Why habits are crucial for making the best of your retirement years

Why habits are crucial for making the best of your retirement years

Retirement can be a jolt to a person’s lifestyle. Up until then, the day was filled with activities. Then suddenly, the day’s work-related obligations are wiped away and relaxation is an option.

This seems like a happy, luxurious existence, but a good life requires more than idle relaxation.

Retirement is a time ripe with opportunity and freedom, where a person can make more difference in the world than ever.

It can also be a time to nurture relationships, the bonds that kept a person going when times were difficult and heavily laden with tasks. Retirement is a chance to work well on the things that matter most.

But as a life of work teaches us, good and fulfilling action only takes place when there are good habits to fuel it.

Replacing old habits with new

Most habits go unnoticed because they are not conscious choices. This includes work habits such as rushing throughout the day, becoming stressed, or making the extra effort to be likeable.

In retirement, many work habits will no longer be necessary. There will be new necessities, such as enjoying oneself and staying active. Later, this article will demonstrate how much those two rely on each other.

After moving into retirement, the time comes to replace the everyday hustle and bustle of work with something new. This takes some dedicated reflection and decision.

In his ground-breaking book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg suggests backtracking after noticing an old habit. For example, when an old habit such as rushing arises, try to find what out happened before you rushed around. Old day-to-day patterns are always triggered by a thought or habit.

This will help with transition into a new, healthier habit.

Forming new habits, such as keeping in touch with family, takes slightly more planning. Fortunately, this is an easy process.

Habits can be created

There are three steps in the formation of a habit:

1)      A cue

2)      A routine

3)      A reward.

This process explains why old, unwanted habits such as worrying about work and children endure. It also explains why good new habits may not form in the desired way.

Let’s look at that in more detail:

A cue is a trigger for the habit. For example, many smokers crave a cigarette when they taste coffee because they traditionally have the two together. The cue in this case is coffee.

The brain itself wires the two actions together.

A person who is used to preparing for work the moment they wake up will naturally leave bed and begin to dress. By replacing one task with another task, basic habits like these can be changed into more desired habits.

A routine is the action that a person performs automatically after the cue.

This could be gambling after the cue of hearing a poker machine or saying “bless you!” when someone sneezes.

Many of society’s great influencers, from politicians to advertisers, understand that people do not easily cancel their habits or create new ones.

This is why cues must be accepted for what they are and what happens during the routine must be changed.

The easiest way to develop new habits is to change the content of habits that already exist.

To use a hypothetical example, a person wants to do something more calming than prepare for work in the morning. When they feel the compulsion to begin preparing, they choose to try a different routine.

They write a letter to a friend instead.

After a month of writing letters rather than rushing to the office, this person has a few correspondences. Their relationships are well-maintained, and they have something even rarer:

A hoard of personalised, perhaps handwritten letters.

This introduces the final step of a habit.

The reward is a pleasant feeling immediately after the routine that encourages a person to perform it again.

Duhigg uses a treat after exercise as the prime example of rewarding a habit. Other rewards include praise for good work and eating a cooked meal with family.

Addictions are formed by the strong reward that immediately follows the routine. However, charity work is an easy habit to form for the same reason.

Rewarding oneself for doing something new may be the most important part of developing a habit.

When the cue and reward wire together in the brain, a person begins craving the reward. This means the habit is an effect of the reward and not vice versa. 

For example, Duhigg notes that the hugely successful air freshener Febreze was a failing product at first. This was because no-one was in the habit of spraying away odours.

But people were in the habit of feeling good when they had finished cleaning a room.

For this reason, Febreze added a scent to spray on a freshly made bed or cleaned room, to heighten the feeling of reward.

The solution was to change the routine and add a reward that already existed. This can be done with any regular activity.

Risk factors and healthy new habits

A good initial step is to take stock of new opportunities. Hours in the day have been unlocked now and should be spent on things that maintain good mental health.

There is also new time to do meaningful things and create change in the world. This may be why the stereotype of retirees writing letters to councils and newspapers endures.

However, the only way to create regular change is with personal change. We must be in the habit of keeping well if we wish to improve the world around us.

The average Australian over 45 retires at least in their 50s. This makes retirement a fine age to begin planning for a healthy later life.

If a person feels no drive to help others and only wants to retire in peace, it still makes sense to keep in good health. Retirement is a time to be content.

According to the government website Healthdirect Australia, senior citizens uniquely need to watch their bones, eyes, nutrition and blood pressure.

Older people also need exercise. Old habits can be replaced with a satisfying exercise routine. Healthdirect suggests moderate activity, which can include things such as dancing, canoeing or even mowing the lawn.

Carrying groceries is a good routine to care for muscles but may only be a weekly activity. Yoga and weight-bearing exercises can also be rewarding if taught by a professional.

Where a person once called an associate or client, now is the right time to call health specialists such as an optometrist. The eyes of a 60-year-old require three times the amount of light as those of a 20-year-old.

This is also a time where good glasses are needed to protect the eyes.

During your regular doctor’s check-up, now is the time to be vigilant of arthritis and especially cognitive health. The diagnosis of dementia is expected to nearly triple by 2050.

Even Alzheimer’s disease can be managed by someone in the habit of catching it early and planning well. 

Retirees are also uniquely exposed to the disorders of a tedious and undisciplined life. Mental illness, substance abuse and malnutrition are not uncommon in older people.

This makes it crucial to understand what is happening to the brain when temptations such as gambling binges or addictive medicine create cravings.

Someone who makes a regular, unhealthy decision must change their routine, then reward themselves for acting differently.

The sound of a slot machine or a popping pill blister can quickly become the cue for a cup of tea or planning a holiday.

Although retirement may seem like a vulnerable time, all these issues tend to be connected by a single remedy: healthy habits.

The good news

Practically all these new risk factors can be reduced using the healthy opportunities offered by retirement.

Daily exercise and just spending a few minutes outdoors can reduce all these issues. The sun itself is a form of vitamins.

It has been proved that maintaining relationships improves mental and physical health, to the point that social relationships alone can even extend life.

Humans live by their habits. Even when winding down for a life of relaxation, anything is possible with a healthy routine full of rewards.


10 common elderly health issues

Seniors health

The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg – Google Books

Image credit: shutterstock.com

If you are interested in exploring the possibility of a move to a modern retirement village around Melbourne. Booking a tour at one of the RCA Villages around Melbourne can be a great place to start. Visit the website of the village in the region you would like to visit for contact details.

South East Melbourne



Mornington Peninsula




Western Melbourne



Ask about RCA Villages no deposit reservation process on new villas.

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