Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

What's the Plan?

Vacation planning vs. retirement

More planning goes into an average vacation, than for one's life in retirement. Yes, that's a pretty bold statement, however, it is unfortunately so. While pre-vacation planning encompasses thinking, budgeting and a lengthy list of executable actions, most people, besides contributing to their company's 401(k) program do very little real work towards success on what can be a lengthy segment of their life.

Think about it, one's work life might extend from early to mid-twenties to mid-sixties; around forty years. As our mortality increases, the time in retirement become increasingly longer and rife with challenges and the need for some of that planning. There's way more pleasure in buying those airline tickets and imagining yourself flying away to some exotic location than there is in trying to map out what is, from every aspect, a mine field of decisions about an uncertain future.

There seems to be very little logic in the energy put into R&R vs. one's post career years. But if you scrap away some of the indignation, you can see that there's joy and pleasure in idea of travel, rest, adventure and a respite from work. Retirement for many, on the other hand, is scary and far away into a future that is untouchable. It's a great unknown of what to do, how much it will cost and sometimes, where to even begin.

According to Dr. Brad Klontz, Psy.D, CFP(R),"If makes perfect sense. For most people, "retirement" is a very abstract concept. Motivation is driven by concrete images and emotions not by cognitive abstractions.

For most people, vacations are concrete, visual, and emotion. You have a clear time and destination. You can imagine the feeling of the hot sand on the bottom of your feet, the cool tropical breeze, the taste of the piña colada by the pool. Now that is exciting and motivating!

To get motivated to plan for retirement, retirement needs to become much more concrete, visual, and emotional. What does it mean? What will you be doing? Where will you be? Who will you be with? How will it feel? Most people need help in fleshing out an exciting vision for retirement. When that is successful, people are eager to start planning!"

In order to bring more power to the process, or as Brad calls it a "fleshing out an exciting vision for retirement" try the following:

1. Make an appointment with yourself for an hour

2. Find space that is devoid of distractions (TV, computer, cell phone, etc.)

3. Close your eyes

4. Take a few relaxing breaths

5. Put yourself in retirement; imagine the empty calendar-now, begin to fill it up with things you value. Make the pictures rich, vivid and meaningful-an extension of your values and your dreams.

6. Consider the aspects of life: Health, Personal Growth, Leisure, Family, Finances, Community, Learning, etc. What is important about each one? How would you rate each in terms of importance and your level of satisfaction today and what would you like it to look like in the future?

7. Identify what's most important to you and examine if there's a gap between your now and your target. Identify the areas that need attention.

As you increase your level of focus and attention to this most critical life stage transition, it's time to begin to plan-with energy, enthusiasm and a sense of purpose. Without that, you might find yourself knocking on retirement's door with a feeling of panic, shame and dissatisfaction. You might find that the thrill of the week vacation pales in comparison to a full, rich and meaningful retirement.