I’ve mentioned it before, but it surely bears repeating — successful retirement is about re-building your life from the ground up, replacing the structure and sense of purpose that is lost when you leave the workforce. To speed this process along, there are two rules to keep in mind – keep vigilant and stay motivated.
The first of these requires that you get in touch with your emotions. If you’re unhappy or uncomfortable, then trust those feelings: they’re telling you something isn’t quite right. If you go with your feelings, you may have a better chance of handling certain issues before they become major problems. You’ll also come to a better understanding of your own needs, and from there you have a better chance of meeting these needs.
Staying motivated is probably the most important thing you can do for yourself. There’s always the threat that a lack of structure and deadlines can lead to lethargy, and laziness can beget more laziness. There are no mandatory schedules to follow, no time constraints for completing specific tasks. Without such constraints, it’s all too easy to keep putting things off until tomorrow, which of course never comes when you’re retired. There’s nothing and no one forcing you to do anything, and so you can just shrug and say, “why bother?” However, retirees who are driven to put some structure and purpose to their lives are likely to achieve a forward momentum, and momentum also tends to feed on itself.
Staying motivated can be a daunting task. Our research among retirees shows that many lose their drive shortly after going into retirement, and this declines further with the years, as aging becomes more of a factor. However, it’s probably not only about getting older. It may also have something to do with how we think about retirement, possibly as a result of social mores passed down to us – that retirement is a time to do nothing. In fact, when we asked retirees what being retired is all about, 6 in 10 said it is a time for rest and relaxation.
In our opinion, seeing retirement as a time to relax is an antiquated thought, one more appropriate when people retired older and lived shorter lives. In this day and age, people can live 30 years outside the workforce — you may live as long in retirement as you did working at your career. Our research bears out that a “just relax and enjoy it” attitude just doesn’t work nowadays. When we looked at those who feel retirement is for resting, we found them less satisfied with their lives and their retirement, and generally make less rewarding use of their time. Psychologically, they feel less socially connected, less productive and valued, less confident, less optimistic about the future — and much less motivated – compared to those who consider retirement to be a time to pursue new goals.
None of this is to say that you need to move at a frenetic pace; rather, it’s a matter of perspective and a realization of how much time you may have. After all, 30 years is a very long time to do nothing.