I read somewhere recently that a person should avoid making any decisions about their retirement for two years after they retire. About the same time I heard on the radio that the key to a feeling of well-being in retirement was to have a sense of purpose. While I can see the possible logic behind holding off on retirement decisions, I’m also inclined to the view that two years, without some clear understanding of your retirement identity, can be an awful long time and that, in this time, any number of doubts can creep in about your ‘worth’ as a human being. So my view is that it is better to have a sense of purpose, an understanding of your retirement identity, than to let things drift. Setting goals and developing targets (the focus of this blog) doesn’t mean you can’t change them and, if you’re a drift along kind of person, then, great, good luck. This blog is for people, like me, who need to know, as far as possible, through goal-setting, what they want to happen in their retirement years. This blog can be read alongside other blogs on this site about well-being in retirement. Here are two recent possibilities but there are many others.
For the purpose of this blog, let me begin by being clear about what a goal is. A goal is something you want to achieve. The goal may be a broad one like a lifestyle change or a one off event like attending a particular music concert. Goal setting for retirement may be one of the most important opportunities a person has to consider their life goals. Retirement represents a rare opportunity to re-evaluate your life, to move on and do something or even be somebody different. For somebody who has had a settled career this chance to be somebody or something else is a golden opportunity, one not to be missed or squandered. This blog is unashamedly positive about this opportunity, no apologies for that.
One caveat at this point, while I am describing the process of renewal or reinvention, this is not to suggest that a person should ‘throw out’ everything from their ‘old’ life. Keep the bits that you like, maybe keep them and build on them. Use the parts of your life you like as the basis for your goal setting. In a previous blog I have described in some detail how this might work. For now simply identify the aspects you want to keep and write them down. You can factor them into your goal-setting process later.
The opportunity to reinvent yourself does not automatically or inevitably turn into something positive. It has to be worked at. The opportunity, and what develops from it, has to be carefully planned. That is unless you choose to leave your fate in the hands of the gods. Some people prefer this approach. That’s fine but this blog is not for them. This blog is for people who choose to plan their future. Goal setting and all that goes with it is one important tool in this planning.
This process balances the creative with the practical and the broad concept with the specific action. In this exercise the ‘broad’ may be a development of retirement values, those context setting areas of importance that guide retirement choices. Trying to set goals without the underpinning of values is like having a picnic with no blanket to sit on. Things fall apart.
The goal planning process, as it applies to the person anticipating retirement, is best represented by the diagram below. This diagram, in simple terms, suggests that the process starts with one carefully-considered then articulated concept or value, opening this up to generate as many ideas as possible and then narrowing these options down so that the person finishes with a limited number of actions that can be worked on.
In more detail the steps in this process are as follows :
Step 1 : Consider what word or concept you want at the top of your diamond. It’s quite possible that the word ‘retirement’ is not the best, i.e. the most inspirational one. Charles Handy in his book ‘The Empty Raincoat’ talked about the concept of The Third Age. He used this term to suggest to his readers that retirement was a new age and an age of opportunities. Think carefully and choose the term that, for you, sparks your imagination about this new era.
Step 2 : Having defined your top term (you can always change it at a later stage if it seems, as the process unfolds, it is not quite the right one) you now need to open it out, embroider upon it. What does your chosen term mean to you either as a broad value or a specific action? If first as a broad term – exciting, novel, challenging etc. – what do these terms mean as day to day activities? This is the time for creative thinking, ‘blue skies ideas’. Now is the time to speculate, to dream, use your imagination, gamble even. At this stage, rule nothing out. Now is not the time for sensible thinking. If you find you’re a bit short of ideas, read a newspaper, note little areas of interest no matter how irrelevant they may seem at this stage to your retirement. I noticed two in this morning’s paper which struck a chord for me – horror film festival and people whose job lets them work anywhere in the world, maybe nothing, maybe something. Look at the magazine rack in your supermarket, are there any magazines that you may have vaguely thought interesting in the past but didn’t allow yourself to buy – too frivolous in your previous life but not now? You don’t actually have to buy the magazine just ask yourself – is there something about this magazine and the activity it depicts that you might be interested in in your new life? Write the possibilities down. You may even wish to have a ‘special’ book for your retirement project.
A variation on this, what is sometimes called, brainstorming, is visualisation. In a nutshell this means closing your eyes, somewhere quiet and uninterrupted and imagining your perfect retirement. Again, anything goes, rule nothing out, no matter how silly or impractical it may seem at this stage. What do you see in your visualisation? What are you doing? Where are you doing it? What words spring to your mind when you imagine the perfect retirement. Some of these words will again be broad – e.g. the term ‘relaxing’ or ‘dynamic’, others will be specific activities – like driving round Europe. The broad terms will, at a later stage, need further defining (sometimes called operationalising) but they are also highly useful as ‘values’ that underpin your retirement. Values help you judge the ‘rightness’ of your retirement activities. Bear in mind that one definition of stress is that which occurs when our day to day behaviour is out of line with our values. If one of our values is, for example, ‘kindness towards others’ and yet we find ourselves behaving in a manner that makes us ashamed, then stress is inevitable. So note all words that float into your head when you are visualising. These may be your retirement values.
Another option for generating ideas is based on techniques from an approach called Synectics. In order to generate new ideas/ new solutions they suggest asking questions which start with ‘How to…?’or ‘What if…?’ How to have the perfect retirement? or What if I could do anything I wanted, what would I do? If you know somebody who is good at asking questions and good at following your answers up, pushing you to be clear when needed, then ask for their help.
Note that this part of the process is good for developing new ideas, ideas that you might not easily or logically have thought of with your sensible head on. There’s nothing wrong with noting down the more sensible or predictable of your retirement ideas but make sure you give yourself full value for the weird and wonderful at this ‘unique opportunity’ stage. You only get one retirement, you need to make it special.
Step 3 : Having generated lots (20 or more) of ideas at the wide part of the diamond, now is the time when you need to narrow down your options and begin the part of the process which turns your dreams into realities. This is what many people think of when they talk about goal-setting. I hope you might be convinced that the first part of the process I’ve described is also important. Now choose two or three areas from your list that interest you and begin to turn them into actual goals. Now you need the logical, sensible thinking. This is where you develop your ‘go dos’. The actions that lead to realising your goals.
A good way of judging whether your goal/s will be achieved is one that has been around in business and educational settings for a long time. It is called setting SMART goals (or targets), SMART is an acronym for S – Specific; M – Measurable; A – Achievable; R – Relevant; T – Timed. The ‘smarter’ your goals the more likely they are to be actualised. Most of these terms are self-explanatory. Briefly they mean that if you are to have a good chance of realising your goal/s, it / they need to be clear and unambiguous (specific) – run a mile a day as opposed to ‘get fit’; you know when you’ve achieved the goal (measurable); the goal is within your capabilities, it is practical (achievable); the goal fits with your values, with your idea of what you want your retirement to be like (relevant) and finally you can set a time limit or build the goal into a timetable (timed). All of these factors increase the chances of a person carrying out a successful goal-setting process.
In summary then, developing a new identity through setting yourself creative and practical goals, is a broadly three part process. Start with the right concept for you, the word that describes your aspirations, your retirement dream, expand on this concept so you have a mixture of both broad values and specific actions, when you have a wide range of options narrow these down to the most attractive or exciting options, just 3 or 4 that you can realise. Too many and the task will feel over-whelming, too few and you might feel you have not fully exploited this exciting period in your life – your retirement years.