- Midlife is a time of enhanced creativity for many adults.
- Midlife brains are good at making connections, spotting patterns, and solving problems.
- Midlife is a time of peak productivity for many people working in creative fields.
By the time we arrive at midlife, our brains have accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience—the result of many decades of living.
They have become really good at making connections and spotting patterns in a way that simply might not have been possible for us, back when we were younger.
We tend to underestimate the brilliance and creative powers of our midlife brains.
A midlife brain is a brain that is great at solving problems. As I note in my book Navigating The Messy Middle: A Fiercely Honest and Wildly Encouraging Guide for Midlife Women:
Even wild elephants have figured out that it’s the older matriarchs you want to turn to in times of trouble. They’re the ones who have lived long enough to know where to find food and water in times of drought. And they’ve learned how to spot patterns, so they’re able to anticipate potential problems. That makes them an invaluable resource.
Of course, you don’t have to be an elephant to be a great problem solver.
You just have to be a midlife person.
Midlife is a time of peak productivity for many people working in creative fields. It’s not necessarily the period of life when creative people do their best work. (Research shows that, in many cases, a writer or artist’s best work is their final work.) But the midlife years are definitely a period of intense creative output.
And based on my conversations with the 118 midlife women I interviewed for my book, I can tell you that midlife creativity isn’t limited to writers, artists, and other creative types. It’s a resource that's available to everyone. Many of my interviewees talked about how busy and alive their brains feel now that they're in midlife. As one woman put it, “I’m honestly curious to see if there’s anything neurological happening because it feels like a storm, and it seems to be happening to almost everybody I know. There must be something going on. It feels so physical.”
Her comment made me think about what might contribute to this midlife creative energy.
- Maybe it’s fuelled by the self-knowledge and self-acceptance that tend to accompany midlife: The fact that you’ve arrived at a point in your life where you know yourself really well and trust yourself even more.
- Maybe it’s the result of increased self-confidence: A willingness to take creative risks in a way that would have felt impossible back when you were younger and/or more concerned about what other people might think.
- Or maybe it’s driven by self-discovery: The identity quest that is so characteristic of midlife. Perhaps your brain is treating creativity as a resource for processing everything that you’re thinking and feeling—a way to make sense of all the wonderfully messy experiences of midlife.
Whatever it is that’s fuelling the creative energy that so many midlife people describe, it can feel really powerful—like you’re riding a wave of creative joy.
Here are some strategies for catching that wave.
- Stop telling yourself that you’re not a creative person. Everyone is a creative person—at least according to creativity coach and writer Christine Hennebury. “Creativity belongs to everyone, and we all express it differently,” she explains. “We all have creative instincts one way or another, and we can all choose to develop them in various ways for our enjoyment.” Permit yourself to acknowledge—or, better yet, celebrate—your creativity.
- Give your mind a chance to wander. Your brain is more likely to come up with creative ideas when you’re washing a sink full of dishes or out for a walk than when you’re staring at a blank computer brain, pressuring your brain to come up with a brilliant idea in a hurry. The best ideas are the ones that manage to chase you down at the most unexpected times.
- To boost your creativity, boost your mood. Your brain is more receptive to fresh, unusual ideas when you're in a good mood. When you’re in a terrible mood, your brain is more likely to shut those ideas down. (An angry or tired brain is a very self-critical brain.) Anything you can do to feel a little more positive—exercising, spending time in nature, getting enough sleep—will likely reap dividends on the creative front.
- Don’t overthink things. Just dive in. “You don’t need to have hours of spare time in order to do something creative,” says Hennebury. “Working with a time constraint can be really freeing. Knowing you only have a couple of minutes to engage in a creative project can encourage you to make the most of that time instead of putting it off until later tomorrow or next week.” Seize the day—seize the moment—in other words.
A quick note about the story behind the photo.
In the early months of the pandemic—when there were fewer options for finding joy every day—I wanted to experiment with different types of creative projects, like making digital art. The accompanying image (a floral tile digital background combined with some playing cards spelling out the word “joy”) is something I put together during a Zoom get-together with a group of friends who were each working on their creative projects. Each time I look at this photo, I am reminded of that moment of creative joy. That’s why I wanted to share this photo with you and the backstory.
Douglas, Ann (2023). In Books And On Screen, Midlife Women Are Taking Control Of The Story. Broadview Magazine. April 17, 2023. https://broadview.org/midlife-narrators/
Douglas, Ann (2023). Navigating The Messy Middle: A Fiercely Honest and Wildly Encouraging Guide for Midlife Women. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre.
Medeiros, Leigh (2019). The 1-Minute Writer: 396 Microprompts to Spark Creativity and Recharge Your Writing. New York: Adams Media.
Root-Bernstein R. and Root-Bernstein M. (2011) Life Stages of Creativity. In: Runco MA, and Pritzker SR (eds.) Encyclopedia of Creativity, Second Edition, vol. 2, pp. 47-55 San Diego: Academic Press.