Creating Margin: How To Take A Personal Retreat And Find Balance In Your Life

Creating A Fresh Start

There’s something about the promise of new beginnings, and sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to give yourself the space to just hit “restart.” If the turn of the new year has already inspired slow mornings and checked-off boxes in your bullet journal’s habit tracker, you’re on the right path. But other times, it can be hard to find the motivation to “start all over again,” and a retreat could be just what you need to get away, recalibrate your priorities, and then come back to serve the world and people around you better. First time? Here’s how to make sure you get the most out of your personal retreat.


1. Set your intentions 

Start by setting up your intentions for the retreat. Think: what’s prompting you to get away in the first place? Are you looking to re-energize the grind of life, lean into some self-care healing principles, or reconnect spiritually with your faith? Maybe you’re finding yourself at a crossroads, and need to mull over some hard choices to feel extra grounded in your decision. By clarifying a purpose over your retreat, you’ll be able to dig deep in the short time you have, whether that’s a weekend or a week. 

While it can be good to have high expectations, go deep instead of wide. Identify just one goal for your retreat.

Sometimes in the “get things done,” mentality of life, it’s hard not to want to slay all your giants at once. We do this all the time, like bringing three books and a side project to an afternoon coffee sesh, expecting to get through it all, or setting ambitious deadlines for a task at work. While it can be good to have high expectations, go deep instead of wide. Identify just one goal for your retreat. This could be to enjoy a hobby you haven’t had time to pursue, or pondering a lingering thought that you’d like to have greater clarity on. A retreat won’t be a fix-all solution, but it’ll be a good beginning to a lifestyle change or processing session. 

 

2. Planning is everything

Then, get some logistical details out of the way. Where will you be going? What’s your budget? Are you craving the soothing waves of the ocean, the woodsy smell of a cabin getaway, or even just the silence of a small town? Will it be a tech-free retreat, or will you be sharing some glimpses and reflections on Instagram?

For day-long retreats, it can be nice to escape to the bench of a local hiking trail, or even a “staycation” at a local Airbnb that will help you get away. If you prefer to start your days with sun salutations, look into some all-inclusive yoga retreat options—there are a ton, including with Yogascapes, Surf Maroc’s yoga surf retreats, or fold in your personal retreat with your impact-minded travel plans

It doesn’t matter if your plans change during the retreat itself or not, as long as you are consciously going in with a framework of what to expect. Sometimes, the best plans can pop up spontaneously.

From there, make sure you get the details of how you’ll be going and what to bring nailed down. If you’re planning on doing a lot of reflecting, bring a pen, or if you’re planning on doing a lot of solo hiking, bring the right pair of comfy shoes. It doesn’t matter if your plans change during the retreat itself or not, as long as you are consciously going in with a framework of what to expect. Sometimes, the best plans can pop up spontaneously. As Dwight Eisenhower famously said, "planning is everything—the plan is nothing."

 

3. Be present

When you finally get there, allow yourself to settle into the space and give yourself the room to reflect. Especially if you’re used to running on a schedule or being surrounded by kids, take time to unwind and decompress. If you’re a journaler, feel free to follow reflection prompts and questions like:

  • What are some things I’m grateful for?
  • What has been life-giving recently? What has been draining?
  • What thoughts or feelings have been occupying my mind and heart recently?
  • What is one thing I want to change about how I’m living life?
  • How can I live more according to my values day to day?

Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong way to take a personal retreat, since everyone’s way of processing things and preferred ebb and flow of a day will be different. The most important part is that you take one, and begin to discover the most fulfilling way to spend your retreat hours, over time. 

Have you ever been on a personal retreat? If so, what was your experience like? Leave any stories or recommendations in the comments below! 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alice Zhang is a California-based writer thinking on the things shaping urban living, the modern woman’s experience, and living a conscious life of impact in light of a bigger world. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, she recently spent a year abroad in Peru working with a microfinance project. You can follow her latest creative endeavors and musings at Mine Felicity or on Instagram at @alice.zhng.