Motivation and Intention in Retirement
There is a lot of stuff to do in retirement. If you choose to be busy, you can!
But what motivates you to do the things you love doing, and how reliable are those motivations? As it turns out, setting intentions more consistently gives you the desired results rather than just relying on motivation. So, do you set intentions? And how does that affect motivation?
Where do intention and motivation intersect, and how can we use these ideas as a path to fulfillment in retirement?
Why Motivation Lacks Oomph
The ability to motivate yourself to accomplish is not a skill or a fixed personality trait.
Like New Year’s resolutions, motivation can fizzle out or lack the oomph needed to move you. And that is the key—motivation needs to move you to action. If you don’t act, there is no change.
Motivation goes up and down like any other sensation or emotion. Sometimes you have it, and sometimes you don’t. But that doesn’t mean you cannot develop the capacity to do what you need to, even if you don’t feel like it. You can cultivate motivation once you know whether it is procrastination or anhedonia.
Procrastination or Anhedonia?
Believe it or not, procrastination can be healthy! If you need a break from the stress or more sleep or exercise, not doing everything on your to-do list might be the right thing to do.
Conversely, anhedonia means things that once brought you joy are now meaningless. If suffering from anhedonia, that’s your clue that many things need changed in your life. Invariably, improving from meaningless will mean action, both physical and emotional progress that starts just by doing something. Do something. Do something.
But, in summary, motivation is something we are not born with, and it comes and goes with the tides of emotion. So, in the end, you must act your way into a new state.
I think you are better off setting intentions than trying to improve motivation.
What is the Difference between Intention and Motivation?
While commonly used interchangeably, there is a noticeable difference between intention and motivation. That difference? Deliberation. As in slow and careful consideration given to the topic at hand.
With motivation (the drive to get stuff done), well, that waxes and wanes. Of course, we are not always sure why we are motivated to do certain things; thus, motivation is less deliberate.
Intention, on the other hand, is, at its core, deliberate. Intentions are conscious goals we set and periodically reaffirm to get where we want to be.
So intention is the road map, and motivation is the driving.
To be more (or better) motivated, we must carefully consider and set our intentions for the day and longer periods such as weeks or years.
Intention vs. To-Do List and Goals
Setting intentions is different than a to-do list or a list of goals.
The difference is who you want to be and how you want to be seen by the world vs. what you want to get done. Goals and a to-do list can be important; we don’t want to set an intention to pick up the dry cleaning today. With a to-do list, you can check off items. You can accomplish goals by getting a list of to-do’s and knocking them out.
With intentions, however, the project is never finished and always ongoing. As you reflect on your accomplishments of the day and your intentions, ask yourself what you did well and where you still have room to progress.
With this awareness and self-reflection, we can better align our motivations with our intentions and focus on living our best life.
How to Set Intentions
When you set intentions, consider the following:
What is it that I truly value? Who is my authentic self?
Beyond the blurb in the paper upon your death, what kind of life did you lead, and how did it impact the people around you?
Discovering your authentic self is a journey and might be the actual purpose of our brief time on this planet. It starts with thinking and consideration of the value of doing something. Next, we know our goals and why we want certain things. This leads to our intentions based on our true selves: our emotional reactions to events. Once our emotions check us, we are either motivated to do something or not, depending on how it jives with our authentic self.
Another important question to ask when setting intentions is what I wish for myself, my loved ones, and the rest of the world.
Like a retirement revelation, intentions are daily choices that you must reaffirm. It is just like meditation; you will get distracted. Bring your focus back to what you want. In meditation, it is the state of “no-thought,” With intention setting, it is how you want to show up in the world. Yes, deeper than your desire to “do stuff,” as, with motivation, intention is who you are and want to be.
You set intentions by letting your gut tell you how you can “do you” better.
Then you make the effort. You have first the courage to start, then the dedication to stick with it, and the result either helps or hinders the motivation to continue.
Setting Intentions and Intrinsic Motivation
As a reminder, intention is what you aim to create, and motivation is how you feel about it. Intention becomes motivation.
The world values those who are self-motivated. People who get things done without hand-holding or bribes. This begins with good intentions.
And while the path to hell is paved with good intentions, so is the path to the good life. The difference? Your values, beliefs, and what you want to accomplish on the earth.
The goal behind setting intentions is consciously creating the world around you on purpose and with value and meaning, rather than being blown around, anchor to your version of a good life.
This is not intending to do something but setting an intention and acting to make it happen. This distinction will be lost on those who pine and dream but don’t do.
Ideas such as a vision board or writing yourself a letter to open in a year fully describes all you have done and who you have become in the last year.
In a way, these conscious statements of intent manifest once you let go of them because that’s where motivation fills the gap and gets us to act.
This creates intrinsic motivation and the famous three elements of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
- Autonomy: the ability to direct our own lives.
- Mastery: to get better at something that matters.
- Purpose: do what we do in service of something larger than me.
Thus, intrinsic motivation becomes what carries forward based on our intentions. Our intentions reflect what is important to us in our lives.
Motivation Fails to Drive
Finally, motivation is the feeling or the emotion that drives your action. Like all emotions, it is subject to the whims of your feelings and the circumstances around you. Not infrequently, fear (of failure or of not fitting in) is the motivation. Fear, like emotions in general, is an unreliable motivator. Inconsistent. Fleeting.
Think about a professional sports league. Every team has the motivation to win the championship, yet more or less motivation does not determine the outcome. “Wanting it more” does not have to do with accomplishment.
Intentions do. While motivation may wax and wane, setting intentions can lead to more consistent follow-through and the results you want to achieve.
Intrinsic motivation is far more stable and enduring than needing external justification. Therefore, setting intentions and reflecting on them is how we sustain purpose and live our best life.
How to Get Motivated in Retirement
So, how to get motivated in retirement? First, be curious about what you are thinking and feeling. Metacognition and metaemotions provide valuable feedback for discovering your true self and what is a priority to you. What is right, and what feels right?
Beyond curiosity, just do it. Act. Start small and add fun things (like friends or music). Keep it small and stay connected with your ongoing thoughts about your goals.
Be conscious about numbing behaviors and watch if those get in your way or if they recharge your batteries. And remember that failure is ok. So keep trying, and watch your shame responses try and tell you you cannot do it or you are not good enough. Self-criticism leads to depression, not to motivation.
If you want to be motivated in retirement, set your intentions. Remember that self-compassion and treating yourself with kindness, honesty, and respect is the path to good intentions gone right.