This year I turn 40.
Apart from the fact that hangovers last several days and I no longer enjoy a game of “guess my age” quite as much as I used to, I’ve found that life keeps getting better with every year.
My 18-year-old self would probably never have agreed, but 39 year old me knows that 40 feels very far from middle age. In fact, I’m going to say life at 40 is your prime.
I’m more confident, peaceful, and clearer about who I am. Is 40 a milestone age? I’d say so, and it encourages you to reflect on your life and all you’ve done so far.
Forget bungee jumping and other tired cliches (also, who came up with the rule that it has to be 40 goals before 40?!) — here is my essential list of 20 goals to achieve before 40.
What should I accomplish before 40?
1) Have an adventure
Up until the age of 30, I did everything that was expected of me. I went into higher education, I worked hard to get a good job as a broadcast journalist, and I settled down with a nice young man.
Still, I had this nagging voice that wouldn’t go away telling me life wasn’t meant to be like this. I felt like time was flying by but I was yet to truly live.
I was grateful for all I had, but I knew that fear was holding me back from finding the adventure I was craving deep down.
Life conspired with a series of events that ultimately led me to quit my job and take a one-way flight to the other side of the world. Since then, it’s been 9 years of adventure after adventure.
Although a little scary at times, it’s been one hell of a ride. And I know now that no matter what else happens, I can look back on my life and say I really lived.
I’m not suggesting everyone needs or even wants to shake things up quite to the same extreme. But whatever “adventure” means to you, go and have one.
That might be taking a vacation alone, starting a new business, or putting yourself back out there on the dating scene.
Be like Bilbo Baggins, and at least once in your life, despite the trepidation it brings, run screaming from your house for all to hear…
“I’m Going On An Adventure!”
2) Learn the art of forgiveness
As Anne Lamott wisely declared: “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past.”
Forgiveness is the greatest gift we can offer not only to others but importantly ourselves. It’s not an easy skill to acquire, but the rewards are worth the practice.
There is no way to totally erase the pain or suffering of mistakes made in life, but forgiveness comes close.
When we forgive ourselves for our perceived errors and failings, as well as others for theirs, we accept what is. This acceptance brings with it peace.
“Forgiveness is associated with lower heart rate and blood pressure as well as overall stress relief. It is also associated with improving physical symptoms, reducing fatigue in some patient populations, and improving sleep quality. In the psychological domain, forgiveness has been shown to diminish the experience of stress and inner conflict while simultaneously restoring positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”
Rather than struggle and fight against what we cannot change, we can let go and choose love over anger, sadness, and regret.
If “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” then forgiveness is the medicine.
3) Downsize your life
I’m not entirely sure of Notorious B.I.G’s declaration that ‘mo money’ brings ‘mo problems’. However, I am totally convinced that mo hairdryers, mo lawnmowers, mo gadgets, mo garden ornaments, mo sweaters — aka mo “stuff” — does.
The more things we collect and the more attached we become to objects, the more complicated life becomes.
Society has a habit of looking to materialistic treasures to make us happy, and in the process, we waste our time, money, and the planet’s precious resources because of it.
I’m not trying to convince you to denounce the material world and go and live in a Himalayan cave. I’m just encouraging you to have a good old clearout Marie Kondo style.
The benefits of decluttering could bring not only rewards to your mental health but also your wallet if you sell it all on eBay.
4) Explore other languages
The reason I say explore, rather than learning other languages is that some people with an aptitude for languages may speak several relatively easily. Others may have been trying for years and still only picked up the basics.
It doesn’t matter the level you reach, what matters is the horizons you are broadening in your mind.
Attempting to learn another language stimulates your brain, improves your attention span, boosts your creativity, improves memory, slows down cognitive decline, and more.
Importantly, I’d also argue it encourages you to see the world from another perspective. As you get older what can be more valuable than seeing things through fresh eyes.
5) Become your own best friend
The only person you will spend your entire life with is you.
This should be enough motivation for all of us to decide that we need to be our own best friend.
I’m yet to meet anyone who couldn’t benefit from being a little kinder and more loving towards themself.
Self-care isn’t all bubble baths, scented candles, and spa days. It’s about being on your own side in life, betting on yourself, trusting yourself.
