Can a Password Mantra Change Habits?

Can a password mantra change habits? Have you tried using a mantra to reinforce a habit change? Can you use a computer password to reinforce your mantra?

This idea of using a computer password as a mantra sounds weird — yet intriguing.

To reinforce a new habit of keeping only two items per day on my retirement schedule, I’ve developed a personal mantra to remind me. Would changing my password reinforce the mantra?

Mantras as Passwords

The strategy of using a password mantra to change a habit came from hearing an interview on The Spark, a CBC program (cbc.ca/spark) about technology.   Nora Young, the host, interviewed Mauricio Estrella who described how he achieved life changing goals by changing his computer password every 30 days. Mauricio began using his password to make positive relationship changes with his wife.

His computer at work required a password change every 30 days.  On a whim, Mauricio began using positive affirmations —like forgiveness, respect, admiration — for his password. He adapted the affirmation into a password which then became his mantra.

This idea was interesting.  Because passwords need to be entered frequently, could a password change a habit?

Research on habits indicates that it usually takes about 30 days or about 100 repetitions create a new habit.  There is no hard and fast rule but the time frame must be of sufficient duration to produce new behaviour.

By using a positive affirmation in the form of a password mantra you prompt your inner voice each time you enter the password. This is a simple digital trick to reinforce the affirmation in your brain.

What is a mantra and how is it used?

A mantra is typically a Sanskrit word or words uttered repeatedly during meditation.  It is a powerful method to calm the mind and to create positive energy in the body.

Psychological or sacred power is believed to come from repetition of a mantra.

“Change your password — Change your life”

Learning Sanskrit isn’t a necessary prerequisite to use a mantra for your password. You don’t need to meditate or chant.

Instead, create a password that is some combination of a word with numbers and symbols that states the change you are undertaking. Each time you enter the password you will validate the mantra and reinforce the habit change in your brain.

Connecting the entry of a password to open a computer program is a simple way of connecting an ordinary activity with changing a habit, or living a bigger dream, or achieving a life aspiration.

The password mantra will trigger your brain and act as an unconscious tracking tool. It still sounds a bit weird, but I’m giving it at try!  I hope that some of my readers will be sufficiently intrigued to try it as well!

 

 

Do You Understand Your Habits?

Do you understand your habits?  Do you want to change your habits?

Are you aware that habits, both good habits and bad habits, control most aspects of your life including how you spend your time, how you relate to others,  and how you experience pleasure or pain?

In the past months I’ve noticed that many experts have opinions about habits. It’s a popular topic for talk show hosts, life coaches, advice columnists and bloggers.

Advice about how to develop habits that will improve health, wealth and happiness abounds. There are training programs, online courses, and books for people who want to develop good habits and kick bad habits .

At the beginning of this New Year many people made resolutions about habits they want to give up. Eliminating bad habits like swearing, nail biting, procrastinating, eating junk food, or wasting time top the list of things people want to stop doing.

Addictions to drugs, tobacco, alcohol, food, online gaming, gambling, shopping and, yes, even sex, are among  bad habits that people want to conquer.  Most addictions need professional help although the group support that comes from established organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous is often successful.

Self improvement habits such as getting physically active, keeping a journal,  eating healthy foods, saving money, practicing kindness  often top the list of new habits that people seek to develop.

Psychologists and other habit gurus offer advice about how to change habits. Some of the tips they offer include:

1. It’s important to understand the cues and triggers underlying the habit.

For example, know who you are with when the habit occurs.  When I was a smoker, I automatically reached for a cigarette when taking a break with certain co-workers, or when playing a tough bridge hand.  This habit was so strong that, even 35 years after quitting,  I often find myself thinking of a cigarette when I talk to these people on the telephone or when I exchange emails with them.

Other cues and triggers include the time of day when a habit is performed or the setting where it happens.  Many mothers automatically find themselves eating foods that toddlers have left on their plates.  Some people automatically reach for a book to read a few pages before going to sleep.

2. Every habit has its rewards.  Knowing the rewards of a habit helps to change behaviour patterns.

I am determined to develop new habits for time management during 2015 including allowing an extra 30 minutes of time for every appointment I make.  The anticipated reward will be that there is some slack for unanticipated delays in traffic or last minute holdups that might cause a late arrival.  The big reward will be that I honour my time-conscious nature and I’m not stressed about lateness.

Rewards of developing new habits may also include better overall health because of regular exercise, better sleep patterns, and the satisfaction of accomplishment.

3. All habits have emotional roots.  To  understand the emotional roots of habits we need a certain amount of self-awareness.  Addictions often have deep emotional roots which is why professional help is needed when working on addictions.  Other habits can be changed with conscious appreciation of how these habits were formed and what basic needs they satisfy.

