A few years ago, I was talking to a gentleman about a pre-retirement course for himself and his wife. During our last conversation, I answered all his outstanding questions and left him to make the online course booking - which I fully expected him to do. After a few days, when the booking still wasn't forthcoming, I assumed that he'd just changed his mind about the course - which was, of course, his prerogative.
About a month later, however, I received an email from the man, apologising for not making the booking and explaining the reason why - his wife had passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly. She'd fallen downstairs on her way to the bathroom during the TV ad break, hitting her head and sustaining fatal injuries.
The couple had been weeks away from retirement and, just like that, all the plans they'd made were in ruins.
Many things have the potential to derail a retirement:
- a downturn in the economy
- the collapse of a company or corporate financial misdeeds
- ill health or a life-changing accident
- an unexpected redundancy forcing someone to retire before they're financially ready or
- divorce or the unexpected ending of a relationship.
If you've experienced your own derailment, retirement can start to look like a scary and unfathomable place, rather than the warm, chilled out, opportunity-filled future you had planned.
Eventually, like the gentleman who lost his wife, you will have to pick up the pieces and move on, through grief, to a different kind of retirement. One that you've adapted to your changed circumstances. After the immediate devastation and debilitation turns into raw grief and pain, however, you might find that mindfulness - or living in the moment - might help you get through each day.
When you're living in the moment, your focus is on that moment only. The past and the future can't touch you.
It can be a difficult task to put your feelings about the past or future aside. It's like when someone says, "Don't think of a pink elephant!" Did you think of one, just now?
Well, your grief is sometimes that pink elephant and it seems like there's nowhere to turn. In this situation, you can look for help from present moment thinking.
Remaining in the present takes practice. While you're learning how to live in the moment, remember that it gets easier as time goes on.
You can work on controlling your thoughts, but one practice that's all about staying in the present moment is meditation. This simple exercise can also help you get through your grief.
Here are some meditation tips:
Make a meditation schedule - 30 minutes per day every day.
Go to a place where you can relax and be alone.
Sit in a position with good posture.
Take deep breaths in and out.
You can use a "mantra" or positive affirmation to help you focus.
When thoughts arise, acknowledge them, and then let them go.
The most difficult thing you might encounter when learning to meditate is calming your busy mind. Focusing on your breathing helps clear away extraneous thoughts and worries.
When you're grief stricken, it's an especially difficult time to keep a clear mind. Thoughts of the past will more than likely keep coming up in your practice. This is normal. As you continue practicing, it will get easier to focus on the now.
An important thing to remember is to avoid judging yourself. Don't punish yourself for thinking of the past when you're trying not to think about it. Realize that your mind is taking a turn you didn't intend, and then lightly nudge it back in the right direction. Be grateful that you were able to catch yourself in the midst of a negative thought, and then move on.
Keeping Up Your Practice
Once you've adopted a philosophy of present moment thinking, concentrate on keeping up with your practice. Rather than a mechanism you turn to only when you're in a pinch, consistent present moment thinking can bring you comfort on an ongoing basis
Moment By Moment
As your practice deepens, you'll fully realize that life is just a series of moments. It's not a definable measure of time, but you'll feel many moments in every minute. Little by little, you'll learn to recognize them.
You may find it difficult to remain in the present just because you must refer to the past and plan for the future in order to live. This is true, of course, but once the reflection is over, and the planning is put away, your goal is to remain in the moment as much as possible.
Refer to the past when you must, but avoid re-immersing yourself in the grief or daydreaming about what things could have been like.
Plan for the future, but don't obsess over it.
Simply look at what you're experiencing right now and immerse yourself in it.
When your mind is completely focused on the present moment, you'll be able to keep going, one foot in front of the other, until you feel ready to face the future again.
Is your retirement in the doldrums? Do you sometimes wish you'd never retired at all and feel that your life has taken a downward turn since the day you left your job? Do you wish you could start your retirement over again - and make a better job of it this time?
Sometimes, you've been looking forward to retirement for so long, that you blow it. Completely.
Let me explain.
When you looked ahead to your retirement, you saw the opportunity to chill out, spending leisurely mornings with coffee and the paper bed and, finally, doing only the things you really wanted to do (after a lifetime of doing what your bosses wanted you to do).
So, when retirement arrived, you did just that. You chilled, you read the paper and you watched a lot of TV (or played a lot of golf). And, even though a niggling voice somewhere inside yourself was telling you that there must be more to retirement than this, you ignored it in favour of 'just a few more days of relaxation'. Which was followed by 'just a few more days...' until, before you knew it, a couple of years had passed, you'd piled on the pounds from all that sitting around, lost contact with 90% of the people you knew and your world had shrunk to the size of your living room.
Okay, so you’ve thrown your hands up in the air and declared that something must change. You’re ready for a fresh start. While your current situation may be challenging, the intention of making a fresh start is a good sign. It’s much better than giving up and resigning yourself to watching daytime TV for the rest of your life!
What do you need to change? Is it just one area of your life or do you need a complete makeover?
Home. Consider giving your living arrangements a makeover. You could move to a new home or change your existing home. Move the furniture or purchase new stuff. Paint the walls a new colour. Convert a spare room into a room with a purpose. It could be dedicated to music, arts and crafts, or meditation.
Finances. Create a budget. Get a retirement job. Talk to a financial advisor. Start an online business. Address your debt. Start offering a service that people need. Look at your current financial challenges and finally address them with a detailed, step-by-step plan you can stick to.
Social life. It’s time to say goodbye to the people in your life that drag you down and replace them with those that provide a boost to your life. Meet some new friends and try a few new social activities. Work on your dating skills and catch the partner of your dreams.
Health and body. Hire a personal trainer or join a gym. Find a diet that works for you. Address any health issues you might have. Visit the doctor and the dentist. Try a new sport. Just get out and move your body!
Belief structure. Investigate a new religion or philosophy. Learn how to meditate. Question your beliefs and find a purpose. Read a good book each month and apply what you learn.
These are just a few ideas. You can also address your current relationships, attitude, or fears. It isn’t necessary to change everything at once. In fact, addressing one area at a time will yield better results.
Useful tips for changing your life:
Develop systems that support your desired change. For instance, if you want to meditate daily, create a schedule that ensures you’ll be compliant. Use a timer so you won’t worry about spending too much time or falling asleep.
Visualize the change. See yourself with a healthy body or bank account. Allow yourself to feel successful and proud. Project yourself into the future and enjoy the changes you’ve made.
Be willing to fail from time to time. It’s not easy to change. In fact, your brain is highly resistant to change. You’re doing well enough to be alive, and that’s good enough for your brain. It views any change as potentially dangerous, so it’s not going to allow you to change easily. Expect that you’ll struggle during the process.
Commit to persevering. Make sure that you succeed.
Be kind to yourself. Celebrate each victory, no matter how small. Give yourself a pat on the back when you deserve it. Any progress is great news, so enjoy it.
The decision to make a fresh start can be daunting - especially when we're not as young as we used to be. If you're not happy with the way things are, it's never too late to try something different. Before you do anything irreversible, however, just give careful thought to the changes you want to make. It’s a mistake to believe that any change is a good change. There are many changes you could experience that are worse than your current situation. Make conscious decisions rather than clinging to the first log that floats by.
Making a fresh start can result in a new and exciting experience. Aim high and be diligent. You’ll be glad you did.