One of the things the most successful people know before turning 40 is that you are your best investment in life.
Say nice things to yourself. Focus on your wellbeing. Spend time improving yourself.
Learn how to be comfortable alone. Take yourself off on dates.
Bottom line: discover how to make yourself happy, rather than expecting other people or things to do it for you.
6) Stop wasting your money
Getting in order your money is one of those financial goals before 40 we should aim for.
If you want, you can invest, or prepare for retirement, that sounds like a great plan (admittedly, not one I’ve got around to yet).
But I think most important is to figure out what money means to you and where you are currently investing it.
It doesn’t need to be overly complicated. For example, I decided on just two financial priorities:
- To fully own my own home without a mortgage (long term goal)
- To work less (present goal)
Money should be invested wisely into the things you value and love. It’s not a waste of money to buy yourself that caramel late every morning on your way to work if it creates genuine joy in your day.
It is a waste of money to mindlessly order that abs sculpting machine you have zero intention of ever using, just because society was making you feel bad about your body this new year.
My philosophy is that money is designed to be spent rather than fearfully hoarded. But at the same time, it should be honored. We need to recognize that most of us exchange money for our time.
That means every dollar you earn you have made a sacrifice for. Make sure that sacrifice is reinvested into the things you really value in life.
7) Work out what is most important to you, and prioritize it
Living life based on your own version of a good life may sound rather obvious, but the reality is that many of us don’t.
We end up chasing someone else’s idea of success, happiness, and fulfillment — whether that is our parents, our peers, or societies in general.
“I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Palliative nurse Bronnie Ware decided to record the biggest regrets of the people she cared for coming to the end of their lives. That is what came out on top.
Taking the time to sit down and consider your core values is one of the essential things to do before 40. Make a list of things that make you happy and are important to you.
You may discover what’s been taking precedence are things that don’t really matter so much to you.
When we work out our values, we can see if the life we are leading matches up with what we say is most important.
It is your life to live and your regrets to shoulder the burden of not being true to yourself.
8) Learn how to say no
If you’re lucky, pleasing people is an unfortunate habit that with age you learn how to let go of.
Getting to grips with the little two-letter word ‘no’ is essential to transformation in life.
The word no is so incredibly powerful but so many of us still struggle with it every day. We have a reluctance to speak it for fear of upsetting. We have an aversion to hearing it for fear of rejection.
Yes and no are like yin and yang. Saying yes to anything in life also demands that we say no to something else – whether that’s projects, people, or even just patterns of behavior.
The word no is our protector for the things we can never get back — our time, energy, health, etc.
9) Find a creative outlet
We are naturally creative. This seemingly inbuilt desire is what has helped us to innovate and expand as a species. Creativity has driven human evolution.
But too many of us turn our back on this important form of self-expression. We convince ourselves we need a particular talent or reason to engage in it.
Research has shown that creativity can increase positive emotions, lessen depressive symptoms, reduce stress, decrease anxiety, and even improve your immune system.
It might be cooking, drawing, knitting, photography, pottery, gardening, writing letters, or any number of things.
It matters less what you do, and more that you’re putting your brain into a slower flow state that comes with creativity.
10) Learn something new
We’re constantly learning when we’re young. The older we get the more the daily grind of life weighs us down.
It’s no wonder that pouring a large glass of wine before slumping into a Netflix coma on the couch becomes an evening well spent.
But there’s no denying that learning something new exercises your brain and enhances your quality of life.
If you want to, you can learn a skill that will expand your CV and career prospects. But there’s equal merit in learning something simply for the fun of it.
It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I decided to learn how to surf. Next on my list is the piano (wish me luck).
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
11) Appreciate what you have
If I could give my younger self just one piece of practical advice, I think it would be to stop chasing things and start by being grateful with what you’ve already got.
That’s not to say it’s not important to set personal goals. It’s just that focusing on what you have over what you lack is a faster way to happiness.
Adopting a simple gratitude practice can have one of the most profound impacts on your entire life, as neuroscience shows gratitude makes us happier.
Listing things to be thankful for every day helps you to quit obsessing over what you don’t have and make you more mindful of how blessed you really are.
12) Ditch a bad habit (or two)
The best goals aren’t really about taking a trip to Disneyland or going skydiving.