Anxiety and stress may cause over-eating. Worry about failure may hinder someone from trying new activities or hobbies.  Some habits, such as nail biting or over-eating provide comfort.  A person addicted to shopping may find relief from isolation by going into a store and making a purchase.

Sometimes habits — even bad habits — make you happy and provide genuine satisfaction. The habit gets performed without conscious awareness of what precipitated the behaviour and without awareness of the many psychological rewards.

Never Too Late to Change Habits

All of us want good habits that lead to happiness. As an optimist, I believe that it’s never too late to change a habit.   The process for changing a habit takes determination and focus. The experts suggest the following techniques:

1.  Choose what you want to change  

If the habit relates to a major life change like attaining physical fitness, beginning with a commitment to take a daily walk may be the starting point. Likewise, if losing weight is the goal,  eliminating junk food from the grocery cart may be the beginning of better diet. Small incremental improvements are easier to achieve.

2.  Make it specific

Making a commitment to a daily walk might include some measure of time or distance.  For example, you may want to develop a habit of walking for 30 minutes for a certain number of city blocks.

3.  Make a public commitment

When working on a new habit,  involving others gives support.  Groups such as AA assign a sponsor who is there to give support when needed.

By writing about my commitment to limit daily activities and allow extra time for appointment, I know that my friends and family who read this blog will be watching me and encouraging me.

4.  Set short term goals

Some social psychologists advise that it takes 30 days to make a habit begin to stick.  Others advise 100 repetitions as a rule.

I’m going to set a 3 month target (90 days) to develop the habit of allowing an extra half hour around scheduled appointments.  It’s more than usual 30 days but with 90 repetitions I’ll have sufficient time to test drive this change.

5. One Change at a time

Often we try to make several changes at once in our efforts at self-improvement.  Major life changes like weight loss or improved physical fitness or better time management involve breaking patterns. These behaviour patterns have  developed over long periods of time with strong emotional roots.

Focusing on one habit at a time is recommended to allow you to gain confidence in your ability to change. To go back to the example of daily walking,  after 30 days of consistent practise, this habit can be augmented with strength training or with other physical activity that will lead to greater fitness levels.

6.  Reward yourself

Once the behaviour becomes automatic, new cues and triggers that become self-rewarding will develop.  Some habits, such as attaining better fitness give automatic rewards such a tightening the belt by a few notches or having clothes fit better.

Sometimes a more concrete reward is desirable. Many smokers who quit use the money they save from buying cigarettes to purchase a vacation or a piece of jewellery.

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” — Aristotle

Unfortunately, New Year’s resolutions are often abandoned because people have insufficient awareness about the factors underlying a habit. In this post, I’ve summarized some of the best tips for understanding habits and for changing habits.

I’m using this advice to make changes in my life.   Hopefully, you will be inspired to change some of your habits as well.

 

Living with Purpose

In 2015 I am determined to live with purpose  To make it a more rewarding year I’m making a few changes.

Even though the New Year is a few days ‘old’, this is still a time of new beginnings as I suffered a bout of the flu during the celebrations. I’m feeling rejuvenated from the rest I took while recovering. With the return of health and stamina, I feel like a new person for the New Year.

There’s an overused saying that states “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” This phrase has rung in my head for the past week as I’ve thought about purpose, my 2015 word of the year.

I chose this word to guide and focus my behaviour and activities.

Living with purpose requires decisiveness about use of time. In 2015 I’m making changes to make sure that I don’t squander any precious retirement days.
Use Time effectively — photo courtesy of beautifulfreepictures.com
Use Time effectively — photo courtesy of beautifulfreepictures.com

Purpose Reflects Intention

Wikipedia defines intention as “a mental state that represents a commitment to carrying out an action or actions in the future.”

By living with intention, I can focus on deliberate actions to bring about the results I want to achieve.  Setting an intention  for each day that relates to purpose, my word of the year,  will help me to take better control of my life and my time.

Purpose Reflects Resolve

Resolve means backbone to me. It will take  strength and confidence to make deliberate choices consistent with aspirations of how I want to live.

I may have to get up earlier to spend time writing or exercising.  I may have to refuse interesting invitations to avoid distractions that take me away from purposeful activity.

If I am true to my decision that I won’t squander precious retirement days, I will need to make courageous choices about eliminating activities, meetings and appointments that don’t satisfy, inspire and fulfill my life aspirations.

Purpose Reflects Determination

When I am determined to make things happen my productivity improves.   I have achieved difficult goals throughout my life.  Having a tenacious mindset allows me to stick to my purpose regardless of obstacles that I encounter.

