For most of our lives, we are guided by structure. Work routines help us feel connected and useful, providing immense mental health benefits. But upon retirement, the loss of a spouse, or other lifestyle changes, it can be easy to lose sight of our purpose, leading to mental health decline. It is vital to address these feelings of disconnectedness and find new reasons to get up in the morning.
Work responsibilities keep us focused and engaged throughout the day, often a welcome distraction from many of life’s problems. This type of connection is sorely missed by many retirees, whose idle minds become vulnerable to dementia. We miss our old to-do list, entailing our daily, weekly and monthly objectives. This practice is recommended by many executive coaches, and is highly effective in cutting through the whirlwind of distractions often present in a corporate setting. But this same strategy can be applied to retired life. Whether it’s a to-do list on a notepad or a detailed calendar, the impact of laying out near and long-term tasks is unprecedented in successfully managing our time and wellbeing.
Last year, a family friend whose spouse died began feeling lonely and lost in his house. In an effort to find a better living situation, he decided to move to an independent living complex. There, he found enjoyable daily events such as meals, movies, exercise classes, and lectures. He also began playing games, watching television, and chatting over coffee with his contemporaries. At first, this was a welcome change of pace to his new life. But the repetitiveness of the complex eventually burned him out. There’s only so much television you can watch in one day! He was desperate for a more connected and fulfilling lifestyle, and was open to any strategy that would help.
He soon found help through a system called the “Double Time Management System”, implemented by his psychologist. The first part of the system is called the “Things I Can Do” section, where he spends time reflecting on and listing all the things he can do. From small, simple activities, to strengths and interests he has, to skills such as driving a car, he entailed all the capabilities currently in his possession. The second part of the system was a daily exercise titled “Things I Will Do Today”. Here, he would sit at his desk before bed each night and write out the activities or tasks he wanted to accomplish the next day. They could be one big thing, or multiple small things. The key was garnering a focused and specific plan of action, leaving no room for apprehension or negative thinking. He is currently on week two of this new exercise, and his spirits seem brighter every day. We will keep you posted on his progress, so stay tuned to hear what happens long-term!
What experience do you have with these issues? What strategies have you used to overcome feelings of aimlessness? How do you define your purpose in retirement? Share with us!