Three Mindfulness Practices to Try Before You Retire

Written by: Bev Bachel

According to Jacquelyn Fletcher Johnson, the founder of Heartwood Healing and my favorite self-mastery guru, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention—intentionally and without judgment—to our thoughts, emotions and body states in the present moment. Not rehashing the past or fretting about the future. However, staying in the “now” is often easier said than done, especially when it comes to thinking ahead to retirement.

“Retirement is a major milestone that can be a lot more stressful than people imagine,” explains Fletcher Johnson who says she’s seen several individuals get sideswiped by their body’s “fight, flight or freeze response.”

“That response is the body’s automatic, built-in system to protect us from real and perceived danger. It keeps us safe but when turned on chronically, it puts us in a state of stress that can be harmful to our physical and mental health.”

Mindfulness, however, puts us back in control by telling our amygdala, the part of our brain that helps process emotions, that everything is cool. “It basically calms down the emotional part of our brain so that we can think rationally,” says Fletcher Johnson.

Mindfulness also delivers a whole host of other science-based benefits. According to Emma Seppala of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, these benefits include more positive emotions and less negative ones, decreased pain, greater empathy and slower aging.

So if you’re eager to live more mindfully and extend the length of your retirement, Fletcher Johnson recommends this loving kindness meditation, designed to help you turn your attention to the life you’d like to enjoy in the years ahead.

You might also want to try one of these three mindfulness practices:

Practice No. 1: Ready, set, repeat.

“I’m getting my ducks in a row. I’m getting my ducks in a row. I’m getting my ducks in a row.”

This is the mantra Karen Carlson, Kansas City, repeats several times each day as she prepares for her upcoming retirement. “My personality type is to be super organized, so repeating it gives me purpose and calms me down,” says Carlson.

The mantra also boosts Carlson’s confidence for the tasks that lie ahead: giving her notice at work, choosing the right healthcare plan, figuring out when to apply for Social Security and deciding where she and her husband want to spend their winter months.

Carlson repeats a second mantra as well: “Whatever happens, I’m going to be okay—today and in retirement.” This mantra reminds her that any crisis of confidence or setback she’s experiencing in the moment, including her husband’s recent unexpected hospitalization, is only temporary and that she will not only survive, but thrive.

Practice No. 2: Focus on what you want, control what you can.

Several years back, Diane Autey, Minneapolis, was hired by a colleague to help write Seeing Red Cars, a motivational book designed to encourage people to focus on what they want more of. “I’ve been a happier person ever since,” says Autey.

Her ability to focus and live with intention made a big difference this past year when the company she worked for merged with another, and she found herself out of a job several years shy of retirement. Rather than despairing, she got busy. “I started every day by focusing on what I wanted—a new job,” says Autey. She found and applied for at least one every morning, only then moving on to the more enjoyable task of networking.

“It’s such a bummer to get caught up in a layoff, especially when you’re in your 50s,” says Autey. But by staying focused on what she wanted and controlling what she could, she landed contract work within two months. And four months later, she had a new full-time job that put her retirement dreams within reach once again. “Plus, I’m making more money and I get to work from home,” boasts Autey.

Practice No. 3: Go with the flow.

In preparing for retirement and the eventual sale of Isle Inn Tours, the travel business they’ve owned for the past decade, Mike and Diane Hawe, Los Angeles, are investing in a new technology platform. That wasn’t something they’d initially planned to do as they wind down their 40-year careers, but they realized they were up for one more “last hurrah.” Plus, the new system will increase the value of their business and make it easier to sell.

Unfortunately, the year-long implementation has been more work than expected. But rather than get upset, the couple is going with the flow. “We work from home, so we concentrate on ramping up and throttling back as our implementation schedule allows,” says Mike.

Some days that means hours-long conference calls and endless troubleshooting. Other days it means early-morning walks with the dog and afternoons at the beach where the ocean reminds them of just how pleasing the ebb and flow of life—and work—can be when it’s embraced on your own terms.

“Retirement is a big milestone, and it can be easy to get hyper-focused on anxious or fearful thoughts,” says Fletcher Johnson. “Controlling negative mind-wandering can help you feel better quickly. I tell my clients that mindfulness is really all about the art of the return. As you practice learning to return your attention to something over and over again, it helps you see that returns are always available. You can return to your feet. You can return to your values. You can return to the new, exciting possibilities life after retirement holds.”

Related: How Will You Show Up in the New Normal?