40 Things to Stop Believing About Yourself After 40
You aren’t still wearing the same clothes or driving the same car as you were two decades ago, so why are you still punishing yourself with the same outdated beliefs?
“I’m a freak”
It’s really common to worry about whether you’re “normal,” especially when growing up because everyone wants to fit in and have friends, says Traci Stein, PhD, MPH, author, psychologist, and adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University. This line of thinking can lead you to do some terrible things in the name of being accepted by the crowd. But one of the best things about getting older is freeing yourself from caring so much what others think. Let your freak flag fly! Here’s how to develop a positive attitude in six easy steps.
Reframe it: “I’m different and unique and that’s what makes me awesome!”
“I’ll never be good enough, no matter how hard I try”
If you’ve received a lot of criticism in the past, it can be easy to believe that you’re a failure but that belief can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating a cycle of the fear of failing that holds you back from trying. Then that fear is reinforced if/when you don’t succeed, Dr. Stein says.
Reframe it: “I am good enough to try and failure is just part of learning, not a statement about who I am.”
“If I can’t do it perfectly, it’s not worth doing”
Having a perfectionist mindset is a quick way to torpedo your happiness and progress. “Many people overestimate the probability that they will not do well or assume a negative result which can lead you to avoid doing things altogether or not put forth your best effort,” says Flo Leighton, RN, certified mental health nurse practitioner and therapist with Union Square Practice. These are the clear signs you’re a perfectionist—and it’s ruining your life.
Reframe it: “Trying something new is always worthwhile even if I don’t get it exactly right.”
“My boss thinks my work sucks”
Everyone worries about their performance at work sometimes but trying to anticipate your boss’s reaction or put words in his or her mouth will just make you anxious and unnecessarily stressed out. Instead, look for real evidence of how you’re doing and focus on your strengths, Leighton says. Talk to your boss, read through your performance review, and get an outside opinion to help you look at your work realistically.
Reframe it: “My boss gives me constructive criticism on how to make my work the best it can be.”
“Everyone is doing better than me”
Call it the social media effect or simply human nature but it’s very common to look at others your age and think that they’re much further ahead in the game of life than you are, says Jo Eckler, Psy.D, licensed clinical psychologist and author of I Can’t Fix You Because You’re Not Broken. This can make you feel depressed and discouraged, leaving you wondering how you fell so far behind. To find real happiness, however, you’ve got to resist the urge to compare, she says.
Reframe it: “Social media isn’t reality and it isn’t fair to compare my worst to other people’s best.”
“I’m just a hot mess”
At some point it became “cute” for young adults, women especially, to act as if they don’t know what they’re doing and are constantly living in a state of crisis. As you get older, though, you may look around at others and wonder how they got it all together while you’re still figuring out Adulting 101, Dr. Eckler says. It’s time to stop shaming yourself for choices you’ve made in the past and embrace your smarts! Instead, try following these things naturally successful people do every day at work.
Reframe it: “I’m a competent, reasonable adult and I can handle this.”
“I have to find my purpose in life”
It’s a myth that you have to have one concrete reason you’re here in order to live a fulfilling life, says Helena Lass, PhD, psychologist and founder of Wellness Orbit. In reality, spending all your time trying to find that “one thing” that will answer all your hopes and dreams can make you miss all the small-but-great things you have going on right now. As you get older, give yourself permission to keep looking for the big answers but also to be satisfied with what you find along the way.
Reframe it: “It’s more important to find meaning in my life now than to spend my life searching for meaning.”
“If I’m not in a relationship right now, it means I’m doomed to be alone forever”
Everyone has a time frame for which they’d like to accomplish major life milestones like graduating from college or getting married. Unfortunately, life rarely sticks to our schedule and unless you learn to roll with it, you’ll end up really frustrated, says Forrest Talley, PhD, a clinical psychologist and founder of Invictus Psychological Services. These are the top dating mistakes to avoid when you’re after 40.
Reframe it: “Just because I don’t have a special someone now doesn’t mean I never will. The right person is out there.”
“I work hard, I deserve to have that Lexus”
Feeling entitled to having certain things can set you up for disappointment and financial ruin, Dr. Talley says. Life is hardly ever “fair” and the sooner you recognize that no one owes you anything, the happier you’ll be.
Reframe it: “I work hard, I’ll save up for that Lexus.”
