Taking an Annual Retreat

By Christopher Peck

This piece first appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of the Natural Investing newsletter

Cabin in the woods winter

One of the fundamental first steps in holistic financial planning is figuring out what you want to do with your life. How do you want to live, and contribute, and add value? What is the primary orientation of your life? What is the best right livelihood for you? Investing the time up front to answer these questions is often the best investment anyone can make; but then the question arises, how do I figure all of that out? Enter the annual retreat.

What’s an Annual Retreat and why should I do one?

An Annual Retreat is a several day break from routine, an opportunity to step out of your day-to-day life and reflect on purpose and meaning, clarify direction, and fine tune sup- port processes. It’s also an excellent opportunity to do financial planning and budgeting. It creates the psychological space to do your best thinking, and to take the high level view that can change or confirm the direction of your life. If you want to exert some control over your life, and over your finances, an annual retreat is an invaluable investment of your time and attention.

How do I plan for an Annual Retreat?

An Annual Retreat requires a significant commitment, both in time and energy. Finding two, three, or four continuous days away from work, family, and other life commitments is challenging. Resist the temptation to do a retreat at your house and don’t try to piecemeal it together from small pieces of time here and there. Time away from normal life, in a retreat setting with focused attention, creates an atmosphere that supports insight and change. I have usually taken the time between Christmas and New Years to slip away for a retreat, but other times of the year work as well.

To start, find a retreat location. Spiritual centers are best, but B&B’s can work. Look for silence and solitude, a location that supports introspection and focused attention with minimum distractions. I once traded houses with a friend, for her apartment in San Francisco. Don’t do this! There are too many distractions in the city.

Book the retreat locale at least a month ahead of time, longer if over a holiday.

What should I do on an Annual Retreat?

There are so many exercises and techniques that can be helpful. My favorite resources include Stephen Covey, David Allen, Steve Pavlina, and Ken Wilber. Find your inspirational writer who suggests transformational tools and use their work. Here are a few of the exercises one can do:

The Year in Review – what happened: good: what happened: not so good: what worked; what didn’t work; what to continue; what to discontinue.

85th Birthday exercise – project yourself forward to your 85th birthday party. Who’s there? Who do you want around you? What will you reflect back on from your life? What will you say to guests? What would you like them to say to you or about you? What will you most want to have accomplished by your 85th birthday?

If you’re really stumped for what to do, here’s a couple questions to get you started:

What do I really want to do with my life? Who am I? What do I value most? How can I make real progress in the next year towards what I really want to do with my life?

Don’t leave the retreat without written plans for progress. Make sure that you harvest the great ideas that you come up with, to include in your on-going planning and work. Always end with a review of the retreat—in future years you’ll be very glad you did this: what worked, what needs improvement, what you would continue and do differently next time. Don’t wait to do this, do it right at the end of the retreat, when ideas are fresh in the mind. You may also want to revisit this review a few months later, and add to it as needed.

How do I create the right context to support an Annual Retreat?

A productive retreat requires the right context to support the frame of mind and focus necessary for really good work. Here are a few quick ideas:

  • A great retreat locale is crucial: quiet, secluded, “retreat-like” setting.
  • Take the time. I suggest a minimum of two days, with three nights on location. I like to arrive at the retreat locale in the late afternoon or evening, unload the car and set things up, organize the space and get settled. I’ll take two to three full days of retreat. I prefer to leave on a morning, after some final journaling and meditation, doing a review of the retreat, and then packing up and heading out.
  • Nature. Be in a lovely natural place, where you can access the beach or hiking trails to be in the natural world.
  • Simple food. This is my preference; keeping your day simple and undistracted builds and maintains the proper focus.
  • Meditation and exercise, art and creativity. Do whatever you need to create the most supportive, focused and productive atmosphere.
  • Journaling. I spend many hours during a retreat writing in my personal journal. I find that this helps clarify any problems or questions I have. There is a journal program on my computer, which helps me to translate thought to word very quickly, though others enjoy hand-writing their thoughts.
  • Eliminate distractions. Eschew the casual: engrossing novels, music, games, puzzles, movies, etc. It’s tough to find the time to take a retreat, so don’t squander it on casual pursuits you can do anytime.

This is a quick overview of a powerful process. Annual retreats have trans- formed my life, and they can do the same for you. If you’d like more information or support, please contact me.

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