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One of my neighbors in New York is a former comedy writer. In fact, he was one of the head writers on the long-running sitcom “The Golden Girls,” a colorful depiction of life in retirement. Four retired ladies living together in Florida, enjoying a life of socializing, recreation, and … other activities.

If my neighbor had to write another sitcom about retirement today, I think he would be at a loss for jokes.

The days of working for 40 or 45 years, finishing at age 65, retiring to your summer home in Maine, and collecting enough Social Security and pension dollars to live happily ever after are fewer and farther between. This was the sobering message I shared this week via webinar with a nationwide group of retirement plan participants, part of my recent partnership with MassMutual’s Retirement Services Division. The point wasn’t to demoralize but to get participants to think strategically about the critically important issue of retirement planning and saving.

[Resources: Retirement Advice and Management]

I don’t want to say that times are getting worse. It’s just that circumstances are different and the faster we can adapt to changes and accept the realities before us, the more likely we can understand what it takes to retire well, how to best take control of our futures and enjoy the golden years … even if those years are starting later in life.

In fact retiring at 65 is becoming increasingly rare. There are a few reasons for this, namely: the economic crisis, inadequate savings, the Social Security deficit, and greater life expectancy.

The most popular question regarding retirement is, of course, how much will I need? But that’s not where I’d start. Consider answering this first: what will retirement look like for me, personally? What’s the visual? After all, like any other financial goal in life, you can’t attach a cost before you know what it entails. As you prepare for retirement, imagine what life will be like. This not only gets you in the right mindset, it can help you make important savings calculations.

Visualization is a psychological technique and it can play a tremendous role in your financial planning. It’s something humans are inherently good at.  In my research for “Psych Yourself Rich” I interviewed Dan Ariely, author of the New York Times best-seller “Predictably Irrational” and Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University. He tells me that, “we do more vision more hours of the day than we do anything else and we’re good at it.” “What’s more,” says Ariely, “when it comes to visual illusions, we can see the mistakes.” Visualization will enable your whole body and brain to understand how this accomplishment—in this case retirement—may (or may not) resonate in your life.

How to Visualize Retirement »

Image: David Boyle, via Flickr.com

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