Noel Whittaker's checklist to help you start the New Year right

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In this edited extract from Noel Whittaker’s new book Retirement Made Simple, he tells how you can start the New Year right.


A long life and a healthy, happy and prosperous retirement are likely for those who work towards that goal. It does help if you have adequate financial resources, a strong network of emotional support, and continue to use all your physical and mental abilities. However, these things don’t just happen of their own accord – you have to make them happen.

A good start is to understand that retirement is another major life transition. Reaching retirement age means you have already gone through several life transitions. Your life probably included starting school, leaving home, starting a career, and may also have included a long-term relationship and children – there are so many choices. This is why you need to think of retirement as the next transition. It’s a sad reality that many people dread the thought of retirement, because they have no idea how they are going to occupy their time.

Self-talk matters
Self-talk is basically your inner voice: the voice in your mind that says the things you don’t necessarily say out loud. We often don’t even realise that we have a running commentary going on in the background, but we do, and our self-talk can have a big influence on how we feel about who we are.

If you are falling into the trap of considering yourself old, your self-talk will start following these kinds of patterns: “I’m too old for that … oh no, not at my age … I’m getting old.”

That kind of talk may be literally fatal. Just thinking or talking to yourself, either positively or negatively, affects all the physical structures in your body, not just your mood and emotions. According to the Mayo Clinic, the health benefits of a positive mental attitude include increased life span, lower rates of depression, better psychological and physical wellbeing, better cardiovascular health, reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and better coping skills during hardship and stressful times.

Positive self-talk makes you feel good about yourself and the things that are going on in your life. It’s like having a friend’s voice in your head who always looks on the bright side. Examples include: “I’m doing the best I can … We can sort this out … This was meant to be … We’ve coped with problems before and we can do it again.”

Negative self-talk makes you feel bad about yourself and your life. It can put a downer on anything, even something good. Examples include: “I should be doing better … Everyone thinks I’m an idiot … Everything’s going to hell … Nothing’s ever going to get better.” And problems are multiplied when you reinforce your negative self-talk by repeating it to other people. Probably the most common negative statements I hear are: “I don’t understand finance” and “I’m hopeless with money.”

What you say to other people matters too; in particular, it’s worth avoiding reinforcing ageing stereotypes when you talk to your older friends and relations. When I was in practice, I often heard statements like “Mum is a worrier”. But studies do not validate this view: they consistently show that younger people worry more than older ones. This is possibly because younger people are still learning to cope with the stresses of daily life, whereas older people have much more experience in coping. If you have been telling your mum that she is a worrier, it may be interesting to try telling her instead how much you admire the way she has always coped. Your new input may enable her to change her self-talk from “I’m a worrier” to “I’m strong and can cope”, with resultant benefits to her mental and physical health.

Getting some goals
I have written at length in my other books about the importance of setting goals. Briefly, goals do the following:

  • give our lives direction
  • provide new challenges
  • help us achieve at a high level
  • make us more productive.

How many times have you heard somebody say they had a friend who retired at 65, started sleeping in later and later, and was dead by 67? Usually, the only reason people don’t want to get out of bed in the morning is that they have no reason to get up. Goals provide the reason, and pursuing them can make your life so busy and fulfilling that you wonder how you ever had time to work.

If you’re short on goals, take a quiet hour and list your dreams. Put on that list everything you ever wanted to do. Maybe it’s to cruise up the Amazon, learn a new skill, develop a new strain of rose, drive around Australia, break 80 at golf, write a book, or develop superb fitness. Add all the other little jobs you’ve been putting off, such as fixing up the garden, and cleaning out the garage, and you will quickly find you have more than enough to get your mind in top gear. Then you can start to make plans to achieve your goals. When you are doing this, understand that there are many ways to reach them. For example, if travel is your goal and money is short, you may consider organising a special interest group to travel your preferred destination. Often, if there are enough participants, the organiser gets a free ticket. One couple we know managed to strike a deal with some people who owned a holiday home in Europe. They helped the owners renovate the house while they got free board and enjoyed spending a lengthy period in the beautiful countryside.

Evidence-based daily CLANGERS
There are lots of ways to put ideas about healthy living and ageing together, so that each part supports and balances the whole …

In 2008, the UK-based New Economics Foundation created five evidence-based steps that everybody can take to improve their mental wellbeing. It was picked up by physician and broadcaster Dr Phil Hammond, who added three additional steps and then named the expanded process CLANGERS (for the popular ’70s UK children’s TV series). He describes them as daily habits you can adopt that are good for your health and increase your ability to bounce back when life throws an unexpected curveball.

CONNECT We are social animals, so connections with other people, places and the world around us help to create the cornerstones of our lives. Social isolation and loneliness are detrimental to our health; they may be as bad for us as smoking. Take the time to enjoy your own company as well, giving you the space to think, reflect, explore and relax.

LEARN There is good evidence that the more you learn, the better your health becomes. It can provide you with a purpose, help you to develop new passions and provide confidence in your achievements, as well as being fun.

(BE) ACTIVE Aim for five ‘portions’ of fun a day for your mind and body, of which at least one is outdoors and one gets you pleasantly breathless. You could rediscover old passions, or try new ones. Just be sure to choose activities that you enjoy, so you’ll want to keep doing them. And bear in mind you might need to try out new activities a few times to see if they feel right for you.

NOTICE Take time each day to slow down and focus on what you are doing, and what is around you. Listen to the sounds of the birds or the waves, notice the new leaves on the trees … What we focus on is what grows, so fill your brain with what is healthiest for you.

GIVE BACK Helping others and showing compassion is as good for your wellbeing as it is for those you help.

EAT WELL Learn what’s healthy and enjoyable to eat, and in what quantities, to maintain a healthy weight and take care of your gut. Make time to sit and eat with friends and family.

RELAX Take time to rest your mind each day – to let it wind down and declutter. The more positive your thoughts, the better; clear out the rubbish and ensure you have strategies to help deal with any negativity.

SLEEP Good sleep is essential for your mental and physical health. Almost half the population sleep poorly, and feel more tired, stressed, and anxious, as well as less energised as a result. Practise good sleep habits and aim for a regular seven to eight hours of sleep a night. There are heaps of good sleeping tips online.

Noel Whittaker is the author of the recently released Retirement Made Simple as well as several other books including Making Money Made Simple. You can buy Retirement Made Simple for $29.99 at noelwhittaker.com.au

Are you, or do you think you will be, happy to be retired? Do Noel’s suggestions make perfect sense to you?

RELATED LINKS

The trends from 2020 that support a positive outlook in retirement

Older Australians can take a bow for the way they have weathered the pandemic storm.

Report tells why ageing populations are an asset

Experts say health means wealth for older people and global economies.

Written by Noel Whittaker



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