Increasing Emotional Awareness

When I choose my word for the year to be Joy, I wanted to be happier every day. Transitions are hard, and I wanted to intentionally manage the roller coaster of feelings this huge change of entering retirement was creating in my life.

Being the geeky researcher, I did a bunch of reading about emotions.

While happiness, the positive end of the emotions scale, does have a genetic component (some people are naturally happier than others), a huge part of personal happiness is one’s attitudes, habits and thoughts.

Various books encourage you to identifying the emotions you are feeling.   Once you have the emotion identified, you can address it head on.   The idea is to move to a more positive emotion by consciously thinking about the situation differently, changing beliefs thru affirmations, or working with gratitude lists to increase positive feelings. Feel and deal.

I started with an emotions list from Ask & It Is Given, but found it needed more positive levels!   It was ironic, as I was trying to be happier in my emotions, how many more words there are for negative emotions.

Emotions – positive to negative
Joy, Love, Happiness
Freedom, Empowerment
Appreciation, Gratitude
Passion, Flow
Enthusiasm, Eagerness, Positive Expectation
Jubilation, Celebration, Delight
Optimism, Energized
Empathy, Sympathy, Caring, Compassion
Boredom, Loneliness, Feeling Blah
Frustration, Irritation, Impatience, Annoyed, Aggravation
Doubt, Insecurity, Uncertainty
Worry, Anxiety
Discouragement, Dejected
Jealousy, Resentment
Hatred, Rage, Disgust
Guilt, Unworthiness, Unwanted
Fear, Disempowerment
Grief, Powerlessness, Helplessness
Depression, Despair

In the morning as I am journaling, I review this emotions list and consciously identify where I am.  Many mornings I am in a more positive emotional space – eagerness, freedom, or feeling content. (A shout-out to an intentional life plan that is based on my values, strengths and interests.)

But I am still on that roller-coaster of transition and some mornings I am not a “happy camper”.   On those days (feeling blah, anxiety, discouraged), I might jump right into creating a gratitude list to help me start the day in a more positive place. Or think about how I will change the situation, plan something inspirational, or connect with someone to talk it out.  Feel and Deal.

Increasing my emotional awareness has helped me to recognize my trigger responses and uncover some self-sabotaging patterns.  I now actively use positive affirmations as the antidote to negative self-talk.

I also regularly look at my life plan and see if it meets the basic requirements of happiness: eat well, sleep well, move often, play often, connect often, learn new things, be kind.  I might not be genetically pre-disposed as the happiest person, but I am choosing to be happy and find joy in each day.


Picture Credit: Pixabay



Feast or Famine

After 2 years into retirement, it seems like my weeks are either full of (self-chosen) activities or completely empty.  Full and happy, this-is-great weeks.  Or boring, am-I-failing-at-this-retirement-thing weeks.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a life-concierge, one who is better at time management than me!

When you are the concierge of your own life, everything that comes onto your calendar is delightfully by your own choice.    But that also means everything that comes onto your calendar, you have to put there!   No more project/team/budget meetings regularly pre-scheduled.   No more requests from mentees for lunch dates/coffee dates or a half hour of time to talk an issue.   Every week, every day, every minute is yours to decide how to fill.   This is both freeing and daunting.

When I have multiple days in a row that are empty, negative emotions start to arise… a feeling of the blahs, doubt about this life plan, worry that I’ll become one of the retirement bad-case-studies – you know, the one who “gave up on life and died just 2 years after retirement”.  Yes, I use my tools (gratitude, reading inspirational blogs, etc.) to pull myself up.   But the root cause?   I have come to the realization that to keep the blahs at bay, I need a daily schedule.   It’s a balance between loving the freedom of not having to do or be anywhere on a regular basis and yet still having something to do or someplace to be almost every day. Is this weird or what!?!

When I look over the broader time frame, it’s easy to see the answer to “What do you spend your time doing?”   The big picture – a feast!   I have a small, but regularly scheduled, exercise program.   I have friend connects – mostly involving food – happy hours, lunches, dinners.   I have my “playing with words” – crosswords, blogging, reading (blogs and books).   I have my consulting project work.   I have some out & about activities (like the theater or craft shows), some gardening (especially this time of year). I regularly look for opportunities – like a cooking boot camp (so awesome – a very full week).    So when I have multiple days of nothingness (the famine days), I know it’s just my own fault for not planning something.

There is a lot of retiree sentiment that I should enjoy a non-scheduled life. Stop and smell the roses, enjoy the sunset, watch the grass grow.   Would I feel better if I scheduled that in?

So I just need better planning.  I don’t want a fairy godmother to create a dress for the ball, I want a fairy godmother to be my personal life-concierge… one who knows me as well as I know myself and makes plans to avoid future “famine days”.  Anyone want the job?


Picture Credit: Pixabay

Shut up Your Inner Critic

There is the old cliché “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.   Oh, I am not saying I am anywhere near being an old dog, but starting new habits/behaviors is not easy.   And I find that I am my own worst saboteur when it comes to starting something new!   My own inner voice often prevents me from starting or continuing things.

A tool I learned from The Artist Way (Julia Cameron) to help with these self-limiting beliefs voiced inside your own head is one I call it Turn off the Inner Critic.

