An intentional life should focus primarily on the present

An intentional life should focus primarily on the present

Quick thought for today.  If you want to live an intentional life, you should focus primarily on the present.  Let me explain.  We all spend part of our days—either mentally or physically—in the past, present or future.  You’re sitting there right now in the present, but maybe you’re thinking about something you did this past weekend or dreaming about something you hope to be doing 5 years from now.  Past, present and future.  We all spend our time inhabiting each of those spaces. 

Unfortunately, most of us mess up the proportions. We spend too much time and energy on the past and the future and not enough on the present.  We look back and worry about the things we did or didn’t do.  We look forward and dream about the things we hope to eventually do.  That only leaves a small amount of our time where we’re honest to goodness living in and making the most out of the present.

I’m not saying that you should ignore the past and the future, but the present should be your priority.  Anything else means you’re focusing on things you can’t change (the past) or things that might not happen (the future).  Here are a few suggestions on how to get the balance right.

How to use your past:  Don’t obsess over it.  Don’t waste your time thinking about regrets or wishing you had done or said things differently.  Don’t cling to bitterness.  Don’t hold grudges. Instead, think fondly of the good times and be grateful for the wisdom earned and lessons learned from the challenging times.  Use it as a foundation to build on.  Remember the people, places and things that made you who you are. 

How to prepare for your future:  Don’t push everything to the future.  Don’t treat it as some magical time where you’ll finally start living.  Delayed gratification is great if it’s allowing you to work toward something, but it becomes a problem if it becomes an excuse for life avoidance.  Use the runway between the present and the future for planning and preparation.  Use it to set the proper direction for your life and to get any necessary prerequisites out of the way.  Use it to set goals, dream, plan, save and even to experiment.  All of those things will help you hit the ground running and make the most out of your future years. 

How to live in the present:  Don’t get bogged down in the routine of life.  Don’t focus all your time on the maintenance of living.  Don’t live a life that is frantic and unintentional.  Be present in your days, with your friends and during experiences like vacations rather than worrying about how to make it look a certain way on social media.  Decide what you really want out of life and start doing that.  Today.  Even if you have to start small, start.  Have intentional action in your relationships, activities, health, hobbies, pursuits and every other area of your life.  Be proactive.  Learn.  Do.  Go.  Experiment.  Take risks.  In other words, live.   

A good balance of past/present/future is something like 10/60/30.  If yours looks more like 30/20/50, you’re not really living life.  You’re worrying about the life you’ve already lived and dreaming about a life you hope to someday live. 

At Intentional Retirement, we believe that retirement is an intentional way of living that prioritizes freedom, fulfillment, purpose and relationships.  It starts today and is an incremental process of aligning your lifestyle and actions with your highest priorities.  To do that, you need to focus on the present.  Stop fretting over what is past or dreaming about what is to come.  Today is a new day.  Start doing.

Be Intentional,

Joe

The importance of friends to a healthy, happy retirement

The importance of friends to a healthy, happy retirement

How healthy are your friendships?  The answer will have a huge impact on your retirement.  Research shows that friends (or lack thereof) can affect your health, happiness and even your habits.  Let’s look at the findings, examine some of the challenges your friendships will face as you age and discuss a few ways to make and maintain friendships during retirement.

How Friends Affect Us

According to the Mayo Clinic, friendships can affect your health and happiness in a number of important ways:

  • They provide support in tough times.
  • They help you find belonging and purpose
  • They reduce your stress and increase happiness
  • They give self-confidence and self-worth
  • They can help you through difficult times like death, divorce, illness or job loss
  • They provide accountability and positive peer pressure
  • They help reduce the risk of things like depression, high blood pressure and unhealthy BMI.

In addition to the benefits above, friendships can help keep your mind sharp.  Several studies have found that there is a strong connection between loneliness and cognitive decline.  For example, a 2018 study in the Journals of Gerontology found that loneliness was associated with a 40% increase in dementia among study participants.  In another study, researchers in the Netherlands found that people who feel lonely are about 1.6 times more likely to get dementia.

There’s also evidence that the importance of friendships increases as we age.  Dr. William Chopik at Michigan State University conducted a study on how our relationships affect our health and happiness as we age.  The results showed that the benefits we get from healthy family relationships stays level throughout life, but the value of good friendships has a greater impact on our health and happiness as we age.  According to Dr. Chopik:

“Friendship quality often predicts health more so than the quality of other relationships.”

The Problem + The Solution

So the benefits of friends are huge, but there’s a problem.  Making and maintaining quality friendships gets harder as you age.  In mid-life you have competing priorities like kids and work.  As you age, caring for your parents often gets added to the list.  And life isn’t static.  Circumstances change and friendships ebb and flow.  Major life events—death, divorce, job loss, moving and retirement—can derail even the best of friendships.  So if you want to enter retirement with good friends that have a positive impact on your health, happiness and cognitive function, you need to be intentional.

