Why do we stop?

Over the past year I have made dramatic changes in my life. I have specific, quantifiable, goals I want to accomplish. Finishing the second edition of my book, improving my blog, reaching more boomers with information to help them with the incredibly difficult transition from working to not working and beyond, improving my health, decluttering our home – the list goes on and on.

I know what I need to do to accomplish each and every goal. I start off enthusiastically pursuing the majority of my goals. Other goals may not inspire me, but need to be accomplished so I start working on them, too. Regardless of the goal about three weeks in, I stop doing what I need to do either partially or completely and my progress limps along or stops altogether.

I ask myself why this happens with such consistency. The answer is clear. My idealization of the goal has been replaced by the work of accomplishing the goal. “I can take a break. After all, I’ve gotten a lot done,” I tell myself. While this may be true, it is usually the beginning of the end or at least the slowdown of my progress.

I forget that enthusiasm waxes and wanes and that progress is seldom a straight line. To get back on track I need to ask myself a series of questions.

Is my goal still important to me?

Am I focusing on what I have accomplished or what still needs to be done?

Have I created a timeframe for not working on my goal or habit?

Most of us have tried to lose weight at some time in our life. We do well for a while and then we get invited to a party or there is a holiday celebration we cannot avoid. We overindulge for a day and use that as justification for stopping our healthier behavior altogether. The truth is, we have discounted our past efforts instead of celebrating them. We think “I overate so I might as well finish off the cake” and then act upon that thought and keep acting on it for weeks, months, or even years instead of saying I ate healthfully for three weeks, I am going to allow myself a scheduled over consumption.

What would happen if we made a conscious choice and put a timeframe around our indulgence rather than engaging in all or nothing thinking? If we decided to indulge for 24 hours and then to resume our healthy eating would that stop us from sabotaging ourselves and abandoning our progress?

When it comes to planning for retirement, many of us begin to create a plan or start to work on a lifelong goal and then abandon it when we experience fatigue or disappointment. “I’m terrible at this,” we tell ourselves when we have only tired something a few times. We use adult standards to judge immature efforts. If you focused on the improvement you made, however small, and reminded yourself that learning something new is a process, you might not abandon your efforts so readily.

One of the most difficult aspects of not working is a lack of schedule. We have no fixed routine unless we create it. We schedule the things that are important to us like doctor’s appointments, trips, attending a theater production or listening to a concert. Why not schedule time to work on your book, exercise, or learn a new language?

If you were working, would you tolerate interruptions or distractions that devoured your time and kept you from completing an important project that had a deadline? Of course not. Your projects and goals in retirement are no less important than the ones you were paid for when working. Your results are a reflection of your commitment to your goals and dreams. Halfhearted commitments result in halfhearted results.

When you are retired it is easy to think you have plenty of time to accomplish your goals and dreams. But time is infinite and we are finite. So, just as you had a schedule in school when math was on Monday, spelling was on Tuesday, and English was on Wednesday, etc. create a schedule to work on the goals and projects that are important to you. If you need to do something else in the time you have allocated to work on a project, keep your commitment to yourself and reschedule that work session. Focus on what you have accomplished, not on what remains to be done.

Writing the second edition of my book is an arduous task. I found a way to help me visualize my progress. I bought colorful sticky notes and wrote the title of each chapter in the book on an individual note. I placed them in order on the right side of my desk. When I finished rewriting a chapter I moved the sticky note for that chapter to the left side of my desk. This was a simple way to see how much I had accomplished and how much remained to be completed. It was exciting to move more and more colorful slips of paper from the right side of my desk to the left. As I write this post, only three notes/chapters remain.

I am committed to having all of those notes on the left side of my desk and the revision of my book completed by September 30th. Will I keep my commitment to myself (and will you keep your commitment to yourself)? Stay tuned.

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.