Paraphrasing her tool, first you create an affirmation of your new behavior, in present tense and positive language. “I am a creative artist.” “I am being active everyday.” “I am enjoying being a beginner.”

Then write it down 10 times, and each time, allow your inner critic voice to respond.  Get that voice out in the open.  Allow the “buts” to be said.   My inner critic said things like “you’ll never be good enough, why start”, “hah, really? why are you wasting your time doing that?”, “but you’ve never been an active person before”, and “who do you think you are?”

Then, just sit back and recognize the lack of reality in so many of those statements.  Think about times when those “buts” were not true.  Realize you would never say some of those things to your best friend!

Then acknowledge the comments and put them aside.  “Thank you for your opinion.  I don’t believe you.  I believe in myself.”  And restate the affirmation.

Sounds a bit weird, but often the inner critic shuts us down without us realizing it.  This has allowed me to make that voice heard and then discounted.     I continue to state my affirmations every morning and the inner critic voice has gotten a lot less vocal!    I am trusting my creativity more – I call it being joyfully creative!   I am working on new skills, learning new things.   And, surprisingly, I am definitely being more active.

What is your inner critic saying about your habit changes?


Picture Credit: Pixabay

Retirement Myth Busting

When I retired, a few well-meaning individuals informed me that the ideal retirement lifestyle for “someone like me” was 30/30/30.   Meaning: 30% of my time focused on work, 30% of my time focused on volunteering, and 30% of my time focused on leisure. Simple as that – go do it.   Besides the fact it didn’t feel right, it’s taken me a while to realize that there are 2 strong myths associated with not only that 30/30/30 “ideal”, but retirement in general.

So here are two myth busters:

Myth #1: All retirees these days need to work.

This “need to work” is a double-edged myth.  Unfortunately, the need to work is a financial reality for many retirees who need the supplemental income (or health benefits) that working in their retirement years generates.  Interestingly, that is not the “someone like me” who saved intensively and meets the FIRE profile (Financially Independent, Retired Early – even though I wasn’t aware of this term while doing it!)

The other side of this myth is that working can be a lifestyle choice – work can satisfy a whole bunch of other needs. Someone entering the retirement life stage does need to understand what needs are truly important to them – this happens with some intense self-reflection.  Working in retirement might be a part of their total life portfolio to fill these needs that go beyond financial:

  • Status and Identity.   In your previous life stage, work probably provided you with a significant portion of your status and identity.   How will you create identity in this next life stage? I’ve spoken to some retirees that had to simultaneously deal with losing work identity and “parent” identity as their adult children truly left them as empty nesters.   Working in retirement might be your best solution for filling this “Who Am I?” need, but it’s not the only option.
  • Achievement & Utility.   Again, work life was often the primary source of feelings of achievement and being “needed”. If this is a value-based need moving forward, what in your total life portfolio will help fill it? Is working for compensation really the best option?
  • Social Affiliation.   I have pointed out to many people that when I stopped full-time work, I lost 90% of my “regular” connections. My husband just could not fill all my daily people interaction needs. Understanding what your relationship profile looks like entering retirement and what you want it to look like could mean work is a critical going-forward solution.   By relationship profile I mean: professional relationships, social friends, spouse/significant other, and family.
  • Time Management. Working provided structure; it dictated when to wake up, when to eat, when to run errands, where to be at what time of the day.   And while many a retiree will say “I never want to have a schedule again”, people do need to have a sense of a daily schedule and will, whether written or unwritten, have one. Some people need more time management than others. (I need quite a bit.)   Working in retirement can help someone craft a self-controlled schedule that makes a total life portfolio flow.

The work or not to work question really requires an individual to understand his/her own needs. And then to consider whether working is the best option to meet those needs.

And the reality (breaking the myth – got to it finally) is all retirees do not work!   Recent surveys are consistent, so I’ll just quote a couple.   Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies report in 2015 indicates that while 54% of those 50+ have stated they plan to work at least part time in retirement (perhaps believing the myth), the numbers don’t play out – only 5% of actual retirees are working (even part time).  And a CareerBuilder survey has that number at 25%.  Not even a majority.

So, no, all retirees do not need to work, nor do all retirees work (even part time). The best part of retirement is figuring out what is best for you!


Myth #2: All retirees these days volunteer.

While there is a significant amount of research that points of the positive benefits of volunteering (as well as the positive benefits of exercise, meditation, social interaction, and even sleeping enough!), in fact most retires do not volunteer. The same Transamerica study had (only) 24% of retirees doing regular volunteer work.

Adding volunteering to a retirement life stage portfolio of activities can be great if it’s matched up with an individual’s needs, values and interests. Volunteer work could in fact satisfy some of the same needs that working for compensation can – identity & status, accomplishment & utility, social affiliation and/or time management!


So having broken these myths, are working and volunteering in my life portfolio of activities right now? Yes and no.

Instead of the 30/30/30 plan that was idealized for me, I have a “quarter plan” – 25% of my time on relationship development, 25% of my time on being active and fit, 25% of my time on learning and having fun, and 25% of my time on compensation-based work.

Will this balance change as retirement life progresses?  Probably!   But that is the freedom of retirement – being able to choose among all the possibilities what is right for you and not have to live the myths.

What myths are you busting in your own reality of retirement?



Picture Credit: Pixabay