Judicious use of precious time

You might wonder how ‘purpose’ with its related meanings of intention, resolve and determination relates to use of time. In my mind, each of these relates to time and how easily it can slip away.

You’ve heard it before — everyone has the same 24 hours each day.  The choices we make are totally up to us. By using time effectively — and with intentionality — our choices will lead to outcomes that are consistent with the big dreams and aspirations we have for our lives.

Unless longevity takes a steep up curve, I know that I am living the last third of my life.  I realize that I have a finite number of days so how I spend each day has to count. Because I can’t get wasted time back, I’m cautious about squandering precious days and hours.

If I’m not careful, my free time can get cluttered with unnecessary activities.  This results in getting behind on things that relate to purpose, missing out on sleep and then finding myself grumpy and de-energized.

I’m focusing on commitments that I make.  I won’t say  ‘yes’ unless making that commitment is consistent with how I want to live.

A few months ago I realized that I had made too many volunteer commitments.  Precious time was used going to meetings of boards and committees that no longer held interest for me. Many of the roles and responsibilities were similar to those I had during my career.  I have stepped away from most of these commitments to free time for activities that I find more rewarding at this stage of my life.

The Rule of Two

I am  implementing ‘the rule of two’ when it comes to my schedule.  I will commit to a maximum of two activities in a day. A class at the gym or a workout counts as one activity.  A meeting or appointment counts as one activity. A social commitment counts as one activity. A major project or task at home counts as one activity. 

Limiting what I do will leave time to work on writing projects, to spend time with my husband and family, for hobbies, and to goof off — if goofing off suits me.  I’m determined to have free time to just be me.

Allow extra time

To stop feeling rushed all the time, I’m allowing 30 minutes of extra time around scheduled activities.  If an appointment is at 10 am, I’ll focus on 9:30 am as the targeted time. Unexpected delays won’t derail my plans because I’ll have a cushion of extra time.

As I am time-conscious, this simple mind-game should help me to manage distractions and arrive on time. By living with the ‘rule of two’, I won’t be over-committed and stressed rushing from one over-booked activity to another. When life throws a curve ball, I won’t have to make an excuse.

These  changes should give me more time for the things in life that matter to me.  Who knows, there may even be time to spend learning new things, or de-cluttering the basement, or thinking about what really matters in my life.

Thanks for reading this post. I’m interested in how you have decided to make 2015 rewarding, remarkable, or memorable.  If you like my blog,  please consider becoming a subscriber.

  

Year-end Evaluation

It’s time for the postworksavvy 2014 year-end evaluation.

With two days left until a new year begins, this is the time to take stock and to think about changes in 2015.  Regular readers of the postworksavvy blog know that I stopped making resolutions for the new year.  Instead, I prefer to think of this time as an opportunity to focus on how I’m doing on my life’s journey and to focus on aspirations for the next year.

Before thinking of future aspirations, however, it’s useful to evaluate what happened in 2014.

What were the highs and the lows?  

Every year brings both highs and lows.  The highs in my life included watching our grand-daughter grow and change during the first year of her life.  The delight of seeing a new generation in the family mitigates losses of the past decade including the premature deaths of both of my siblings. Connections within our small family brought laughter and happiness.

I’ve enjoyed opportunities to travel including an extended holiday driving through South Africa, a trip to Florida including a condo stay on the Inter-coastal Waterway, and a trip to New York City to celebrate American Thanksgiving with friends. Spending another relaxed summer at our cottage, reading good books for two book clubs, and taking bridge lessons would also stay on my list of highs for 2014.

2014 also had its lows.  Our garden was a disappointment.  I was away during May and early June so my part never got started. Aside from hardy perennials and a few herbs, there was no excitement from the bright colours of annuals nor the delicious produce of vegetables.

I made little progress in de-cluttering my life.  De-cluttering has been an aspiration for several years. The reality is that I’ve been avoiding it.

Most disappointing was a feeling of rushing through every day and every week. Too often I was late for an appointment which annoyed me.  The unhurried image of a retirement lifestyle that allows time to pursue creative interests eluded me.

What changes did you make that you will continue?

My word for the year was ‘action’.  I used ‘action’ as my mantra to encourage me to stop putting things off. Having a word to help me focus on moving forward with some task or project kept me focused on life priorities.  Sometimes it was a small task but the sense of accomplishment from completion always brought a smile.

Another change that I made was to a set time each day for writing.  I’ve done well with this with regular journal entries. When I’ve stuck to my writing schedule for completing blog posts, productivity has increased.

Since July I’ve been writing monthly guest posts for a newsletter based in Ireland.  I’m pleased that John Copleton, editor of Exploring Retirement issued an invitation.  You can read this newsletter at www.exploringretirement.co.uk

I’m also proud to have begun writing stories of my life and our family for our grand-daughter.

