At every stage of life, self-discipline breeds success. Disciplined students excel in school. Disciplined workers boost their productivity. Disciplined savers retire with more money.
But once you retire, does discipline even matter anymore?
You might figure you’ve earned the right to indulge yourself in retirement. Eat more. Sleep later. Procrastinate at will.
Ditching your discipline, while alluring, comes at a cost. Preserving your mental and physical wellness in retirement requires willpower and prudent decision-making.
Yet the opportunity to escape the confines of a well-ordered life might seem too good to pass up. You’re finally free. You can prioritize what you want, when you want, without anyone lecturing you or bossing you around.
But here’s the bad news: The new you can actually turn you off.
“Self-discipline empowers you to live the life in retirement that you deserve,” said Gary Poier, author of “Make Retiring Easy.”
A Canada-based retirement life coach, Poier cites three benefits of maintaining self-discipline as you age:
1. Relationships. Your relationships can atrophy if you put less effort into thinking of others. Neglect those close to you at your own peril.
“Without discipline, relationships suffer,” he said. “It takes thought, time and energy for them to grow and flourish.”
2. Health. While you can’t control every aspect of your health, going to pot won’t help. If you lower your guard and adopt poor habits, there’s a damaging ripple effect.
“A decline in your health impacts not only you, but also your loved ones and caregivers,” Poier said.
3. Attitude. It’s easy to lapse into a cynical mindset in retirement. You’re bored. You’ve lost your professional identity. You fear getting old(er).
Shifting to default mode—where you lament your lost youth and bathe in regret for the past and dread for the future—can upend your remaining years. Imposing self-discipline can overhaul your attitude so that you stave off hopelessness and despair.
“Without even realizing it, your thoughts can go from being positive to negative, from optimistic to pessimistic, from empowering to self-limiting,” Poier warned. “If you’re not careful, you can walk around with a very negative attitude. You have to have the self-discipline to be aware of how you’re thinking because your attitude determines what your life is like.”
If you’re tempted to indulge freely in retirement, consider another potential downside: dying sooner. Longevity and self-discipline go hand-in-hand.
“Self-control is associated with living longer,” said Roy Baumeister, co-author of “Willpower.” Disciplined retirees are more apt to follow their doctor’s treatment regimen, stick to an exercise routine, maintain a healthy diet and avoid substance abuse.
“Self-control is on a continuum,” added Baumeister, a social psychologist who recently completed a stint as visiting scholar at Harvard University. “It’s not either-or.”
Taking small steps to exert discipline can help you derive more satisfaction from your retirement. Making a modest commitment—and keeping it—can in itself produce lasting gains.
Whether it’s walking for 15 minutes a day or creating a foolproof system to take your medications exactly as prescribed, a disciplined approach enhances your daily life. Even if you don’t see an instant uptick in your happiness, such small measures will reduce short- and long-term problems that can undermine your well-being.
As a kind of self-improvement challenge, Baumeister suggests imposing discipline on yourself by setting goals and following through. Enlist peers as accountability partners as you integrate new behaviors into your daily routine.
“Once it becomes a habit, even if it’s just reading a set number of pages of a book each day, it becomes automatic,” he said. “It’s no longer a struggle.”
If you’re still skeptical about the need for self-discipline as you age, ponder your legacy. How do you want family and friends to remember you?
“Many people plan to leave a financial legacy to their loved ones, but I believe it’s more important to leave your life story to your loved ones and future generations,” Poier said. “It takes self-discipline to create your personal legacy.”
Modeling self-control, moderation and a disciplined lifestyle inspires others. It’s one more reason they will admire you now—and for years to come.