Today we continue our series on the book the book Win the Retirement Game: How to Outsmart the 9 Forces Trying to Steal Your Joy.
The last post in this series (which was also the first post in this series) was Win the Retirement Game, Introduction. You’ll want to read that post first if you missed it.
I have really enjoyed this book and recommend it to all who are thinking about retirement, just retired, or have been retired for some time.
Today I’ll be sharing some quotes from the book and my thoughts on them as we discuss the first of the nine retirement “opponents”: Boredom.
I don’t get how anyone could be bored in retirement, so maybe I’ll learn that while re-reading this section!
Let’s get to it…
Boredom in Retirement
The chapter begins with these comments:
Boredom is an emotional state you get in when you’re not engaged meaningfully in the world.
Boredom is like the boiled frog phenomenon. If you put a frog in a pot of water and gradually increase the temperature, the frog never notices the change until the point it boils alive. Boredom is like that. Relaxing is great. But overdo it, and you’ll find you have less energy, and you can become more anxious and even irritable.
Maybe I do understand it. Hahahaha.
But I wouldn’t call it boredom in my case. I think it’s more of being consumed with fun and entertainment for me.
Here’s what I mean: The Villages is an awesome place to live an active lifestyle. It’s particularly beneficial for those who are not self-starters — who can’t find or develop their own retirement activities.
My dad is a great example of this. Outside of work and my mom, he had about zero interests in life (or I thought so). When my mom died and he moved into an apartment in our small town in Iowa, he spent most of his days with the only other love of his life — the television. And let me tell you, watching 8+ hours a day of cable news is not a great way to spend life.
Then when he moved down here, The Villages provided him with lots of options for extra activities. It’s a one-stop boredom fighter!
Now he goes to Zumba most days of the week, works out at the gym several times a week, listens to live music on the square almost every night, gets together with us for dinner, a movie, etc. a couple times every week, and more. There’s plenty for him to do. He’s even subscribed to the paper and now reads it every day — something he did little of when I was growing up (reading).
But for me, the “living in a resort” is a bit overkill. It was fine initially, but it just doesn’t seem like real life in many ways.
For example, think about living on a cruise ship. Or imagine living at Disney World. Both would offer all the fun and entertainment you’d want. And after working 40-50 years, you’d probably love it…at least for awhile. But after a month or two, or maybe even half a year, what was once fun and exciting would simply seem overkill and monotonous. Maybe even…dare I say it…boring?
This is the battle I’ve been fighting for a few months now. The initial time in The Villages was fun and exciting, but now it seems over-done and not like a part of the “real world.” In many ways, that’s good as the real world is often not a great place. But it’s been stale for me and I’m looking to find balance.
My wife is the exact opposite. She also loves the built-in activities and has jumped into them full-force. She plays pickleball, beach tennis, Bunco, as well as attends water aerobics and a ladies meet-up once a week. She also hits the pool frequently as it’s warm enough to do that most of the year here.
How Boredom Impacts Retirement
Ok, so boredom can be bad for retirement.
But just how does it impact the world’s most exciting activity (my words, lol)? The book goes on:
Left unchecked, boredom can stall the transition to retirement. It can lead to a loss of purpose that may result in profound boredom and negatively affect social relationships. Boredom prods people to seek stimulation, and often an unhealthy ways. Overindulging on TV and social media are common problems, but some people fall into more destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, gambling, and substance abuse.
It can happen fast. A 2019 British survey of over 1,000 retirees found one in four became bored after just one year of retirement. A third reported having more time alone than they expected. While it’s tempting to focus on the fact that 75% weren’t bored, for those who do become bored in retirement, it can put a damper on a phase of life they worked and saved for many years to enjoy.
I had ZERO boredom when I retired. None.
This is despite the fact that I also had no plan for how I was going to spend my time when I retired — which I have now learned is a big no-no and a recipe for disaster.
I just assumed that 1) I had enough interests to fill my time and 2) I was curious enough to find and try new things if I got bored. I never really thought “I can always go back to work” as that sounded worse than almost anything else, but I suppose I could have done so if I was really bored.
When I retired I had my exercise routine (which I expanded a bit since I had the time), my website (which I loved writing for), video games (more time for those!), and walking with my wife (which I also expanded).
Then I added some things that I loved doing but had limited time for before that: reading, spending more time with the kids, and grilling.
And then one day on a walk my wife and I discovered pickleball and BOOM, there it was — retirement bliss. Hahaha.
I also had a couple businesses (Rockstar Finance and the Millionaire Money Mentors) which were both fun and interesting.
We did some traveling too.
So it worked out despite having no plan, but it wasn’t the way I would plan it now.
Boredom is Personal
The book goes on to say — like with most things in personal finance — the plans need to be, well, personal:
It’s up to each person to decide what the right pace of life is for them in retirement. Many people prefer to slow down, but some actually want to speed up. Even in an active retirement, some boredom is inevitable. It’s a normal part of life. You just need to learn to recognize it. That’s because boredom isn’t all bad.
