In retirement it’s important that we keep in KEEP IN SHAPEshape. Aha, you say, he’s talking about keeping fit and active and, as we know, doing these things, as we get older, makes very good sense. Problem is, I’m not talking about the physical health side of retirement in this blog. I’m writing about keeping mentally in shape. Or rather not being pulled out of shape – mentally.

I’ve been looking for an opportunity to write a bit more about an area of psychology called locus of control. I’ve mentioned it before in previous blogs but the events of last Friday reminded me all over again of a simple truth. Keep your shape. Don’t be pulled out of shape by ‘external events’ both bad and good. If you put your well-being in the hands of others you’re doomed, doomed I say. Last Friday went like this. It started Thursday night with an end of evening email from a ’shall be nameless’ building society who had asked me if I would be interested in writing a blog for their retirement site. I liked the idea, at least I did when it was first proposed but it’s gone on so long that I pretty much decided that sitting waiting for them to make me famous was foolish – I was putting a part of my well-being – the part related to this blog – in the hands of others. Then the email arrived and I was pleased, my spirits, well not exactly soared, but perked up a bit.

Then came Friday morning and I read the email more closely with a link to the site, I went to the site and there they all were, all these people who had obviously been chosen in some way to be on the site before me. They were writing about areas that I thought I could write about and doing it rather well. If, as Gore Vidal once said, it is not enough that I succeed, others must fail, well here we had the direct opposite. They were succeeding and I was failing. So my spirits, that had so briefly been raised by the actions of others, were now battered.

Well you silly old gimmer, you say, serves you right for putting your well-being in the hands of others, people you don’t know, have no idea of their motives or requirements. What madness is this? Remember Kipling, success and failure, they’re both impostors and should be treated as such. Take success, when other people do and say nice things to you, treat the whole thing with a little caution, smile quietly but don’t get giddy about what somebody else has said or done that bolstered your ego. And of course the same with the negative criticism, smile and move on.

And this is the topic of this blog, locus of control or internal v external locus of control. The extremes are easy to describe. The internal locus of control person is unaffected, uninterested, oblivious to the opinions and actions of others. They have their own sense of themselves and what others think of them is an irrelevance. At the extreme such people might be described as sociopaths or even psychopaths in that, in the extreme, they are lacking in any sense of right and wrong. Murder, nothing wrong with it. Nobody got hurt and, to them, it’s literally true. So we don’t want to go there, at least not very often.

External locus of control people are the ones who are easily pulled out of shape by the actions and opinions of others. They’re often called overly sensitive. But here is their saving grace. One interesting thing, to me at least, is that without a fair degree of sensitivity you’re not going to make a writer or probably any other kind of creative person. It’s the abrasiveness or frictions of life that create the new view point. If you don’t notice the little emotional twinges of life you’re not going to have very much to write about or create from. After all, if I wasn’t so pissed off with these events and, more to the point, much more to the point, with my reaction to them, I wouldn’t be writing / creating this blog as therapy now. So a degree of sensitivity is, in my mind, a good thing but not too much, then it becomes a bad thing. So the key question – how do you maintain a balance?

Here are a few suggestions by no means a comprehensive list.

  • Be alert to your thoughts, make sure you are ‘keeping it real’. (Check out the CBT blog about the kind of negative thoughts that retired people can become prey to).
  • As in the image at top, it is about exercising your brain in a positive way. Left to its own devices it doesn’t always work in your favour.
  • Check with other people whose opinion you value – am I getting this right?
  • Take the long term view, it’s important now but will it be in a year’s time?
  • Are the views of others really important to your core values?
  • Where does this criticism good or bad fit with your core values?

Look, I know I’ve written about this before and, heaven knows, it’s not an issue confined to the retirement years, but it does keep coming up for me and furthermore I do think that it’s rather easier to get pulled out of shape, to feel you aren’t in control, when you retire. And there’s a very ‘simple’ reason why this is so. When you’re retired it’s easy to lose your sense of who you are, what you are about, your core, your values. You can lack an identity to use as a buffer against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or, in this case, of people not being very nice. So my final piece of advice, one I’ve offered before – get a sense of your identity as a retired person that suits you, that protects you if you wish – and use it to keep in shape.

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