What did not work?

Related to feeling that I rushed through the year and the mantra of taking action, I always had a ‘to do’ list with too many items.  From my knowledge of time management, I tried to limit the daily list to 3 or 4 items but I kept another running list that grew longer and longer. This  list weighed me down.

After doing a leisure audit in October, I realized that I had made retirement commitments that no longer brought satisfaction and that I needed to spend more time on things I enjoyed. I decided to curtail certain activities, especially activities that involve meetings and time spent in board rooms. I resigned from several boards and committees to clear time from my schedule.  I’m also evaluating social commitments that leave me fatigued and not fulfilled.

What will you add to improve retirement happiness in 2015? 

The most important aspiration for 2015 is to have time to live purposefully and without rushing.  My word of the year is ‘purpose’.

P1010419

I’m going to use the rule of ‘two’ for scheduling my days — two activities or meetings or appointments or gym classes. I’m also going to allow an extra half hour for each activity so that I don’t have to rush.

I’ve got some new techie toys and my aspiration is to sharpen my knowledge of how to use these.  My new iphone can do so much more than make calls, send texts and fetch emails but I need to feel comfortable using it.  This is another year when I have new camera with more gadgets and settings than I understand.

Completing the 2014 year-end evaluation has forced me to face some of the realities of my life journey.  Mostly, I’m satisfied, however, making small adjustments will add to retirement happiness as I aspire to make 2015 a year of purpose.

I’m interested in hearing your reaction.  Do you make resolutions? Do you do a year-end evaluation?  Does it inspire you to make changes in your life?

Thanks for reading this post.  If you like my blog, please consider becoming a subscriber to receive regular updates by email.

7 Tips to Avoid the Last-Minute Christmas Crazies

It’s time for a bad case of the last-minute Christmas crazies.  With only days before the 25th, many of us are moving close to panic mode.

I’m at the front of the line.  December has flown past and the Christmas crazies have hit me and, it seems, many around me.

This happens every year.  I used to think that Christmas crazies resulted from having both work pressures and family/entertaining pressures in the lead up to the holidays.  Now that I’m retired, I realize that Christmas crazies happen regardless of how many hours per day/week you devote to preparation.

With the final countdown near, here are a few tips to help you through:

1.  Make the uber-list.  If you’re like me, you have several lists.  Now is the time to review all the lists and make the uber-list. Hopefully, there are some completed items that have already been crossed off!

I made my uber-list yesterday  I included only the things that absolutely must be done.  Things like tidying up the garage, re-arranging my closet or cleaning the cold room in the basement will wait until after the holidays.  Things that stay on the uber-list include  finishing the gift shopping, wrapping gifts, buying groceries for entertaining, baking special treats and preparing for guests.

I also made a schedule with key tasks on each day keeping in mind that Ontario weather can change quickly.  An unexpected storm  can ruin plans including last-minute desperation trips to the mall.

2. Delegate some jobs.  My husband doesn’t like cooking and isn’t a great cook.  But he is happy to help with kitchen clean-up after I’ve prepped vegetables, or baked.  I’m happy with this arrangement and he feels included. I’ll also be delegating household chores like vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, and some of the laundry that has a way of piling up.

3.  Accept offers of help.  Christmas Eve festivities will be hosted at our home this year.  One guest offered to bring a big salad; I graciously accepted.

4. Beat the crowds.  Malls and grocery stores are crowded.  Traffic is a nightmare. Parking is a challenge especially when snow banks make each spot smaller.

This is the time for retired people to get into stores early in the morning before most people arrive — or late at night when others have gone home.  One of my friends told me that she went to the mall last week when a snow storm raged in the Toronto.  She had quick service, lots of help with finding items on her list, and had her bags carried to the car by a young man who was happy to help!

This is not the time to go to the grocery store on the weekend. The shelves are cleared of the best produce. Go early in the morning ready with a list and don’t blink when grapes, pineapples, avocados, melons, and lettuce are selling at outrageous prices!

Hopefully you’ve already completed online shopping and received those items.  If not, check delivery dates carefully and pay the extra fee for expedited delivery!

4.  Decide to ‘buy’ rather than ‘make’.  While having all kinds of homemade goodies may a family tradition, taking precious time to do a lot of cooking or baking from scratch is not practical once the deadline is near.  Purchasing some prepared foods may cost only slightly more but will save both time and stress.

Likewise, consider paying for gift wrapping to save time.  A local mall offers gift wrapping with the proceeds going to a children’s charity.  Getting gifts wrapped at that kiosk saves time and contributes to a good cause.  One of the big book stores offers wrapping of children’s books as a gratuity.  Also, remember that gift bags are ever-useful, especially for items of odd shapes and sizes.

