I hope you had a wonderful Diwali, celebrating with friends and family. I love this festival the most as it brings the whole family together and we all get to spend so much time with those who matter the most.
During the holidays, I have been thinking about the way my life is changing course, and I happened to read a wonderful book From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur Brooks and this encouraged me to make this subject the highlight of this issue of the newsletter and also include this topic at The Growth Network in Rishikesh.
This famous observation was made by Herb Stein, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. It became famous largely because it was just that, obvious. Well, when it comes to their own lives, people ignore it all the time.
For the first half of life, working tirelessly seems to be a tried and true formula for success. But eventually, ‘working hard’ stops working.
As we age, our abilities change. But contrary to popular belief, that isn’t a bad thing.
In fact, the second half of life can be even more promising than the first. With the right strategies and mindset, you can find success and lasting fulfilment as you age – happily going from strength to strength.
We all know about Charles Darwin. At 22, he boarded a royal ship and embarked on a now-famous scientific expedition – spending five years scouring the globe to collect exotic plant and animal samples that earned him an esteemed spot in history. At 27, he developed the theory of natural selection, which proposes that organisms best adapted to their environment are most likely to thrive through survival of the fittest. At 50, he published On the Origin of Species, his best-selling magnum opus that changed science forever. And yet, Darwin died considering himself a failure. Why? Like many successful professionals, Darwin couldn’t bear to see his career decline as he approached old age. Publishing On the Origin of Species at 50 was the peak of his career – and from there, he had no place to go but down. From 50 to 73, Darwin found himself stuck in a period of creative stagnation. No more scientific breakthroughs. No more industry-defining books. And for Darwin, that meant no more purpose.
Darwin’s professional decline was completely normal and predictable. Whether dancer, doctor, painter, engineer or pilot, one thing is sure: one day, you’ll face a similar decline in your career.
Why We Decline
This happens because of structural changes in the brain – the changing performance of the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain behind the forehead). This is the last part of the brain to develop in childhood and first to exhibit decline in adulthood. It is primarily responsible for working memory – the ability to block out information extraneous to the task at hand. In middle age, the prefrontal cortex starts to degrade its effectiveness resulting in suffering of rapid analysis. Secondly, multi tasking becomes very difficult. Recalling names becomes a hard task.
Humans simply aren’t wired to enjoy an achievement long enough. Satisfaction from success lasts but an instant. We can’t stop to enjoy it. As if running on a treadmill. If we stop on a moving treadmill we are going to fall. So we run and run, hoping that the next success will bring us the satisfaction we crave.
With the right mindset and tool kit, you can re-frame a decline in professional abilities as an opportunity to pivot toward new types of success – and make the present even more fulfilling than the past.
In 1971, Raymond Catell found out that there are two types of intelligence that people possess but a greater abundance in different phases of life – fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Cattell defined fluid intelligence as “the ability to reason, think flexibly, and solve novel problems”. It might help someone solve complex mathematical equations, devise new inventions, or – in Darwin’s case – make a breakthrough scientific discovery.
But here’s the kicker: fluid intelligence is the highest in early adulthood and declines dramatically starting in one’s 30s and 40s. Eventually, it will fail you. Cattell defined crystallized intelligence as “a person’s knowledge gained during life by acculturation and learning”. Since crystallized intelligence relies on accumulated knowledge, it increases through one’s 40s, 50s, and 60s, and doesn’t decline until much later in life. In other words, young people have the ability to think on their feet and recall facts. But older people are uniquely able to better understand and apply that knowledge. When you are young, you can generate a lot of facts; when you are old, you know what they mean and how to use them.
How to optimise second part for a successful life.
First, it should be dedicated to service. Second, the greatest gift at this stage of life is wisdom – which can and should be passed down. Third, one’s natural strength in older age is to mentor, advise, and teach others. And finally, our focus shouldn’t be on amassing worldly rewards like money, power, or prestige – rather, it should be on giving back.
So rather than regretting the decline of your fluid intelligence, relish in your rising crystallized intelligence – and put this unique gift to good use by shaping younger generations. Your wisdom can serve others well.