“If I buy this Instagram workout or this powder off Facebook, I’ll get the body of my dreams”
If there’s one thing social media does really well, it’s sell dreams—and products to “help” you achieve those dreams. But rarely will you find what you’re lacking by poring through other people’s feeds and timelines, Dr. Talley says. And if you’re looking to lose weight, chances are it’ll mainly be your wallet that ends up lighter. “My advice for someone who struggles with this is to do a ‘cleansing fast’ of Instagram, Facebook, and the like then use that extra time to build deep, genuine relationships with a small number of people in real life,” he adds. Try these science-backed tips to start losing weight right now.
Reframe it: “There aren’t any shortcuts. It will take hard work to get what I want, but I can do it.”
“I’m a hideous, fat slob”
“The unrealistic and unattainable beauty ideals in our culture have led to 91 percent of women being unhappy with their appearance at one point in their lives,” says Susan Edelman, MD, psychiatrist, and author of Be Your Own Brand of Sexy. And it’s not just women—many men feel self-conscious about their looks as well. This can lead to dangerous dieting behaviors, depression, and anxiety. Check out these 10 ways to improve your body image, without losing weight.
Reframe it: “I want to be healthy and happy, not be a certain number on the scale.”
“I have to look like a model or I’ll never get a boy/girlfriend”
Let’s be honest: Most of us don’t look like models! And that doesn’t make us unworthy of love or a happy relationship. “How you treat people is much more important than your appearance,” Dr. Edelman says. “Being kind, generous, or a good listener is much more likely to help you to attract and keep a nice partner.”
Reframe it: “We’re all going to look different, that’s part of what makes us who we are.”
“I’m only successful if I’m better than someone else”
Beating others out for a promotion or being the thinnest person at your high school reunion may feel good in the moment but in the long run, this urge to define yourself by being better than others will backfire, says Emily P. Lockamy, a therapist based in Wilmington, North Carolina. “A more effective way to foster a positive sense of self is to develop self-compassion and self-appreciation,” she says.
Reframe it: “Success is being fulfilled, and the more fulfillment there is to go around, the better.”
“I need to do everything”
There is tremendous pressure put on young people from an early age to excel at everything. You’re expected to get straight A’s in school, be a leader in the community, make the travel sports team, have a large friend group, be invited to the cool parties, and have a body like a supermodel, says Tracey Masella, a licensed social worker at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut. But this leaves you always hunting for the better opportunity and never satisfied gathering the good enough experiences, not to mention exhausted! By the time you’re 40, it’s time to ditch these expectations.
Reframe it: “I don’t have to do everything, I can choose to only do what makes me happy and fulfilled.”
“I’ll be happy once I’ve reached this next goal”
Having goals is great but making your self-worth contingent on checking off all the boxes will leave you never feeling good enough and always wanting more, Lockamy says. These powerful quotes will help you find the gratitude in the little things.
Reframe it: “I can be happy now, here’s a list of things I’m grateful for.”
“I’m such a worthless loser”
Thoughts like this one are a feeling, not a fact, says Cecelia Mylett, Psy.D, LCSW, Clinical Director at CAST Centers. Acknowledging the feeling behind it—loneliness, depression, frustration—can help you recognize what your brain is really saying and not get bogged down in self-doubt.
Reframe it: “At times I feel I am not good enough, but I know I am a great friend (or whatever it is that you feel good about or accomplished in your life).”
“I’ll do it tomorrow”
Many of my younger clients struggle with procrastination; they know what they need to do to have the life they want, but they just can’t seem to get it done,” says Kenny Weiss, a licensed counselor. If you’re stuck in this loop, know you’re not alone and try our 9 tricks every procrastinator needs to know.
Reframe it: “I’m going to work at this for 15 minutes and then I can take a break if I need one.”
“I can’t say no, that would be rude”
Not saying “no” not only stresses you out but it can hurt those you’re trying to help if you can’t deliver or resent them for asking. Part of being an adult is learning how to give a gentle but firm “no” without lying or making excuses, Weiss says.
Reframe it: “No, I won’t be able to do that.”
“This is the worst thing that ever happened to me”
Believing that every failure or setback is the worst it could be with no option for a turnaround is a recipe for depression, says Eliza Belle, PhD, a licensed psychologist. While something may feel like “the worst” at the moment, realistically it probably isn’t and reminding yourself of that fact can help you take action, she adds.
Reframe it: “Everyone has setbacks, I’ll get through this.”
