5 Warning Signs You Aren’t Psychologically Prepared for Retirement

Category: Retirement Planning

May 27, 2014 — Reality check: Even if you are among the fortunate half of baby boomers who will have enough money to maintain your pre-retirement lifestyle – you are still not out of the woods. That’s because your financial well being is only one part of the retirement happiness equation – being prepared mentally and psychologically is just as important. In the first part of this article we’ve come up with 5 warning signs that you might not be well prepared psychologically for retirement. The second part has advice from various experts on the keys to solid mental preparation.

5 Warning Signs
There are probably a lot more than we have listed here. But yes answers to these questions as you start retirement might be a pretty good indication that your mental preparation for retirement is not up to snuff:

1. Most days you have nothing special to look forward to when you wake up in the morning.
2. Your best friends are at the job you just left.
3. Your personal identity is wrapped up in the title of the job you had previously.
4. You don’t have any great reason to leave your house during the day.
5. You wish you weren’t retired – or greatly fear you will soon be so.

Tips for Tuning up Your Retirement Psychological Profile
Here we’ve assembled some of the advice we have seen on getting psychologically ready for retirement.

People and dogs aren’t so different
Dog trainers typically say that the key to a happy dog is keeping them busy so they don’t get into trouble. The same goes for humans. During our working days our jobs gave most of us built-in discipline and focus to life. They made us get to work everyday and focus on accomplishing various tasks. When you retire, something has to replace that structure – a hobby, a purpose, a sport, a cause, a volunteer job, or even a part-time job. In fact a recent article in the American Psychological Association’s Journal, “The Monitor“, reported that working or volunteering can help stave off depression, hypertension, and dementia. So don’t dive off the board into retirement without having thought about what you are going to do every day to stay busy.

We are particularly fond of this quote in MarketWatch (see below) from Kevin O’Laughlin, a financial planner with Affiance Financial in St. Louis Park, Minn.: “Are you retiring to something, or from something?” If the answer is the latter, you had better fill in the something to part!
Senior couple on cycle ride in countryside

Going Cold Turkey might not be such a great idea
There is a great deal of research suggesting that a gradual transition to retirement is better than going going cold turkey – working one day and being fully retired the next. The shock can actually cause some people to become depressed or unhappy. A study by the University of Florida’s Mo Wang, Ph.D., author of “Achieving Well-being in Retirement: Recommendations from 20 Years’ Research”, concluded that people who eased into retirement with some type of transitional approach had better mental and physical health that those who completely retired. So if you are nearing retirement think about making a gradual transition – perhaps with an encore career, a temporary job, or some form of self-employment.

Will your principal companion be your TV or pet?
Do you have social connections, including family, that are going to keep you engaged with other people? A recent report from Age UK in Great Britain found that a TV or a pet is the main

source of companionship for 2 in 5 elderly people in Britain. That study also found that 1 in 8 of the elderly feel cut off from society, and that 10% feel that they are always or often lonely. The report went on to blame loneliness for a variety of health problems, including dementia and heart disease.

The seeds for this loneliness are most likely sown in early retirement. The answers to these questions might give some insight into what your future social interactions might be like:
– Do you have a plan for seeing friends and family on a regular basis?
– Will you be a caregiver for someone to the degree that it could affect your social life?
– Do you have friends whose ages are different than yours – younger and older (a yes answer is a good thing!)
– Do you belong to an organization or live in a community that gives you a frqmework for spending time with other people?
– Does your living situation limit the number of people you interact with on a daily basis?

Are you ready to adjust to your new identity?
Losing the self-identity you had in your working days can be traumatic, particularly for people who had high profile jobs or for whom work was extremely important. Once you retire, no one will care too much if you were a corporate big shot. And even if they did, they will definitely get tired of hearing about it! You need to find something else to be proud of, even if it is cheerful volunteer!

Good News – Retirement is a Continuum – and You Can Change It!
So many folks don’t realize that retirement isn’t just one unchangeable state of being. Retirement should be a flexible thing. You don’t know how it is going to go until you experience it, so it is best to be prepared to mix things up as you go along.

For example: if you find you miss working – find a part-time job! If your hobby or sport doesn’t work out – find another. If being near the grandchildren is too stressful – find a reason to move farther away.