This is true. You can’t be go, go, go all the time. Sometimes it’s “nice” to be bored — at least every now and then.
But you also don’t want to sit around and stare at the walls all day. Or worse yet, watch TV from dawn to dusk.
It’s a balancing act that each person needs to figure out for themselves:
Indeed, there’s an upside to boredom if you use it right. If you’re paying attention, boredom can be a valuable signal. It can alert you that you need to change. But boredom is tricky. One of boredom’s favorite traps is getting people to go from bored to busy. Boredom would love to lure you into jumping onto a brand-new hamster wheel. But here’s the thing. Just being busy won’t defeat boredom. It’s not about being busy.
The first step in defeating boredom is accepting temporary boredom as a fact of life. Our use of technology today may be making us less tolerant of boredom. People quickly become uncomfortable with a lack of stimulation and automatically reach for their devices. Instead, it’s better to use boredom as a catalyst for reflection. Rather than reaching for your phone, think if there’s something more purposeful you could do. Or, simply appreciate a period of silence.
So not too busy but not too bored either — we all need to know what our individual balances are and then create those in our lives.
Personally I err on the side of not scheduling much as a meeting on my calendar these days feels like I’m “too busy.” But I always have a wide range of things I could do every day if I feel like it — pickleball, walking, exercising, writing, reading, various house tasks, etc. These are mostly flexible so I can choose what I want to do on any given day based on how I feel.
Then throw in a few planned activities here and there — going to an event, taking a class, having lunch with friends, etc. — and there’s more than enough for me to span the middle ground between boredom and too much activity.
What’s the book’s answer to boredom? Curiosity! The specifics:
Curiosity is the recognition, pursuit, and inherent desire to explore novel, challenging, and uncertain events.
Researchers have found that curiosity is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction and well-being. Curiosity can curb boredom and add variety and excitement to your life in retirement. It can spark the discovery of new interests and activities, and even ignite a passion for lifelong learning.
With curiosity it is hard to be bored for long.
I have been curious most of my life. Many would call me a “life-long learner” which is something that just stems from a “I wonder how that works/is?” sort of outlook.
It’s what’s led me to find new activity after new activity in retirement — or at least try new ones. Some are winners and I do them on a regular basis (pickleball), some are “ok” and I do them from time to time (parties with friends, ping pong), and some are activities that I’ve decided to put aside for now (drone flying).
It’s not hard to stay engaged and excited in retirement — and defeat boredom — if you become/remain curious.
If you’re “stuck in your ways” and/or uninterested in life, it’s easy for boredom to set it (whether you’re retired or not.)
Summarizing the Issue of Boredom in Retirement
The chapter wraps up with these takeaways:
- Boredom can be problematic in retirement if it’s left unconfronted. Learn to be comfortable with some temporary boredom. But use it to your advantage and tune in to what it may be signaling. If you find yourself becoming bored longer term, dig down to identify what the root cause is and take action to address it.
- Curiosity reinvigorates retirement. It can lead you to new interests, passions, and even a new purpose. Embrace the pursuit of lifelong learning. Become an investigator. Ask better questions and research subjects that interest and intrigue you. Engage your natural ability to learn new things. It can also enhance your relationships by making you a more interesting – and interested – partner, friend, or spouse.
- Find out what’s on your Belief Window. Some core beliefs don’t change over the life course, but others become outdated and get in your way. You wouldn’t run your iPhone using iOS 2.1. You’d do a software update. Don’t fuel your retirement with beliefs acquired in your early life that no longer serve you. Update them.
- Embrace a growth mindset. You can learn and grow at any age. You have the time now. Make the most of it and start learning.
- Retirement encompasses your outer and internal selves, and that includes your inner dialogue. Turn down the volume on your inner critic by learning to challenge your thoughts and assumptions.
We didn’t discuss the last three on this list so if you want more of those you’ll need to get the book.
But I think you can at least get a feel for what he’s saying here.
In the end, boredom can derail a retirement. I’m convinced it’s the #1 reason people go back to work. They have no other interests and can’t find any new ones, so they do the only thing they’ve known for most of their lives — they head back to the office.
To me, that sounds like misery, but for many who are like what I’ve described above, it’s the one thing they can turn to.
I would suggest that anyone considering retirement do some soul-searching.
If you think you can retire with many activities to keep you engaged in life (or at least the curiosity to create some), then you’re likely going to be ok (though I would suggest you actually have the activities in hand — at least 2-3 of them — and don’t count on “I’ll figure it out” as your plan.)
On the other hand if you don’t have any options for how to spend your time and can’t think of any possibilities, then you probably need to really consider whether retirement is for you or not. Perhaps it’s time to put retirement on hold and start developing some passions/hobbies now that you know you can later carry into your retirement life when you do make that leap.
How about you? For those already retired, how did you handle dealing with boredom? And for those not yet retired, what’s your plan for fighting it?