As nice as those things may be, they’re unlikely to have a long-term lasting effect on your life.
That’s why I think goals should take into account the light and shade of life. Some may bring us joy, but some may make us better people.
You might ditch a bad habit that improves your health — like quitting smoking, stopping drinking, or curbing that chocolate addiction.
One of the things to do before 40 is to honestly take a look at what doesn’t serve you and decide to ditch it once and for all.
13) Go somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit
They say that travel broadens the mind, but there’s even evidence to suggest it can alter the brain.
Research found that taking a gap year or studying abroad can positively influence your brain to make you more outgoing and open to new ideas.
Apparently, taking a trip and exposing yourself to a new environment can boost cognitive health in a similar way as taking up a new hobby or learning a language does.
Where is the one place you always wanted to go? Book that flight, hop on a train, start saving today and do it.
14) Contribute to society and help others
I think we’re all looking for greater meaning in life.
Well, research has found that the key to our own happiness could be in helping others.
Work out what you care about most about and then give your time, your skills, or your money where it can make a difference.
“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give”
– Winston Churchill
15) Do something spur of the moment
Being spontaneous helps you to feel alive. We can get so bogged down in routine and the obligation of daily life.
When you say “screw it, why not” to last-minute plans or an impulsive idea, there’s something thrilling about it.
Even better, there’s no time for sneaky little expectations to creep in, which have a habit of ruining things. Instead, you are truly in the present moment.
Follow your heart, and fly by the seat of your pants by saying yes when an opportunity comes knocking.
16) Read the books you’ve always meant to get around to
Confession: I’m halfway through Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and I have been for approximately 6 years now.
Reading is one of those all too quickly neglected pursuits that has so much to offer us.
There are mini worlds that await us within a book that not only entertains but improves our knowledge, reduces stress, boosts sleep, helps concentration, memory, and analytical thinking.
Choose the top three books you’ve been meaning to read and do it.
17) Take care of your body
Find a way to integrate exercise into your lifestyle in whatever way you can, no matter how little time you think you have.
The older you get, the more miraculous and precious everything your body does for you seems.
Commit to better sleep, eating more healthy foods, getting more fresh air, drinking more water, oh and don’t forget the sunscreen.
Set mini health goals that fit your lifestyle and show your body the love it deserves.
18) Face your fears
Maybe your biggest fear is spiders, or maybe your biggest fear is that you’re not good enough.
Don’t carry around the things that scare you the most. They only weigh you down.
Before you turn 40, make sure you start to tackle your biggest fears head-on.
What we usually find is that what seems so big in the mind, isn’t quite the monster we thought it was.
Even if you start small, try to break free from some of your fears.
19) Test your willpower
Author and creator of IMPOSSIBLE, Joel Runyon, has something he calls the Integrity challenge.
It’s basically where you do what you say you’re going to do.
You pick one thing. Tell someone you’re going to do it. Then do it.
Maybe it’s exercising daily, practising Spanish for 15 minutes a day, or cooking from scratch.
For a selected number of days (whether that’s one week, one month, or the whole year) you drop your excuses, quit your whining, and get on with it.
20) Eat, Pray, Love
This one is about doing some soul searching.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling book (and subsequent movie) she scoffs her way through Italy, meditates in India, and finally falls in love in Indonesia.
It’s a self-reflecting journey that allows her to confront her greatest desires and fears. She takes a look at her life, her relationship with the world, and her place in it.
I think the reason for it’s incredible popularity is that deep down we all crave this life-changing rumination.
If you don’t have the time, finances, or inclination to skip around the world whilst you do it, the good news is that you don’t need to.
Deep reflection can take place anywhere, even from the comfort of your living room. Journaling, meditation, breathwork as well as spiritual or philosophical reading can be helpful tools for introspection.
“If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert
To conclude: How do you set your life goals at 40?
The brilliant thing about aging is that we tend to have less time for the BS we once tolerated and we know ourselves better than ever before.
This places you in a great position for getting clear on what you want for the next stage in your life. Goal setting can be a wonderful tool for figuring out what that is and creating a practical plan to help make it happen.
But the biggest goals to conquer before 40 (or after) don’t need to be walking the Great Wall of China or getting a six-pack. They can be the more humble things to strive for that make life better for you and others every single day.