How To Mentally Prepare For Retirement: 21 Tips

Retirement is a major life change, that not everyone is prepared for. So, I took it upon myself to do some research and that will help you to get mentally ready for retirement.

In this article, I share 21 tips where I thoroughly explain what you can do to prepare for retirement mentally in the best way possible. 

#1 Start Preparing In Advance

A lot of retirees only prepare for retirement financially and are not aware of the emotional impact retirement can have on your life. Every life change, whether it is positive or negative, comes with emotional discomfort. It can produce negative mental states that you’re maybe not aware of beforehand and come as an unsuspected surprise. 

And preparing a major life change for most people can’t be done within the turn of a day, week, or month. So, it’s best to start preparing yourself mentally 1-5 years before retirement. 

This timeframe is different per person and circumstance, but be aware that it takes more time than you think to get used to the idea of retirement. Figure out what it entails for you. What you want to do in retired life and how you can prepare together with your spouse and family. So, preparing well in advance will make your transition into retirement less stressful. 

When you’re planning on continuing your life without any other major life changes, then preparation of 1 year or less can be enough for you. But if you’re planning to do a 180 lifestyle change in retirement, for example, moving, selling the house, or emigrate to another country. Then it can take up more time than 1 year of preparation. In these years before your retirement date, you can try things out and get prepared for what’s coming after you’re retired. 

And as you read the following tips, you will understand why 1 year sounds long but is sometimes not even enough. You want to make the most out of your well-deserved retirement, and for that preparation and planning are the keys to a successful retirement. And I can even help you more out on that front with my ebook: Five Steps To Happiness In Retirement. I created this guide to help pre-retirees and retirees out so they can make sure they can enjoy a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life in retirement.

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#2 Visualize Your Life In Retirement

You’d be surprised at how many people are so focused on the financial part of their retirement, without thinking about what to do with their time once they retire. They are not mentally prepared for retirement and can fall prey to loneliness, depression, or waste their days with unfulfilling activities. Or be occupied by other things that keep them from following their dreams. 

Did you know that the chances of getting a depression increase by about 40% after retiring? It’s a shocking number but unfortunately true according to multiple studies. And most retirees who suffer from depression in retirement struggle because the transition from working life to a life filled with leisure is more difficult than anticipated. Or they didn’t think thoroughly about how they want to spend their time in retirement. That’s why it’s important to think about what you want to do in retirement. So you can make the most out of it.

Visualize what the things you’ve always dreamed about doing are. You can visualize being on your deathbed and ask yourself the question: what would I regret not doing in life? If you’ve found your answer then congratulations, you have your goal in life or dream to strive after. Or visualize together with your spouse of all the possibilities in retirement. 

You can create a vision/ mood board for your retirement to make it more visible and shareable. Get creative with arts and crafts at home or make a digital board on Pinterest. Also creating a bucket list helps you to focus on what you want to do in life.

In my ebook, I share 11 essential tips on to plan your life in retirement and I show you how to create the retirement of a lifetime. Find out more about my ebook, here.

#3 Communicate With Your Spouse & Family About Retirement Plans

The biggest mistake for couples is not communicating properly what they want out of retirement. Many couples assume they share the same vision about life in retirement without talking about it. And this can lead to disappointment, conflicts, and friction and sometimes even lead to divorce because you’re not on the same page anymore.

It’s vital to discuss your hopes, dreams, and plans you have for retirement with each other. Maybe your partner doesn’t want to retire at the same time because she/ he loves their job. Or perhaps they want to move closer to your grandchildren, and you have another plan in mind. Keep each other in the loop about your desires so you both can plan for activities in retirement together. 

Another thing you should discuss with your spouse is how you’re handling matters at home. The transition can be rough, and roles are changing once you retire. So, you need to talk about how to handle alone time, together time, and household activities. If you’re the only one retiring then maybe your spouse needs to get used to the fact you’re home more often. And feels like you’re invading her/ his space. Or expects you to do more household activities than you anticipated. 

Go out to dinner and share your vision of what retirement would be like: what makes you happy or concerned and what you need to feel comfortable. Negotiate with each other and find ways to make compromises. And also discuss if you want to retire at the same time. There can be significant emotional and financial consequences of retiring at the same time that you need to be aware of. You’ll find an in-depth guide in my ebook about whether or not you should retire at the same time as a couple. Check out my ebook: Five Steps To Happiness In Retirement here.

