How To Have A Seasonal Mini-Retreat
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A few years ago, I read the book Essentialism, which I loved for many reasons. But perhaps mostly so because it introduced me to the idea of the “quarterly personal offsite.” I know, the name sounds ultra-corporate, but the practice itself is actually really simple — taking time once every three months to pause, reflect on a list of questions about how life’s going lately, and think intentionally about what’s ahead.
I’ve adopted the practice and schedule it my calendar every three-ish months or so, and over time it has turned into one of my all-time favorite self-care rituals. ♡
Granted, over the years I have tweaked it a bit to fit my vibe. Starting with the fact that I nixed the corporate-ese and prefer to refer to this practice my own little “seasonal mini-retreat,” which sounds far more enjoyable. And while it’s awesome to get away for an entire day, as the author recommends, most of the time my mini-retreat is realistically just an hour or two tucked away in a coffee shop, or soaking up sunshine at the park, or cozied up at home with a candle. Because — let’s be real — I’ve found that comfort and convenience are the two keys to making this practice actually happen for me.
I have also adapted the long list of Essentialism reflection questions down to two short, simple, printable pages of questions that work for me. They’re nothing fancy — just 12 simple questions that help you move from big-picture values and dreaming down to next-three-months details and planning. And I’m telling you — it’s amazing how helpful, clarifying, grounding, restoring, energizing, and motivating a few short hours journaling through them can be.
I’m also convinced that the every-three-months-ness of this ritual is key. The past three months always feel fresh enough to reflect upon clearly, both intellectually and emotionally. And when looking ahead, the next months also seem like the perfect amount of time to set some realistic goals and plans, without having the pressure of sticking with something for the next twelve full months ahead (like, ahem, famously unreliable new year’s resolutions). Plus, hey, a quick solo coffee date every three months is something I can totally fit into the calendar!
Anyway, I shared on Instagram yesterday about my seasonal mini-retreat this fall, which was nothing glamorous by the way — just me, home alone for the morning still in my pjs, mug of hot cinnamon spice tea nearby, candle burning, thinking about coming up on the end of our first year in Spain and the beginning of our next. And tons of you responded that you loved the idea of a quarterly ritual like this, and would love a copy of the questionnaire. So I thought I’d pop in briefly this morning to share it with you!
Again, if you’re thinking about giving this mini-retreat a try, all you really need is an hour or two. Which makes this perfect for a weekend morning, a long lunch break, or whenever in the week might work for you. Feel free to adapt the ritual and the questions to your liking. And who knows, if you’re anything like me, these may just turn into some of your favorite hours of the year. ♡
Here’s the scoop:
Essentials For A Seasonal Mini-Retreat
As I said, I’m a big fan of the quarterly schedule that Greg McKeown recommends in Essentialism. I’m a big “seasons” person in general, so I love the idea of intentionally pausing once each winter, spring, summer and fall. But the specific month of the season, day of the week, and time of day are completely up to you. And I highly recommend scheduling them in advance on your calendar so that you don’t space them off!
The location of your retreat is also, of course, entirely up to you. Anywhere from a retreat center, to your favorite coffee shop, to a bench at the park, to the coziest part of your house will work. I just recommend finding a space where:
- you can be alone, and minimal distractions
- you can write, either by hand or type, whichever you prefer
- you feel cozy and comfortable, a space that you really enjoy and feel like yourself
On that note, I also highly recommend adding in some of your favorite cozy, comforting touches to make this time feel extra-restorative and enjoyable…because I want you to look forward to this retreat! (And not find an excuse to blow it off!) ;) You know what works best for you. But I would recommend considering:
- some sort of warm beverage: a hot cup of good-quality coffee or tea always makes my life better
- a healthy snack: my healthy pumpkin muffins were on the menu for my mini-retreat this fall
- warm sunlight, or a good candle: you know, good lighting :)
- a chill playlist on in the background: to set the mood
Seasonal Mini-Retreat Questions
And finally, here are the questions I use! They’re nothing fancy — just twelve simple prompts to help reflect on the past three months and begin thinking about what’s ahead. I really recommend taking about 5-10 minutes to journal each one. Because chances are, even if one initial answer comes to mind quickly, some additional new insights may emerge as you continue to write.
As always with journaling…
- don’t worry about perfection
- try to let go of any “shoulds” that may poke their pesky heads into your mind as you write
- just relax and be as honest with yourself as you possibly can, and see what comes up
I feel like I should also mention that every time I do this exercise, some of the questions always initially feel super cheesy and cliché to me. But — once I submit myself to them, and really try to give them an honest answer, those questions tend to actually be some of the most helpful/clarifying parts of the retreat. (Especially the “If I just had one week to live” question. I have a bad habit of rolling my eyes each time this one comes up, but man, its answers are always some of the most revealing for me each season!)
