Big changes, small steps

One of the biggest difficulties during the pre-retirement planning phase is managing change on multiple levels. Your career is winding down. You are planning your future and, if married, what you and your spouse will experience in your post-employment phase of life. You may be considering moving to a new location or downsizing in the city where you live. No wonder many people consider the time spent transitioning from working to not working one of the most difficult and stressful periods of their lives.

William Bridges, the father of change management theory, identified three emotional phases everyone goes through when faced with change. In the first phase, a wide variety of disrupting emotions including anger, denial, grief, disorientation, frustration, and uncertainty are experienced.

In the second phase, new emotions surface that can leave us reeling. Resentment of the change, low morale, anxiety, and skepticism about the future are emotions often experienced in this phase.

A new beginning marks the start of the third phase. In this final phase, negative emotions are replaced by positive, more optimistic ones. High energy, optimism, openness to learning, and renewed commitment are characteristics of this phase.

These three phases of change are as applicable to changes one experiences in retirement planning as they are to changes within a corporate structure. Each phase is predictable and must be worked through to move to the next phase of the process. Here are three tips to help you better get through these three phases as you plan your retirement.

Find a positive outlet

Negative emotions that surface during phase one of your transition are often overwhelming and can cause one to act in uncharacteristic ways. You may lose your temper more easily or take refuge in excessive sleep. To counteract these negative feelings find positive way to process and vent your emotions. My solution is to head to the batting cage and swing my way to feeling better. Hearing the “crack” as the bat and ball connect allows me to feel like I’m hitting my problems out of the park. Exercise, meditation, counseling, or talking with a friend, are all positive ways to deal with stress.

Take action – even a tiny one

Phase two deals with overcoming a sense of being stuck and powerless. To do this requires taking action. Start by identifying one thing you can do each day to improve your situation and then do it. When you take action you take your power back. Any action, large or small, makes a difference. It can be as simple as making a phone call, searching for needed information on the internet, or preparing a healthy meal.

So often we compound the effects of stress by making poor food and alcohol consumption choices during this phase. Another martini or a quart of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream will not make the situation any better. More than likely after overindulging you will feel even worse.

Pace yourself

In phase three, when enthusiasm and excitement kick in, it is easy to overdo it. Make sure to pace your efforts and give yourself adequate time to rest and rejuvenate. There will continue to be major changes in your life during your retirement years. Take time to write down what you learned about yourself and how you handle change. In the future, this can serve as a guide to getting through other changes and will remind you that you can survive and, perhaps, thrive in the process.

Kathryn Avery

About Kathryn Avery

When Kathryn Severns Avery’s husband, Chris, began contemplating retirement in 2014, she knew they had to quickly come up with a multi-faceted plan. They spent the next year discussing, sometimes heatedly, what they would do once he stopped working. On paper their plan looked exciting. They would head from Colorado to the 1891 sea captain’s house they bought and renovated in Rockland on Maine’s midcoast. But the reality of planning and implementing retirement was much different than expected. Kathryn has worked in radio, television, marketing, and public relations. She is the author of five books and has written articles on interior design and crafts for national and regional publications including Romantic Homes, Log Homes Illustrated, The Rocky Mountain News and Colorado Homes and Lifestyles.