Also, communicate your retirement plans and ideas with your family. Perhaps your children expect you to babysit your grandchildren fixed days in the week to reduce costs on childcare, but you don’t want to be tied up. You’ve worked very hard to enjoy this freedom, so make sure you set boundaries and don’t commit to activities that keep you from following your dreams.

Some couples take a 2 or 3-month honeymoon to fully enjoy their first weeks of retirement before they commit to anything else. This can be a great way to ease into retirement together and also have enough time to think and plan about what you want to do next. 

Read more: What To Do When You’re Retired? 65 Ideas

#4 Check Your Finances

A stress-free retirement is a retirement where finances are in check. Make sure your financial plan for retirement is up-to-date, and you’re on the right track. And that includes having a budget plan for the dreams and projects you have in retirement. 

If you’ve figured out how you want to spend time in retirement, you also need to check if your financial plan backs up your fun plan. You don’t want to retire with a head full of dreams and not being able to afford it.  

You can come to a conclusion to post-pone your retirement with a couple of months or years to afford your dream. Think about if that dream is worth the extra working years or find other dreams that are less expensive if you really don’t want to work any longer. 

Read more: 12 Steps: Retirement Planning Guide for Married Couples

#5 Try Out Retirement Before Retiring

You can tiptoe into retirement by slowly reducing your working hours or take a sabbatical a couple of months or years before your actual retirement date to try things out. This way, you can find out if the dream in your head is achievable and feel it out. 

Some retirees make a drastic life change in retirement before testing it out and come to the conclusion that it’s not what they expected it to be. And sometimes there is no turning back due to financial reasons. So testing the waters beforehand can give you a good feeling and realistic view of your retirement plans. And you can intercept and tackle problems beforehand that make you more prepared for what’s coming and make the actual transition more smooth. 

If you don’t want to retire fully yet, you can start working part-time to ease into retirement. You avoid burning bridges at work too soon, but also have extra free time to start some retirement projects. Or if you want to continue working but differently, you can think about working as a freelancer, consultant, or another type of job. Where you still have a paycheck and purpose in life but are in charge of your own working hours.

Read more: The 50 Best Jobs for Retirees

#6 Be Aware Of The Retirement Transition Process

Retiring is a mental process. And to be mindful of this process and the stages of retirement makes you more mentally prepared. Going from 40+hours working life to having all the time and freedom in the world is a transition that doesn’t go overnight. It takes time to adjust and be comfortable again. How long that will take is different for everyone. 

But there are five common phases to the retirement transition process. And being aware makes you more mentally prepared for retirement. It gives you landmarks to help judge where you are and what lies ahead of you.

Five stages into retirement:

Phase 1: Pre-Retirement – This phase is a couple of years before retirement. You are probably in this phase right now where you come to the realization that retirement is coming soon. And that it’s not something far away anymore. In this phase, you have the opportunity to prepare for your retirement financially and emotionally, the best way possible. The better you’re prepared mentally, the better chance of transitioning into retirement more smoothly.

Phase 2: Honeymoon – This is the phase where you just retired. The first couple of weeks or months where you really feel the sense of freedom. You celebrate your retirement with co-workers, friends, and family. You can expect mixed emotions in this phase: excitement, fear, anxiety. In general, every life change comes with feelings of discomfort. So it’s very normal to have all different types of emotions. 

In the honeymoon phase, you want to enjoy your new life, but also have a long-term plan ready for how you want to spend your time in retirement. And start healthy new routines that will make your retirement happier, longer, and healthier.

Phase 3: Disappointment – For some retirees, the honeymoon phase is followed by a period of disappointment. The reality of retirement hits in. And the dreams they had before about retirement, aren’t the reality of their retirement right now. For them, retirement can feel disappointing and an anticlimax. These feelings can sometimes lead to depression. Most of the time, depression happens to retirees who didn’t prepare for retirement enough and didn’t fully know what retired life looked like. So that’s why it’s good that you’re taking the time for your retirement preparation. 

Phase 4: Reorientation. This phase is where retirees are actively developing ideas and move towards a more balanced life. You’re orientating, thinking, and exploring new routes. You take action to the life you want to live, and you plan fulfilling activities that align with your dreams, identity, and your purpose in life. To live a happy retired life is staying active with a combination of mental, physical, and social activities and routines.

