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What is Wellness?

Wellness is a word that’s on everyone’s lips and everyone’s mind these days, but what is it really? Why do we seem so obsessed with it? Why is it that tech companies seem able to sell us any number of apps and gadgets to measure every aspect of our physiological function? Is it the sense we have when everything is going well, as well as when we’re physically healthy? Can we have a sense of wellness when times are tough?

At its most basic and as defined by the WHO it is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The Global Wellness Institute adds three more dimensions, emotional, spiritual, including purpose, and environmental and those make sense too.

Most of us have heard of the psychologist Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. For anyone who needs a reminder, it’s a triangle with our basic physiological needs at the bottom, then safety needs, love and belonging next, and then self-esteem. The last two are the Californian sounding ‘self-actualisation’ which is to do with our growth needs, wanting to achieve our full potential as human beings, doing the best that we’re capable of doing. Later Maslow added transcendence, what brings the individual “peak experiences” in which they transcend their own personal concerns and see from a higher perspective. These experiences often bring strong positive emotions like joy, peace, and a well-developed sense of awareness 

I suspect this is where our interest in wellness comes in. Most of us have our basic needs met, though it’s not a case that they don’t bother us anymore.

Interestingly, much of the advice on wellness seems to focus on those basic needs, healthy food, exercise, sleep and they challenge us too. But there’s something more that keeps us looking, keeps us searching for that something that is going to unlock our best selves.

Bearing in mind that a lot of the time, life is tough one way or another, especially at the moment, how do we cultivate that sense of wellness or wellbeing? How do we concentrate on the upper levels of wellbeing? This requires us to embrace being proactive in pursuing wellness, preventative action, maintenance, taking individual responsibility and ultimately, thriving. For me, when I’ve got the basics in place, peace of mind is a large part, knowing that I can meet the challenges that come my way.

How do you pursue wellness and is it working? What are you missing? If what you need is some preventative action, a reset on your wellness, or starting to focus on your needs for growth, one of our retreats might be exactly what you need.

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And what do you want for Christmas?

I bet a lot of us get asked this at this time of the year and sometimes my heart sinks. What do I want that’s within the budget? It’s prompted the thought that there can be significant times in our lives when we don’t know what we want. The hardest people to buy presents for are those who have everything they need or want, but increasingly I’m coming across people who do have some idea what they want but feel hampered in getting it. Needless to say, it’s not another Christmas present!

Quite often, this occurs in the run-up to ‘retirement’ whatever that means for the individual. If they’re stepping back from full-time paid work, what this inevitably brings into focus is their relationship with their partner who may well have got their own life very well organised and doesn’t want it disrupted – the ‘I married you for better or for worse, but not for lunch’ phenomenon.

I speak to many people at this stage in their lives who recognise that change is coming, have some ideas about what the next stage of their lives might bring, but it’s vague and not well thought through. Because it’s ‘retirement’ many don’t feel they can make an investment in themselves at this point – it’s just not worth it, they think. But life expectancy being what it is, if you retire at sixty, you might have another thirty years ahead of you, thirty years of what? Trailing around in the supermarket?  Not only that, but you’ve built up a considerable bank of skills, knowledge and experience – all to go to waste?

But what if you do invest in finding what you want for this next chapter of your life? And what if it’s different from what your partner envisaged? The management writer Charles Handy made the point that relationships need to be renegotiated at different stages of our lives. It makes sense when you think about it – how you need to be as a couple with small children is very different from when the children have upped and gone to university. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a risk. What if you find some quite big gaps opening up between you?

But if you don’t know what you want, you don’t have a starting point for negotiation and then it’s very easy to fall in with someone else’s wishes, to opt for a quiet life, not rocking the boat. But don’t forget about those thirty years. Not knowing what you want is not a recipe for happiness. This week we’ll be doing a virtual retreat with an engaged couple in the US working out what they want for themselves and together.

If you do want to invest in those thirty years, how about coming on one of our retreats? We give you space and time to start knocking those half-formed ideas into some kind of shape. Give yourself something to look forward to.

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Here we go again?

‘Oh no, here we go again,’ I’ve caught myself thinking this last week in response to the news about another variant. But are we in the same place? No, we’ve got vaccines and we’ve got learning about how we’ve already handled the virus, but it still injects another wave of uncertainty into our lives. What about Christmas? We’ve made the decision not to travel after mid-December to give the Christmas we didn’t have last year the best chance.

