Search online for images of “retirees” and you’ll get a screen full of smiling, lightly wrinkled, gray-haired folks. Some pictures show couples strolling on the beach. Another shows women drinking tea and playing cards.

Illustrating retirement isn’t easy. Nor is envisioning how we’ll spend decades of post-work life. Without routine paid employment to structure our days and bolster our identity, who are we? For some of us—me included!—the idea of a retirement that includes bus trips to casinos and travel by RV just doesn’t resonate.

My retirement will look very different from that … and yours will look very different from mine. No matter how many years you’ll be working until you plan to retire, it’s never too soon to start thinking about what your post-work life will be like. The more focus you can bring to what you’d like to do, the easier it will be commit to a savings and investment plan that allows you to fulfil that vision.

Download my free e-book No Rules Retirement for a wealth of exercises to help you picture your retirement and reflect on fears and concerns. It’s also helpful to complete Personal Insights About Money to explore attitudes about money absorbed growing up that may affect decisions decades later.

William Bridges, the author of Transitions, a book I often recommend to clients, defines transition as “the psychological process people go through to come to terms with a new situation. Therefore, overcoming challenges and taking advantage of opportunities are key elements of making successful transitions throughout life’s journey.”

Retirement is a transition that is assumed to be “good”—but is still a transition and needs to be recognized, anticipated and managed as a major life change and psychological change, with all the challenges and opportunities that change brings.

In addition to these exercises, you could also schedule “money date” with yourself or with your partner, if you have one, to think through your visions of post-work life. You might use the Retirement Vision tool to start the process. Look closely at the areas where you’re very much in synch with your partner and those where you have different expectations and plans.

Spend some time with my First Step Cash Flow tool to see where you stand now financially and how you can adjust your spending and saving to fund those cherished goals. If you need advice or perspective, consider working with a financial planner. (Here’s how to find the right match for your needs.) For an approach that incorporates the emotional and psychological aspects of money into financial advice, you might like to consult a financial therapist.

The most important thing you can do to make sure you’ll thrive during retirement is to devote pre-retirement hours and resources to developing a “spending” plan: How do you dream of spending your post-career time? And what can you do now and in the years ahead to be certain you can fully fund that vision?

Image copyright stylesphotographs