Likewise as you age your interests and needs are going to change. Those who make lifestyle adjustments to allow for those changes will be the happiest.

Bottom line
Nobody said a great retirement is going to magically happen – you are going to have to work at it. So spend some time and effort planning – before you take the plunge. Realize that you can always change your plans if retirement isn’t as you expected it. There are resources to help too, particularly on difficult tasks like finding a post-retirement job. A Boston-based group, Discovering What’s Next, is an example of one of those. It offers support for people 55+ who want to start a post-retirement career.

For further reading
Tune Up Your Psychological Profile for Retirement
Retiring Minds Want to Know: The Key to a Smooth Retirement (APA Journal)

Comments? What do you think are the mental keys to a happy retirement? Are there some we missed, or exagerated the importance of? What makes your retirement a happy – or not so enjoyable one? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on May 27th, 2014


  1. I consider retirement my new career. First, join a local gym. Not one of the national chains, but one local. If you own a house there is always something to be fixed. Hopefully you have some basic handy man skills. Got any hobbies? Want to volunteer, learn a musical instrument? If you delegated everything out, you might not have any skills to convert over to retirement.

    by Ed T. — May 28, 2014

  2. Sorry, none of those apply to me. I retired 10 years ago and have never been happier. I am busy all the time and don’t know how I possibly got anything done when I was working. I have all the time in the world to do the things I enjoy in life. I have had friends who were afraid to retire and the main reason for that was because they had no outside interests or hobbies. Believe me, there are plenty of fun things to do out there!

    My advice: if you can, retire the moment you are eligible. Do not hold out another year or two for a measly couple of hundred dollars more a month in your retirement check. Life is too short. I have seen many retirees not live long after retirement and I am battling my second case of cancer myself right now. Enjoy life while you can!

    by Mike — May 28, 2014

  3. Just retired at the end of 2013 at 68 and I can sort of relate to this article. I really feel aimless at times. I have plenty of interests but often don’t have motivation to do something. It’s been a bit easier since my husband also retired end of Feb. We immediately jumped in to clean out, fix up and get on the market his dad’s house. That gave me a goal, a focus. We had a cruise scheduled end of April so that was my focus once the house was done. Learning from those two events, I realized that I needed to set some specific goals to complete. So now I try to keep a project list going all the time and a goal of completing at least 2 projects each week. When school is out I have a few day trips I want to do with my grandkids. Am also contemplating taking a tax prep course and may work part time during tax season for the next few years.I’m hopeful that over the next year I’ll find ways to embrace retirement.

    by Genie — May 28, 2014

  4. I’m with you Mike, I have so many things to keep me busy, now wonder how I had the time to work, between the house the yard and garden there is just not enough hours in the day to do allthe things I want too, plus I need need to find the time to get started on restoring my 67 mustang, haven’t looked back on leaving my job after the years plus, I intend to enjoy my retirement too the max

    by John Marcocelli — May 28, 2014

  5. I’m with you Mike, I have so many things to keep me busy, now wonder how I had the time to work, between the house the yard and garden there is just not enough hours in the day to do allthe things I want too, plus I need need to find the time to get started on restoring my 67 mustang, haven’t looked back on leaving my job after 41 years plus, am enjoying my retirement too the max