“I want to have a life like Kim Kardashian or Kobe Bryant”
Growing up, many of us idolized singers, actors, athletes, or other celebrities but part of being a grown-up is recognizing how unrealistic those ideals often are and finding more appropriate role models, Dr. Belle says. “Look to your real-life support systems and work on your own goals and expectations, instead of someone you see on TV or social media,” she says.
Reframe it: “I want to live my best life, not someone else’s.”
“I’ll just lay low at this meeting”
Many younger people mistakenly think that no one at work wants to hear their ideas, thinking that their boss would rather just hear from the more experienced people, says Sheina Schochet, a psychotherapist based in New York City. Not true! As you get older, you’re gaining wisdom, and while you might not be the most senior person yet, you’ve definitely got good experience. (P.S.: Your negative thoughts may be aging you faster, and not in a good way!)
Reframe it: “I was hired for a reason and I have valuable insights worth sharing.”
“Why would anything good happen to me? There so many others who deserve it more”
Whether you’re thinking about a house you’d like to buy or a raise you’d like to get, it can be easy to default to “I don’t deserve good things,” Schochet says. But happiness and success aren’t a zero-sum game and just because someone else may deserve something awesome doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it too.
Reframe it: “Why shouldn’t I expect good things?”
“I have to check my Instagram feed before bed”
Many of today’s adults still feel an intense pressure to always know everything that’s going on with everyone but this mentality can make you feel scattered, insecure, and even fearful, says Kendra Kubala, Psy.D, a licensed psychologist in Philadelphia. “Before the advent of social media, we were more able to gradually absorb news from others, and choose to respond at our own pace and in our own manner. Now, we may feel pressured to ‘like’ an event to avoid feeling like a hater.” Try these 10 tricks for making your relationship with social media healthier.
Reframe it: “I can be social without social media.”
“I might as well give up soccer, I’ll never be Abby Wombat”
Professional athletes make everything look easy, but they’ve spent years honing their craft, Dr. Kubala says. You may have dreamed of—and even trained for—the same goal and it can be demoralizing to realize that ship has sailed. Still beating yourself up? Try these 9 strategies for dealing with negative thoughts.
Reframe it: “Playing sports and pursuing hobbies are worthwhile even if I never go pro.”
“This one choice will make or break me”
It’s tempting to believe that the course of your life will change irrevocably based on making the one perfect choice of a career, a college, a new job, or a relationship (especially if you watch a lot of movies!) but the reality is that lives change based on a series of choices and hardly anything can’t be changed, says Allison G. Johnsen, licensed clinical professional counselor and board certified coach at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. Thinking this way almost ensures failure, not to mention it’s super stressful. Try these 10 proven ways to make smart decisions.
Reframe it: “I’ll research this and make the best choice I can. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll try something else.”
“No one really ‘gets’ me”
One of the best parts of getting older is the opportunity to find your “tribe”—the people who inspire and support you. It’s easy to feel left out, lonely, or abandoned when you’re different but the beautiful thing about this world is that it’s full of “different” people, some who will be just like you, Johnsen says.
Reframe it: “There’s nothing wrong with me and I can push myself to try to connect, join and approach others I’d like to know more.”
“I can’t go to the gym until I lose weight”
Are you waiting to get married, find a new job, go to the beach, take a trapeze class, or go to the gym until the scale says you can? “Don’t wait! Start living your life now,” says Margit Berman, PhD, associate professor at Minnesota School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University. “Will you experience weight discrimination? You might, but don’t let it hold you back from doing what you love.”
Reframe it: “I can do anything I want to do.”
“I am going to get rich, fast”
Earning enough money to buy what you need and some of what you want is a great goal, but getting consumed with getting more money to support an ever more lavish lifestyle can become a vicious cycle, says Jonathan Alpert, psychotherapist, Wall Street performance coach, and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. “Upon close examination, I find many peoples’ idea of a “good life” is warped and largely influenced by Hollywood and media,” he says. “Instead, focus on what is realistic and what you actually need.”
Reframe it: “I will live within my means.”
“I will never find love again”
Nothing hurts more than being dumped, particularly if you thought that person was the love of your life. But one thing people learn as they age is that time really does heal all wounds and that there are many people who you can love, and who will love you, says Sara Stanizai, a licensed psychotherapist and the owner of Prospect Therapy.
Reframe it: “I’ve had relationships before, I’ll have a relationship again.”
“I’m too shy, I can’t talk to other people”
Social anxiety is a real thing and it can be very debilitating but it doesn’t have to rule your life and you can overcome your fears. “Start by recognizing that just because you have a thought, it does not mean it is true,” says Jennifer Welbel, licensed professional counselor and owner of The North Suburban Center for Anxiety. “You have thoughts all the time that you don’t give meaning or credence to.” Then take small steps to increase your comfort with a larger social circle. Find out the 6 hidden strengths of introverts.