5. Do a blitz clean/tidy of the house.  I’ve placed the stacks of newspapers and magazines that were accumulating in the living room and family room into the re-cycling box.  I’ve also placed more boot trays in the front foyer as the winter snow means that assorted foot gear that we use piles up near the door.  I’ve disciplined myself to clean up as I move through various rooms to avoid having to re-trace my steps to pick up or put away clutter.

6. Take time to rest between tasks.  As we get older, some of the stamina and energy enjoyed in years past is gone.  Taking breaks, making time to have a cup of tea and put up my feet for a half hour works wonders.

7.  Focus on the enjoyment and memories of family traditions.  Many of the tasks that consume me before Christmas are part of the season’s rituals.  During the rush of preparations I am often reminded of many past Christmas celebrations.  The menus, the cards, the ornaments on the tree,  the music, and even the smells of various foods bring memories.

Thinking about how some of these simple things have become rituals strengthens my resolve to complete the work involved to fully experience the joy of the season once again.

The Christmas crazies should never overtake the retirement happiness that comes as we appreciate the wonder and beauty of this season.

Thanks for reading this post.  If you like my blog, please consider subscribing to receive future posts by email.

You may also enjoy previous holiday posts from my blog roll:

Catching The Christmas Spirit

Musings About Christmas Tree Trimming Rituals

What Everyone Ought to Know About Generosity

 

What’s the meaning of “I’m too busy” ?

Do you often hear words like “I’m too busy” or “I’ve been busy” or, simply “busy” as a response when greeted with ‘how are you’?

When someone greets me with “how are you?” — too often, I respond with words indicating that I’ve been busy.

The response says little yet it is socially acceptable. “I’ve been busy” is an easy answer yet It feels evasive.

I don’t like hearing it from others. Because I don’t like myself when I use it, I’ve been thinking about what it means.

‘Too busy’ as an excuse

Telling someone you are ‘too busy’ is a handy excuse.  I can tell my husband that I was ‘too busy’ to finish errands, ‘too busy’ to prepare dinner or to ’too busy’ to complete household chores.

’Too busy’ is a handy excuse when I’m under-productive.

‘Too busy’ is also a form of laziness. I tell myself that I’m ‘too busy’ to finish writing a blog post or to exercise.

I can tell a friend that I’ve been ‘too busy’ to call her.  I can explain that I forgot someone’s birthday because I’ve been ‘too busy’.

‘Too busy’ as avoidance

Being ‘too busy’ is a good response when I want to avoid doing something — especially something that will take a lot of time.

Anyone who has chaired a board or a committee knows that when it comes to grunt work, people avoid taking responsibility because they are ‘too busy’.  Does too busy really mean ‘let someone else do it’?

Professors and teachers know this tactic well. Students are often ‘too busy’ to complete assignments. But are they really ‘too busy’ to improve their knowledge?

The truth is that being busy is a way of avoiding something uncomfortable or difficult.

‘Too busy’ builds importance

‘Too busy’ is a response that indicates priorities that supersede. It’s a status badge  — being super busy means that you are in demand — it’s cool to be busy. It’s a form of self-glorification.

Sometimes ‘too busy’ is used as a sign of success of a flourishing career or a full life. Perhaps ‘too busy’makes you seem better to someone else.   In some circles it’s regarded as a virtue.

People fall into the belief trap that if you aren’t busy, you aren’t good.

What are the consequences of ‘too busy’?

What’s behind the ‘too busy’ excuse? Is the ‘too busy’ response a form of irresponsibility?

I have a good friend who is always distracted and anxious. She flits from one task to another.  She is always late.  She often forgets important commitments. She misplaces her keys, her cellphone, her handbag.

She knows she is overwhelmed but rejects helpful suggestions from her husband or her friends all the while complaining that nobody understands the pressures of her life.

What is she busy with?  She is busy reading blog posts, newsletters, tweeting, and talking on the telephone, All of these are time wasters that keep her from the important things she is trying to do.

In my career days I was often overwhelmed with projects, meetings, and other work commitments.  It left me too busy to have much of a personal life.

Just like my friend who is addicted to online media, I was addicted to the emotional highs of work.

I was also tired and miserable and anxious as I managed too many balls in the air.  In truth, I was fooling myself. I worked longer hours, travelled more and compromised on sleep. My enthusiasm and motivation for work that I loved began to wane. The macho attitude of ‘busy’ robbed me of enjoying the last years of my career.

Regaining focus

After retirement, I regained focus. In recent months, however, I’ve fallen back into old habits. Too often I have used “I’m too busy” as an excuse or an avoidance tactic.

I’ve resolved to change this habit to increase retirement happiness. I am working on managing my life priorities to make time for what matters without compromising  or feeling stressed by over-commitments.