If you can, I also recommend hanging onto your questionnaires for the future. Because once you have journaled this current season, it’s pretty enlightening to look back afterwards at what you said three (or six, or twelve) months ago and see what has changed and what has not. (The keyword there, though, is afterwards. I don’t recommend re-reading your previous questionnaire before starting your new one, because it may affect how honestly you answer the questions from your present moment.)
Feel free to tweak this list of questions yourself. But to get you started, here are the links to my list, including:
- a free printable version, if you would like to journal by hand
- a (less-cute) Google doc version, if you would prefer to journal by typing
Anyway, if you decide to have your own seasonal mini-retreat, I’d love to hear how it goes! Feel free to drop me a line here or on Instagram. And of course, feel free to forward on this link and PDF to any of your own family or friends. I hope that they will be helpful.
Have a lovely weekend, friends! ♡
This list of questions originated from a Google doc that was circulated amongst my friends from Kansas City years ago when we read and discussed this book together. Some questions were probably originally from Greg McKeown (author of Essentialism), some were edited by friends, some I edited and tweaked over the years myself. At this point, I honestly can’t remember who wrote any of them. But thank you, mystery friends! This post also contains Amazon affiliate links.
Me encaaaanta esta idea, Ali. ? I am going to try this weekend!
Love everything about this!!!
I love this! I actually use the Powersheets by Lara Casey (www.cultivatewhatmatters.com) to do this and then use her tending lists for monthly, weekly, and daily goals. I actually don’t use the daily that much as those are more habits that I want to create or keep up on, but the quarterly check ins that go along with each season of the year are so awesome. They ask meaningful, deep, thought provoking questions about how you want to live your life over the next 3 months. It has been a game changer for sure!
Oh my goodness! This sounds so cool! I’m going to do this! Thank you so much for sharing!
This is wonderful. I downloaded and printed the questions. I plan on making it a point to do this. Thank you so very much! Btw, I love the recipes you post. :)
Looking through the questions, I think they are mostly for younger people (for example, as a retired person, I don’t have a life that needs simplifying). That said, I think that doing some internal soul searching on a somewhat regular basis is a very good idea for all of us. I think I am very fortunate in how my life is going now, but wish I’d had something like this when I was younger and life was difficult.
Yes!! I’ve been working this year on refining various routines (morning, evening, etc)…and I really love this idea! Thank you so much for sharing, Ali!
This is wonderful Ali, thank you so much for sharing! I’ve been sharing your recipes and how much I love them, and now I’m going to share this. I’ve been discussing being “in the moment” with my therapist (counselor on our Employee Assistance Program) and I know she’ll love this as well and it’s something I can use to discuss my life with her. Thank you!!
This seems to be a really good idea! A regular pause in my life to make some assesmants. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for your post, it’s very inspiring, I will try it as soon as I can!
I’m headed out the door to my favorite coffee shop right now for my first mini-retreat. Thanks for the inspiration! I already know I’m going to love this!
Every year my husband and I do a retreat at New Years. We spend time reflecting and setting our own goals (in 5 key areas: personal (which includes health and fun/recreation); family; business/career; financial;and spiritual). Then we spend time talking about those goals and aligning on the ones that are relevant to us as a family. We also use the time to read inspiring material. This has been incredibly useful for us over the years, and has given us space to navigate big issues and pave the way for our dreams in ways that allow us to still achieve those dreams despite the curveballs that life inevitably throws our way. Your list of reflection questions is wonderful and we’ll incorporate it this upcoming year. We also review our goals at the end of each quarter (we have a simple spreadsheet we use to track them) and refresh them with the action items needed for the current quarter. Thank you for this great blog post! I found out about it thanks to Roger Whitney, The Retirement Answer Man’s “6 Shot Saturday” weekly email.
Thank You. I love this too ~ WILL DO. But, in general, ALL your entries make my life more interesting and encouraged. Your recipes are THE BEST. Finding your blog reinvigorated my love of cooking. At 68 with still LOTS of kitchen/ home time enjoyed, I just REALY appreciate you. 8) Thanks.
I’m so excited to do this! Thanks for sharing!!
This what I needed right now in my life. Things have been a little crazy. So you need to know you need to take a small break, and know you can do all this in the present of your own space. I would like to say thank you
Love this idea! In fact I bought the book called Essentialism (audio and print) that you recommended, but for some strange reason have not been able to to find the chapter about the retreats. Do you happen to know in which chapter they mention these? Feel like I’m going crazy. Thanks so much!