Reframe it: “It may feel scary at first, but I will try to make one new friend tonight.”
“I can’t go out without makeup on”
It’s very common to worry about what people will think of your appearance, including your clothing, accessories, and makeup but while those things can help make a good first impression, it’s important to remember they don’t define who you are, says Prakash Masand, MD, psychiatrist and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence.
Reframe it: “It’s fine to leave the house even if I don’t look perfect.”
“My life is too overwhelming, I’m going back to bed”
It’s one thing to look at a long to-do list and want to go back to bed, it’s entirely another to actually do it. Hiding your head in the sand will only make your problems snowball, says Dr. Masand. “Start small,” he says. “Break your day down into smaller, more manageable tasks. This will help you feel better about all that you have to accomplish.”
Reframe it: “I can’t do everything, but I can do this one thing.”
“I’m an imposter”
Imposter syndrome is where you feel like if people knew what you are really like, they’d realize you’re a total fraud. This syndrome is really common in people first starting out in their career, but this fear doesn’t usually jive with reality, says Anne Rice, a licensed professional counselor at Firefly Wellness Counseling.
Reframe it: “I know what I’m doing and if I have questions I’ll ask for help.”
“I have to do something big to impact the world”
“Most people want to be a positive force in the world they live in, which is admirable. However, many people hang on to the idea that making the world a better place requires a drastic, earth-shattering action,” says Sal Raichbach, Psy.D, LCSW of Ambrosia Treatment Center: “But no one person can save the world. Small, positive acts of kindness, like holding the door for someone, are the most effective ways to spread goodness into the world.” Try these 10 random acts of kindness that can change someone’s life today.
Reframe it: “Every day I can brighten someone’s day with an act of kindness”
“I can’t make a phone call or answer voicemail”
Many young adults who grew up with smartphones, texting, Twitter, Facebook, and email and have come to prefer those means of communication to face-to-face interaction but insisting on only electronic communications can hurt you professionally and personally, says Tim Lynch, Ph.D, president of Psychsoftpc.
Reframe it: “It’s worth the extra few minutes to make a real human connection.”
“I’m not as good of a parent as them”
It’s hard not to constantly compare yourself to other parents. You can worry about what you’re doing wrong and what other parents are doing differently, but that won’t help your kids. Everyone parents differently and has to learn along the way. Work to give your kids everything that you can provide along the way and be confident in yourself.
Reframe it: “I’m doing everything I can for my kids and loving every minute of it. No one is perfect and it’s okay to make mistakes.”
“I need everyone to like me”
Here’s the cold, hard truth: No matter how wonderful you are, some people just won’t like you. And that’s OK, says Steven M. Sultanoff, Ph.D, a licensed psychologist and professor at Pepperdine University. Believing this can make you do extreme things to be liked and if you base your self-worth on being liked it can lead to depression, he explains.
Reframe it: “I’ll do my best to treat everyone with kindness and respect, but I can’t make them like me.”
“I don’t care what anyone thinks”
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“Unless you’re a sociopath, everyone cares about others’ opinions to some extent,” says Michele Quintin, LSW, and owner of Shift Happens Therapy. “The problems begin when you let someone else’s opinion define who you are or make you doubt yourself.” And if everyone always seems to disagree with you, it might be worth considering the 17 signs you’re the problem in the relationship.
Reframe it: “I’ll take the opinions of people whom I respect into account.”
“I will get hurt, so I won’t put myself out there”
Being vulnerable takes faith and trust, and once that is betrayed, often people close up and decide vulnerability isn’t a safe option anymore, but while it may protect you from pain, it’s also preventing you from feeling love and healing, says Kailee Place, licensed professional counselor in Charleston, South Carolina.
Reframe it: “Everyone gets hurt sometimes and the risk is worth the reward.”
“Being with someone who hurts me is better than being alone”
On the opposite end of people who are so afraid of getting hurt that they end up alone are the people who are so afraid of being alone that they let people hurt them. “I see people settling for less than great relationships because they think they can’t find anyone better,” says Julie Williamson, licensed professional counselor at Abundant Life Counseling. This is a grave mistake.
Reframe it: “I deserve to be treated with love and respect and I will find a partner who does that.” Read on for the 40 risks everyone should take before they turn 40.