't want to wait until my 40's to learn this stuff. I figured I may as well start now.