    by John Marcocelli — May 28, 2014

  6. Good contra approach!

    by Lan Sluder — May 28, 2014

  7. This article really hit home with me. I was laid off from a job that I loved, along with 4 others in 2011. It was just before my 58th birthday. The job was mentally stimulating and I worked with a nice group of professional people. Prior to that I worked for 18 years in R&D for a huge food company. That job was the best ever but they decided to move and consolidate operations and I was laid off from that job. Since my last job I tried for two years to get any kind of job and discovered even though I am flexible and open minded I am a square peg not fitting into a round hole. Last year I lost my Mom, my best friend, and since have cleaned out her home and sold it. So now, I am close to 61 years old and still want to work and just can’t seem to get my foot into any door. My husband wants to retire next year and he deserves it! He will be 63 and is tired of the daily grind. For him I think he will relish his freedom and will not have any issues but I am another story. I was laid off from two of the best jobs ever and had to leave before I was ready. I think mentally if you are ready to go then you will flourish. If your work life has been taken away from you before you are ready then you will have issues. My Dad retired at 62 and Mom still worked. He started to get very crabby with her and he started to worry about money. He ended up having a stroke after he was retired two years and Mom lost her job and had to care for him for two years until he passed. Everyone is different in their mental needs in a job. Some people are only there for a paycheck and they have a no strings attached attitude to their job. I always dreamed about retiring from my job but in my dreams it was going to be on my terms when I would retire. However, that didn’t happen and my life has totally been thrown out of whack. I have lost my identity too. Now I don’t know if I am ‘retired’ or ‘unemployed’. I have not worked for 3 years and no longer collect unemployment so maybe I am now just a bum! LOL! I get the local Senior Center magazine every month but so far I haven’t ‘joined’ anything. I feel too young for that! I have 3 dogs that keep me busy and the only other interests I have right now is selling some items on eBay. It is not mentally challenging enough even with the 100 items I have listed! It is not easy to be retired when you are not ready!!!!! On top of everything, we have had some major renovations on our home. We were always talking about moving to another tax friendly state but now that we had so many renovations done, not sure I want to move! Ugh, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up! LOL!

    by Louise — May 29, 2014

  8. Looking back over my retirement years, I guess I have come a long way. In 2001, I was forced into early retirement from my company. They gave me a pension and some high premium med insurance. I was 52 at the time and still had a high school daughter at home. I started a second job the next day and satued there for 5 years. In the meantime, we moved back to my wife’s home town in Indiana, daughter graduated from high school, wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer and survived for two years. Toward the end of her life, I had an accident that put me in a wheelchair for 3 months. After recovering, and finding myself alone, I re-examined my life at 57. I didn’t need or want the corporate world anymore, so I put in my notice.

    I spent time exploring who I was and what I wanted in life. Did some volunteer work, joined a gym. Then I found the ideal job…working in a golf course proshop two mornings a week. This gave me some cash and a free membership on the golf course. I still have that job.

    5 years ago, I took a hobby, roasting coffee beans, and turned it into a business with another couple. In three years, I got tired of it as it was more work then I wanted then. It was profitable by then so I sold it to my partner.

    Two years after my wife passed away, I started dating again, first with a nurse that had taken care of both my wife and me. After moving on, I discovered match.com and all I can say is that it was a whirlwind! I could have written a book with my experiences. After a year and a half, I did finally find the new love of my life. We have been married almost 3 years and it has been wonderful.

    This coming month, I turn 65. What?! Where did it go? I remember my Dad at 65 and he was old. I am not that old!! Of all my friends, I was the firat to retire and now they are all hanging up their jobs and coming over to the dark side. I have not regretted it at all. I am always busy with something new.

    I have three recent adventures in my life that keep things fresh. I discovered making cheese. It’s satisfying to produce something that most people just buy. Learning a lot from that. For my last birthday my wife paid for a 5 day cruise at the end of our winter time in Florida. Oh yeah, we have turned into snowbirds for the past two years! I discovered I was born to cruise! If you really want to feel like a king, take a cruise. We have already signed up for a 8 day cruise next March and have 8 couples going along, some old friends recently retired, and some recent friends still working. That is going to be a blast!

    The newest thing I have discovered that keeps me busy is mystery shopping. I have been doing it for just over a mon now and have made over $400 for doing things like eating at restaurants, getting gas, shopping at retail stores and reporting my results. It is interesting, challenging and a great way to interact with people. I also feel it is a way to help businesses become better for the consumer.

    I consider myself retired three times. So was I ready for retirement? Not the first time. Almost ready the second time, and definately ready the third time. No regrets, just exciting days ahead…

    by Bill Yoder — May 29, 2014

  9. Bill, so many mystery shopper ads are fake, can you share with me a contact that you work for? Just got one for a Western Union and know that is a scam. Many thanks!

    by Sue C — May 29, 2014

  10. What a great article. I had to stop working due to terms of disability insurance at 52. It has been very tough. I am fortunate to have some connections where I offer support to others but some days it gets very quiet. I loved work. An accident turned my life up side down. This article really puts it all into perspective. I had been hoping that a retirement community would at least put me in touch with others who had to move at a slower pace but usually the cognitive impairments put people who live in some Independent Living sites at a very different place. It is really a dilemma for non working boomers.