I’ve begun dealing with over-commitment as described in post last week.http://postworksavvy.com/many-commitments/

If I don’t want to do something, I find a polite way to refuse and not say that I’m ‘too busy’.  I won’t be available for things that don’t interest me.

I also decided to be more efficient with how I use my time.  I give myself time limits for certain tasks.  If I see something that will take 2 to 5 minutes to finish, I do it right away.

I set priorities for every day and limit my priorities to three high value items. Setting priorities also helps me to plan what I can reasonably do in one day.

Re-evaluating how to spend precious retirement time means identifying self-imposed expectations, saying NO more often, and keeping life priorities in crisp focus.

When someone greets me with ‘how are you?’ I make a conscious effort to give a positive response.  I talk about something in my life that is enjoyable or rewarding.  Today, I answered the question by saying simply, “i’m happy”.

Time is a gift. Retirement is a gift.  Lets make sure we use time constructively to build meaning in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Thanks for reading this post. I welcome your comments on the post. If you enjoy my blog, please consider becoming a subscriber to receive new posts by email.

 

Too Many Commitments

Is your retirement happiness compromised by too many commitments? Is your daily/weekly schedule overloaded? Are you stressed out with too little time to smell the roses? Do you have time for goofing off  or doing nothing?

Too many retired people say they are busier than ever. As a result, they find themselves overwhelmed because a plethora of activities fill the day leaving little time for themselves.

My Story of Too Many Commitments

I struggle with over-commitment.

After retirement, I wanted to keep purpose in my life.  As a result, I  got involved with various organizations as a volunteer including not for profit boards, church committees, and community initiatives.

I also started this blog without understanding just how much time would be needed to write blog posts and to keep up the blog. I revived a project of writing a family cookbook and started another writing project of stories for my grand-daughter.

I took courses in gardening, photography, coding, cooking, knitting, and writing — and found little time to act on what I learned.  Instead, I went on to take more courses!

When reviewing journal entries over the past year,  too often my daily writing ends with “too much to do…… too little time”.

Overcommitment often leaves me with feelings of anxiety and distress.  Instead of looking forward to the day, I worry about how I’ll get everything done. I go into ‘determination’ mode instead of ‘pleasure’ mode.

I’m tired of telling people I’m too busy. It feels like an excuse and a form of irresponsibility.  Where is retirement bliss when I’m frantic about all that I’m expecting myself to do in a day?

Taking Stock of Commitments

What makes retired people ‘busy’?

Perhaps there are commitments made before retiring when there was concern about staying active and involved.  When I look back, this is where my overcommitment began.

Perhaps there is over-involvement with family including obligations for elder care or babysitting grandchildren.  Because of lack of affordable child care, many retired folks are the primary caregivers for  their grand children.  They begin by help out and find themselves tied to a schedule that exhausts energy levels.

Perhaps there are clubs or groups with extra demands for time. Many organizations depend on volunteer help.  It’s easy to become deeply involved with worthy organizations.  Unfortunately, there are few exit options.

Perhaps there are activities or hobbies that take too much time while providing limited satisfaction. I play bridge occasionally with a woman who collects small antiques and re-sells these items.  She spends almost every day in second-hand shops buying her ‘finds’ which include not only the re-sale items but also many things that she neither needs nor wants.

Managing Overcommitment

Over the past two months I’ve taken a page from time management gurus.  I took a hard look at my schedule and did an audit of how I’m spending my time.

On the negative side I’m spending hours every month travelling to meetings or sitting in meetings!  Horror of horrors! This is how I spent too much of my working life.  I also found that my limited computer skills result in hours spent trying to solve technical problems.

On the positive side, I spend a good amount of time in the kitchen, at the gym, and with family activities including child care when my grand daughter’s Montessori school has professional development days.

Because good health through nutrition and physical activity are retirement priorities, I won’t compromise time spent cooking and eating foods made from fresh ingredients.  I won’t stop going to the gym or doing my daily walks.  Most of all, I won’t compromise time I spend with my grand-daughter.

As an outcome of what I’ve learned about how I spend time, I’m in the process of making changes.

I have resigned from  two not-for-profit boards where volunteer time means reading long tomes of board materials, participating in committees, sitting in uncomfortable board rooms, and travelling to and from meetings.   One of my church committees has finished its work and is disbanding so that commitment has ended. I found someone who helps me with occasional technical glitches with my blog.

I’m still left with decisions like whether belonging to two book clubs, exercising at the gym four days a week, and playing bridge two or three times a week are excessive. At the moment, I’m evaluating how to modify these activities.

