Everyone’s milestones in life can look different. For one person it could be owning their own home, while for someone else it could be travelling the world. Whatever our milestones are, a new study by Arden University has revealed that we’re pushing ourselves to hit them way sooner than realistically possible. We’re stuck in a toxic timeline.
The study, which comprised over 2,000 UK adults, asked respondents to state the age they’d like to achieve a particular life goal and then compared it to the UK average age.
While some of the results weren’t vastly different (for example, on average respondents would like to have their first child at 28, and the national average is only 29) many of them were. For example, the research found that the majority of respondents think they should buy their first home at 28 – but the UK average is six years older than that.
There was also a difference between the age of getting married (29 vs. 32), reaching the peak of your career (40 vs. 46) and starting university (19 vs. 24). For the most part, the research reflects our obsession with achieving landmark moments in our 20s and 30s – which is wreaking havoc on the way we view our lives. The study found that 38% of us wish we were more successful, and that 34% of us admit to being too critical of ourselves.
The impact of social media
“This toxic mindset of feeling that we need to have achieved our biggest life milestones by the time we hit our thirties is crippling our self-worth and happiness,” says Dr Sophie Ward, Deputy Head of School for Psychology at the University.
“It’s likely to be fuelled by the increasing use of social media where people post their life highlights, creating extra pressure for those who are yet to hit these milestones.”
It’s been said time and time again, but social media is a highlight reel – it’s bursting with updates of the things our friends, family and strangers are achieving, but it doesn’t show the failed attempts it took to get there.
Research has shown that we’re spending more and more time browsing social media, and that ‘heavy’ users (anyone who spends more than 5 hours a day on social media) are more likely to have a lower sense of self and suffer from mental health problems such as depression.
Social media, combined with the age-old myth that we’re supposed to have our lives together by the time we turn 30, is putting more pressure on our shoulders than ever to tick every life goal off at a young age – especially for women.
“Perceived societal pressure to settle down, have children and be in a ‘concrete job’ are often keenly felt with the change of decade,” clinical psychotherapist Dr Jo Gee previously told HuffPost. “This runs alongside biological changes for women, which can lead to a general decline in fertility, in turn creating a sense of urgency in women reaching 30.”
We all need to be a little more realistic
What we all need to take into account is that life, as beautiful as it can be, is unpredictable. We’re living in a cost-of-living crisis. The price of rent, let alone the price of buying a property, is at an all-time high.
As much as we’d love to, nobody knows what’s around the corner – whether there’s an illness in the family, you’re suddenly made redundant from your job, or you part ways with your long-term partner.
“As a society, we fixate on timelines and when we ‘should’ do major life events, from completing education, to buying a house, to being financially stable,” Dr Ward continues. “If we don’t complete these events by those set deadlines, we fear we’re falling behind or failing in life. As a result, we end up putting extra, unnecessary pressure on ourselves.
“Scientific evidence reveals that our inner critic can make us feel incompetent and lacking – which can lead to depression and anxiety, and this often means that people end up feeling uncomfortable and scared of taking different routes forward.”
Dr Ward has compiled a list of the ways we can silence our inner critic and fight it from holding us back:
Write a list of your prior achievements
You’ve gotten this far, haven’t you? Sit and think back at everything you’ve pulled off in life – no matter how big or small. It’s easy to focus too much on the here and now than it is to look back on the past, but it will help to remind you of your full potential.
Change the way you speak to yourself
“Instead of saying, ’I wish I could do this’, say ‘One day, I will do this’” Dr Ward explains. Manifestation is key.
Speak to someone
It might sound like a given, but getting those negative thoughts out – and hearing a different perspective – can help you to think way more rationally. Applying this method to your inner dialogue is helpful, too.
“Practising self-compassion is a key tool to fighting your inner critic,” Dr Ward says. “I often think of it as speaking to yourself as you would a friend if they were struggling.”