Exploring Retirement

Welcome to the October 2015 edition of Exploring Retirement, the magazine for the active retired.. Each month we feature articles on well-being in retirement as well as showcasing an activity to consider. In this issue I will be discussing self-efficacy, the psychological study of self-belief.

New writers are welcome, so if you are interested, please contact editor@exploringretirement.co.uk. For ideas to write about, have a glance at the July 2014 issue of Exploring Retirement, available by clicking on "Past Issues" in the navigation bar on the left of this page. These are only suggestions, please contact us if you have a different topic you would like to share your thoughts on.

Writing team

We have three regular contributors on our writing team. Here they are with a brief note explaining their principal areas of interest:

John Copelton, EditorDr John Copelton - well-being in retirementMichael McSorley, contributorMichael McSorley - lively comment on sport and cultureJeannette Lewis, contributorJeannette Lewis - inspiring ideas on retirement living

Self-efficacy in retirement

Last month we considered Deci and Ryan's self-determination theory and how it can be applied to retirement. Self-determination theory considers the desire for competence or mastery to be innate. However, while we may want to feel competent at what ever we find interesting, many of us are held back from trying new things by lack of confidence. Our belief in our ability to succeed at a given task is called self-efficacy and has been studied for many years by Stanford Professor Albert Bandura, It is important to distinguish between self confidence, which is a overall belief in ourselves and self-efficacy, which is task specific i.e. I may have high self-efficacy in my ability to drive a motor car but low self-efficacy in my ability to put one foot in front of another on the dance floor!

A declining sense of self-efficacy, which often may stem more from disuse and negative cultural expectations than from biological ageing, can set in motion self-perpetuating processes that result in declining cognitive and behavioural functioning. People who are beset with uncertainties about their personal efficacy not only curtail the range of their activities but undermine their efforts in those they undertake. The result is a progressive loss of interest and skill.

The roles into which older adults are cast impose sociocultural constraints on the cultivation and maintenance of perceived self-efficacy. As people move to older-age phases most suffer losses of resources, productive roles, access to opportunities and challenging activities. Monotonous environments that require little thought or independent judgment diminish the quality of functioning, intellectually challenging ones enhance it. Some of the declines in functioning with age result from sociocultural dispossession of the environmental support for it. It requires a strong sense of personal efficacy to reshape and maintain a productive life in cultures that cast their elderly in powerless roles devoid of purpose. In societies that emphasize the potential for self-development throughout the lifespan, rather than psychophysical decline with aging, the elderly tend to lead productive and purposeful lives.

Bandura believes that self-efficacy is influenced by four factors -

  1. Mastery experiences - the experience of mastery is the most important factor determining a person's self-efficacy. Success raises self-efficacy, while failure lowers it.
  2. Observing others - this is perceived as, "If they can do it, I can do it as well." When we see someone succeeding, our own self-efficacy increases; where we see people failing, our self-efficacy decreases.
  3. Social persuasion - i.e. direct encouragement or discouragement from another person. Discouragement is generally more effective at decreasing a person's self-efficacy than encouragement is at increasing it.
  4. Physiological factors - In stressful situations, people commonly exhibit signs of distress: shaking, fear, nausea, etc. Perceptions of these responses in oneself can markedly alter self-efficacy. Getting 'butterflies in the stomach' before public speaking will be interpreted by someone with low self-efficacy as a sign of inability, thus decreasing self-efficacy further, whereas high self-efficacy would lead to interpreting such physiological signs as normal and unrelated to ability. It is one's belief in the implications of physiological response that alters self-efficacy, rather than the physiological response itself.

Guided Mastery

During his long research career Professor Bandura developed a number of techniques that proved helpful in developing self-efficacy. Some of his suggestions can be helpful to older people trying to learn a new skill or gain more control in their lives. Here are just a few examples -

Enabling conditions

Learning with others can be a powerful source of self-efficacy. When I joined a tennis club last year, after many years absence from the game, my self-efficacy could not have been lower. However the club offered a coaching evening for beginners and returning players and I found playing with others of similar standard helped me to get back in the game.

