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Conquer retirement stress—and then start conquering your retirement planning—with our soothing exercise.

By Real Simple Editors
March 01, 2021
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Most people wouldn't call financial planning or budgeting fun, exactly, but some tasks—such as transferring extra savings to your vacation fund—can come with an immediate feeling of satisfaction. Alas, retirement planning isn't one of those tasks, but that doesn't make it any less rewarding or vital. The reward of retirement planning comes years, or even decades, after you start, which can make working on your retirement plan feel like a thankless task. And if you feel like you're behind on your retirement planning, it can even become dreaded.

Fortunately, there's no need to dread planning for retirement. The earlier you start, the easier it is, and making a plan at any point is better than nothing. You can overcome that stress—stress about the balances of your retirement accounts (or lack thereof), stress about how much you need to save, stress about the uncertainty of your future—with some mindfulness, focus, and action. (If you've yet to learn how to meditate, never fear: This exercise is beginner-friendly.)

Step One: Focus on a Single Task

Though the health benefits of mindfulness are many, you won't get the full benefit of this little exercise without first picking one task to focus on. Think about where you want to start, or refer to our list below and pick one item to focus on. Some of these may not be open to you, depending on where you are in your retirement planning journey, so just pick the one that feels most accessible. If you're already well on your way to retirement, you may have a more specific task that you've been putting off—if that's the case, focus on that, and skip ahead to our stress-busting exercise.

  • Research your employer match on your 401(k)
  • Open an IRA or Roth IRA
  • Increase your 401(k) contributions by 1 percent
  • Reach out to a financial advisor to help you out
  • Make a month-by-month plan to max out your Roth IRA

Step Two: Breathe

Now, it's time to do the task. If even the thought of checking on your 401(k) balance or researching retirement accounts fills you with angst (and the need to procrastinate), slow down, and follow our steps below for a quick check-in and refresh before working on your retirement task of choice.

  1. Sit comfortably. Let your gaze soften on your phone or computer screen and breath deeply. Focus on the rise and fall of your breathing.
  2. Once your attention is on your breath, visualize that you are energized and confident, ready to accomplish the task ahead of you: planning for retirement.
  3. In your mind's eye, see yourself as determined to do the task, even if it's difficult. Imagine that you're able to problem-solve any challenges that arise along the way with a sense of calm resourcefulness.
  4. Reassure yourself that you have the wisdom to know where to start.
  5. Now, imagine what it might feel like to have a plan in place for your retirement. Is there a sense of relief, or a feeling of accomplishment?
  6. Envision a reward for completing this small step toward your retirement plan. Perhaps you can take a walk, or enjoy a sweet treat. Go into details of how that reward will feel; is there a sense of joy or relaxation? Now imagine the final reward: a comfortable retirement, on your terms. Does that feel you with any feeling, positive or negative?
  7. Take one final, deep breath, and see if you can carry this confidence and set of calm resourcefulness with you as you tackle the task ahead.

The retirement planning journey is long, and it may require adjustments over the years. Each time you feel overwhelmed, return to this exercise to help fight that retirement stress.