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Understanding the impact of Retirement

Written by Marianne Heron with Paul Britton

Before you set off on your journey, it is a good idea to understand just why retirement can have such a psychological impact and also to appreciate how your own personal GPS is going to serve you. When you want to make changes in your life your mind is your biggest asset and ally. You can leverage your mind for effective performance; harnessing it to achieve your goals and to influence your outlook positively. But it can also work against you, so let’s take a look at what makes you tick.

Our reality is shaped by our perceptions, given that there are one to two million pieces of information coming at us every second we have to be selective. We develop strategies for dealing with life, if something works we tend to use this approach repeatedly, often quite unconsciously and certain triggers can also cause repeating patterns. Sometimes these are self-limiting, like telling yourself there is no point trying to get involved in things because you are too old. We often rely on ‘gut instinct’ an emotional judgment about what we should do which Daniel Goleman author of Emotional Intelligence calls our inner rudder – and since it relies on intuition, it can sometimes give you unreliable directions.

Intuition - a piece of the puzzle

Some of what we do is triggered by drives which operate subconsciously. Eons ago our brains developed strategies to help us survive, two of these drives are particularly strong: attraction to pleasure – all the rewarding things in life, food, sex, comfort, company; and avoidance of pain – anything that appears dangerous or threatening. We aren’t talking sabre-toothed tigers anymore, but modern equivalents like the boss from hell – which could trigger a flight or fight response.

The other thing that will influence what you do is personality, the enduring traits that make you who you are. Some traits are down to the genetic hand you were dealt which are influenced by interaction with the environment. Your genetic make-up accounts for about 40% of personality or nature and the rest is down to environmental factors or nurture and the interaction between genes and nature. Also your personality affects the way you experience your environment, for instance a sunny outgoing person is much more likely to get a positive response in their social encounters than a withdrawn fearful type.

The Three Ws

Some aspects of your social interaction, the areas that help you make sense of how you fit into the general scheme of things, are particularly sensitive to feeling OK or not OK, in other words, the pain or pleasure principle. We can sum these up as the three Ws:

WHO you are in relation to others and being able to feel good about your standing.

WHERE you are in terms of having a good idea of the direction your future will take.

WHAT choices you have and the feeling that you have control over your destiny.

results of the readiness check

Who, Where and What are the essential keys to feeling secure about your place in the world. They are also key to understanding why others as well as ourselves behave the way they do, why criticism can make you feel not OK, act as a threat and provoke a defensive response, why financial or emotional insecurity are so stressful and why feeling trapped in a situation can make people go into flight or fight mode or become dispirited.

And each of these essential ‘W’s can be thrown into question by retirement. Take away the identity you had in the workplace and WHO, actually, are you? You no longer have your status as sales director, computer programmer or whatever and you have lost the social contact of your group of co-workers. Take away the routine and purpose of work and certainty, then WHERE you are going is much less certain. And WHAT kind of say are you going to have in your future? Given the loss of all those things that go with a career, no matter what you felt about the job, it’s no wonder that retirement can bring a sense of disjuncture.

An important part of this guide is helping you to find answers to the three Ws WHO, WHERE and WHAT, to give you the feeling that you are going to be the architect of your own future.

So answer for yourself the key questions

  • Who are you really, when you take away your former work title?
  • Where are you going? If you know this you can be the architect of your own future.
  • What do you want to do with the rest of your life?

There are some very compelling reasons for being positive and optimistic about your new situation: not least that you will live longer, you will be more likely to come up with solutions and you will certainly have a better time and be more fun to be with.

This excerpt was taken from Rewire Don’t Retire, sponsored by Irish Life and Active Retirement Ireland. You can download the full guide HERE.