Small successes

A task that can seem insurmountable can be made a lot easier if we break it down into small steps. As we achieve each step our feelings of success grows and with it our self-efficacy, In management courses they talk about the "salami technique" - you can't eat whole one but it's quite tasty in thin slices!

Graduated time

When I retired I thought I would like to learn to play the piano. Initially I thought I would practice for an hour each day. I soon found this to be unrealistic as I became bored and lost concentration. After an absence of nearly a year I have gone back to practicing for twenty minutes at a time and found this much more sustainable.

Mastery aids

My wife's mother took up oil painting in her retirement, a hobby that she enjoyed very much. This included attending a local class with other ladies of similar age and ability, so there was a social element as well. While she was a good painter, her drawing skills were weak. She overcame this by employing a technique used by some of the great masters. Whenever she found a picture that she wanted to paint, she copied it onto tracing paper on which she had ruled grid lines and from there to her canvas. When I am practicing the pieces from my piano tutorial, I go onto YouTube to hear how it should be played!

Featured Activity - Discovering What's Next

Carol GreenfieldOne of the most interesting people I met while I was in the United States on my Churchill Travel Fellowship, was Carol Greenfield, Founder and President of Discovering What's Next (DWN). Carol suggested we meet on the third floor of Newton Public Library, on the outskirts of Boston, I was a little curious as to why we were meeting in a library. It turned out that Discovering What's Next had been given a small, open-plan office and a large area which they used to provide information resources. The adjacent shelves were filled with books on topics such as retirement, finance and vocational guidance.

Carol launched DWN in 2002 to address what she saw as an unmet community need: to help midlife and older adults negotiate the transition we all experience as we approach and journey through retirement. She initially conceived Discovering What's Next as a one-stop shop, providing resources and databases on topics such as work, lifelong learning, health issues, civic engagement, financial planning and leisure activities.

As it grew DWN became more of an educational centre, drawing on the expertise of volunteers and peers in the community to share knowledge, networks, and advice across a broad range of issues. All of their activities were generated and delivered by community members, by and for peers, friends, and families. Carol trained a number of volunteers to act as "Navigators", helping others explore the possibilities of career change in their later years. There were regular "Meetings Up" often with guest speakers, discussing topics centred on the potential of retirement to provide fulfilment.

Initially the library simply offered them a room in which to meet and Carol used this to arrange public discussions. I was particularly interested in how Carol managed to get this initiative off the ground. She explained how she had gathered around her a group of enthusiastic likeminded people, each of whom was asked to invite 20 friends or colleagues to attend their meetings. The meetings served to identify community needs and acted as focus groups in deciding DWN's future activities.

When the chief librarian saw the work that was being done and the kudos accruing to the library as a result, she offered them space to create a "Hub" on the top floor, which Carol deliberately designed to be open and welcoming. The team also developed a website and produced a regular e-newsletter.

I was greatly impressed by Carol's tireless energy and drive. Enthusiasm like hers can be hard to resist. She showed me what can be done when there is someone with the vision to make it happen.


Michael McSorley

Although Michael spent most of his working life in planning, he did originally graduate in economics. This month he shares his thoughts on the UK Governments "austerity" programme, which includes public sector wage restraint and cuts to many public services. You can read Michael's views by clicking here.

Jeanette Lewis

This month Jeanette reflects on the importance of making a start, whatever the task may be that we want to accomplish. To read Jeanette's article, click here.


Reflections is intended to showcase short pieces of poetry or prose that reflect on our life experience. This month features another poem by my late friend and colleague, Philip Clarke. Every season has it's own beauty and in his poetry Phil muses on the quiet passing of the year. I'm grateful to his wife, Noelle, for permission to publish these poems.

To read Philips poem "Autumn", click here.

In Concert - Art Garfunkel

Our cinema goers have been to see singing legend Art Garfunkel in concert. You can read their review of a memorable evening here.


This months film review continues the trip down memory lane, as our cinema goers have been to see "Love and Mercy", which tells the story of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. To read the review, click here