Pre-Retirement Training: Learning to Relax

I’ll never forget the day when a psychologist came to speak at a pre-retirement seminar I attended and suggested “don’t wait until retirement to start on those big retirement plans”.

She then elaborated by offering examples like people who spend their whole lives talking about sailing around the world only to find out that they get sea sick, or people who talk about spending more time on a given hobby only to realize that they don’t really enjoy it that much.

Fortunately, I don’t think that will happen to me.

Most of my readers know that my #1 aspiration in retirement is to write. Thanks to the blog, I have been able to practice creative writing with (much to my own amazement) pretty consistent frequency over the years, which gave me the opportunity to write content so completely different from corporate briefing notes, issue sheets and instructional bulletins. Whether at home or at the office, I have proven to myself that writing is that one activity that for me, creates its own unmistakable energy and enthusiasm.

But surprisingly, what has actually been more challenging (in preparation for retirement) has been learning how to rest and relax. Who knew that I needed to train myself to do that?

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but have you ever had days thinking to yourself, “Am I ever tired?! … I better lie down” only to find yourself already in a horizontal position on a comfy couch, La-Z-Boy or bed in the comfort of your own home?… or worse yet, in a furniture store?

I’m not talking about tired in the sense of deep burnout, I am just referring to a sense of being pooped out from feeling like a perpetual motion machine.

I have come to learn that my own worst enemy in that regard is myself. I wouldn’t say I’m overly demanding, but after decades of living on my own, I had to develop a routine to stay on top of the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry and the home maintenance, because it wasn’t like the magic toilet scrubbing fairy would descend from the heavens. Someone had to do it, and when living alone, I invariably drew the short straw every time.

A routine based on to-do lists and schedules developed to keep everything in order around a busy work schedule. It worked well, but perhaps to the detriment of taking time for myself, to the point that sitting still is such a foreign concept to me.

With the countdown to retirement in the double-digit days now, I decided to take the psychologist’s advice and learn how to rest, so that I am fully familiar with how to do it, when my retirement date actually arrives.

I know, it sounds crazy. How hard is it to crash on the couch, lock myself into position with the cat on my lap, and not move? Well, for some of us, it doesn’t come naturally.

Even though I don’t think anyone would qualify me as hyperactive (maybe just “energetic”, in quotes), pacing myself has never come easily to me. Sitting still and relaxing is something that I have to make an effort to do.

I wonder, is it nature or nurture?

In some ways, I think it could be nature, because I have vivid memories of my dad yelling at me “Girouette!” (which translates from French to “weather vane”) especially as a wriggly kid in his barber’s chair. But even out of the barber’s chair, I seemed to run on high energy.

I didn’t have any problems sitting still to read a book or watch TV (even today), but during commercials I am up and down like a jack-in-the-box trying to fill the time with something useful (even today). Why did the productivity instinct kick in so early?

As I mentioned in a blog a few years ago, I recall in my teen years, having the audacity to say something along the lines of “I’m bored” once, and before I had finished my sentence, my Dad had stuck a rake in my hand and pointed outside. The penalty for boredom in my house was additional chores.

So I either had to keep my boredom to myself, or stay ahead of the chores to not be told to do more. But as an eager-to-please young kid, I also lived with an irrational fear of being called lazy, which to me would have been the ultimate disappointment.

Throughout school, I always seemed to think that I had a “ton of homework” that needed to be done, whether that meant pre-pre-pre-research for a project, or staying on top of some of the novels we were required to read (which I ended up binge-reading at the last minute anyway). But this mindset never lent itself to having much idle time, around school, the part-time job, the chores, and the beginning of a social life.

In my first part-time jobs, if I wasn’t busy with helping customers, the store always needed to be cleaned and the aisles always needed “facing” (bringing the products to the front to appear fully stocked). My wiring for productivity was already getting hard wired.

I believe that always having projects on the side to fill time helped me to develop a strong work ethic and a good time management skills, which I believe made me a strong employee throughout my career. I pride myself in thinking that the Canadian taxpayer got excellent value for money with me as a public servant.

But throughout it all, at home I found myself having a hard time shutting it off and just enjoying quiet time, with echoes of having a rake magically appearing in my hand should I ever even contemplate a “Calgon take me away” moment for myself.

Even days off and vacation time were often spent catching up on the home maintenance projects or to go through marathons of batch cooking to restock the freezer. Taking time for myself for some unstructured play time usually came with a condition like “after you’ve knocked these things off the list.”

With a compulsion for productivity filling most breathing moments, it left very little metaphoric oxygen to breathe.

But with the countdown to retirement well underway and the finish line getting closer with every passing day, it has become an exercise in itself to slowly start “reprogramming” my productivity gene. It is not easy.

I have come to realize that giving myself permission to relax will be key to a good retirement.

I think I need to split up the to-do lists to a must-do list, and a “do when convenient list” to truly shed the impulse to say, “Hey, I have 5 minutes free, I can do this, this and this.”

There are many things I want to accomplish in retirement, but taking time to rest needs to be at the top of the list. I’ve worked so hard my whole life, I’ve earned it.

This is not to say I won’t be busy. But it becomes a question of not confusing “busy-ness” with purpose and that giving oneself permission to enjoy relaxing and living in the moment does not come at the expense of having a rake magically appear in one’s hand.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,

1 Comment

Filed under 50+, Health and Wellness, Humour, mental health

One response to “Pre-Retirement Training: Learning to Relax

  1. Pingback: The Joy of a Comfy Hammock | It's the Journey

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