What Retirement Do We Want?

What do we want?

If you’re like most of us, your first obstacle to having a better retirement is your lack of motivation to take whatever actions are required today to make it better.  In large part, this lack of motivation usually stems from the fact that we haven’t yet decided what we truly want our retirement to be like.

Before we can determine what will be required for us to create a better retirement, we need a clear picture of what we really want our retirement to look like.  A typical response to that question might be that we want to have a “comfortable retirement”.  But what does that mean?  Obviously, it means different things to different people.  For many, comfortable could mean being financially secure.  But others might focus on what they want to be doing during their retirement.  Some may concentrate on what they want to have or where they want to live.  We are probably conscious of all of these in one sense or another, but if we probe our motives further, we’ll find that our true goal is usually something more unconscious.

Why do we want what we want?

Here’s an exercise I found to be very helpful in order to get a better handle on what I wanted my retirement to be like. While on vacation in Hawaii, I spent a quiet afternoon soaking up the beauty of my surroundings and   jotting down 4 or 5 things I wanted for my retirement.  Then I wrote a brief paragraph on each describing why it was important to me.   What motivated my desire?  How would having that desire make me feel? At the subconscious level, the motives behind nearly everything we want, including our retirement, can be reduced to how they will make us feel if we have them.  We want it because we want to feel the sensation it will give us.

How do we want to feel?

The truest way to discover what we want our retirement to look like would be to ask ourselves how we want it to feel. If we consider a comfortable retirement as being “financially secure”, we’re actually sensing that we want to feel free from physical or mental distress.  We want to feel contented or at ease.  Being financially secure will certainly go a long way toward giving us those kind of feelings.

If, on the other hand, something you want to do when you retire is race sailboats, ask yourself why that is important to you.  It might be because you love the exhilaration of getting the most out of your sailboat, or it could be the thrill of competition or the feeling of peace you have when you are at one with the wind and the water.  Your desire to experience that feeling is what drives your desire to own the sailboat when you retire.

The point is, it’s easier to know what you want if you determine what feelings associated with your retirement are most important to you.  Our feelings have a deeper impact on us than things do.  When you know what you want to feel, you can then relate those feelings to the activities, people, places, climates or resources that you think will provide the feeling for you.  Knowing which feelings are strongest for you will also help you prioritize your various retirement objectives.  For example, if you also enjoy the exhilaration of snow skiing, is that a stronger feeling than your desire to race your sailboat?  The answer to that question could affect a lot of decisions about your retirement.

What are we willing to do to have what we want?

There’s a purpose for getting down to our deeper feelings about what we want for our retirement.  Find yourself a quiet location to spend some time vividly imagining pleasures you want to feel in retirement and why you want to feel that way.  Then write down your description of both.   Next, try to get a sense of the pain you will feel if you don’t have the opportunity to experience what you want?  Write a description of that feeling of regret as well.  When you’ve recorded both, it’s time to make an important decision.  What effort are you willing to make today to ensure that you and your family will have that retirement you’ve dreamed of?

You see, when we only think about the “things” we want, it usually doesn’t have the strength to drive us into action.  But when we vividly imagine what the experiences associated with those things will “feel like”, these feelings have the emotional power to motivate us into sustained action.  And that sustained action is what will be required if we’re actually going to overcome the main obstacle to the better retirement we dream of.

Finally, there are two good reasons why it’s important to write down what you want to feel and why you want to feel it.  First, it forces you to be clear about what you want.  You’ll never be motivated by some vague goal.  Second, put your written record of what you want into a three ring binder along with your other retirement planning notes so that you can review them frequently.  This review will allow you to renew your motivation to focus on and sustain weekly action toward your better retirement.

One Response to this post.

  1. Posted by Souhila on 12.04.10 at 1:06 pm

    Wife and I retired at age 50, now both age 52 and tloamrpriey living in Arizona SF rental, after selling our paid off home 2 1/2 yrs ago.Both receive total of appx 90k per annum in corporate pensions with excellent, (virtually no cost), health and dental plan. Liquid assets of slightly more than $2 mil, actually cash with no tax liability, bringing income, along with our part-time mickey-mouse fun jobs, at almost 225k per year. Also own a debt free small mixed use building in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, where I spent first 40 years of my life.Social Security never was a factor in our retirement plans, but if we live long enough, will take it at 62.Spent over a year traveling overseas and USA extensively to finalize a new home base/retirement spot. Florida,Carolinas,Hawaii,New Mexico and few other warm spots were explored in detail,and decided no way. California which we know well, still has appeal in certain parts (SoCal). Probably can swing something in our favorite spot, town of Rancho Santa Fe, (north San Diego),if motivated enough but would pin us down in one house with maybe a 500k mortgage and other high carrying costs which is counter to my “pay cash for everything” lifestyle. Was thinking a two-home solution for retirement would maybe work for us by paying about 500k cash for each, and shuttling between two locations. Not quite sure yet, still want to visit the other half of the world and the last 5 US states that are on my list.Living overseas is starting to sound better and better.

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