There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.Anais Nin
I have always judged myself harshly. The voice in my head is mean spirited, sharp and vicious. I spent years working on myself in an effort to win the approval of that nasty critic. When she was pleased and deemed my efforts ‘enough’, I felt good. When she was displeased, I hated myself.
The weird thing is, I didn’t even realise how destructive she was. I thought she was my ‘reality check’ and my motivator. I thought she made me stronger.
“Get up! You’ll never get anywhere if you lie in bed all morning.”
“Run faster. How will you ever be thin if you don’t push yourself?”
“You see? You sat around watching TV and now your friend just published a book. I bet she didn’t sit around binging on Netflix. You’re so lazy!”
It wasn’t until I became a parent that I realised how damaging that brand of motivation can be. Although I didn’t vocalise words like “lazy”, “weak” or “dumb”, they flashed across my mind and I had to try and pretend they weren’t there. There was a constant steam of judgement that I’d have to override in my efforts to connect with them or help them do something they found difficult.
At some point, it dawned on me that when the judgemental voice wasn’t there, everything was easier. We connected more easily, they believed in themselves more and I felt enthusiastic about sticking with them through whatever tough stuff they were tackling.
It finally hit me that I needed to shape my relationship with myself to be kinder and more compassionate if I wanted to have access to the version of myself who behaved like the kind of mum I wanted to be.
And that is how the 60-minute retreat was born.
What is a 60-minute retreat?
On a meditation course I attended last year, the teacher likened those judgemental thoughts to the waves on the ocean. It’s easy to let them become the focus and think you have to battle them but it’s futile. A much more productive approach is to recognise that the deeper water beneath the waves is calm. Find your way there and you leave the waves behind.
The 60-minute retreat is about leaving the waves behind for an hour and making your way to waters that feel ‘better’. In doing so, you accept that the surface water remains but for this hour, your focus is on something that feels different.
It’s not about forcing yourself to feel something you don’t feel. Instead it’s about creating a space for yourself in which you engage in thoughts and activities that bring the calmer water into focus for you and therefore allow the associated better feelings to emerge.
Your focus remains in the moment. It doesn’t matter if the feelings don’t persist throughout the day. The only goal is to create a space in your day devoted to better feeling thoughts.
The great thing about allowing yourself to drift to these calmer waters is that you eventually come to see the waves differently and when that happens, the magic really begins.
Creating your Retreat:
Before you start your first retreat:
- Get a journal. Pick one you’ll enjoy writing in, ideally dedicated specifically to your retreats and not used for other purposes.
- Decide when and where you’re going to do your first retreat. The goal is to give yourself enough time and space to get to the calm depths. This is your break from life’s problems, patterns and chaos so choose a time and place that provides this freedom.
Either before your first retreat or as part of your first retreat:
- Write about how you’d like to feel. Describe situations that come to mind – work, family, the moments when you look in the mirror, anything at all. It is important that you write about what you want not what you don’t want. E.g. “I look in the mirror and I feel proud of my strong body,” rather than, “I stop judging myself for my fat thighs.” Keep writing the good stuff until you can picture it. Notice how you feel as you write.
- Click HERE to download Free PDF Coaching Questions Worksheet to help prompt your thoughts
- Read back through what you’ve written and choose one of the following activities:
- Circle or underline the feelings and emotions you’ve picked out and choose one of these to become the theme of your next retreat.
- Answer this question: How would I need to feel on a regular basis if I’m to create this life for myself? Theme your next retreat around your answer.
Running your Retreats
Setting the scene
Environment plays a massive role in our experience of thoughts and feelings. Enjoying a retreat is much easier to do in a clear space with natural light and no distractions. The experience is enhanced by the inclusion of anything that contributes positively to the feelings you wish to cultivate.
Wherever possible, shape your environment to help ignite those feelings – open curtains, tidy up, wear clothes you feel good in etc. The space doesn’t have to be perfect. Work with what you have so that the space feels like a good place for you to have your retreat – and overlook any imperfections you can’t alter. Although they are not irrelevant, your retreat will go better if you turn your attention away from them.
This may seem abstract – after all, how do you make a space feel patient or kind. To help you, think about how you see yourself when you exhibit the feelings you’ve described. For example, when I see myself as patient or kind, the word I use to describe my mood and demeanour is ‘gentle’. With that in mind, I’d choose to be on my sofa, wearing soft, comfortable clothes, if it’s cold I’d have a fluffy blanket. I even chose the colour of my journal with ‘gentle’ in mind. Basically, surround yourself with things that remind you of what you’re doing in such a way that you feel good about it.
Activities – SIMR
Include activities from the categories below. You might not have time to include activities from all categories in every retreat and you might choose to include two activities from the same category. That is fine. The goal is to cultivate the feelings you set out to cultivate. The category and number of activities you complete is irrelevant. That said, I’d recommend you include actives from all four categories over the course of 2-3 retreats as they work together to create more holistic results. The overall goal is to calibrate your mind, body and spirit. To do that, you need a mix of activities.
The activities fit under 4 headings and to remember the headings, I’ve created the acronym SIMR (Simmer):
- Stillness – learning to access the ever-present calm that lies underneath the “white noise” of constant mind chatter is an important skill to develop. As you learn to cultivate stillness, your ability to master your feelings (even when you cannot master your emotions) will increase. Meditation is the best practice I have found for developing stillness in the mind though you may prefer prayer or other mindfulness activities.
- Inspiration and Information – The purpose here is to offer yourself some new vantage points from which to think about your life. Read, watch or listen to something that ignites your imagination and brings your theme feeling into focus. This portion of your retreat provides you with source material for your thoughts and allows you to think about your life, behaviour and habits from different perspectives. Over time – and with deliberate focus – the information you take in during this part of your retreat gradually shapes your thinking outside of the retreat and provides you with new thought patterns – which then shape your responses and behaviour.
- Movement – The goal of completing activities under this heading is to improve the communication between your mind and body because your ability to take genuinely good care of yourself is reliant on developing good communication and understanding of all the signals and messages travelling within you. For more on this, listen to the “Team You” Podcast episode. I tend to choose one of the following activities but anything that allows you to connect mind and body through movement will work:
- HIIT workout
- Walking / Running (ideally outside in nature)
- Tai Chi
- Record – Write your thoughts, insights, ideas and revelations in your journal. I find writing is the most powerful way to record thoughts (plus I LOVE buying new pens and journals and this practice gives me the perfect excuse!) but if you don’t enjoy writing, keeping a video diary or recording voice notes on your phone can work as well – though it’s easier when speaking to get drawn back into the patterns you were aiming to leave behind.
There is so much more I’d love to tell you about this practice but I’ll leave it there for now and share more in later blogs and podcast episodes.
If you have questions or would like help crafting your own retreat, there are many ways to reach me.
- Comment below
- Join the 60 Minute Retreat Facebook Group
- Visit bighappylife.co.uk and book a Discovery Call – 30 minutes one-to-one (I never sell anything. It literally is just a 30 minute conversation)
5-Day Happiness Challenge – Day 5: Let Go – Big Happy Life
DISCLAIMER: I am not a psychologist What I share here is based on my experiences. If you are experiencing mental ill-health, please speak to a qualified practitioner to ensure you receive help from someone who is appropriately trained to guide you.