Dealing with too many commitments

Set priorities for yourself by periodically re-assessing interests and retirement aspirations.  Nobody expects you to continue with an over-achieving, over-scheduled lifestyle during retirement years.  It’s time to de-stress, to live to the beat of your own drummer.

Make commitments sparingly.  A commitment means giving a sacred gift —  the gift of your time.  A decision to invest personal time needs as much thought as a financial investment decision. 

Adjust priorities as needs and interests change.  Retirement doesn’t mean you stop changing or growing.  You get tired of certain activities.  New opportunities arise and you want to take advantage of them.

Keep your life in balance.  Too much free time leads to boredom.  Too much activity leads to stress, distraction and frenzy.

Say NO.  If you were brought up with the value of honouring commitments you make, then keeping commitments is important. A thoughtful no is better than a yes that leads to regret.

Too many commitments result in a full schedule. The result is insufficient time to enjoy and appreciate the benefits of retirement. Taking time to get a fresh perspective will help in shaping the precious days of retirement time by making time for what is truly important.

Thanks for reading this post.  If you like my blog, please consider becoming a subscriber to receive new posts by email.  I would appreciate comments on your experiences with overcommitment. 

American Thanksgiving Celebrations

American Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday!  As a Canadian, I consider it a great privilege to celebrate this holiday with long-time friends who live in New York.

Tomorrow we plan to drive from Toronto to New York City. The trip itself is always exciting.  It’s a drive that takes nine or ten hours, depending on weather and traffic.

As soon as we cross the Canada – US border the enthusiasm of this holiday strikes.  Everyone at rest stops and service centres is smiling as they travel to visit family or friends.  Even the border guards seem happier. They typically wish us a happy thanksgiving after the routine passport examination is complete and we are cleared for entry to the United States.

As I happily anticipate the holiday events including renewing friendship, stimulating conversations, and wonderful food, my thoughts turn also to the meaning of Thanksgiving holidays.

Thanks and Giving

‘Thanks’, the first word in ‘Thanksgiving’, is my first thought. We give thanks for the bounty around us — good food, good friends, good health.  We give thanks for the privilege of living in a country that values freedom and the privilege of visiting a country with similar values. We give thanks for the beauty of nature, for the changing seasons, and for senses that see, hear, and smell all that surrounds us.

I also think of ‘giving’, the second word in ‘Thanksgiving’.  This holiday brings awareness of the needs of others.  We look at those immediately around us and remember the vulnerable, the weak and the children.  Their needs at holiday events are often forgotten.

When we celebrate we can think about how we share our blessings with others.  We can’t feign ignorance of the vast needs around us so this is the time to consider how to spread our abundance and share with others.

Perhaps it’s a helping hand to a neighbour, or a visit to a shut in friend, or a phone call to someone who is grieving.  Perhaps its an extra donation to a local the food bank, or cheque to a children’s charity or a homeless shelter.

Thanksgiving offers opportunities to make the world a happier place. The privilege of celebrating American Thanksgiving gives me a second opportunity this year for gratitude, for thanks, and for giving.

10 November Gratitudes to Increase Happiness

Gratitudes during the month of November are difficult for those who live in Northern climes.  The skies are a wintry grey.  Dampness makes the cool air feel downright cold.  The trees have shed most of their autumn beauty. Day light is scarce.

For me, November means blah days and low energy levels. I’m challenged to keep positivity in my life.

I was fortunate to have  a brief respite in Florida where there was abundant sunshine every day.  However, coming home has meant re-adjustment to gusty winds, short days and long, dark nights. It’s left me with low spirits.

That Remembrance Day falls during this gloomy month is fitting.  The bleak weather adds to introspection as we commemorate the sacrifice of so many soldiers to protect freedom.

November Gratitudes

Many in the United States observe November as a month of gratitude. Bloggers post daily expressing gratitudes.  It’s a build-up to celebrations of American Thanksgiving later in the month.

Writings about love, family, friends, democracy, and religious freedom abound Certainly these important topics frame my daily gratitude list but, in this post, I’m focusing on mundane, less serious aspects of gratitude.

My November gratitude list consists of  the small things that make November tolerable and keep positivity in my life.

1.  The radiant heat from a fireplace.  Last night I came home from a book club meeting chilled from the cool meeting room and the brisk night air.  Warming my body near the fire felt heavenly.

2.  Seasonal foods. This is the season for rich soups and hearty stews cooked slowly in a crock pot.  It’s also the time for warm desserts made with Canadian apples.  Last night our menu included a  chicken curry that was warm from the heat of the spices as well as the heat of the stove.

3.  Cozy wool socks.  Last year I struggled to learn how to knit socks using four needles.  Now, these hand knit beauties feel lovely on cold feet.  Too bad that I knit slowly and have finished only one pair!

