If you have been reading my previous posts, you know that I finally committed to weight loss, and I made the decision on my birthday back in June (#50by50ish #50 – Lose weight – Part 1, the decision). I’ve always struggled to even commit, and yet something changed this year that allowed me to go all-in. It is my one and only official goal for the year, and in fact, I won’t be setting any more goals until this one is accomplished. No retreat, no surrender, no partial success. Total success or I don’t declare victory and allow myself to move on to anything else.
I read Jeffrey Kottler’s book, “Change” and I am blogging about it as I go back through it for nuggets and tips to help me on my journey (http://polywogg.ca/jeffrey-kottlers-change-chapter-1/). And it has informed my approach and my thinking about weight loss as a goal and a process. I have thought a lot about the forces at play, and framed in my mind at least, around the forces that draw me forward and the forces that drag me back (#50by50ish #50 – Lose weight – Part 2, draw vs. drag). One of the things the book talks about in undertaking massive change is the idea of a personal inventory of not only the costs of your current situation (i.e., factors that motivate you to move forward such as #50by50ish #50 – Lose weight – Part 3, the costs of being fat) but also the factors in your life that resist change and hold you back (#50by50ish #50 – Lose weight – Part 4, what’s been holding me back).
I had a pretty good idea of what my inventory would look like in advance, having looked at some of the bits before, but it was still stark to see it all laid out:
|DRAW FACTORS (motivations to change)||DRAG FACTORS (resistors to change)|
But even though I had my inventory, I was a bit puzzled. Why could I commit this year when I couldn’t commit before? While the draw factors SEEM like they should outweigh (literally) the drag factors, they never did. I was stuck. Inert. Like I was on a teeter-totter with my fear and I on one side, and the various draw factors stuck up in the air on the other side wondering how they could move the teeter totter downward and raise me up. The fear was just too heavy, as was I.
Yet on my birthday, for the first time, I was ready to commit. I could see a path forward. I felt confident in committing. Something had changed. And I have an idea what it is, but it sounds pedestrian. Silly even.
I had taken a retirement course.
That’s it. As part of my 50by50 goals, one of them was to take the big retirement course that is recommended for public servants. It is a special course tailored to our unique situation for years of service, pensions, etc. And most people, I think, take it before they retire. Some experts recommend taking it twice — once near the start of your career, and once when you are a few years away. I am 7 years from my pumpkin date of when I *can* leave with a reduced pension but no penalty. So Andrea and I took the course, and it was relatively great. Six half-day sessions over three days:
- General overview of finances and retirement
- Legal aspects of retirement and aging
- Health and retirement
- Financial planning: Part 1
- Financial planning: Part 2
- Psychology and retirement
I’ll blog about that experience later, but it is the a combination of part 6 and part 3 (psychology and health) that got the circuits in my brain whirring.
The two sessions weren’t very good, in my view. For the psychology side, a social worker basically talked about aspects of the change from work to home, losing an identity for some people, still needing social interactions, etc. But there was no real frame or solution to it. It was all very generic. I agree that there are whole swaths of issues there, and that you’d better plan for them if you want to transition well. I even have an idea for a series of blogs based on further research I did, as I think there is a better frame for it than what she presented; I was actually quite disappointed by it, and without being professionally trained, I think I could have explained the psych side of personality and handling change a lot better than she did. We’ll find out when I try to blog about it, I guess. 🙂 But at the core, the idea of “planning for the psychology of retirement” was delivered as a small nugget that everyone could think about, and I did.
The health one was not really about retirement, and perhaps that is why it helped. Sounds weird, I know, but stay with me. The presentation basically was about health in general, at any point in your life. I liked the presenter, a doctor in the military. The overall premise was to look at your current health (i.e, “health is the slowest possible rate at which one can die”), estimate your life expectancy to help inform your financial planning, think about what it means to possibly live to 100, and then think about the largest factors limiting that life expectancy.
I had never really thought about living to 100. My father died at 69, my mother at 84. Most of the surrounding family for the two of them only made it to their 60s and 70s…strange that my mother lived to a greater age than most of them. And while I don’t have a lot of the lifestyle factors they had, I do carry around a lot of extra weight and have some health issues already. Even a couple of health scares, even though they turned out to be something else.
I guess if I was being really honest with myself, I thought 75 to 85 was a likely range, and 80 would be my wishful thinking number based on everything. But part of the presentation was about what it would look like if I was into my late 80s or 90s and still active. What kind of “active” would it be?
As I said, her presentation was more general than specific to retirement, and it talked mostly about health for anyone at any age. Based on the Ontario Health Study, she listed the five biggest limits on life expectancy:
- Exercise — How active are you?
- Tobacco — Do you use any?
- Diet — What do you eat?
- Alcohol — How much do you drink?
- Stress — How to you choose to react to life?