Phase 5: Stability –  This is the stage of “retirement.” You’re not planning, preparing, and moving towards retirement; you’re living it and enjoying it. You’re satisfied and happy with who you are as a person, where you’re at in life, and you’re content with all the activities you’re doing in retirement. You’re feeling self-fulfillment.

It’s essential in any phase to be proactive and take charge instead of waiting for a situation to unfold. You can read more about how to go through these phases and how to transition into retirement more smoothly in my helpful ebook: Five Steps To Happiness In Retirement.

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#7 Discover Your New Identity

In western society, what you do is more important or gives you more status compared to who you are as a person. And working for 30+ years or more within a specific field or job position gives you an identity. Your job likely has become a big part of you, and you feel a sense of loss of your identity once you retire. So to be more mentally prepared for retirement is knowing or discovering your identity. 

For people who have put all their time and energy into their job, can have a hard time in retirement figuring themselves out again. And other people who know their qualities, values, and personal characteristics outside of work will have less of a struggle with it. 

Getting to know yourself again is:

  • Questioning yourself: What do I like? What did I like to do in the past? What don’t I like? What are my core values? What are my talents, weaknesses, strengths?
  •  Knowing your body: your intuition can lead you to your dreams and desires. It’s a quiet voice and feeling that get’s often over yelled by your thoughts in your head. Listening to your body and that soft voice can give you a lot of answers you’re looking for in life. Your gut is your source of knowledge. Know how to find this source.
  • Getting out of your comfort zone: the only way to find out what you want in life is trying things out. And that often means getting out of your comfort zone. Only by challenging yourself, you can learn more about yourself.  
  • Get help: rediscovering yourself is very challenging, and sometimes you need a little bit of extra help to push you in the right direction. You can get help from family and friends or get professional advice from a life coach to re-figure yourself out again. 

#8 Discover Your New Purpose In Life

Having a job creates a purpose in life. It gives you direction. You need the paycheck to pay the bills and save money for retirement, but also achieving goals and successes at work gives you a sense of fulfillment in life. Doing a job well gives you satisfaction and a worthy, useful, and accomplished feeling. And once you retire this, all goes away, and you need to discover a new purpose in life to make it meaningful.

Continuing to find fulfillment and satisfaction in retirement is essential to living a happy retired life. So that’s why it’s necessary to think about your new purpose in life before you retire. This way, you can directly start your purposeful life in retirement instead of struggling once you retire. But what is a purpose?

Your life purpose consists of the central motivational goals of your life — the reasons why you get up in the morning. Purpose can guide life decisions, influence behavior, shape goals, offer a sense of direction and create meaning in your life.

You can find your purpose by finding your passion that leads to your purpose. What gets you excited and want to get out of bed in the morning? Is it helping others in need? Educating yourself? Being surrounded by family members? What is your heart telling you?

Maybe your purpose is evident to you, or you need to do a little exploring to find your purpose. When you know what your purpose in retirement is, it makes your transition much more comfortable. You’ll have a compass that guides you. And you can set goals and create action plans to achieve these goals in retirement. Which ultimately leads to feeling accomplished, satisfied, useful, and worthy.

You can draw up a personal mission statement that includes your purpose. This way, you can run all life decisions by your mission statement and see if they are compatible. 

#9 Replace Work Routines With New Routines

Work gives you a purpose, identity, social connections, and a steady routine. The loss of structure and routine can bring up sadness and depression. And a lot of retirees miss social contact and stimulation the most in retirement.  

To be successful in retirement means that you find fulfilling replacements for your work routines. You need to find happiness in (new) interests, relationships, and activities by creating new routines.

The enormous amount of freedom with retirement can feel a little bewildering at first, and you can feel lost. And by creating routines, will help you:

  • have something to hold onto in endless free retirement days
  • to limit wasting your days
  • to set the (positive) mindset for the rest of your day
  • create momentum, which will lead to future success and goal achievement

To be mentally prepared for your retirement, you can think about how you want to replace your work routines. It’s best that your new routines are a combination of physical, mental, and social activities, so you stay stimulated on all fronts. You’ll find more information, tips, and ideas on how to spend a day in retirement in my ebook.

#10 Create A Plan & Set Goals

Once you thought about how your retirement needs to look like, you can start creating a plan and set a goal(s) to set it into motion. But before you can create your plan, you need to set a goal first.

