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Have you heard of the old saying the seven-year itch? It is a description that applies to the supposed tendency for people to stray from their committed relationship around about the seven-year mark. Apparently it is based on statistics of the average length of marriage before divorce (in the US anyhow). But did you know that a seven-year cycle has also been attributed to many of the so called ‘random’ things that happen in life…and if you followed the seven year theory cycle you might start to think they weren’t so random after all?
In his recently released book, Your Best Life at Any Age, psychologist Andrew Fuller describes the seven-year cycle as the basis of many of the common patterns he sees in his patients and in the many thousands of people he has talked to throughout his career. While he stresses that everyone is unique, and their lives retain individualist twists and turns, there are, he says, ‘identifiable, common patterns’. These patterns reflect an ancient idea that has influenced and permeated every civilisation and almost every religion: behold the seven-year cycle!
According to Fuller, ‘It seems that a pivotal point of possibility occurs and/or opportunities arise for reinvention for many people every seven years.’ What’s more, ‘the type of challenges faced by people as they progress through these seven-year stages of life can also be identified’. Knowing and identifying these patterns can offer us, the frequently directionless, going-with-the-flow, blowing-aimlessly-in-the-breeze type mortals that we are, distinct advantages, in that we can anticipate and prepare for what might be heading our way, whether we like it or not.
But is this really true?
Aren’t we all masters of our own choices in life and the concepts of fate and destiny somewhat outdated? Well, according to Fuller, yes and no. While we certainly can’t control what happens to us, we can certainly control the manner in which we face it. And knowing that there might be a period of confusion or a surge of energy around the corner, depending on what stage of life you are in, can help us manage our reactions to life events.
So how do you work out what stage of life you are in? There are a couple of ways. The first way is just by comparing your own age to the stages described in Your Best Life at Any Age. The twenties, for example, can be a time of confusion as you just start to understand yourself but still don’t know what direction in life to take. Travelling, adventures, extending friendship groups all happen in your twenties. Loneliness can occur here and it is often a time of many false starts as you leave home and then return. The thirties, on the other hand, can bring about big surges of energy and the creation of bold plans. This is the time to take risks in jobs and self-discoveries. It is more likely you will experience success of a plan in your thirties.
Another way of working out what stage of life you are in is by identify patterns of life. In his book Fuller outlines the idea that you may be reflecting the pattern of your mother (or father if you are male) without even realising it. By this he doesn’t just mean you may have decided to become a teacher or an electrician like your mum or dad, but more that if you track the significant events that have happened in your life, there is a high probability that your parents experienced a significant events around that age too. From there you can be aware of the times significant events might occur for you.
Additionally you can start tracking your own seven-year cycle by finding out the age your mother (or father if you are male) was when you were born. In my case my mother was 20. (Before you all gasp in horror, look, it was a different time back then! I think my mother was just as surprised by the turn of events as anyone, really). So given her age and the fact that I was a 48-hour labour I would say that my birth was a fairly significant event for her. At 20 I was dragged out of a university art exam and told by the medical staff I had leukaemia. Also a fairly surprising and significant event. When I was 27, I had finally recovered and landed my first full time job as a lowly publishing assistant. My mother also bought her second child-care centre and split up from my father that same year. Seven years later I got married. And seven years after that I was persuaded to buy a small grey pony who turned out to be a dressage superstar and the most important horse I have owned (and there have been a few). And in this last year block of seven years I decided to start my own business, and my mother turned 70 and retired. On this basis the next big thing might happen when I am 55, an age, according to Fuller, when I might experience a rite of passage, make peace with old wounds or reinvent myself. I should also avoid discarding friends or blaming others when things (habits, practices or even body parts) don’t work in the ways they used to. That’s not to say this will happen but knowing that it might will lead me to be aware of my own behaviour.
So why is all this important? According to Fuller, knowing the patterns and identifying the stage of life you are in is crucial for developing the key attribute that helps all aspects of your life – jobs, relationships, physical and mental health – and that is resilience.
Resilience of spirit is the one thing that Fuller feels defines a great life, turning it into ‘an improvisational art’. It helps us discover the treasures of life; art, beauty, creativity, nature, humour, and use these to overcome and thrive through the downsides of life: pain, despair, sadness and misery at the unexpected. Resilience won’t stop you experiencing these aspects but it will help you bounce back…and sometimes bounce back better.
A resilient life is vital to making the very most of what you have, and therefore creating the very best life you can for yourself. Fuller says resilience consists of three essential concepts: connecting, protecting and respecting. This is what he has to say about them:
- Connecting with your personal strengths and opportunities enables you to capitalise on them. It also increases your ability to overcome any obstacles that may arise. One of the tragedies of modern life is people are often so good at identifying problems and obstacles they allow them to obscure possibilities and opportunities. If we turn up the volume of obstacles really loud, we can fail to hear the sound of opportunities knocking on our door.
- Take care. It is easy to go to war against yourself. Don’t concentrate so hard on your failings you completely overlook your strengths. There are moments when all of us are challenged by life. To not just survive but thrive through these times we need to utilise our strengths, as well as overcoming obstacles. This applies to the strengths of those around us as well.
- One of the most powerful ways to create a resilient life is to build and maintain respectful relationships with people. The point of taking the time to rejuvenate, renew and replenish yourself is not a selfish course of self-indulgence but will enable you to send your gifts outwards into the lives of others, as well as enhancing your own. It has a ripple effect – when you benefit, others around you also benefit. If you have six people in your immediate family and friendship circle and they each have six friends or family members and those people have a similar number of connections, you have some influence over the lives of at least 1296 people. So, if you can’t justify taking the time to design a resilient life for yourself consider doing it for the other 1296 people who will benefit!
This last point actually seems to underpin one of the main messages in Your Best Life at Any Age, and that is, just like the seven-year cycle, what goes around comes around and if you are taking the opportunities to become more resilient and create the best life for yourself, you are inadvertently helping others to do the same.
Top photo by Rod Long on Unsplash