So we’re making some concessions to Omicron and being sensible, but I can’t deny a degree of anxiety about all the retreats we’ve got planned next year. That’s got me thinking, what do I bring to this stage of the pandemic adventure to get me through? I wrote last week about the need to look back, to recognise our achievements and successes and that’s certainly a good place to start.

Then there are all those old-fashioned virtues that are not always prominent on Instagram – determination, perseverance, patience, perspective, not giving up. I sometimes torture myself by asking myself if we shouldn’t be building our business faster. Maybe it’s just not possible in the current climate.

But maybe as you start to look inside yourself to find what you bring and what you have to offer to all the people who depend on you – staff, clients, suppliers, family, friends, you find you’re running on empty and the possibility of getting away for a break is rapidly fading. We know that one of our retreats would be ideal to help you recharge the batteries and find the resources to keep going.

It’s our intention to keep running in-person retreats as far as possible, so please keep in touch and watch this space for what’s coming up. Our ‘From Burnout to Flourishing’ retreat in February could be just what you need.

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Looking back

I find it very easy to be constantly looking to the future and either being excited about the possibilities or anxious about how much still needs to be done. What I don’t do nearly enough is look back and reflect on all that’s gone well and been successful. We all need to do that after the last two years that have been tough on us all one way or another.

We’ve seen so many certainties swept away, whether of being able to plan holidays, seeing people who’re important to us, pressures on our families, our businesses either tanking or flying and now not knowing what on earth to do about our staff who seem to have developed minds of their own during lockdown!

When I look back, I’m amused at the confidence and optimism with which we started a business running retreats a few months before a pandemic. At the beginning of 2020, I blithely proclaimed on LinkedIn that I wanted to live boldly and courageously and to have adventures, big and small. Be careful what you wish for, you’re probably thinking.

Perhaps I was more prescient than I knew. It was an adventure all right, a big one. I remember being inspired by something I saw on social media encouraging us to come out of lockdown better than we went in. Well, that was the first lockdown – if only we knew there would be a second and a third or more, depending what part of the country you live in. The enthusiasm for Joe Wicks wore off and we probably just got fatter!

I certainly needed courage. Like so many other businesses we tried to pivot (that much-overused word of 2020!) online, but how do you replicate a fabulous hotel, time, space, relaxation, switching off on a webinar with the kids running in and out in the background and the cat walking over the keyboard? We realised it was a non-starter.

However, there was plenty we could do. Build our brand, community, marketing assets and team, which all paid off once we could start in-person retreats. Now we’re beginning to see the fruits of our labours – people are coming to us wanting to partner with us, interview us on their podcasts and even an approach from someone in the US wanting us to run a retreat for them – before Christmas! Yes, I think I can and should feel proud.

But before you get into all the busyness and froth of Christmas and gearing up for 2022, what about you? How are you feeling about it all and where has it left you? What are you grateful for? What have been the successes? How about a little celebration, or at the least, a modest patting yourself on the back?

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Progress made in front of our very eyes…

As I’ve mentioned many times getting back in front of people has been very significant for me and I know it’s where I operate best.

That alone has motivated me to start our quarterly round tables where we aim to get like-minded business leaders around the table to discuss, debate and connect on matters close to their heart. Our first one on the 1st of December is already over-subscribed and I’m delighted.

Another big moment recently has been to see the progress made by our June retreat attendees. June was the first of our in-person retreats in 2021 and the first 3 days of our 5-day retreat, with the final 2 days concluding in September. We’ve been having regular catch-up sessions with the cohort since, and our November get-together was truly inspirational.

Each individual has made significant progress in their own personal and business wellbeing and it really was, and is, a wonder to witness.

It makes what we do so worthwhile to see physical progress made as a result of our work.

One individual has described being trapped in a narrow and dark corridor for many years and since June has seen the world slowly becoming bigger, brighter and full of opportunity. They took us on a physical journey of experiencing the narrow corridor through to enjoying the freedom of the outdoors without boundaries or barriers and being full of light.

Another has become very at peace with her outlook on her future and pending retirement, seeing the next five years as an opportunity to make her final mark and legacy on the thousands of people and businesses she’s touched with her nurturing, leadership and strategic input. She really is making hearts beat faster through her infectious character and sheer desire for inclusivity. And more important than anything she now believes and witnesses the impact she has.

Two other, intensely hard-working individuals now realise that taking time out for themselves, being kinder to themselves, not feeling guilty and not constantly beating themselves up, makes for much more rounded, at peace and effective individuals.

They are all-round calmer but every bit as ambitious and driven, just with refocused energy and productivity.

