As you’re planning for retirement, when you stop and think about it, you’re planning for a 20- to 30-year period of your life. It’s a task to take seriously, and it’s not a good idea to wing it.

As you approach retirement, it’s important to think about the life you want to live for the rest of your life and the barriers that might hold you back. Behavioral science research illustrates that stating your goals and intentions, in writing or in discussion, can help you focus your attention on your essential needs and motivate you to take action to achieve them. 

The following “Hopes and Dreams/Fears and Concerns” exercise can help you with this task. Set aside 30 minutes when you can focus on the two steps below. If you’re married or have a partner, do this exercise together and discuss your results.

Step 1: Hopes and Dreams

Write down the experiences you’d like to have in retirement and what you’d most be interested in doing. Keep in mind that your retirement years represent the best remaining chance in your life to realize these events, so dream a little, or even a lot!

When I conduct this exercise in my retirement planning workshops, here are some common responses that I hear when I ask what people want to do: 

  • Travel
  • Spend time with family and friends
  • Reconnect with people I haven’t seen for awhile
  • Pursue hobbies and interests
  • Learn something new, such as playing a musical instrument
  • Take up a cause 
  • Volunteer or work
  • Take care of my health

Of course, I’ve also heard some really unique and specific goals. One person wanted to visit every single National Park in the U.S. Another wanted to play bluegrass music with their grandchild. 

What’s most important to you? When writing down your goals, think about the things that would fill a substantial part of your time in retirement. For example, many people say they want to travel, which indeed can be a fulfilling goal for your retirement. But travel might take up just a few weeks each year. So if travel or some other activity that won’t fill your days is one of your goals, think about other interests you can pursue that will help fill up your time in retirement.

In addition to really thinking about how you’ll realistically spend your days during retirement, this exercise can help you make important retirement planning decisions, such as how much income you’ll need to support the life you want and where the best place to live might be for you.

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Step 2: Fears and Concerns

Once you’ve finished the “Hopes and Dreams” part of this exercise, spend some time thinking about events that might hold you back from realizing your dreams.

Common concerns that I hear in my retirement planning workshops include:

  • Not having enough money to live on
  • Outliving my money
  • Inflation
  • Stock market crashes
  • Poor health
  • High bills for medical care
  • Being a burden on my adult children, particularly for long-term care
  • Taxes

Once again, I heard some tough concerns during my workshops. For example, some people worry because they’ll need to take care of aging parents. Or they’re concerned that their spouse will need care for a serious medical condition. These situations need to be considered when planning for the life in retirement that’s realistic given your circumstances and obligations.

While these fears may all be realistic, you’ll feel better about them if you put plans in place to help you address them—that’s an important part of your retirement planning. Not only will you sleep better at night, but planning ahead for these possible situations will help give you confidence that you can realize your hopes and dreams.

Even though I suggested spending 30 minutes on this exercise, if it triggers some reflection and discussion with the people who matter to you, it might take longer to complete. But giving it enough time is important so that you come up with a list that really reflects your true feelings. In addition, you might want to revisit your answers to these questions as you conduct your retirement planning. Spending a few hours on this exercise to help plan 20 to 30 years of your life is a great use of your time!

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P.S. I need to give credit where it’s due. I first became aware of this exercise years ago, when I watched Sally Hass conduct her retirement planning workshops at Weyerhaeuser

. It was so effective that now I use it in most of my workshops.