Growth happens through evaluated experience. I know too many people (and so do you) who have lots of experiences they haven’t learned from. One of the most powerful habits you can establish in your life is to regularly and systematically review your life and plan next steps forward.
So, I take 2 days a year to step aside and think hard about my life. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. I’ve done it a variety of ways, including driving to my local library and checking out their study room for the day.
Getting ready for my personal retreat this summer, I updated my agenda and thought it might be helpful to you as you plan for your next personal retreat. I recommend at least 4 hours, if you can’t get a whole day. It takes time away from regular life and its distractions to do this properly.
Seriously, when is yours? Can you take 10 seconds right now and block off a day a couple of months from now (your calendar probably isn’t very full once you get a month or two out). That 10 seconds could change your life.
Here’s the agenda I send to people when they’re taking their first personal retreat:
Name your passions and purposes and ideal lifestyle
- Who do I want to be? (think end of my life/eulogy)
- What do I want to do? (still think ideal state job/end of life perfect position)
Kinds of work I want to do (i.e. speak, write, travel)
- What legacy or impact do I want to have? (how will the world be different because of me)
Arenas of life that are impacted
- What God does want me to be/do/impact?
What is God saying right now (pray in the moment)?
List all the possible opportunities/areas to explore
- Make sure to really brainstorm possibilities not just existing projects/areas you already know about
- Bucket each area of life separately (i.e. Primary Job, Personal, Other adventures outside my primary job)
Use the results from the first group of questions above to filter through list from group 2
- Rank order all opportunities in each area
Choose the top 3-5 in each area
- Ask the questions:
What is required of me? What commitments have I already made?
If nothing gets done at the end of the year but this will I be satisfied with my year?
If everything else gets done by the end of the year but this doesn’t will I be satisfied?
- Make the hard choices
Here’s the agenda I’ve just updated for me (since I’m coming into this retreat with all the information I generated from my last retreat using the above agenda):
Our brains are physical organs; we often forget that. And after an cardio workout, like running or swimming, your brain goes into super-productive mode. Thinking is clearer, faster, and learning sticks easier. Start your thinking day by firing up your brain to full speed.
- Review of Life Purpose & Core Values
- List each element of my purpose and each core value
- Rate myself 1-5 on how well I’m fulfilling each
- Make notes on why I gave myself that rating
- Reflect on results from above ratings
- Invite God to speak to me about my life
- Do any heart-level work needed (i.e. repentance, rekindling of purpose, etc)
- Food/Stretch Break (nap?)
- Review goals for major life categories (i.e. marriage, work, health/fitness, spiritual life, etc)
- Note any I’m off the mark
- Evaluate any that need to re-prioritized
- Write new goals for each life category
- Establish a way to measure (may need to get creative: from self-ratings to asking others for input, like my wife)
- Put habits/disciplines into my calendar for each goal
- Set up reminders for when I’ll review each goal (I have digital pages where I sum up my priorities and goals that I review weekly, monthly, etc)
Bring a notepad or laptop–whatever sparks more creativity and freedom for you. I much prefer to keep things digital (I don’t like storing paper files at all). But I use a notepad because it feels more open/free for scribbling, scratching things out, imagining, etc. That’s a totally personal preference. The point is that I always sacrifice efficiency for quality of experience when I’m doing a personal retreat. It’s worth the extra thinking freedom to spend the extra 10 min later to translate my values and goals back into digital format.
Being out of your usual environment matters a lot. If you often go to your local library, go to one across town–or in the next town. If you like water, find a local lake (weather permitting). If you mountains inspire you (and have this option), go where you can see them. I’ve happily driven 3 hours to an amazing location for my personal retreat (I’m considering doing it again this summer).
Bring snacks. Thinking is hard work on your brain–literally. Your brain consumes 20% of your body’s blood sugar–before you start thinking hard. Bring healthy snacks to keep your brain supplied with enough energy to keep going.
Allow yourself an afternoon nap. Beyond blood sugar, 95% of people (including adults) need an afternoon nap. That 3:30pm lull you have every day? Normal. We just trained ourselves to push through it. So bring an alarm of some kind and allow yourself to lay down for 20-30 min and take a short nap. You’ll think clearer, faster, better if you nap.
Even if (or when) life throws frustrations, fears, or failures at you just before going on the retreat–don’t cancel. Whatever excuses or fears cross your mind, tempting you to put this off until it’s “easier”, pain can actually be a powerful focusing experience on what really matters. Also, thinking about your whole life can put your daily frustrations in perspective. (Maybe it’s time to finally do something about what’s going wrong in that area of your life!)
Of course, customize these agendas to fit you better. In fact, I’d love to hear what you’d add or take off to make it better. Post your ideas as comments so we can all make our personal retreats as powerful as possible.
Remember, growth happens through evaluated experiences. When are you going to evaluate your life?