I want to continue this series of blogs on the topic of self-esteem and the retired person by looking at a number of the psychological theories (others will follow this one) which have some relevance to the area. I’m going to begin by examining the contribution of a psychological paradigm named Solutions Focused Therapy (SFT) or sometimes Solutions Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT). In some ways the inclusion of the word ‘therapy’ in the title is somewhat misleading. SFT is everything that more traditional forms of therapy are not. Just one example of its differentness, SFT looks forward to our desired future rather than digging in the past for the causes of our misery.
This is one reason why it forms such an appropriate underpinning for an examination of self-esteem and retirement. If you want to learn more about this approach, which has its roots in the work of Steve de Shazer, and his Family Therapy approach based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, then start with Wikipedia and take it from there. I highly recommend it generally as a problem solving approach or, more correctly, a solutions finding strategy.
The key points from SFT for us retired people are as follows. As I’ve mentioned, SFT focuses on the future, not the past, it also looks at what is already happening in a person’s life that is ‘good’ and they would want to continue. It asks questions about where the person thinks they are right now in any given area of ambition, usually by using a scaling question – where on a scale of 1 to 10 are you right now with this area of your life (we will call it a goal) and, and this is very important, uses this rating out of 10 – say it was a 4 – to further examine the good bits that made it a 4 rather than focusing on the negative (the 6 you haven’t achieved). SFT asks you to consider what it is about your strengths as a person that meant you achieved a 4 (or even a 1). In other words, in the face of a challenge (which of course retirement is) what resources do you have to call on? This focus enhance your self-esteem. Then it asks – what would move you forward just one point (or even a quarter or half a point for a very ‘stuck’ or disempowered person) on your scale? That one point move becomes your goal for retirement. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I wrote in my last blog that one area of my life I had always valued / was important to me, was the area of creativity – having ideas – and that I wanted this area to continue, and indeed develop maybe in different ways, in a retirement context. My understanding of this ambition and the subsequent turning of this into a goal – of which more in a moment – was as a result of considering the answer to a deceptively simple SFT question –
What do you want to have continue (in your life)?
In other words you don’t always have to be looking for something new in your life when you retire, although this may well be a next step after answering the question above. First, see what you already have – the 4 in the above example. As I said, for me, that something was having creative ideas. Writing about self-esteem and writing ‘The Summerhouse Years’ blog in retirement is one example of my continuing to be creative. I create at least one new blog every week, not always about self-esteem of course. This makes me feel good, gives me a sense of achievement if you like.
This sense of achievement is based on that consideration of what I want to have continue. It works in my case in that I am trying to create some new ideas and strategies for retired people in the same way that I used to do for children as an educational psychologist. In my blog on getting a new identity I used the structure of new customers /old customers – new tasks / same tasks as a way of planning for the future. Taking an area that I knew about in children, and applying it to retired people was an example of same area / new customer. What’s important in a self-esteem context is that this had the added bonus of making me feel that all that had gone before my retirement, still had some currency for me. In a sense I was still, in part, that person that I had been professionally.
Of course it is quite possible that your previous career / job was not one that you valued (or valued you) and that retirement for you, is an opportunity to leave all that behind and start afresh. Fair enough, but I would still recommend that you think carefully about what it might be about yourself that you do value and that you would, therefore, want to have continue in your life. It doesn’t have to be ‘previous career-related’. It may be – your kindness towards others, your cleverness with financial matters, the previously limited time you spent with grandchildren or other family members, your interest in steam trains or cricket (me again), your hobby or that DIY you always enjoyed but haven’t had much time for when you were working and so on. Recognising all these strengths, or even simply interests, has a positive effect on your self-esteem. Furthermore, take these strengths and ask yourself how might I build on them, move then just one point up the scale? Clearly this area relates closely to the area of goal-setting about which I have written elsewhere in these blogs. This, in turn, and to come somewhat full circle, relates to linking goals to values. But these areas are not the main focus for this blog.
Let me finish by summarising the relevance of this kind of SFT thinking, as it relates to what aspects of your life (the good bits) you want to have continue into retirement, and, in turn, to positively affect your self-esteem. Self-esteem comes from valuing yourself. ‘Maintaining a fundamental affection for yourself even in the face of rejection or failure’ as Jonathon Brown from Washington University eloquently put it. What better way to maintain that affection than focusing on what’s best about yourself and carrying that ‘bestness’ into retirement albeit, if necessary, in a somewhat redesigned form. So there you have it, now go ahead and write down something about what you want to have continue in your life and into your retirement. Use this information, in conjunction with my thoughts on goal setting, if you wish, to plan a part of your retirement future.