The premise is that if you ignore all five, you’ll likely drop 20 years earlier than normal. If you miss 2-3, somewhere around 7 years. The accuracy of the forecast wasn’t that important to my thinking process though. I carry a fair amount of stress, but I have decent support networks and relatively healthy solutions to dealing with extreme moments. Call it half-covered, although probably better than some and worse than others. I have no alcohol or tobacco, which is a plus.
Which leaves diet and exercise. Well, it’s not like I didn’t already know that, right? I know my inventory, and have known it for a long time, even before I actually wrote it down for my journey. I mean, seriously, it’s not like fat people don’t know that they should get exercise and eat healthy. We didn’t wake up one day and say, “Oh? I didn’t know that, let me suddenly change my life to do that.”
Now, if you’re reading all that and thinking, “So what?”, then you read it correctly. Being reminded to do this by a doctor in a generic presentation didn’t really change anything. Or did it?
After the course finished, I started doing some more reading on the psychology and the idea of broad “planning for retirement”. And something special happened. I started to get excited about retirement in a way that I haven’t been excited about anything in a while. It’s within “spitting distance” so to speak, a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m looking forward to retirement, thinking about some small things I need to do now to get ready, and really digging deep to imagine what I want retirement to look like when I get there. The finances are relatively taken care of, so what’s left? The psychology of how I adjust and the types of things I’ll want to do.
Walking and taking photos.
And the lightbulb came on. I had handled all the financial aspects of planning for retirement. I was ready for the psych elements, and I know what I’m willing to do regarding further “work” after retirement, if at all, and what doesn’t interest me. But I wasn’t ready for the health aspects.
I’m not ready for kayaking and working out, golfing, hiking regularly. Even some of the things I want to do on astronomy would be easier if I was smaller (like sleeping overnight in the back of the car after a night of observing). I’m not ready now, and I only have 7 years to actually get ready. And my excitement started to drop. How could I be excited if when I got there I was going to have to suddenly work on dropping weight and working out, just to transition again to what I wanted to be doing? I’d be wasting the first two years of my retirement.
And the truth bomb was suddenly clear, with slightly better phrasing:
I wasn’t making the right or sufficient health investments for my retirement.
Well, fudge. That doesn’t work for me. I’m am READY to retire NOW. I can’t wait 7 years, do whichever jobs between now and then, but telling myself, “Oh, yeah, when you get there, you’ll have another 2 years of work on your body to really be ready.” Screw that plan. I’m getting ready NOW.
Tipping the scales in my favour
I did the retirement course back in the winter, and I made the commitment in June. Between the two, I finished reading Kottler’s book. I did a lot of reading about retirement. I was approaching 50. I was envisioning the two scenarios for my retirement, and I really didn’t like the one. I might even be tempted to say I *feared* the second one. But what tipped the scales and made me ready to commit?
The self-directed introspection and inventory over the years that made me ready to face my demons?
Reading Kottler’s book?
Taking the retirement course?
Further reading about psychology in retirement?
The excitement about retirement?
The fear of scenario 2 in retirement, let alone scenario 3 with huge health problems?
I don’t know, and maybe it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I could use all of it. When I made my decision on my birthday to commit to losing weight, and to only have that one goal, I had the rudimentary outline of a plan, based mainly on Kottler’s book (Jeffrey Kottler’s “Change” – Chapter 14 – Why Changes Don’t Often Last) and some other research I’ve done about AA-type programs.
There are six parts to my plan, and I’ve got a good handle on the first three.
- Conduct a fearless inventory of the costs, benefits, patterns and triggers of my weight to make all the pieces clear, both in pulling me forward and in resisting change –> √ #50by50ish #50 – Lose weight – Part 3, the costs of being fat and #50by50ish #50 – Lose weight – Part 4, what’s been holding me back
- Find the right motivation to commit –> √ History, overall health, and planning for retirement
- Commit wholeheartedly in order to carry through –> √ Public commitment, singular focus, scary bits, professional help, and rigorous monitoring
The remaining three are an ongoing part of my journey:
- Substituting better or different habits to replace the previous ones even if just to use the time differently;
- Building in consistent rewards to gamify the journey (which also ties into the rigorous monitoring);
- Changing the narrative of my journey to reinforce the change and oppose relapses.
I feel pretty good about my plan, and the various elements. I’ve been working on it a long time, in a sense. And it addresses most of my issues.
But they say that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, and I’ll have to adjust as I go. No excuses, no surrender, no retreat. War is hell, and make no mistake, I have declared war on my body, and it is fighting back with everything it has. And if I’m not willing to go through that hell, I won’t reach the metaphorical Elysian Fields for my retirement.
Okay, right. There is one giant obstacle still standing in my way, hopefully the last vestige of shame that remains hidden in the dark. Next week is about the scariest part of the journey. Onward.