5 ways of looking back to help plan your retirement

Portrait of senior woman sitting at kitchen table and looking at photo album

Image: LightField Studios/Bigstock.com

Looking in the rear-view mirror can help you plan your retirement. That’s looking back at what you’ve done in the past to help plan your future.

Business uses this concept. Erica Olsen writes, ‘You can move faster into the future by avoiding roadblocks and pitfalls you’ve already encountered to identify strategic issues you need to address during your planning process.’

What I’m suggesting here isn’t about looking back at the negatives, though. It’s mostly about positive life experiences to help plan your retirement.

1. Past passions

Yes, your passion could have been that rock group in the 70s, but it will probably be more about something or things you were heavily involved in. It’s worth asking the question, ‘Why did I do/enjoy that? Is there something about it I want to do again?”

Perhaps it was a cause you became involved in but gave up way back when. What’s it doing now? Could it interest you again? Is it a hobby? A sport, perhaps?

And you don’t have to give up on that rock group, there are probably people who are still passionate about the group. This could become a renewed interest—or not.

2. Do an inventory of your successes

Don’t be modest, but don’t flatter yourself either. Be realistic.

As you look back, your successes help you understand your strengths. And there can be real satisfaction in playing to your strengths.

One study suggests that ‘taking a strengths perspective empowers people’ and can help individuals ‘recognise, develop and celebrate their natural talents and abilities, and re-cast their lives in ways that allow them to do more of what they are good at’.

This could make for a great retirement.

3. Things you’ve wanted to try, but didn’t

Remember those times when you wanted to try something, but something else got in the way? Life, perhaps? Other priorities?

If you’ve hankered in the past to write, to paint, to rock climb—whatever it may have been—retirement is a time to revisit these kinds of things and give them a good hot go. You can do this when you have greater control over your time.

Don’t forget to be sensible about your safety on things like rock climbing. You were younger and, probably, stronger and more flexible when you first thought about it.

4. Those moments when you felt totally engaged

You know the feeling, you’re so involved in some activity that you don’t notice time passing. You are at one with the activity. You are totally engaged.

Psychologist Lynn Soots points out a problem: ‘The truth is, we are often overwhelmed by the automatic assembly line of life and often the things we can “engage in” are the first things to get dumped from the line-up.’

Now is the time to plan to be more involved in the things that engage us to the extent that other things are blocked out. It can be something you do (a hobby, for instance); something you experience (a concert, perhaps); or something you’re involved in (like an interest group).

Of course, anytime is a good time to reject the ‘automatic assembly line of life’ approach. That’s not something any of us wants in retirement, which brings the opportunity to be fully engaged in so many ways.

5. People who impacted your life  

Think about those who have impacted you in positive ways. Take time to reflect on what you learned; how it changed you or your thinking; and how it made you a better person.

It could have been a parent (or parents), a teacher, a colleague, a mentor, someone who gave a presentation, or whoever.

Why not tell them? They would appreciate knowing the impact they had on you. It helps to validate them.

Besides, showing gratitude helps you. The Harvard Mental Health Letter reports that ‘Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.’

Then, ask yourself what you can pass on. Is it what you learned from them? I suspect it would be much more than that. But there’s satisfaction in being able to help others. How can you do that? Then there’s the question of who can you help?

It’s natural to look ahead to your retirement. But looking back can also help you plan your future.

Bruce Manners, author of Retirement Ready? and Refusing to Retire.

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Category: Planning

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