To Achieve Your Ideal Retirement, Are You Willing to Change?

It’s easy to imagine an ideal retirement lifestyle, filled with stress-free days in which you are engaging in all those self-fulfilling pursuits you’ve always dreamed of but never had time for.  You probably have a nice list of things you would like to do and places you want to go after you retire.  Maybe you have an actual “bucket list.”

But how many of those things on your list will you actually do?

Chances are, not very many.


Because many of those items on your list require you to do something differently than you have been accustomed to for most of your life.  They may require you to change your habits or change the way you live.  Some of them require a lot of planning.  Some require you to leave your comfort zone.

The truth is, you are a creature of habit.  A lot of those habits have been engrained in you for most of your life.

What will it take to get you started on the path towards the ideal retirement you envision?

Simply put, it takes change.  By changing nothing, nothing changes.

I’ll share a couple examples.

For several years, I have wanted to downsize my possessions – or at least, that’s what I’ve said I wanted to do.  Like many of us, I have accumulated an embarrassingly large number of things throughout my adult life.  Each book or CD or DVD I buy ends up being added to an ever-expanding set of bookshelves.  I still have clothes I purchased 20 years ago.  My garage is full of tools, screws and nails, wood scraps, half-full paint cans from walls we painted nine years ago, and all sorts of auxiliary cookware, party serving dishes, etc. that served some usefulness at some point in the past.  I’ve held on to them because, of course, I never know when I may need them again!

As I was looking back through some old posts on Retire Fabulously!, I came across one that I wrote two years ago, before I retired.  I proudly proclaimed that after I retired, one of the first things I would do is go through my entire house – closets, garage, and attic – and get rid of most of that stuff.  Well, here it is a year and nine months later, and… it’s still here.

Why have I failed at this endeavor, despite the noblest of intentions?

Aside from the fact that there is no immediate urgency (like an impending move), it’s because for most of my adult life I’ve never been in the habit of throwing things away.  I’ve been in the habit of keeping things.  It’s actually difficult for me to throw most things away.

Up to this point, I have not made the commitment to truly change. 

Until I do, I won’t enjoy the freedom of having a less-cluttered house with fewer things to clean and take up space.  And I’ll have a large nagging item on my “to-do” list.

My husband, Jeff, wants to downsize too, and we have committed to doing a thorough house-wide purge at the start of the new year.  With an accountability partner and being more self-aware of the need to change my approach to possessions, I think I will have a greater chance at success.

One of my biggest desires for my retirement Renaissance is to become a writer.  I have taken some steps towards that goal by writing articles for this web site, but I have not made any real progress toward completing and publishing my first book.

Every book, blog, and web site article that has ever been written to help people become writers stresses that you must set aside time every single day for writing – even if it’s just 15 minutes.  You must prioritize this time and not let your commitment to writing fall prey to chores that need to be done, emails and social media, or any other pursuits.  Apparently, most other aspiring writers have the same behavioral challenges that I do.

Again, why am I failing?

Because I have never been in the habit of devoting an hour or two of every single day to any pursuit.

Throughout my corporate working career, my daily activities were largely governed by my projects, my email inbox, and my meeting calendar.  After coming home from a day at work, I would check my mail, eat dinner, go to an evening activity if I had one that day, or spend lots of time at the computer.  I’ve never been very self-directed and disciplined.

~~~~~ continued below ~~~~~

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As these two examples illustrate, it’s easy to imagine an ideal retirement lifestyle – one in which you are engaging in all those self-fulfilling pursuits you’ve always dreamed of but never had time for.  It’s quite another matter to change your day-to-day life and your lifelong habits to enable these goals to happen.

2013-08-05 Andy Warhol

What new things are parts of your ideal retirement lifestyle?

If you want to take art classes or music lessons or learn a new language, when are you going to start?

If you dream of moving to another country or even to a different place in the same country, many aspects of your day-to-day life will change.  You’ll have to learn a new place, which may be very different.  You’ll have to find new favorite places to shop, find new doctors and other service providers, and make new friends.  How do you feel about making those changes?

If you are accustomed to eating out often or spending money on whatever shiny new things you see in stores, are you willing to change your habits to spend more judiciously?

If you have relied upon your co-workers for much of your socialization, are you willing to change so that you will take more initiative to get out and meet more people?

Do you have a list of places you would like to travel to after you retire?

We do.  We want to visit Scandinavia, take a riverboat cruise down the Danube, and spend extended periods of time traveling around France and Spain.  We want to rent a small RV and drive all over New Zealand and discover more of Australia.  We want to visit Chile and see more of Uruguay.  Jeff really wants to go to Japan, and I want to visit Thailand.  We want to take the Trans-Canada railway, and there’s more of Canada I want to see.

Well, guess what?  Those trips aren’t going to happen by themselves.  Trips like these take a lot of planning, and perhaps saving.  The only way those trips are going to happen is if we choose which one we’re going to do next, decide on when we’re going to go, and start making plans.  When we buy the airplane tickets, the trip becomes a lot more real.

You may have a nice list of places you want to visit too.  But unless you pick one, attach a date to it, and start making concrete plans, those trips will always be something you’ll do “someday,” and that “someday” will never come.

The sad truth is that when most people quit working, whatever else was part of their lives simply expands to take the place of work.  Most people don’t change their habits and their lifestyle much after they retire.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has conducted some informative studies on how people spend their time.  Some of their studies have focused on older people.

BLS Stats - Leisure time employed vs not employed

BLS Stats - Average time spent in selected activitiesThese charts show that when work is removed from people’s lives, the other activities that were already present simply increase to occupy a little more of each day.  The greatest jump is time spent watching TV.

In the second chart, you may be pleased to see the growth in “Leisure and Sports” corresponding to the decrease in working.  But as the chart below shows, over half of that time is claimed by watching TV.  Actual physical activity comprises about 5% of this time.

BLS Stats - Leisure time on an average day

Nothing in these charts indicates to me that a statistically significant number of people are taking on new, exciting things during their retirement, such as more traveling, volunteering, or fulfilling pursuits such as writing, art, music, crafts, photography, etc.

Change is intentional. 

If you have great things in mind for how you’re going to spend your retirement years (and I hope you do!), you will need to mindfully change your habits, routines and priorities to make them happen.

As the old cliché goes, the definition of “insanity” is doing the same things and expecting a different result.

What do you need to change?

What changes will you commit to making in order to achieve your ideal retirement?

Please feel welcome to comment below.

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© 2015 by Dave Hughes.  All rights reserved.

Photo credit:
Man Meditating on Mountaintop: Moyan Brenn. Some rights reserved.

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