Success often means knowing when to walk away. Three factors always hold us to our earlier success – attachment to worldly rewards, addiction to work and success, and fear of decline. Across industries and around the world, many high-achieving professionals are wired to crave continuous success. But workaholism is a serious problem. Addicted to success, workaholics depend on the dopamine hit that results from receiving money, power, or prestige. However, these chemical highs are short-lived – they don’t lead to lasting happiness. Success won’t look the same later in life due to declining abilities. Rather than finding happiness solely in professional success, turn to outlets that will never fail you – whether that’s family, friendships, or faith. Working until you die and neglecting all else is not success. Leading a balanced life of fulfillment is.
Where one opportunity ends, another begins – and to find your purpose in the second stage of life, you must embrace change and tread new pathways. Doing so may take courage, but it’ll be worth it.
Aging isn’t something to be feared. With the right roadmap, you can make the second half of life even more meaningful than the first – finding lasting fulfillment in the present rather than wistfully living in the past.
Our ancient Hindu advice for perfect life divides life in four stages of 25-year spans –
Vanaprastha (forest walker/forest dweller)
- The first phase of life is called Brahmacharya, which is the student life. It means the time when you’re learning, when you’re absorbing, when you are a sponge for human capital and ideas.
- Then around age 25, you enter Gṛhastha, which is typically when a man would get married and start a household. This is called the householder phase and that’s career, and marriage, and children, and success, and sexual relationships, and all of these worldly rewards of money, power, pleasure, and fame that we get addicted to. And it’s fun, and it’s good, and it’s hard, and it’s tiring.
- The passing out of Gṛhastha into the third phase around 50, Vanaprasha is from age 50 to 75 and that’s a really critical and very interesting phase. It’s hard to get into because it requires wanting less. It requires chipping away. It requires a reverse bucket list. Vanaprastha comes from two Sanskrit words, van and prastha, meaning to retire into the forest (obviously, metaphoric). The whole point is to retire away from a lot of the parts of Gṛhastha. You’re still going to work, you’re still going to do your thing, but you’re going to have a different focus. You’re going to be focused on teaching and on other people. This is the second curve. This is where it all comes together. You are becoming less involved in your own success, but more involved in the success of other people. Now that might carry you to great glory. But it’s not primarily for that, if you’re going to be in the happy, successful quadrant.
- The last Āśrama, which is age 75 years and beyond, is called Sannyasa. A Sanyasi is somebody who is an enlightened one. But it simply means somebody in the Āśrama of Sannyasa. This is where you’re fully dedicated to spiritual enlightenment. In ancient times, Hindu men of some means would take leave of their families at the age of 75, and go to the Himalayas and sit at the foot of their master until death.
Vanaprastha is the preparation for Sannyasa. Reconsider your bucket list. Pull out your bucket list and examine it with a critical eye. Which items will deliver you worldly rewards and which will bring about lasting happiness? Deprioritize items that fall into the first category and focus on everything else. This is where you’ll find fulfillment in the second half of life.
Be kind to yourself when you notice your fluid intelligence fading, as it inevitably will, and look for ways to put your growing crystallized intelligence to use. This is where you’ll find fulfilment in the second half of life, and how you can keep yourself moving from strength to strength.
I am hugely influenced and avid reader of everything Arthur Brooks writes. This topic is influenced by his columns in The Atlantic and his books. Here are some of the links for your reading
Arthur’s most recent book: From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life
The happiest people aren’t the most successful:
- What the Second-Happiest People Get Right | Arthur Brooks, The Atlantic (March 31, 2022)
- ‘Success Addicts’ Choose Being Special Over Being Happy | Arthur Brooks, The Atlantic (July 30, 2020)
The mortality paradox: The Best Way to Handle Your Decline Is to Confront It Head On | Arthur Brooks, The Atlantic (June 4, 2020)
Arthur’s rules for happiness: A Happiness Columnist’s Three Biggest Happiness Rules | Arthur Brooks, The Atlantic (July 21, 2022)
Satisfaction and habits to overcome dissatisfaction (a reverse bucket list): How to Want Less | Arthur Brooks, The Atlantic (February 8, 2022)
Death meditation: The Best Way to Handle Your Decline Is to Confront It Head On | Arthur Brooks, The Atlantic (June 4, 2020)
Only 5 weeks to go for The Growth Retreat, a networking event, I am hosting at Rishikesh from8-11th December 2022. Every week we bring you a write up by one of the esteemed guest speakers of the Retreat, giving you a sneak peak of what they will be sharing with the participants of the Retreat.
