Picture it: fresh clean clothes, a new favorite pen, calls are held, and meals are planned. You have a clean work space, an agenda, and like-minded hearts and voices all around you. You are ready to learn, to collaborate, and then turn around and IMPLEMENT!
But why do retreats work so well? I asked Jessie McKeon, a Director of Lifespan Faith Development and a 20-year experiential educator with expertise in retreat planning and implementation to give us a little insight about why we love retreats so much. Read on to find out!
Gretchen Gegg: Why do people do retreats?
Jessie McKeon: Well, usually people cite a need for a "change of scenery." I have planned thousands of retreats for others and the organizations I've worked for, and almost everyone says that it's because they "need to get away." Whether it's for themselves or for their participants, they basically need to interrupt the day-to-day to really get into the meat of the topic.
A retreat is different than a conference, too. A conference is all about fast education and networking. It focuses our energy outside ourselves, whereas a retreat is focused inward. A well-planned retreat is built around personal growth for the participants and functional growth for the group as a whole, weighted differently depending on the objective of the retreat.
GG: And does it work?
JM: In short, yes. Yes, it does.
But the longer answer is that when you interrupt the way things usually work, you are triggering your brain to wake up your short-term memory and expedite what you learn at the retreat into long-term memory. It functions in a similar way to a vacation: when our learning environment changes, we begin to open up to new experiences.
It also gives us a safe space with a built-in community to try something new. I experienced yogalates for the first time at a retreat, and I can promise you I would have never tried otherwise!
GG: Tell me a little more about the "built-in community."
When we invest in something like a retreat - whether time or financially, usually both - we are committing to the experience with the people around us. Even online, a retreat group is a group of people who will be learning, exercising, and essentially living together for a few days. We open up to each other.
I think right now we are especially sensitive to the vulnerability of these moments. We are people-starved and set in our pandemic routines. We need that shake up of our everyday to be able to return refreshed. And yes, we can do that with online retreats! Stepping into that space online works so well, especially for parents and folks who aren't able to travel. Hybrid and online retreats can also be more affordable, so we are less likely to exchange something for the opportunity to attend.
GG: Can you give participants some pointers for ways to make the most out of a retreat?
JM: Sure! Of course! Right now we kind of have two categories of retreats - in-person and online - but some things are applicable to both:
Set aside the time. I know it's not easy for folks who are locked into a work schedule, but consider taking at least a half day of PTO in order to be in the moment.
Dress comfortably. Stretchy dress pants exist and they are your best friend. If you have a day that goes from activity to sitting to presentation, have a sweater or blazer on standby and take the time to change between sessions if you need to.
Wake up early instead of staying up late. Yes, there are social events after hours, but to really prep for your day you'll want to avoid rushing to your first session.
Do the exercise sessions. And the stretching sessions. They are made to wake up body and brain.
Stay hydrated and eat well. Not as easy as it sounds, but it's certainly do-able!
BUY THE UPGRADE YOU CAN AFFORD. The extra events at retreats are typically built around socializing and creating memories. Buy them - they're usually worth three times what you pay and the take-away is usually priceless. Upgrade.
And for online retreats:
Do everything I listed above. Seriously. Including the getting up early and buying the upgrade - especially the upgrade. When we are far apart the social upgrades really connect retreat attendees.
Take breaks. I have to admit, Gretchen, you have really planned an excellent retreat that includes breaks. Not everyone does this well, but I LOVE your schedule! So basically if anyone other than Gretchen or I plan your retreat, really know your schedule and make sure you have time to stand up and stretch, get water, and breathe deeply.
Consider your environment. If you have local friends who are also attending, maybe meeting up for a few sessions or even an off-line dinner can help you with discussion and what you'll take away from the event. At the very least, clean off your work space and plan your meals and childcare so that you can engage.
Keep your camera on for speakers and off for exercise and movement. Speakers like visual feedback, but you get a better stream from the instructor with the camera off while exercising. (Not to mention you don't accidentally show your underwear like I did once...)
GG: WOW. That's awesome. You've mentioned several times about the "take-home" part of retreats. As you and I part ways, do you have any advice about when retreats end?
JM: Ha! Of course I do! When the retreat ends, stay in touch with the people you've met and tell someone else about the fun you had. That's a little memory trick from education professionals - the people you met had that experience with you and can recall what you've learned. Telling someone about your experience allows you to synthesize all that you absorbed and allows you to express what's important. We don't often have time to process on a deeper level until we return to our everyday life, so really take that time when you get home to revisit, process, and implement.
I hope to see every one of your readers at a retreat soon. Maybe it will be yours in August?
GG: I hope so! Thank you!
JM: Thanks! Happy retreating!
The Body Positive Fitness Retreat Schedule is out! Don't forget to get your tickets ASAP, especially those VIP and Platinum tickets - they are selling out fast!