5 Great Coaching Exercises to use with Empty Nesters and Retirees

retiree holding globe against red background

With the end of the school year approaching fast, and many children graduating and setting off to make their way in the world, many parents are experiencing "Empty Nest" syndrome. In addition, summer is a time that many people retire to enjoy the warm and sunny weather.

What these two types of coachees have in common is:

  1. An excess of time on their hands.
  2. A potential loss of focus and/or meaning in their lives.

So, below are 5 great coaching exercises to help "empty nest" and retiring clients get the most out of their lives.

5 Coaching Exercises for "Empty Nesters" and Retirees

1. Identify Their Values

Identify Your Values Workbook Cover

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Use the Personal Values Identification Workbook (or your own process) to help your clients get really clear on their values—what matters most to them.

Even if your client has done values work in the past, a big life change impacts our values—and priorities. Plus our values naturally change over time—as we age, learn and grow as a person.

Retirement and children leaving home represent a major priority shift—and it's a great opportunity for our clients to reflect on what's now most important to us in life.

WHY IT'S HELPFUL: Once your client has a handle on their values they can pick goals, activities, relationships, hobbies and other opportunities that align with what really matters to them.

OTHER TOOLS/EXERCISES: Another tool in your toolbox are some big powerful questions to ponder that really get your client thinking. This is often a great place to start with our clients. Perhaps you already have your own favourites or you could also try our Powerful Pondering Questions Tool.

2. The Wheel of Life

Wheel of Life Template Exercise Page 1

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The Wheel of Life Template is such an easy and fun exercise. Your clients now have more time than ever to dedicate to themselves—but where should they start?

Usually we use the Wheel to review and improve work-life-balance—because people who work need more time for relaxation, fun, creativity, relationships etc. But Retirement and "Empty Nester" clients now (in theory) have more time. So use the wheel instead to help them create more meaning and fulfilment in each of the 8 standard wheel areas.

You could also use a Blank Wheel of Life and ask your clients to label 8 areas that have the most meaning and importance for them as they move into the next phase of their lives.

Some great questions to ask include How satisfied are they with each area currently? What goals can they identify? What actions could they take to raise their scores? etc.

WHY IT'S HELPFUL: Without thought and focus, it's easy for people to simply fill their time with lots of new activities, but still feel empty. What does a meaningful like look like? How will they create a fulfilling and enjoyable life? Use the Wheel to help them find out!

To learn everything you need to know about this powerful coaching tool read: The Complete Guide to The Wheel of Life

The "Career" Segment

In particular the "Career" segment poses very interesting questions for these clients. Our careers or roles are where we spend most of our waking life. For stay-at-home moms and carers, their "career" would be taking care of the home, person in question and/or kids. Now they're experiencing a significant shift—and there is a big unknown! Please note that many retirees and "Empty Nester" (moms in particular) identify with their roles and feel literally worth "less" when this role disappears.

One great place to start is to ask your client if—and what—they'd like to rename the Career segment (eg. Volunteering, Creativity, Writing, Giving Back, Supporting Family, Following My Dream). What does their new name for this segment tell them?

So, some final thoughts:

  • For Working Empty Nesters: If your clients currently work—how does the empty nest at home impact their career (if at all)? Will they devote the extra time and energy to themselves—or to grow and accelerate their careers? Will they take more holidays, move to part-time work, or do they need to ramp things up to pay for college fees? Will they focus on learning for themselves or switch careers?
  • For Non-working Empty Nesters: Do they want to re-enter the workforce? If so, will it be full or part-time? Do they want to start a business or new creative enterprise? What will they do? Is any training/re-training required? What would be exciting and interesting? What would be easy?
  • For Retirees: Being physically and mentally healthy is often a high priority with retiree clients. How will they be able to tell they're healthy? Also, life is short—how will they make sure they have no regrets? If they looked back in 10 years time, what would they be disappointed they didn't do? (eg. take care of their health, get out in nature, paint, write that book, volunteer, consult, travel, cook, start a side-business?)

OTHER TOOLS/EXERCISES: You could use the Self-Care & Needs Review Exercise (to identify their needs), inspire your clients to try something new (or slow down and relax) with the Are You Sitting TOO Comfortably? Comfort Zone Exercise or help your client rediscover their buried career hopes and dreams with the Career Discovery Pondering Questions Sheet.

3. Wacky Wild Goal Brainstorming

Goal Brainstorming Exercise Page 2

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So, your clients have all this extra time—and possibly energy. What will they do with it? What have your clients always wanted to do but never had the time?

This tool asks your client to brainstorm ideas for goals—everything they'd like to be, do or have. And then score their top 10 ideas against the Wheel of Life categories. Which goals will score the highest and the least?

Help your clients pick some really meaningful and exciting goals for them to work towards.

WHY IT'S HELPFUL: When we start a new phase of our life it's all too easy to fill our time with whatever comes next—or other people's needs and priorities. By helping our clients choose really meaningful and/or fun and exciting goals they're going to be super-motivated!

OTHER TOOLS/EXERCISES: You could also ask them to create a Vision Board and explore and coach them around the goals—and messages they see on there. Learn more about Vision Boards here >>

4. Detox Their Relationships

Detox Toxic Relationships Coaching Exercise

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As your clients move into the next phase of their lives, it's a great time to review WHO they spend their time with.

Do the people they hang out with leave them feeling good about themselves? Have they outgrown their friendships? Have they got like-minded people to spend time with and learn from?

The Detox Your Toxic Relationships exercise asks your clients to assess people in their lives by considering how they feel about themselves after spending time with them.

Then, you can coach them to figure out how can they spend more time with people who energise, support inspire and encourage them, and less time with those who drain them...

WHY IT'S HELPFUL: We all know that the people around us affect our energy levels—so help your clients have more energy to navigate this new phase of their life with verve and vigour!

OTHER TOOLS/EXERCISES: Help your clients Identify a Spark Team of people who energise and inspire them, and get to work on creating it!

5. What Makes Their Heart Sing?

What Makes My Heart Sing Coaching Exercise

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The simple but powerful "What Makes My Heart Sing?" exercise is a great way to help your clients find more enjoyment and satisfaction in life.

Ask your client to make a list of the top 10 things that make their heart literally "sing". What's particularly interesting about this exercise is that usually the heart sing items are both free (or low cost) and easy to do. So, why don't we do more of them?

WHY IT'S HELPFUL: We all need things to look forward to in life. Sometimes a big change can leave us feeling empty. This exercise helps your client find simple but meaningful things to do, and reframes what enjoyment and happiness can look like...

TOP TIP: This exercise is particularly useful for retirees who may be learning to live on a lower income than they're used to. It's easy to go out and spend money on activities that fill the time—and yet, there are so many free, low-cost and easy to do activities they could be doing instead! Learn more about how to use this exercise here >>

ALSO: Watch this Monthly Tool Clinic webinar (30 mins) where Emma-Louise demonstrates how to use this tool with a group.

OTHER TOOLS/EXERCISES: Use the Boost Your Strengths Exercise to help your clients find ways to use their strengths in powerful, new ways.

If you liked this article with Coaching Exercises for "Empty Nesters" and Retirees, you may also like:

Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce Kindness.com. She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>


  1. Megan Alder

    My mother is about to retire, and I know that she feels concerned about her daily activities, and I want to help her somehow. I like that you talked about the importance of making sure that you identify their values and learn how to highlight them. I will definitely follow all your advice, and I will also start looking for professional help.

    • Michela Phillips

      You are most welcome, Gail! Glad you're enjoying it!
      - Kindly, Michela


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