Make the rest of your life the best of your life.
by Vipul Gupta
One day, at a round table of a few well-known industrialists, I was asked to introduce myself. Other than saying that I was the CEO of so and so company, I had no other thing to say.
Later that day, I realized that I really was just a victim of my designation, and my limit, my introduction, my very identity was just the name of the company I represented.
Was that my true identity? And I was already contemplating exiting my business, so would that mean that I would not have any introduction of myself at all?
Standing at crossroads when I hit 55, I had what people recognize as mid-life crisis. A crisis of identity, of self-confidence, of the very purpose of life.
I had a choice… either continue to do something that I had been doing most of my adult life, or choose a path – new and unchartered.
“Manthan” over days, weeks and months, I finally stumbled upon a simple truth – of profound value, ‘Focus on significance rather than success’.
And that became the new north star. I chose life over money, build something that would last way beyond my life and the commercial successes of my business.
I decided to build a blueprint for a new exciting, vibrant, meaningful and serving life.
I will be sharing my journey with the participants at the Retreat hosted by my dear friend, philosopher and guide Sandeep Mall.
Vipul Gupta, a mechanical engineer by education, spent his professional life building teams and organisations. He now lends his strategic skills, and experience in leading people and dealing with complexity to address community-oriented development issues. Vipul shares a deep bond with Kanha and its surroundings. He leads Earth Focus as its Executive Director. He can be contacted on Email email@example.com
When it comes to eating better, most folks worry about the little details:
Yet they eat over the kitchen sink. Or in their car. Or in a daze while in front of the TV. And who can blame them? We’ve been taught to think about what we eat, not how we eat.
That’s too bad since…
Eating slowly and mindfully can actually be an incredibly powerful habit for driving major transformation. Instead of having to figure out which foods to eat, in what frequency, and in what portions—all important factors, of course—eating slowly is the simplest way anyone can start eating and feeling better, immediately.
Why? Two reasons:
1. It takes about 20 minutes for your body’s satiety signals to kick in. Slow eating gives the system time to work, allowing you to better sense when you’ve had enough.
2. When you slow down, and really try to savor your meal, you tend to feel satisfied with less, and feel less “deprived.”
But… People struggle with this habit.
What to do?
Practice at slow eating and know you won’t be perfect. That’s okay. It’s also why it’s not a bad idea to spend a whole month on just this one habit. To help you, try one of these tips. You can experiment with them for just one meal, or take on a full “30-day slow-eating challenge,” if you feel up to it.
Take a breath. Before you eat, pause. Take one breath. Take one bite. Then take another breath. Go one bite and one breath at a time. That’s it.
Add one minute per meal. At the beginning of a meal, start a clock and see if you can make each meal one minute longer than the meal before.
Do something between bites. Besides taking a breath (or three), try:
Savour your food.
I have tried to cover various issues and subject that effect our deep health and life. If you want me to cover any specific topic please feel free to suggest to me on mail or twitter. If you like this newsletter you have a zero cost way to support it by sharing with your friends and family and amplify on your social media platform. If you have read this through Twitter or Facebook or have received it as a forward, please Subscribe.. Please leave your feedback and suggestions. You can mail me or tweet to @SandeepMall using #goodvibeswithSandeep.
We have also archived all the old issues and you can access them at www.sandeepmall.com. They contain some very good tool kits to take charge of your well being.
See you next week.
The information provided in this newsletter is not medical advice, nor it should be taken as a replacement for medical advice. I am not a medical Doctor so I don’t prescribe anything. Most of the tools suggested are based out of scientific research and my experiments with them. Your healthcare, your wellbeing is your responsibility. Anything we suggest here, please filter it through that responsibility.