Make sure you write down your goal in the SMART way (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) to make it more tangible. Work backward from your goal to set milestones in your plan and put your actions into a schedule. Create a timeline and break large tasks into smaller and more manageable chunks. This way, you plan to do small daily tasks that will ultimately lead to the accomplishment of your goal. And dividing your goal into small tasks will helps you not to get overwhelmed. And also makes the goal more mentally achievable.

According to a study writing your goal down on paper, you’ll have a better chance of achieving that goal than if you don’t. And creating a plan helps you to organize your retirement plans and gets you more prepared. You can adjust this plan along the way because your life is a constant work in progress,’ which continues to evolve in often unexpected ways. 

#11 Be Open To Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

The only way to grow as a person is to get out of your comfort zone. And transitioning into retirement is automatically going out of your comfort zone. Because the situation you’re going to be in is new for you and you’re in unknown territory.  

Getting mentally prepared for retirement is knowing that you need to get out of your comfort zone. And there is no need to be afraid of this. See it as a learning experience and an opportunity to grow. It creates enough good stress to ramp up your focus, creativity, pace, and drive, and it helps you respond to life stress better when unexpected things happen.

#12 Learn To Be A Positive Thinker

Everyone reacts differently to major life changes, and you can’t predict how you will respond to things. Many people underestimate the fact that retirement is a drastic life change. Positive thinkers see it as an exciting time in their life and have full faith in the future. And people with a more pessimistic view on life can experience a lot of anxiety and worrying. But the upside is that you change this by training your mind to become more positive.  

If you start learning to be more of a positive thinker, you immediately will be more mentally prepared for retirement. Positive thinking can transform your life tremendously, and it will only improve your retirement experience for the better.

Here are some tips for training positive thinking:

  1. Practice awareness with meditation (Headspace app)
  2. Know that you’re not your thoughts
  3. Feed only positive thoughts
  4. Transform negative self-talk into positive self-talk
  5. Surround yourself with positive people
  6. Use positive affirmations throughout the day
  7. Focus on the good things, however small 
  8. Find humor in bad situations 
  9. Turn failures into lessons
  10. Focus on the present

#13 Be Physically Fit Before Retirement

Physical exercise has many benefits. If you exercise regularly, you strengthen your muscles, manage your weight, and reduce the risks for many deathly diseases. It increases your chances to live longer so you can enjoy your retirement longer. But exercising also improves your mental health. 

According to Harvard Medical School: “Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that is the body’s natural painkillers, and mood elevators.” So exercising keeps your body strong and your mind happy.

And getting physically fit for your retirement you are also more prepared for the different activities you have planned. If you have a desk job and you have plans to travel or do a lot of physical activities in retirement, its best to get yourself physically ready. It would be unfortunate if your body isn’t prepared for all the fun you have in mind in retirement.  

#14 Re-evaluate Your Social Circle

Maintain social connections is crucial for living a happy retired life. When you stop working, you need to replace the daily social interaction you had at your job with other connections like family, (new) friends, your community. But you want to allocate your time in the way you want it and not by obligation.

Re-evaluate your social circle. Who are the people you love the most and want to spend the most time with? And who are people you like to only see once a week or month for coffee or a movie? Spend time with the people you love most first and leave spaces in your agenda for the circle of friends and family that come after them. But make sure you maintain or grow your social circle.

Social interaction has an enormous effect on people’s mental and physical health. Multiple studies have shown that socializing has both physical and emotional health benefits. And daily social interaction is a significant part of the lives of the people who live the longest in the Blue Zones. Which is one of the nine lessons we can learn from the people who live the longest, according to National Geographic Explorer Dan Buettner who wrote a book (link to Amazon) about it.

There are five “Blue Zones” in the world where people live longer. The regions are Ikaria, an island in Greece; Okinawa, an island in Japan; the Barbagia region of Sardinia (Italy); Loma Linda, a small city in California, and the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica. The exciting facts about the people living in these Blue Zones are that they all live a similar lifestyle. And engaging and being socially connected is a massive part of their daily life and one of the reasons why they live longer.

You can read more about it in my ebook: Five Steps To Happiness In Retirement.

#15 Accept Your Reality

You can do all the preparation in the world, but if you don’t accept your reality, you won’t feel happy in life. You need to accept all your flaws and imperfections to be happy. So don’t be afraid to see yourself for who you really are. 

And sometimes, life doesn’t always go as we expected or planned. And the only way to find happiness in it is to accept it. And then we can change it and move forward in life.

Acceptance: It’s a simple recognition of the truth that this is the way things are at the moment. 