That means investing time, effort and often money into your friendships.  It means being kind, likeable and trustworthy.  It means listening and being transparent.  It means being reliable and available.  It means celebrating victories and being there when life is challenging.  It means being loyal and avoiding drama.  It means being proactive about spending time together.  All those things have a compounding effect over time.  They deepen friendships and give them a solid foundation.  And as we saw earlier, those deep friendships take on added meaning as you age. 

A Few Practical Applications

The primary takeaway is this: Don’t underestimate the power of friends.  They can make or break your retirement.  Start working on them now.  If you’re looking for a good place to begin, forward this article to one or two of your friends and start a conversation.  Ask how you can be a better friend.  Plan an adventure or fun outing.  Start a new tradition.  Discuss ways to deepen your friendship.  Compare retirement plans and make sure they overlap in ways that will allow you to maintain your friendship.  All of this takes effort, but it’s worth it.  The payoff is a healthier, happier life for both you and those you care about. 

Be Intentional,

Joe

Internal vs External Scorecard

Internal vs External Scorecard

Warren Buffett once said:

“The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an inner scorecard or an outer scorecard.  It helps if you can be satisfied with an inner scorecard.”

The scorecard he’s talking about is how you measure success in any given endeavor.  Are you playing your game or someone else’s?  Do you compare yourself to others and try to win based on what they or the rest of the world think of you?  Or do you focus on the things that matter to you and judge your success based on the goals and metrics that you’ve set for yourself (i.e. your internal scorecard)? 

You can “succeed” with either scorecard.  It’s just a question of whether or not that success is likely to bring you happiness and fulfillment.  Most people use a combination of both scorecards, but during the first two-thirds of life the external scorecard often wins.  As a student, you had a literal scorecard and it measured how well you did compared to the other students and whether you reached the milestones of success set by the school.  You likely focused on that scorecard to please your parents or gain acceptance into college or a career. 

During your working years there’s pressure to focus on the external scorecard as well.  Are you the top salesman?  How much money do you make?  What is your job title?  How much is in your 401k?  What professional designations do you have?  What industry awards have you won? 

And since we use the external scorecard at work, we often use it in our personal life as well.  How big is your house?  What kind of car do you drive?  What brand of clothes do you wear?  Where do you vacation?  Are your kids in private school? 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, but if the only reason you want them is to please others or win some foolish game of status or achievement, then you’re winning at the wrong game.  It’s possible to look totally successful on the outside and be a mess on the inside.

The internal scorecard and retirement

When you retire, you buy yourself the freedom to design your own game and set your own rules.  You get to decide what constitutes a success.  This is a much more rewarding game to play and it is more likely to result in happiness and fulfillment, because the metrics you’re focusing on are the things that are important to you.  It takes work, however, because you need to create the game and set the rules.  That means deciding what you really want out of life and then holding yourself accountable to achieve it using your internal scorecard.  Your scorecard will look different than mine, so I can’t tell you what to do, but I can give you some general ideas on how to do it.  Below are a few resources that can help.

Ebook:

A Brief Guide to Retirement Bliss

Articles:

Video:

For lasting happiness, get off the hedonic treadmill.

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What won’t change?

What won’t change?

Read this quote from Jeff Bezos and then let’s apply it to retirement.

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. In our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”

What won’t change in retirement?

Bezos was talking about business, but you can just as easily apply his idea to retirement.  Most people spend decades preparing for retirement. If you’re going to do that, you want to make sure that the time, money and energy that you’re investing will get you to where you want to be and will pay dividends for years to come.  So, what won’t change?  What is likely to be just as true 10 or 20 years from now as it is today?  Here are three ideas:

You’ll want to be healthier. I have yet to come across the retiree who doesn’t care about their health.  Everyone wants to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible.  I’m sure the same will be true of you.  So the time and effort you spend on improving and maintaining your health will be well spent.  That could mean making a long-term commitment to eating better.  Or hiring a personal trainer.  Or buying better quality food.  Or going to your doctor for regular checkups.  Or going to a physical therapist to finally treat those aches and pains.  Or flossing (seriously…new research links gum disease to Alzheimer’s).  Or getting that knee or hip replacement surgery that you’ve been putting off.  If it’s an investment in your health, it will pay dividends for years to come.  

