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Does Time Really Speed Up as We Age? Your Retirement Doesn’t Have To!

When you’re a kid, you can’t wait to be a teenager. When you’re a teenager, you can’t wait to be in college. When you’re in college, you can’t wait to be out of school. When you’re working, you can’t wait to retire.

And when you finally retire … You might find yourself wishing time would slow down a bit!

If that scenario sounds familiar, don’t worry, you’re not imagining things. Many scientific studies have shown that as we age, we perceive time as moving more quickly than we do when we’re younger. So, while your kids just wrapped up what felt like, to them, another “endless summer,” you probably feel like the 4th of July was just yesterday!

Scientists haven’t pinned down a definitive reason for this shift in how we perceive time. But here are three common theories, and how you can adapt these modes of perception to slow down your life and get the most out of your retirement.

1. We experience time proportionally.

Everyone waits one year between birthdays. But for a two-year-old, the length of that wait is proportional to half of his or her entire life. Extrapolate that math further: a ten-year-old only waits 10% of his or her life to turn 11, a 20-year-old waits 5%. As that proportion between one year and the total length of our lives keeps dropping with age, the length of years seems to drop with it.

Follow the logic of this theory even further, and you reach an amazing phenomenon: the span of time between age forty and age eighty is going to feel the same as the time between age five and age ten felt!

Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are going to seem like they’re racking up more and more quickly, even if they’re really not. But lots of good things are going to rack up too. That special bottle of wine you and your new spouse tucked away after your wedding is aged, and ready to pop for your 50th anniversary. From your retirement perspective, maybe the best example is what Ben Franklin called the “8th Wonder of the World” – compound interest! As long as you have your savings and investment plan set up properly, in what will feel like the blink of an eye, that Nest Egg you started building as a young adult will be providing you financial security and the means to pursue happiness in retirement. In this case, time will be your friend!

2. Time creates pressure.

One reason you no longer enjoy the same “endless summer” experience your kids do is the effect of pressure on our perception of time. When you have nothing to do all day but run around outside, go swimming, and play baseball, time seems limitless. When you’re scrambling to get to work, meet all your project deadlines, fix dinner, and get your kids to baseball practice, time seems very limited, and so you feel like you have less of it.

By that logic, retirees should start to feel that same youthful freedom once they’re done working their 9 to 5s. But retiring, and aging in general, often create a new feeling of time pressure: the feeling that time is running out on our lives. This can lead to stress and depression that only accelerate the feeling of time slipping away.

We consider retirement planning an ongoing process at Keen Wealth because your life in retirement is ongoing too. Retirement is not an end, but a beginning: an exciting new chapter in which you should feel free to pursue the things that make you happy. For some retirees, that might mean a return to the “endless summer” of leisure and relaxation. Others start new businesses, or volunteer for causes about which they feel passionate.

3. Time makes your routine less special.

Another theory researchers have for why childhood feels like it lasted longer is all the milestones we hit in a short amount of time. Think about high school. In four short years, most people learn to drive, start a first job, go on first dates, go to the prom, and then experience the pomp and circumstance of graduation. Our brains tend to slow down those special memories, and make them feel like they lasted longer than they really did.

The daily grind of being an adult just isn’t as special as those formative memories. Even something you’d think would trigger special feelings, like a child’s birthday, now comes with the adult stress of planning a party, buying presents, and hosting duties. That makes us perceive these events, and also the passage of time between them, as less special.

There’s an added danger for retirees who don’t replace their working schedule with a new, active retirement schedule. Because we gauge time by things that are memorable, and assign more value to that time, we’re already primed to experience the familiar comforts of home as normal, routine, and therefore, unmemorable.

So, break out of what’s normal! What’s something you always wanted to try? What’s a place you always wanted to visit? A hobby you want to develop into a real skill, or maybe even a second profession?

The best way to slow down your retirement years is to do more with them, and create more of those lasting memories you cherish. That’s why we encourage our clients at Keen Wealth to tell us about their passions, the things they want to do, the places they want to see.

No, your fiduciary advisor can’t stop time for you. But a financial plan that maximizes your retirement experiences, and makes your golden years feel as free and endless as a childhood summer, might be the next best thing.

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Bill Keen: Slow down your life and get the most out of your retirement

About Bill

Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 24 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.

Keen Wealth Advisors is a Registered Investment Adviser. Nothing within this commentary constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Keen Wealth Advisors manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed here. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  

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