Maybe you’re not ready for retirement, but you have to retire from your boss. Perhaps you want to retire, but you don’t have enough finances. Or you feel a certain way, and you try to hide it. The best way to find a solution is to accept your reality first. 

#16 Take Time To Adjust And Process Your Emotions

As I have expressed multiple times in this article; retirement is a process. So you need to build in time for yourself to process your feelings and emotions. Give yourself time to adjust to the new situation and get comfortable again. 

You can do this by not planning a lot of activities in the first weeks or months. Take a retirement “honeymoon” to feel it out or another way that feels best for you. Many people like to rush into other activities to run from their real feelings. In the long run, this can boomerang back to you. So take it easy on yourself and let the emotions and feelings be. Fighting or running from them will only make them bigger. 

#17 Start Journalling

Journaling is an incredible stress management tool. Keeping a journal improves your mental clarity, it helps to solve problems and improves overall focus. With expressive writing, you’re clearing the mental clutter, and you also transform the problem you have from your head to the paper. It helps you to manage change better.

Starting a journal is a very healthy habit you can start doing before retirement. With writing your problems, thoughts, and feelings down, it will make you feel better, and have a more organized view on retirement. 

Here are the five powerful health benefits of journaling:

  1. It reduces stressa study showed that expressive writing (like journaling) lowers blood pressure and improves liver functionality (15 to 20 minutes over four months). And writing about stressful experiences can help you healthily manage them. 
  2. Improves immune functions – It can strengthen your immunity and decrease your risk of illness.
  3. Keeps your memory sharp
  4. It boosts your mood – Journalling, gives you a better sense of well-being and overall happiness.
  5. Strengthens emotional functions – expressive writing makes you more in tune with yourself. It’s a form of mindfulness where it helps to stay in the present while keeping perspective. It helps the brain regulate emotions and gain more confidence. 

#18 Think About Things That Can Go Wrong

Be prepared for the good things in life is also being prepared for things that can go wrong. It’s not to get a pessimistic view on things, but it’s more about applying critical thinking and foreseeing the bumps in the road. And deciding ahead of time how you will handle the problems that come your way. When you enter into change with your eyes open and solutions in your back pocket, you’re ensuring that you’re fully prepared for what’s next.

Talk to your spouse, family members, and financial advisors and go through different scenarios. Write down family decisions, bumps in the road that might occur, and how you’ll approach them on a piece of paper or journal so you can look it up in the future. A reminder can be helpful in tough times.

#19 Find A Support Team

When times get tough, you want to rely on a support team that can help you out. And it is possible that in retirement you feel lost and therefore you need a support system to help you out. And there is no shame in reaching out for help because everyone needs people in their lives to guide them in the right direction when you’re overwhelmed. These can be like-minded people, for example, other retirees, or call up a close family member or friend. 

You can even start a retirement club. Just like a book club, you start a retirement club to discuss the possibilities of retirement. This way, you’ll get a broader understanding and learn more about how other people prepare for retirement planning. And be each other’s support system when needed.

Research has proven that having a support system has many positive benefits for your health. Such as higher levels of well-being, better coping skills, and living a longer and healthier life. Social support reduces depressive symptoms, anxiety, and decreases stress. And that’s what we all want in life. So reach out to the person you think can help you the best when you experience the downs in life. 

#20 Don’t Let Fear Kill Your Dreams

Retirement is the time where you’ve worked hard for yourself, and you owe it to yourself to make the most out of it. And sometimes fear can get away from our dreams. We let the negative inner voices distract us from what we want. 

Don’t be afraid to dream big and go after what you want in life. It’s your life, so make sure you live it the way you want it. And have no regrets.

If you want to make your retirement the best time of your life, then my Ebook is definitely something for you!

#21 Celebrate Your Retirement

Retirement is a huge milestone in a person’s life, so that needs to be celebrated to make it even more memorable. Think about what you want to do to celebrate your retirement. This can be an adventurous trip you’ve always wanted to do, organizing a retirement party with friends and family, or giving yourself an (expensive gift). 

Read more: How To Celebrate Your Retirement: 30 Awesome Ideas

Kirsten Veldman

I'm Kirsten. In 2017, my husband Léon, and I decided to retire from the rat race to travel the world and work and live location independently. In the last couple of years, I wrote over 200+ articles about retirement and did extensive research to help people prepare, enjoy and celebrate retirement in the best way possible.

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