It’s progress like this that makes us tick. We continue with our pursuit of impacting ambitious and driven leaders to find the best version of themselves.

Those individuals will certainly not die with their best music left unplayed.

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Checking in with your Teams

What’s the state of your senior management team? Burnt out? Languishing or flourishing? If they’re not flourishing, you’re not getting the best from them. Have you got people you’re worried about losing? Is your senior team motivating the staff effectively? Why not think about investing in your team with a retreat? We can tailor these to your needs but what we have found works well is two days and two nights in a good hotel with a combination of structured activities, discussion and goal setting.

We’ve been running team retreats for some years now. What is a team retreat you may be asking yourself? Isn’t that just a new way of describing a strategy away day? Which teams are retreats aimed at?

Firstly, to answer the strategy away day question. In our experience, strategy away days are very hard work, crammed morning to dusk with PowerPoint presentations, trying to move everyone in the right direction, discussions and action plans (which are rarely actioned!). Our retreats are designed to give people the opportunity to step back, slow down, have time to reflect and think, find out what the real questions are, address the things that really matter both for the individuals and the business…

On the question of which teams, we’d say that where much value lies is in working with senior teams, those that report to the CEO/MD. At the moment, we’re finding that many people in these positions have been adversely affected by lockdowns and working from home. They have taken to working long hours and working in unproductive ways which have diminished their energy and contribution. What’s worse is that it’s happened slowly and unnoticeably to the point where burnout and languishing are ‘normal’ ways of being.

Not only that, but they have been cut off from each other. Of course, there have been the endless Zoom meetings, which at the time were certainly better than nothing, but now that we’re meeting face-to-face it makes us realise how much we’ve missed. Senior management teams have become quite dislocated and disconnected from each other, operating at a transactional level rather than in an engaged committed way which would be required of them.

At a recent team retreat we ran, we gave people the opportunity to say how they were really, rather than the conventional ‘fine’ as the retreats offer a combination of reflection and discussion both at a personal and at a business level. They valued being able to be honest which paved the way for further openness about issues that needed to be addressed. Retreats are a great opportunity for the team to spot the gaps, see what’s not working and start to sort it out there and then, an opportunity to go below the surface and work out what the real issues are.

What has also emerged is the extent to which company cultures have been damaged by lockdowns and working from home. Teams have been able to point to aspects of the culture which have enabled them to perform at their best and then followed up with the observation that these conditions existed before the pandemic. Many people are realising that cultures are having to be rebuilt. Retreats offer the opportunity for senior management teams to reconnect in order to do this.

What teams find difficult but also very valuable is being able to slow down and reflect. Our retreats offer time and space in an environment which promotes relaxation, being able to  connect with others in the outdoors for example. We heavily discourage any looking at emails or business phone calls and while it’s hard to switch off initially, gradually people are grateful for being able to go off-grid for a few hours. One of our recent retreat participants had this to say https://youtu.be/NBYTP9XWnVY

We have one team that we have worked with for four years and we have seen members of the team come and go and those that have stayed gain in experience and insight. They know exactly what is on offer at each retreat and look forward to it and value it immensely. Their MD invests in it as he has seen the effect on the business: retention and development of valued staff, increased understanding of what the business is trying to achieve and how they can contribute. Over and over again, We have seen the motivational effect of this investment. 

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Getting back to flourishing

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this recently. I’ve been very aware that as a result of the pandemic and lockdown, I’ve been far from flourishing. What does it look like when I am flourishing and thriving? I caricature, but it’s having six ideas before I get up in the morning, wanting to attempt steeper hills when I’m out cycling. That hasn’t been happening lately.

What does flourishing look like for you? The big question at the moment is getting back to offices or not and having a business based in our home I know the attractions and disadvantages of working from home. But I know that a big part of getting back to flourishing for me is meeting and working with people face-to-face. The sheer convenience of Zoom means I’ll never go back to having all meetings face-to-face but there are some that really need to be.

We’re looking at launching a regular networking meeting in London, once a quarter. We’re planning it at the moment and just doing that is exciting me, making me feel that we can start to overcome feelings of isolation and being cut off from relaxed easy interaction with others.

Martin Seligman, founder of the positive psychology movement, defined flourishing as to find fulfilment in our lives, accomplishing meaningful and worthwhile tasks, and connecting with others at a deeper level—in essence, living the “good life”. If we can enable that for others, either through our retreats or meetings, I will feel deeply satisfied.

