Retired couple plays ball on the beach
MECKY/Getty Images

How do you envision your retirement?

Maybe retirement for you is defined by being knee-deep in sand on a sunny, warm beach. Or, maybe it means taking up that hobby you’ve long put off, or spending more time with family and friends.

You have dreams for your future, and you can see them. But do you know how much they’ll cost?

Most Americans don’t. A recent Bankrate survey found that 61 percent of Americans don’t know how much they’ll need to retire. A lack of preparation can put anyone in jeopardy of outliving their retirement savings.

New research shows, however, that saving more for retirement might be as easy as imagining it.

Envisioning retirement has large impact on savings

A new survey by Capital Group finds that when people envision their preferred retirement lifestyles, they are motivated to save more.

Before asking the 1,202 participants how much they thought they needed to save for retirement, the survey split respondents into two groups: Half were asked to envision experiences they wanted to have in retirement before being asked how much money they would need for them. The other half were asked the same questions, but in reverse order.

The most common experiences and lifestyle expectations included owning a home, being financially secure and making the world a better place, among others.

Participants who imagined their lifestyle beforehand recommended saving 31 percent more per paycheck than those who did not, viewing their later years as times of freedom, traveling and new experiences.

What envisioning your retirement looks like

In the survey, expectations of retirement varied across demographics and generations.

Women and millennials reported saving 40 to 50 percent more than the average recommended savings rate, which largely outpaced Generation X and baby boomers. However, 60 percent of boomers were confident in being financially secure in their 60s, compared with only 48 percent of millennials and Gen Xers.

Heather Lord, senior vice president and head of strategy and innovation at Capital Group, says each generation is bringing its own, new definition of retirement.

For example, 90 percent of millennials surveyed believe the traditional employment and retirement models that exist today will be outdated and replaced by the time they retire. They were twice as likely than boomers to say they’ll work at least part time in their retirement years, and they were less likely to list Social Security as a top source of income.

One reason boomers are more confident in their futures is because of their dependence on Social Security. The program, however, is running on trust funds that could be depleted by 2035; once the funds have run dry, benefits would be cut by 23 percent, regardless of age or income, and would continue to decline over time.

As a result, much of the responsibility of a stable financial future will fall largely onto millennials, which Lord says will eventually lead to major changes in the financial industry to support them. Lord predicts in-person and digital advising will have major roles in support millennials as they weather market volatility and have life experiences shape their expectations of the future.

Why is visualization so impactful?

A study presented by the American Psychological Association found that when people tend to focus more on the future, they’re more likely to make good financial decisions, such as saving more and being less impulsive with spending, regardless of financial literacy.

Why is imagining a desired outcome so impactful? According to Psychology Today, thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions. When you visualize something, you are training your brain for actual performance.

Additionally, mental practice can enhance motivation and increase confidence and self-efficacy, important factors when considering retirement savings.

Markets are cyclical, meaning volatility is inevitable. Having the confidence to keep investments in place while experiencing a market downturn isn’t easy, but keeping the long term in mind is what’s most important, as is not letting buzz around the downturn scare you.

“Fear doesn’t work as a motivator for most investors. It typically leads to paralysis in decision-making when it comes to retirement planning,” Lord says.

Using smart strategies to stay focused, like imagining your desired retirement lifestyle, is a way to resist giving in to that fear.

Tips for successful retirement savings

Imagining the future is just the first step in building healthy retirement savings. The next steps involve creating and executing a solid plan.

Considering you need about six to 11 times your paycheck to retire securely, experts recommend saving at least 10 percent of your income to achieve that hefty nest egg. With rising health care costs, student loan debt and stagnant wage growth, that might seem impossible.

Prioritizing saving for retirement is key, even if it isn’t the amount recommended by experts. Starting small early on can lead to financial security in the future.

After deciding what your idea of retirement will look like, check out these tips for building your savings:

Use a calculator to determine how much you’ll need: Thinking about the future can be overwhelming, especially when you throw money into the mix. If you aren’t sure how much money you’ll need to retire, consider using a retirement calculator to give you an idea of where to start. Check out Bankrate’s retirement calculator to create your retirement plan.

Build a budget based on your savings: A budget is a necessary tool that’ll help you achieve your financial goals. After figuring out how much you’ll need to save in retirement, start building small monthly savings into your budget to make it happen. Over time, gradually increasing your savings will keep your retirement account on track. Use Bankrate’s home budget calculator to help manage your budget.

Max out your employer-sponsored plan: If your employer offers a 401(k), be sure to make the maximum contributions each year — if you can. If you can’t, contribute as much as you’re able. These employer-sponsored plans allow you to make pretax contributions, and some employers offer to match contributions. Use Bankrate’s 401(k) calculator to estimate your savings over time.