After the frenetic pace of a 40-hour work week, retirement is a drastic change in priorities. You get to sleep in, wake up whenever you like, and generally structure your day as you see fit. How could this well-deserved break possibly be harmful? Well, as the Harvard Health Blog notes, older adults who were in retirement were 40% more likely to develop a heart attack or stroke than those who were not.
But, there is a caveat. The study found that those older adults who had a good relationship with their spouse, an abundance of hobbies, volunteer opportunities, and passions beyond work fared much better than those who did not. In other words, they made the most of their newfound free time by engaging in mentally stimulating activities.
However, when you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck or looming deadlines, it can be easy to get sidetracked by episodes of “The People’s Court”, “Judge Judy”, or any of the other daytime TV shows and social media platforms vying for your attention.
So, how should older adults who are intent upon learning a new language, starting a new business, or improving their physical and mental fitness go about developing the self-discipline to see it through? Use a combination of deep work and the Pomodoro method.
What Is Deep Work?
Cal Newport—who is the author of the excellent book “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World”—defines deep work as this.
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.
While many older adults will most likely not be studying statistics or computer programming languages during their retirement, deep work requires deep concentration and singular focus, which are key to maintaining good cognitive health in older adults.
As you get older, it becomes more difficult to sort out relevant information from that which is irrelevant. This attentional control, however, can be improved upon through deep work and a dedication to approaching each task with mindfulness.
In fact, a review of the scientific literature on the health benefits of focused attention (see previous link) demonstrated that mindfully approaching each task improved an older adult’s overall ability to incorporate and process information.
In essence, this means that you’ll be able to learn that new song on the guitar and memorize those phrases in Mandarin much faster. Giving those activities your undivided attention enables your brain to devote its resources fully to the task at hand.
Don’t Forget to Take a Break
Sometimes, when you’re so focused on the task at hand, it’s easy to lose track of time. At other times, however, the intense focus just leaves you feeling drained and frustrated. Instead of judging yourself for not getting it, take a break.
Even though deep work allows you to learn things faster and more efficiently, your brain still needs a break. This is where the Pomodoro technique comes in.
What Is the Pomodoro Technique?
First developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, the Pomodoro method breaks periods of deep work up into cycles of concentration followed by short breaks. The original method consists of 25 minutes of deep work which is followed by a 5-minute break. However, you can tweak the method to fit your needs.
The Pomodoro technique is great for achieving goals by a certain deadline because it requires your undivided attention during work times. That means no Facebook, no TV, and no stopping to check the mail. Otherwise, you’ll have to restart your entire work period again.
However, it also ensures that your brain gets a break from your task. This keeps you energized, prevents mental fatigue, and gives you time to get a snack.
So, as you go about checking off your list of goals this year, make sure to devote 100% of your attention toward your task, eliminate distractions, and take a breather every once in a while. Oh, and, don’t be so hard on yourself.