Retirement Planning: Trick Yourself into Better Habits

Last Updated Jun 21, 2010 9:28 AM EDT

Most people know what to do to improve their retirement years: Save more. Spend less. Eat better. Exercise more. Spend more time planning for the future.

Yet many people just don't get around to making these smart, healthy choices. As a result, their retirement years most likely won't be as good as they would be if they could figure out how to choose with their rest-of-life in mind. So it's a good idea to pay attention to how you make decisions and stick to them.

One idea advocated by Joe Piscatella, president of the Institute for Health and Fitness, is to focus on choices you make today. As Joe once told me, "I know that today, I can decide to exercise. I don't worry about tomorrow or the next day -- I just make up my mind to choose well today. When tomorrow comes, I focus on making good decisions that day. Eventually I'll have many days of making smart choices, and I've built a healthy habit." It's inspiring to see Joe express his ideas in this video clip.


And you can extend Joe's philosophy beyond healthy exercise. Today you can decide to eat better. Today you can decide to spend a few hours planning for retirement. You probably won't finish your planning -- but you'll have decided to just make good progress today. Or today you can decide to spend less money and bank your savings. Maybe that means skipping the expensive morning coffee, bagging your lunch, or taking public transportation to work. Don't worry about what you'll save or skip tomorrow -- you'll focus on that tomorrow.

Another expert in behavior change that I've spoken to quite often is Sally Hass, a former benefit education director at Weyerhaeuser who now runs her own business consulting with employers to help their employees with life planning. How does Sally make smart decisions for her future? "I form an image in my mind of what I want to accomplish in the future," she told me. "Then I make an actual picture of this new feature in my life and post that picture everywhere: on my bathroom mirror, on the dashboard of my car, in the kitchen. The picture constantly gives me inspiration to keep on track." You can actually hear Sally discuss her ideas in this video clip.


These are just a few tips people use to help them make important life changes. In future posts, I'll share more tips. Maybe they'll help inspire you to make choices that will improve your retirement years. If you have a tip of your own to share, please help our readers by writing a comment below.
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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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