Breaking through the Barriers

When was the last time you truly changed a life pattern? Stopped a long-term habit?   Started a new habit, formed a new relationship, or learned a new skill?   Changing patterns is not easy – and even a huge change like retirement transition doesn’t make creating new habits a simple task.   You do not wake up the day after you retired and become someone else overnight!  You will have the same “habit-formation barriers” that you always had.  By understanding what is stopping you – your own personal hurdles and fantasy fears – you can take small steps to break through or leap over them.

To identify my own personal barriers, I needed to listen to what my inner critic was saying.  And think about what has stopped me from making a change in the past.   What prevents/prevented me from trying something new, or stopping some old, non-positive habits?

I struggle with “activation energy”! Instead of being a self-starter with a love of spontaneity (free time, yeah!), I am an inertia-based personality who tends to procrastinate.  I looked into my past to see what helped me to take action previously.  When I did take action, it was about making a real commitment to do it.  Some tools I am using:

  • Beyond having a to-do-list, I schedule activities on my calendar. This becomes a personal commitment to myself, and I use it even for the small items. Yes, I have put time on my calendar to “find the class on-line and book it”, “draft the blog post”, and “arrange 5 networking conversations for this month”.
  • Sign up for courses, which I view as a commitment to the teacher to show up.  I also buy the 5 or 10 session card for exercise classes versus being a drop-in.  If I pay for it, I am more likely to do it.
  • Giving myself permission to start small. I am setting daily/weekly goals that move towards the bigger life goals.   And using my to-do list check off as positive reinforcement.  Movement breeds movement.
  • Link it to another activity. This helps with forming a new habit. So I linked my morning journal writing to my morning cup of coffee habit. And my walk the dog (a mile) to before I feed the dog (her dinner). (And when a dog gets into a habit, she looks for it – she will look at the door & back at me with a when-are-we going look!)
  • Find a buddy or a support system (not just the dog).  I found a walking companion and a got a foodie club started with a few acquaintances.  We are in it together now. Blogging has given me a circle of support folks I connect with about various topics!  And even my husband has become a support system for some of my new activities (you’re going to Zumba tonight, right?).
  • Verbalize it and allow serendipity to work for you. By talking to others about my journey or what they found interesting/helpful on their journey, I learned about a local cooking school boot-camp and linked with a past colleague who wants to partner on some white-papers. I also have friends now asking me about my goals (how’s that class you told me about?) and I want to be able to answer in a positive way.

My “fear of failure” voice is quite vocal and socially judgmental. “Why try that when you know you will fail and everyone will see you fail?” Or even worse the “You are too stupid, not competent enough, to do that. Why are you even thinking of trying it?” And then there is the social judgment of “Nobody in their right mind does that”.   Silencing the voice is tough so I have found that:

  • Finding a cheerleader When I recently told a friend that I didn’t think I could do one of my possibilities, she just squashed my negativity, “Of course you can do that. I can see you totally doing that.”
  • Have a conversation with that voice and do a reality check. OK, it sounds a little weird, but the “voice of failure” is usually not based on the reality of your life. Sometimes a look back at your past accomplishments can get that voice to be quiet.
  • Follow the voice’s path and answer the question, so what if I fail? What really will happen? Ok, now bring some logic in – what really will happen? As my husband said when I was scared about learning to stand-up paddle board, “you’ll get wet, so what?”
  • Start small.   Convince the voice that you are only exploring the possibility or taking a single class “just to see”. And then allow the momentum to start.

I “expect to be expert” immediately, which is really setting goals too high. After being the expert at work for years, it is really hard to be a beginner. I needed to redefine success or restate failure – So what if I fail? What is the worst thing that can happen if I try something and it doesn’t work out?   While Mark Twain’s quote is ubiquitous in retirement books (“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did do.” ), I needed to really internalize it – I will be more disappointed by the things I did NOT try than the things I did try! Some other tools:

  • Explore the concept of “good enough” in goal setting on something new. Why not do something just for the fun of it?
  • Give myself permission to try – pick a few new things to just explore. This is not about making a lifetime commitment! Remember, doing something well takes patience, determination, and follow through. If the excitement in the activity is igniting, then you can think about putting in the 10,000 hours to become the expert.   And, it is OK to stop something if I don’t like it, if it is not making me happy.   Nurture the activity to see if it grows… if not, move onto something else on the list.
  • I started first trying things just slightly out of my comfort zone and then used that success (I did it!) to decrease my fear of trying something further out of my comfort zone.

I have a strong need for “accomplishment recognition”.  My need for bouncing ideas off others at work was actually a need of recognition of my (great) work/thinking. Where am I getting my accomplishment recognition need met now  – with trying new things where I am not the expert and the internal fear of failure voice, there is a significant risk of disappointment as I put my heart and soul into this activity and nobody thinks it’s any good?

  • I am changing my sense of accomplishment to “I did it”, versus a critique on the quality of the output. I have written down specific goals and keep a success journal – from daily triumphs and completed to-do lists to monthly goals, this tracking gives me a personal sense of accomplishment.
  • Realize, so what if you fail at it, or are not perfect at it… more people will be impressed that you TRIED it!   Yes, they will be!   They will be totally impressed you went as a single to a Food & Wine event (we were when we met a young man at one last Saturday night). They will be totally impressed you are taking drawing classes (one blogger “friend” is and it’s amazing) or writing a blog (OK, some people will be and yes, they will tell you!).   Build on the positive “impressed” feedback and try something else.

While I am OK with “making choices”, there are so many possibilities on my list, this could have been a downfall in starting to do anything.  Some tools I continue to use:

  • I make choices between possibilities based on the activity’s fit with my personal vision.
  • I am also being careful to not take on too many activities – consciously putting things on-hold (like finding a local yoga class) as I try-on something else (writing class and coaching class).
  • And, I am really trying to choose things because they are my choices and not following others expectations.   Any time I hear the word “should” (You should be working part time in retirement… 3 days a week is the goal.), it puts up a warning sign for me!

I “feel guilty not working!” Yes, I never realized how strong my Puritan Work Ethic is! And the worry of do we have enough money builds the guilt higher. So I found myself procrastinating things that were not work-related, but pure fun. I had to realize that play/leisure is not just “goofing off” and I really did not need to work anymore. And create a mantra – there is nothing wrong with a life full of fun!

So, now is the time to “let it go” of the fantasy fears,  jump over those personal hurdles, and break through the habit-formation barriers.  As Nike says, “Just Do It”.   You ARE a smart, competent woman.   Mistakes are just a way to learn to be better.  Have fun.  And yes, you will be happier to have tried new things…. and others will be so impressed you did as well!

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3 thoughts on “Breaking through the Barriers

  1. I don’t feel guilt. I’m so happy I finally hit retirement. I have such a list of things to keep me busy… Blogging is the newest adventure. Your blog is most inspirational. I look forward to seeing what else you have up your sleeve.

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  2. The guilt of not working hits me quite often, too. In fact I just signed up for a class that could lead me to a new career area. I have conflicted feelings about it – the desire to be viewed as a productive, contributing member of society versus the desire to live life and “have a great time”! So, I will take the class, learn some new skills, (hopefully have fun), and maybe not ever start that second career.

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  3. I feel even more guilty not working Patricia, but I do love not working also! I could always do with more money, but I am having a great time now on a very low budget. OK so I don’t have enough to go on a world cruise right now, but who knows what is round the corner?

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