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