You’ll want to be happier. That was true when you were 2.  It was true when you were 20.  It will still be true if you live to be 200.  So think about the things that make you happy and invest in those.  Here are a few suggestions based on happiness research.  Invest in relationships.  Learn new things.  Focus on experiences rather than things.  Work on something bigger than yourself.  Exercise. Meditate or pray.  Spend time outdoors.  Help others.  Get enough sleep.  Forgive. Stop comparing yourself to others.

You’ll want to be more financially secure.  I’m sure everyone has dreamed of winning the lottery, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Financial security simply means you’re not worrying about money at night.  It means having enough to buy your freedom.  Enough to control what you do with your time.  Enough to do the things that you want to do.  Enough to help those you care about if they need help. Enough to take care of yourself if/when your health changes.  Enough to design the kind of lifestyle you want.  The desire for financial security will not change, but it takes most of us a long time to get there.  So be a good steward of your assets.  Save diligently.  Pay off debt. Invest wisely.  Calculate how much you need to fund the retirement you want and make a plan that will get you there.  Hire an adviser if you need help.  Get your finances in order and it will pay dividends (literally) for years to come.  

Quick summary:

Step 1: Decide what won’t change.

Step 2: Invest in those things.

Step 3: Reap the rewards for years to come.

Touch base if I can help.

Be Intentional,

Joe

Three ingredients of a meaningful life

Three ingredients of a meaningful life

Because retirement is a time filled with fun, travel and leisure it is easy to make the pursuit of pleasure your orienting principle.  That would be a terrible mistake.  There’s nothing wrong with pleasure, but it must exist in the context of something deeper.  Let me explain.

Meaning vs. Pleasure

I’ve written before about Viktor Frankl.  He was a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor who wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning about his time as a concentration camp prisoner.  Frankl founded a school of psychology called Logotherapy (literally “meaning” therapy).  He believed that striving to find meaning is the primary motivational force in humans.  This was in contrast to Freud, who believed that the pursuit of pleasure was the driving motivation.  

I’m in Frankl’s camp.  In my experience with retirees, those who focus on meaning often have a deep sense of satisfaction, purpose and happiness.  Pleasure is a welcome byproduct of their pursuit of purpose. Alternatively, those who can’t find this deeper sense of meaning often self-medicate with pleasure.  Pleasure with no greater purpose eventually feels hollow for most people.  So how can you orient your retirement around meaning?

How to find meaning

According to Frankl, there are three different ways to find meaning in life.  I’ll list those below and then relate them to retirement.

Through projects or work.  All of us are designed to do something meaningful and productive.  Retirement doesn’t somehow remove that need, it just means that you no longer have to base your choice on how much something pays.  Maybe that means working part-time in a field that’s always interested you or volunteering for an organization you’re passionate about.  Or maybe it’s running for your local school board or working on a big community project.  Whatever it is, find something that will engage you and leverage your time, treasure and talents.  What people really need, according to Frankl, is “the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”

Through experiences and relationships.  Retirement (and life) is at its best when we have loving, healthy relationships with friends and family and we are engaged in meaningful pursuits.  

Through challenges or suffering.  This one might seem a bit counterintuitive at first, but if you think about the times in your life that made you who you are, that taught you the most, that filled you with pride and a sense of accomplishment, my guess would be that a lot of those times grew out of a significant challenge, heartbreak or tragedy.  Frankl believed that we should welcome challenges and suffering, not because they’re fun, but because they can often bring meaning and growth.  He knew that we can’t always control our circumstances, but we can always control our response to our circumstances.  That from a guy who was in a concentration camp and found a way to redeem his suffering and use it as the soil from which he grew his philosophy, vocation and life’s meaning.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl

So as you move toward retirement, absolutely plan on doing fun and interesting things. Splurge on yourself. Be a little selfish.  Just don’t treat the pursuit of pleasure as your ultimate goal.  If you do, you’ll likely be disappointed.  Instead, seek meaning and you’ll likely find pleasure and happiness as well.

Be Intentional,

Joe

A short poem that inspires action

A short poem that inspires action

Just a short post today. As spring arrives, I want to share one of my favorite poems with you and encourage you to use this time of warming weather, blossoms and new beginnings as a visual reminder to make the most of your time.  The poem, by A. E. Housman, is below.

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide  
 

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
      

You don’t need to be a poetry expert to understand what Housman was saying.  Life is short.  And when you realize how quickly years pass and you do a bit of mental math, you understand that there’s not much time left.  So don’t wait.  Don’t continue to procrastinate and defer your dreams.  Decide what things, big or small, are important to you and then get busy doing them.  Have a great week.  And, as always…

Be Intentional,

Joe

P.S. I took Housman’s words to heart in a literal way last year and went out to Washington D.C. to see the cherry blossoms (see above photo).  Sometimes the best way to “stop and smell the roses” is just to stop and smell the roses.