Avoiding Brain Rot

In order to enable our roving retirement, we needed to be financially independent. We also needed to find enough stimulating things to do to avoid brain rot.

For the longest time, I have been thinking about financial independence, the first part of acronym FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early). Financial independence allows a person to pursue life as they wish regardless of age and brings power to those who achieve it. However, the retirement part is often an afterthought and brings the big question: What to do with your new-found freedom once you do achieve FIRE?

What will you do once you retire?

I, for one, had been thinking about what to do after I retire for a number of years. But I have discovered many of my friends and acquaintances are either not planning to retire because they love their work, which is great, or they are planning to retire without having a plan for what to do during retirement.

When asked, most people think of the classic pursuits of golf, travel, gardening, coffee with friends, etc. But often those activities are not enough to fulfill people. Frequently, retirees go back to work in some capacity because they miss the social interaction and sense of purpose that work provides. For some, their own sense of identity is tied to the job. No job, no identity.

My father worked into his 70s because he loved his job. He has been very concerned about my wellbeing because I retired at 54. He has asked many times about how I plan to keep myself active and engaged for the next, hopefully, 40 years. When you think about our life expectancies, I literally have another lifetime to lead “in retirement.”

Pitfalls of Retirement

It is not uncommon for people’s health to worsen early in retirement. This can be driven by a multitude of factors:

  • Loss of identity and social stature
  • No fixed schedule
  • Increased isolation from no longer going to work
  • Depression
  • No compelling reason to get up or dress for the day
  • Lessening exercise due to depression
  • No mental stimulation from the challenge of doing meaningful work

It is really the last one that I fear most. No mental stimulation, leading to a condition I call Brain Rot. IMHO, it’s not enough to read the paper, work out and meet friends at the coffee shop on a daily basis. Some sense of purpose is key. And for me, it must be intellectually challenging.

My father’s best friend passed away a year ago, at the age of 100. While his body was infirm at the end, his mind was still pretty sharp. He was working at his law practice the week that he passed away. AARP provides games as another way to gain mental stimulation to maintain mental acuity, but I’m not willing to bet my life on their efficacy.

Ideas for a Challenging Retirement

In thinking about this conundrum, Diana and I have come up with a number of ideas for how to provide mental stimulation and challenges, including evidence from International Living magazine.

  • Live outside of your comfort zone, you could live in another city or even country.
  • Learn a new language. This kind of goes with the previous idea, but you could do it from home.
  • Develop new hobbies, like woodworking or breeding roses.
  • Keep your body active, join a Zumba class. For Diana, she just does rehab after surgery (oops, that was my inside voice).
  • Find meaningful ways to give back to your community. You could volunteer to teach English to newcomers, help at an animal rescue, mentor business owners, etc.
  • Start a new business.
  • Go back to work doing something just because you enjoy it, like travel planning.

In the past few years, even before retirement, we have tried a few of these things. Diana tried working on her French and Spanish. I spent more time on my photography. Diana also tutored English to a Korean immigrant and of course rehabbed from a few surgeries, but nothing really stuck until we came up with the idea of a blog.

What is working for us?

First, we were presented with many obstacles around our decision to be “homeless” and travel the world. We discussed these challenges with our friends and found that lots of people seemed to be interested in what we were doing and how we were doing it. As we thought more about it, we decided that starting a blog and writing about our experiences fulfilled many of the ideas for a stimulating retirement described above. For example,

  • Writing is creative and mentally stimulating.
  • Considering our blog to be a business that offers challenges and responsibilities.
  • Setting a schedule for ourselves to publish one to two articles a week.
  • We have sought out new experiences in order to have topics to write about.
  • Our travels are looked at differently now, we always looking for more interesting angles.
  • Establishing and maintaining the mechanics of the blog has been challenging.

Blogging as a Business

There are many ways to grow the blog as a business as time goes on and blog is our new identity, a significant force in creating a sense of purpose. In addition to the blog, we plan to live in other countries, learn other languages, and generally ensure we are not entirely in our comfort zone.

All of this is not only intended to keep life interesting but to help us live as long and as healthy lives as possible. One unexpected outcome, as our kids told us recently, is what we are doing is really cool and when they tell their friends about it, they seem cooler too.

Going Forward

To be sure, we will still pursue those hedonistic activities, dutifully reporting on the dive spots we visit, the castles we climb and the 2-star meals we suffer through, all for the sake of journalism. We do it for you, our readers. 😉 Seriously, though, the thought of heading into retirement without a plan to avoid brain rot was frightening. I was quite relieved when this plan came together. I can’t wait to see where it goes.

The bottom line is, it wasn’t enough to be in Chapter 2 of our lives, floating with the current, we wanted to live Chapter 2. We are hoping this blog will provide the stimulation and impetus to do so for many years to come.

How will you live your Chapter 2?

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  1. Great post! One of the things about not working is much more time to learn a great variety of new things. I have been trying to do is digital restoration of old family photos after taking long, online courses on using Adobe products for such a purpose. Also learned how to 3D print so as to help a nephew make a small rocket and some other parts.

  2. Nice ideas. Managing the photo cache is a challenge I need to take up. With 40k photos and growing since we started the blog, I need a system to keep up.

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