If you follow me on social media or listen to my podcast regularly, you’re probably aware that I’ve gone through a personal transformation. Thanks to some expert personal training and a ton of hard work, I’ve lost 60 pounds and am in some of the best shape of my life.
When I was preparing to share this story, I looked through some older pictures of myself to compare and contrast. I was expecting to feel like I was looking at a totally different person. But as different as the pictures were physically, I still recognized that guy. I could connect myself today with what he was feeling, what he was working on, what his family life was like, what his goals were. Through some combination of memory, nostalgia, and sentimentality, I think we all have similar experiences when we look back on ourselves.
So here’s a thought experiment: try projecting in the other direction. Imagine yourself a decade or so into retirement. Try to picture what you look like, what your days are like, how you feel.
Most folks find that connecting with that person they hope to be is a lot harder than connecting with the person they were at a younger age. And that speaks to some of the biggest challenges of retirement planning.
Seeing your future self.
Interestingly, there’s a growing body of science around connecting our future selves with how we plan for the future. Some researchers have gone so far as to age folks using makeup and computers to put them face to face with a lifelike image of themselves as a senior. Studies have found that the more people are able to identify with their future selves, the more thoughtful they were about their financial decisions. But if their future self felt like a stranger, they were less careful and even reckless with their money.
I don’t think digital aging is a service we’re going to be offering our Keen Wealth clients any time soon. But one exercise that might produce a similar perspective is to look at some family photos of your parents and other older relatives from when they were younger. Or, talk to loved ones who are still with you and ask them what retirement is like — not just the big bucket-list experiences like taking a cruise, but the simpler everyday moments that make up their routines. When I think about my Great Aunt Nina or talk to my 82-year-old stepmom, retirement becomes more vivid. I picture the wide range of life experiences that led them to this point in their lives, as well as the joys and concerns that my stepmom continues to navigate today.
And, perhaps most importantly, I remember that there will be a time in my life where I’m going to need my assets to keep me safe and comfortable. I want to help that future version of myself by making prudent decisions today about my health, my work, my relationships, and, yes, my money. And I want to help our clients at Keen Wealth do the same.
Planning your future life.
I often encourage new clients to create a retirement vision board. Divide a piece of paper or a whiteboard into four sections: 3 Years from Now; 5 Years from Now; 10 Years from Now; 20 Years from Now. In each section, write down how old you’ll be, how old your spouse will be, how old your kids will be. Then, start filling in words or phrases that describe your life at these four stages. Where are you living? What are you doing? When do you stop working? When does retirement begin?
Eventually, as you complete this vision board, a picture starts to emerge. It’s not a picture of stuff or places or activities. It’s a picture of a person – you – living the life you want to live.
Once you’ve met your future self and imagined that person’s life, it’s much easier to work backward and start taking steps right now that will help you to become that person. If you see yourself on the golf course well into your 80s, you’re going to get the most out of your Medicare benefits and start eating better. If you see yourself racking up frequent flier miles you’re going to start learning about the countries you want to visit. If you see yourself founding your own company, you’re going to start moving that business plan out of your head and onto paper.
And, hopefully, you’ll also see yourself working with Keen Wealth every step of the way to keep your finances aligned with your life.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with nearly three decades 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.
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