One of the first issues to surface when one retires, is the quandary of what to do with all of that new-found time! For the first time ever, the way we spend our time is not dictated or subject to the approval of anyone but ourselves. Of course, there are certain pre-existing conditions: possible grandchildren or aging parents who need attention, or any other ongoing familial or social obligation that was in place prior to retirement. However, for most of us, we will begin to look at time differently. If you feel like there is an unwanted surplus, try to remember that in modern life, time is the scarcest commodity. Lost time can never be replaced. It is always diminishing. Money and material possessions can be replaced, but time is a different type of asset.
Time was different before the invention of clocks and watches!
Historically speaking, time was not always measured by clocks. There was a long period in the world when time was controlled by nature and earthly events. The sun rose and set, the predators came and went, and the storms raged. It was only in the industrial age, that people began to pay attention to the clock. There was a transition from event time, or naturally occurring events, to clock time. Factories, and yes, your former employer as well, actually purchased “time” from their employees. Unfortunately, we’ve been stuck in this view of time ever since. You’ve only had the opportunity to escape during your limited yearly weeks of vacation – most likely since you were a child! Right now, you have the opportunity to start tuning in more to the seasons, the weather, the sunlight, the temperature, things that are blooming, and things beginning to fade out. There are birds to observe and feed, sounds in the environment previously overlooked, and a chance to create your own daily rhythms, even if you live in the city. Without the starting bell of the alarm clock, now is the time to create a morning routine.
What time does your body naturally awaken? When is your body ready for a nap and ready to retire for the evening? What is your unique energy level throughout the day? How much activity do you truly want? Start noticing when you want activity outside of your home, and when you long for quiet time inside. Don’t be frightened by time. Begin experimenting by aligning yourself with the natural world and how your body is responding to a lack of incessant stimulation.
How does one transition away from being a clock watcher?
Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd from Stanford University have been studying this subject for a very long time, and their book, The Time Paradox, can be a useful resource. There is a short quiz to take online that can give you an idea of your “time personality type.” Do you have a past, present, or future orientation? For retirees with a raging future orientation, retirement will take some adjustment. It is really difficult to constantly live in the future with its necessary planning and striving, without a full- time job or commitment every day. A present orientation, on the other hand, allows a retiree to be more spontaneous and to take advantage of serendipity. This is the preferred orientation in retirement.
How did the pandemic affect your concept of time?
You probably experienced an abrupt change in your relationship to time during the pandemic. In late March, 2020, you and millions of people around the world lost the structure of their days, including the activities that anchored all to modern life. There was no difference between weekdays and weekends. Stay at home orders prevented the usual social interactions. A study in the UK revealed that 80% of respondents perceived a drastic change in their perception of time. Cathy Cassata reporting in Healthline found, paradoxically, for some the days dragged on, but the weeks flew by. Obviously, one’s reaction to pandemic time was subjective, as it will be for the new retiree. However, there are certain truths of which to be aware that can be helpful.
Some tips from the experts....
Dr. Michael Shadlen of the Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University found in his research that the pace at which time seems to flow is governed by our emotions. When fear is aroused, time passes slowly, invoking a high level of arousal, including the fight or flight response. When the parasympathetic nervous system is aroused, which causes the body to calm, time flows more smoothly. Applying these ideas to the new retiree, if one is in a depressed state over the loss of employment, time will seem to drag. Being more accepting of one’s new place in the lifespan might make the day whiz by.
Dr. Shadlen’s pandemic suggestions work well for rookie retirees. Lots of leeway and self-compassion are in order. Daily routines, spending time outdoors and connecting to friends are prescriptions for one of the most urgent needs in retirement – figuring out what to do with those 40 extra hours each week. Finding meaning and learning to live in the present through mindfulness training, build a new life infrastructure. Now is your chance to experiment, to create your own perspective on the priceless free time you now have. It’s been said, “Time has a wonderful way of showing us what matters.”