If you took an hour this afternoon to stop whatever is on your plate and simply read a book, could you do that freely, and not be anxious over what you “ought to be” attending to? If the answer is no, then you need to find a way to give yourself permission to chill.
You are a hard-working executive, and you lean into your job with enthusiasm. Not only do you spend long hours during the work day, but your mind is easily drawn back to your to-do list at all hours. This may be a badge of honor for you. It may be why you accomplish so much.
But, ahead in the distance you may see retirement approaching. Retirement has been a goal of your financial planning and has been something you’ve looked forward to. Retirement may not mean stopping work altogether but, at the least, you’ll be pulling back from full-time work. You’ll have a large new block of free time! How you use your time is about to change drastically. You’ll have freedom from your work routine, and you’ll have freedom to replace the time you devote to work with anything you want to do. From my experience coaching execs transitioning out of full-time work (and my own journey as well), this transition looks straightforward on paper, but is way harder than it looks. You’ve gotten a bit hardwired over the decades and reprogramming yourself takes effort.
For those of you who have already retired, you may have experienced the weird “not chill” moment when you looked at your afternoon and it was mostly open. I recall my own disoriented feeling when I saw the free afternoon staring me in the face. It’s not that I did not like slowing down and stepping away from the routine of work life. But, in the moment, it felt slightly wrong and unproductive. I felt almost guilty over not taking care of a chore or some other task that had a tangible outcome. How did I wean myself from self-imposed pressure and learn to embrace all my new free time?
· Schedule your chill time. This is a good transition strategy. While we are trying to get beyond schedules, blocking time can ensure you expose yourself to the new feeling of discretionary leisure. Commit to an hour here or an hour there to read, ride a bike, take a walk, go fishing, have lunch with your spouse, or whatever strikes your fancy. A variation of this is cancel something. A real test of how you handle discretionary chill time is when it replaces something you otherwise felt was productive!
· Chill with someone else. There are two benefits to this: you are more likely to take your chill time, and you cultivate your relationships. You are going to lose a number of your work relationships as you move out of full-time work. You can offset this loss by doubling down on friends and family you care most about. “Chill with someone else” kills two retirement transition issues with one stone.
· Practice being present when chilling. When you feel anxious about “not doing anything productive” it may be helpful to remind yourself that the only thing that is real is the present time. The past is gone, the future is not yet real. Practice welcoming the present moment and how you feel right now. I use a breathing mantra by saying to myself “the only thing that’s real” on an intake of my breadth, followed by “is now” on a long exhale.
· Get in touch with flow. Research by Dr. Martin Seligman into the contributing factors to positive thinking and happiness yielded five areas with the acronym PERMA: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishments.* Aspiring to be engaged in your chill time is very important to your overall happiness. Being in the flow is analogous to engagement.
“Flow includes the loss of self-consciousness and complete absorption in an activity. In other words, it is living in the present moment and focusing entirely on the task at hand.” *
When I am out on a beautiful bike ride, I feel in flow and it is the best kind of chill time for me.
You built a lot of skills in your career. As you transition out of full time work it would be wise to work on a skill you will use for the rest of your non-working life: how to chill.