4. Duvets, electric blankets and a new high-efficiency furnace.  What more can I say about such comforts that are often taken for granted?

5. The first snowflakes of the season. Yesterday we awoke to a winter wonderland that meant cleaning wet snow off the car before leaving for bridge lessons. The snowfall is a reminder that winter is approaching quickly.

6.  Church bazaars and bake sales.  I missed the bazaar at my church this year but received samples of home baking from a friend. It’s always a treat to have baking from someone else’s kitchen.

7.  A warm fleece. On cool and windy mornings,  my rainproof jacket needs insulation. Without a fleece liner,  morning walks will be abandoned in favour of the treadmill at the gym.

8. Good books. I’ve re-read The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe for one of my November book clubs. My reading list for the next few weeks will include the Giller prize winner, Us Conductors, and all books selected as finalists.

9. Frivolous fun.  In the past two weeks, our grand daughter’s Montessori school had two professional development days. On those days, she spent the full day with us.  Taking her to play at the park allowed me to enjoy her pure delight as she played with the soggy leaves, climbed on the play equipment and just ran aimlessly.

10. Dark Chocolate flavoured with sea salt. This treat, introduced to me by travel companions during the Florida trip mentioned earlier, is worth a special mention.  If you haven’t tried flavoured dark chocolate, you are missing a worthwhile experience.

It’s the small things around us that we often forget.  Seemingly unimportant and insignificant events, possessions, and happenings  shape our lives.  Noticing these and expressing gratitude for their meaning in a busy life brings good feelings. November gratitudes are medicine for the soul!

Are you comfortable with who you are?

Are you comfortable with who you are?  Do you like yourself?  Are you happy with your retirement lifestyle?

Or, do you find yourself wishing that you had made different decisions about retirement? Do you put yourself down when you make a silly mistake?  Are you striving too hard to cross items off the bucket list? Do you blame yourself for things that happened in the past? Do you envy the life your friends or neighbours have?

Feeling comfortable with oneself -- photo courtesy of Paul Bouscarle
Feeling comfortable with oneself — photo courtesy of Paul Bouscarle

Comfort in your own skin is an essential ingredient of retirement happiness. People who are comfortable with themselves experience more happiness and optimism.

How to know you are comfortable with yourself

1.  You have a sense of comfortableness.  You don’t worry about keeping up with others. You aren’t preoccupied about how you look.  You don’t get stressed over how your decisions are perceived.

You know your sense of style, your values, your political choices and your religious beliefs.  You know your likes and dislikes.  Basically, you know yourself and know how to be yourself.

2.  You are content with living as you do. Over 60 plus years,  I’ve developed a level of confidence about who I am, where I am and what I know.  Along the way I’ve learned to trust myself to problem solve life issues and to make good life decisions.

I know that I’m not perfect and I accept myself — warts and all. I am content.

I’ve mostly come to terms with my past and have forgiven myself for mistakes and short-comings. It’s taken most of my lifetime to understand and accept my limitations.  I no longer expect to run a marathon nor keep a perfect house, nor write an international bestseller.

3. You have a positive sense of well-being. As I’ve grown comfortable with who I am, I have an overall sense of well-being. I like myself. I am careful with my diet. I exercise regularly.  I drink lots of water.

I pay attention to my overall health, accepting that I have some health issues associated with aging and doing what I can to preserve my general good health.

Keep growing and striving

Having attained a level of comfort with oneself doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to keep striving for or reasons to keep learning. It’s important — for retirement happiness — to keep your mind open to new ideas and to keep a forward-looking attitude to life.

Learning new skills means taking risks and pushing yourself.  The learning process involves discomfort and awkwardness.

Think about how difficult it is to adapt to a new piece of technology, perhaps a new phone.  When you first start using the device it feels clumsy and difficult.  The directions don’t make sense.  But you persist and eventually master at least a few of the functions. While this may seem antithetical to being comfortable, the end result is greater self-confidence and the good feelings of self-mastery.

Growth might also mean challenging yourself to become a better person. Although I feel comfortable with who I am,  I struggle every day to overcome bad habits, insecurities and self-doubts.  I say and do foolish things that hurt others and cause me to regret my words and actions. I procrastinate and then get mad at myself for wasting precious time.

By loving myself despite short-comings, I continue to grow and learn.  Rather than allowing failings to overwhelm or discourage me, I try to focus on the purpose of my life, on making a contribution in my community, and on caring about others.  Using this simple technique help me to refocus and accept my limitations.

Having a happy retirement involves knowing who we are, making peace with the past, and taking risks to keep learning and growing.  Our lives blossom. Contentment grows.  Life is full of abundance and comfort with who we are.

Inspiration for a Happier Retirement

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