    by Beth W — May 29, 2014

  11. Start with mysteryshop.org. It is the main sight for the MSPA. From there you can list jobs in your area and sign up with many legit companies there. If you have any questions feel free to write me.

    by Bill Yoder — May 30, 2014

  12. Louise, its not easy to find yourself again after these significant changes in life. While I am not working at the moment ( I am only 55 and looking for a job after relocating with my already retired husband), I find fulfillment volunteering. It is very rewarding to know that someone is waiting for me.

    by Godsgirl — May 30, 2014

  13. Retired for the past 2 1/2 years. Always something going on, or so it seems. My wife is also retired as she was forced out of her job about 3 1/2 years ago. We do some volunteer work and watch two of our grandchildren two days a week. At the end of each week, we wonder where the time went. We travel a bit and just take our time stopping when we want to “smell the roses.” It’s a wonderful life. We both still miss the people we worked with (or at least some of them) but are grateful we have this time together.

    by Dave — June 11, 2014

  14. I’m one who, with my wife, retired early at 55. We both had really good jobs that just went bad. We had some financial exposure, but it has worked out. We both planned to go back to work part-time, but found that our interests and house upkeep needs keep us more than busy.

    The difficulty with being sort of aimless or unmotivated about developing interests that keep you busy and stimulated, is that many have spent most of their lives with “others” providing the motivation. Whether that be an employer or simply a demanding job, these folks often don’t have to seek out or research new activities — they are just there. When they retire, they have no skills to “find” new interests. Several times in my active working life, I faced a similar situation. I felt locked in, bored, trapped by my job/career. The first time I needed help to find my way out. Other times afterward, I just needed to recognize my problem. That’s where this advice comes from.

    The first step is that you have to recognize that this “aimless” situation. Then you must start doing something to change, to drive yourself. Here are some simple options — there are others. Make a list of your strengths AND your weaknesses (like lack of self-motivation). Make a list of what you like and what you don’t like about being retired. Make a realistic list of what you can do (are able to do) whether you want to do it or not. This list should include ANYTHING! Even watching TV, taking a walk or growing a few tomatoes. What you are trying to do with these things is to find a stimulus. Spend some time doing this — weeks or more. If you have to, make a goal of just getting the lists completed. After you feel you can’t add to your lists, you can start working to develop or to eliminate either traits or tasks.

    As several have said, being successful in retirement takes some work. Just sitting and feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t take any effort. Start doing the small things to break the stasis and then start exploring via internet or real activity the options you found. Go interview a volunteer whether a social worker or a fire fighter. Ask at a senior center if you can help for a few hours a week. (Remember, some of us “retired” people are too old or too infirm to have the options for activity most of us “young” retirees have.)

    Explore. Go places in your state or region that you haven’t been or haven’t been since you were truly young. Where would you go if you could choose? Too expensive? We put plastic sets of drawers in the back seat of our car to live out of day-to-day and stayed at cheap, clean hotels. Whether for a weekend or a long road trip, we found it even less expensive than camping.

    In the end, it’s up to you. Reach out.

    Editor’s comment: Rich, thanks for this wise advice. We love it! Along the same lines Next Avenue just had a series of articles about fining your purpose in retirement. Here are links to two of them, “The 3 Questions to Ask to Help You Find Your Purpose” and How to Identify the 1 Thing You Were Born to Do


    by Rich — February 27, 2015

  15. Rich: I think your posting is terrific. During my 50s, I was a caregiver for my spouse who had a degenerative, terminal disease, raised our kids and worked to pay our bills. Life was all about getting through each week, supporting my kids’ interests, and meeting my employer’s needs. I’m now looking ahead to retirement, with spouse deceased and a newly empty nest. I’ve been wondering how to start to plan my upcoming retirement. I don’t KNOW what my own interests are anymore, and I’ll have to figure it out. Your tips are going to be very useful for me. Thank you.

    by Kate — February 28, 2015

  16. Thanks, Rich; and many thanks editor, for the links. I plan to explore them with my husband.

    by ella — March 1, 2015

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