Much of the advice about retirement focuses on the need for prudent financial planning. The emphasis on fiscal preparation is understandable, given that on average, approximately 10,000 people retire every day in the United States alone. In addition, because the average life expectancy continues to rise, people need to save even more because they will be retired for a longer period.
But preparing for retirement requires more than just good economic planning. I recently took a 12-month sabbatical with my wife, traveling the country in an Airstream motorhome with our mountain bikes, road bikes, and dogs. Although I’m still years from retiring myself, this pre-retirement experience opened my eyes to some of the lesser-known challenges. Below find seven retirement strategies – none of which have anything to do with a pension or 401(k).
1. Cultivate an Expanded Self-Image: Moving into retirement means that your self-image needs to include more than what you did for a living. Just as training and education are important components of a successful career, your occupation should be a fundamental part of an even larger version of yourself. As you get closer to retiring, cultivate an expanded self-image that includes your vocation, but is not defined by it.
2. Prioritize Experiences Over Things: Recent studies have concluded that after your basic needs have been met, experiences create more happiness than things. According to the researchers, soon after you purchase something, the happiness spike begins to fade as you become more accustomed to it (which ironically creates a desire to buy something else so that you can be happy again). In contrast, the pleasure associated with anticipating, participating in, and reliving experiences lasts much longer. One windfall for retirees is that experiences not only bring more joy than things, but they also don’t have to cost anything.
3. Get Out of the Fast Lane: Nearly every occupation brings with it a high-pressure, fast-paced, often workaholic lifestyle. Regardless of what you do for a living, the chances are that you are exponentially busier today than you were twenty years ago. Part of the beauty of retiring is learning to appreciate a lower-pressure, slower-paced, more leisurely routine. While getting out of the fast lane is a good first step, it is better still to get off the interstate entirely and explore the scenic back roads.
4. Breakup with Your Smartphone: A recent study in the United Kingdom determined that on average, people check their smartphones every 12 minutes. Although unintended, our Pavlovian response to our phones has created a new phenomenon known as phubbing – snubbing others in favor of your phone. One study – sarcastically titled “My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone” – concluded that phubbing lowers marital satisfaction and contributes to greater feelings of depression. One of the best ways to improve your relationships is to break up with your smartphone. This tough-love solution means silencing all of the bells and whistles on your phone, keeping it out of sight, and checking it only once or twice a day.
5. Repair and Strengthen Your Relationships: One common casualty in the quest for a successful livelihood is that personal relationships suffer – you miss your daughter’s recital, or you are not mindfully present during dinner with your spouse. Although retirement is not a cure-all for years of neglect, relationships can be repaired and even strengthened if they are nurtured properly. Doing so, however, will require the same level of commitment and time that you used to be successful in your profession.
6. Manage Your Leisure Time: According to a recent study, the average American worker is entitled to 11 vacation days per year, but 41% of employees admit that they do not use all of it. In sharp contrast, retirees have an eyebrow-raising 7.5 hours per day of leisure time. The dramatic swing from being leisure deprived to leisure affluent can be a very welcome change early in retirement, but even leisure can lose its appeal and leisure time should be carefully managed. As you near the end of your career, begin expanding your personal horizons so that your retirement can be filled in purposeful and rewarding ways.
7. Take Better Care of Yourself: The quality of your retirement is directly correlated with the quality of your health. Although good health does not guarantee a meaningful retirement, poor health is a definite game-changer. The chances are that you already know what you should be doing to take better care of yourself – but knowing and doing are two different things. Even though retirement provides you with more free time, time alone does not suddenly make it easier to just do it. So, attack the issue like you would any problem at work. Begin by making a realistic plan, and then one-by-one, work on staying hydrated, eating better, building strength, improving cardiovascular endurance, developing and maintaining balance and mobility, and getting sufficient sleep. The key is to get educated, get motivated, and get started.