By Megan Giles: Retirement Transition Consultant [First published by www.oversixty.com.au].
Retirement is a gloomy word. It is derived from the French words ‘re’ and ‘tirer’, meaning to draw back and suggests that the best part of our lives is over once we are no longer working. It insinuates that retirement is simply a time to sit back and wait for the inevitable.
But what if we framed it differently?
I recently put the call out to my readers, thinking that surely there must be a better (and more inspiring) word than retirement to describe the life stage post-career. I figured who better to ask than those who are currently living this reality? I received a number of insightful suggestions but the one that really struck me was the notion to ‘rewire’ as shared by Jan Wild of Retiring Not Shy. I love this as it evokes a sense of renewal, reinvigoration and the opportunity to challenge assumptions.
What would you rather do – retire or rewire?
Growing research in the field of neuroplasticity demonstrates that the brain is not static. It continues to evolve and adapt, i.e. rewire, as we age. Scientists have demonstrated that the brain is sufficiently plastic (i.e. able to reorganise its neural pathways) to transform and change at any age, even in adulthood. Significant learning is not confined to childhood and adolescence as previously thought.
If your brain can rewire, what shouldn’t you?
Do you want to challenge the stereotype that older persons are unable to learn new things – or that the best of your life has passed once you step into retirement? Here are three science-based facts to inspire you to rewire and grasp life with both hands as you step into retirement.
Use it or lose it
It’s only when you stop doing things that you forget how to do them. There is a tendency for people to limit themselves as they age by doing only the things that feel comfortable, i.e. undertaking only familiar and repetitive activities. What this means, however, is that this familiarity enables the brain to become a little lazy (Guglielman 2017). Provided you keep challenging yourself, there is no reason that you can’t get out there and learn a new language or take up stand-up paddle boarding. Your brain will adapt and allow you to learn new skills.
Tip: Keep using your brain and your body in new and exciting ways. Fire up your network of friends, family and community (and those long held dreams!) and try new adventures and activities.
Keep pushing yourself.
Don’t allow old age to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps you’re a little nervous about driving and so you start to accept lifts from friends or catch the bus into town. You put mechanisms in place to ensure you can still get ‘out and about’ but without the stress of driving. This means, however, that your brain will stop receiving the stimuli that driving creates and instead focus its efforts on other functions. As a result you no longer have the competence (or confidence) to drive. This is known as negative learning (Merzenich, 2005).
Tip: Don’t assume that because you are older, there are things you ‘shouldn’t’ be doing. Provided your health will allow it, avoid ‘work-arounds’ and keep challenging yourself with complex (and perhaps exciting!) tasks.
Avoid getting caught up in ‘seniors moments’
A lapse in memory can be inconvenient and even embarrassing. It can even be time-consuming, such as forgetting where you left the keys. But before you start researching the symptoms of Alzheimers and self-diagnosing, recognise we all have forgetful moments. Regardless of age, people tend experience significant drop offs in retention after 60 minutes and after 24 hours because out brains ‘bump out’ older information to make way for new information (Waddington 2009). Further to that, forgetfulness can be caused by a number of things such as stress, fatigue or medication.
Tip: Avoid identifying with the stereotype. Acknowledge that you will forget things from time to time and get on with living a full and opportunity-filled retirement!
The ability of the humble brain to change and adapt as we age is quite astounding. Be inspired by its capability and keep stretching, striving, flexing and challenging in all aspects of life. Forge your own path and create a retirement you will love to live!
If you enjoyed this article you may also like to read Why if retirement isn't for me...? and Is fear stopping your actioning your retirement dreams?
I wish you the very best on your journey,
Guglielman, E. (2017). The Ageing Brain.Neuroplasticity and Lifelong Learning. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/255180453_The_Ageing_Brain_Neuroplasticity_and_Lifelong_Learning [accessed Jan 2 2018].
Merzenich, M.M. (2005). Change minds for the better. The Journal of Active Aging. November –December, pp.22-30.
Waddington, T (2009). Smarts: it’s not how much you learn that matters. It’s how much you remember. Psychology today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/smarts/200904/smarts-its-not-how-much-you-learn-matters-its-how-much-you-remember [accessed Jan 2 2018].
In planning for a holiday we always think “we need to go there” and “we should see that” but when Day One of our holiday arrives, we draw a blank…What were all of those things we were going to enjoy? In the busyness of life they’ve slipped our mind.
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