Many baby boomers are contemplating what exactly they will do with their free time for the next 20 years. Some boomers envision an extended period of relaxation in which they pursue activities at a pace they are comfortable with. No big plans or lofty goals will crowd their calendar as they settle into a peaceful stress-free lifestyle. Other people cannot wait to take a shot at all of the interests they have had to set aside due to the demanding requirements of a job and family life. Hobbies, travel and passions fill their dance card. For them, the only concern is if there will be enough time to fit everything in.
The rest of us likely fall somewhere in between and are hoping to balance relaxation and activity. We do not feel the need to stay busy every minute of every day, but are not necessarily attracted to the idea of doing nothing at all for the foreseeable future. Now that we will finally control how we spend our time, we need to figure out how to strike a reasonable balance. In the absence of careful planning it is easy to become bored in retirement. That long anticipated freedom can become a burden if you start your days with nothing to look forward to.
Whatever your ideal balance between staying busy and taking it easy, having activities that engage your mind and body will be an important component of a happy retired life.
Don’t settle for the same old thing. In life before retirement, we sometimes find ourselves living the role of well-trained automatons who have learned the right way to do something and proceed to do just that. In many situations we follow the rules and do what we are “supposed to do” whether we want to or not. When retirement rolls around, we are not always prepared to take advantage of the new freedom thrust upon us.
If you had the time to do whatever you wanted, what would you be doing right now? Living your second act offers you the freedom to find out. In what for many people is a first time experience, retirees are able to try new things, experiment, explore and break free of the roles that defined them. What better time to step outside of your comfort zone to stir things up a bit. You don’t have to settle for doing the same thing over again when there is so much you have yet to explore.
Exercise your mind. Your brain is like any other muscle and needs regular exercise to function at its best. When returning to work after an extended vacation I have found it takes a bit of effort to get back into the swing of things. My relaxing time spent doing nothing seems to dull my otherwise sharp working mind. I was impacted after only a few weeks of downtime. Imagine how years of retirement without challenges will impact your brain. With nothing you must do, it becomes easy to do just that. A better course of action might be to challenge your brain doing things you enjoy. You could continue your education in areas that pique your interest. I found an iPhone app that I use daily to work on my French. Since my phone is always with me, I can pop it out when stuck in line or waiting for an appointment and learn a few more words or phrases. My wife does her daily Sudoku and jigsaw puzzles to keep her neurons firing. My parents play competitive bridge at least twice a week. Whether your thing is puzzles, card games, chess, board games or online games, a little mental workout can help you stay sharp while having fun at the same time.
Have something to look forward to. Nothing is worse than finding you are in a rut with nothing on the horizon. An empty calendar can be a lonely thing. Having something down the road to plan for and get excited about can make the days leading up to that moment more fun. The pending event doesn’t even have to be anything major. It could be as simple as a visit from an old friend or a weekend away on the coast. Of course, a major event like a European journey can be even better. Not only do you look forward to the actual date, but you plan and prepare in the meantime, building the anticipation. The idea is to have something to look forward to in the event that today might not be the most exciting 24 hours you have ever lived.
I have a strategy for when I retire full time: I plan to do my best to look at the world as through the eyes of a child. I remember my kids and their contagious excitement at seeing and doing something for the first time. Everything was fresh, exciting and a new experience to treasure. I accept that I may be a little jaded, and perhaps not every new experience will have that first time thrill. But I am optimistic that out there somewhere are still a few first times to be enjoyed. And retirement is the perfect opportunity to search them out.