How to Host Your Own Annual Retreat
What is an Annual Retreat?
We all work super hard over the course of a year. We’re playing many different roles and have a ton of responsibilities. Speaking for myself, in my primary roles as a business owner, wife, and mom, I find that I get pretty worn down as the year goes on. It’s easy to lose a sense of your own identity a bit along the way, too.
So, in 2019, my husband and I decided to give each other an annual retreat. The goal for the retreat is to have time away from the daily grind to reconnect to ourselves, recharge, and set goals for the coming year.
Our retreats look a little different, because we’ve realized that we need different things in order to accomplish those goals. He likes to bring a friend along to foster community and have high level discussions. I’ve found that I really need time alone to refill my cup.
So, I thought I’d share a little bit about what our retreats look like, and how you could make this work for yourself.
Now, not everyone will be able to put all these pieces in play, but I’d like to share what we’ve found works well, and hopefully that can be a starting point for you. Remember, the goal isn’t to make this a fancy getaway, but to find time to restore you to fullness so you can be your best self for the life you’re living.
When, Where, and How Long
When I was running a non-profit, I found that I always felt most depleted halfway through our event season. So, I scheduled my retreat for the end of June/early July each year so I’d be ready to take on the second half of the season with energy. Now that I’m running a travel-related business, I’ve found that scheduling my retreat after the end of summer travel works well. Take a look at your annual rhythms and see what works best for you and your “home team.”
Location, location, location. I’ve found that the best way for me to meet the goals of my retreat is to go somewhere that I’m familiar with (somewhere I’ve been before). Going to a new place will also make me want to go out and explore, and takes mental bandwidth that I want to put towards reflection. So, pick a place that you’re comfortable with and won’t be tempted to go out and do too many “distracting” things.
That said, you don’t have to have a completely open calendar, which I’ll cover in the next section.
I’ve found the ideal amount of time for me is 7-8 days. I know, it’s a long time, and not every retreat has been able to be that long. You might only be able to do a weekend, but here’s why I think a generous week is a great amount of time if you can make it happen:
- It often takes me 2-3 days just to feel settled and rested after living in a constant state of “go-mode”
- I like to have enough time to catch up on sleep, which means getting a good night’s sleep for at least five nights
- I’ve found that by the last few days of the trip, I’m ready to come home and I miss my family. I feel excited to get home to them, and absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?
What to Do
Okay, so you’ve gotten to where you’re going…now what?
I like to think about what kinds of activities are restorative for me, and build those in. For me, that means having a relaxed morning doing things I love:
- Coffee and doing my Duolingo French
- Journaling and prayer
- Going for a morning run
- Having a nice, leisurely breakfast with a book or crossword puzzle
I also build in a lot of time for walking, typically out in nature. This year, I found different coastal paths and trails, and walked nearly all day. I took time to stop and rest, have a coffee, or write, along the way, but it was restorative for me to hear the ocean, see animals and flowers, and just move my body in the sunshine.
The only scheduled thing I had each day was dinner at a great restaurant. Sydney has so many wonderful restaurants and cuisine from all over the world, so this was my “fun” activity each day!
The other part of the retreat is focused on reflection. I hold three “sessions” throughout my retreat, as follows:
Session One: Reflection
- What is going well?
- What is just “okay”?
- What needs to change?
- What is giving me life?
- What is emptying my tank?
Session Two: Envision
- What does an ideal life look like in the next year?
- What am I NOT doing?
- Complete the sentence: A year from now…
Session Three: Evaluation
In this session I look back on all my notes and come up with action items and a plan for implementing them. Without this session, you’ll miss out on a lot of the benefit of the retreat, so don’t skip out on this one! I also write up learnings from this year’s retreat that I can put in to practice for the next one.
Ideally, you’ll have at least a day in between each of these, as this is heavy mental work, and doing them on consecutive days can be draining.
Give yourself time to explore and just “have fun.” It’s crazy how much we just focus on getting things done and not giving ourselves time to play on a regular basis.
I would also recommend having a place that you feel comfortable relaxing in/coming back to each night. I was able to put some nice hotels on my retreat this time (though only one night was a paid stay thanks to rewards points and a prize from Tourism Australia) because I wanted to feel comfortable just coming back at night and reading.
I hope you’ve found this helpful! Let me know if you have questions, and I’m interested to hear if you schedule retreats for yourself, too.