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How to choose the right retreat for you

There are so many different kinds of retreats out there which naturally we’re very pleased about. The more people see the value of taking time out for whatever reason, the better.  But how to choose? Detox, yoga, mindfulness, weight management, psychotherapy? A weekend or longer? Just down the road or somewhere more exotic?

It seems obvious to point this out, but it’s a question of what you most need. Having said that, sometimes we’re too close to what is happening in our lives to see what we most need. Is it our physical health or mental health that is the issue? Anything that provides us with some space and time to catch up with ourselves is going to be good.

People go on retreats for all kinds of reasons. What is your reason? What do you need time out to achieve and what kind of retreat or off the radar activity will help you achieve this?

We came across a very handy ‘sense check’ tool that might help you identify the reasons why a retreat might be a good investment for your mental health, wellbeing and career progression – take a look at ‘Being my best sense check

People come on a Next Chapter Retreat for all sorts of reasons which works because we don’t prescribe the right way forward to anyone, but help people find what makes sense for them. On our last retreat we had people who wanted to change career, address a workaholic lifestyle, become a better leader or plan the remainder of working life before retirement. We offer a framework of activities to raise questions and possibilities that haven’t been thought about.

Often there is a vague awareness of dissatisfaction or that all is not what it should be. Others are more aware that they are at something of a crossroads in their lives and don’t know what the next chapter looks like. Still, others may have had a difficult or traumatic experience which has left them feeling adrift from themselves and what they want from life.

We work with successful people who may have lost a sense of purpose and direction, have run out of steam and those who want to get back to being their best. Our clients know the power of investing in their personal growth and development, they are emotionally intelligent and self-aware. We nurture that awareness into action, leading to a more fulfilled life, bringing focus, renewed energy and impact.

Oh, and no, we don’t do detox or yoga. Where’s that nice bottle of red?

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What’s your next chapter?

As I write this I am looking forward with excitement to Monday and Tuesday of next week which is the second half of our five-day retreat which began in June. Since then, we have been meeting the participants at regular intervals on Zoom calls to find out how they’re getting on and to support them in making the changes they want in their lives.

The group which included three MDs and a partner in an accountancy firm came with different motivations: one to take their leadership to the next level, one to completely change careers, another to think about the last few years of their career and into retirement, and one with a lifestyle that was killing them. We used the Japanese concept of Ikigai to help them articulate their purpose and then write their next chapter – to be revealed on Tuesday!

We work with people’s stories of both success and failure. One of the key moments in the retreat is when we get people to tell stories about experiences that have been difficult, and which have held them back in some way. One of these stories is told in this blog https://thenextchapter.guru/time-for-a-retreat-i-dont-think-so/  Retelling these stories enables people to make some real shifts in their lives.

One thing we have noted in our Zoom calls between the two halves of the retreat is the extent to which people are making big changes not just in the externals of their lives but in their mindsets and attitudes and in developing new habits. As we all know, these changes are sometimes the hardest and then it’s good to have some people with you who’ve been through the process with you, understand what you’re trying to change and why and are your biggest cheerleaders.

Of course, these kinds of changes can be made in lots of different ways but the retreat acts like a reset button. It’s five quite intensive days spread over three months, but the changes happen more quickly than when you’re working on your own exerting all your self-discipline which is hard when you’ve got so much else on.

We’d love to talk to you about what you’re trying to achieve in your life and whether one of our retreats will give you a kick-start. The next one starts on 1st – 3rd November so you need to get in quickly.

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Why do business leaders find it hard to invest in their own wellness?

Recently a number of companies, Nike, LinkedIn and Bumble have announced that they are closing for a week to give their staff time to recover from the burnout caused by the pandemic, lockdowns and the negative effects of working from home. All well and good and the right thing to do, but what about you, the leader and owner of the business? There’s a lot to feel anxious about – hybrid working chaos, supply chains, staff shortages, inflation, OK let’s not depress ourselves too much! As a business owner myself, I know it is very hard to switch off from thinking and possibly worrying about the business and the future.

What would it feel like if you felt really rested and energised? What are the chances of that at the moment? Some of us have had holidays, but I was talking to someone the other day who had just come back from a holiday with the family (including granny and mother-in-law!) and he didn’t look and sound at all rested. You may have had a week in a tent in the indifferent weather we’re pleased to call summer in the UK. Not exactly the break you were hoping for.

Now the autumn’s here, how are you feeling? Ready for the upturn in the economy or anything the pandemic still has to throw at us? If there’s one thing that we’ve learned over the last year or so, it’s the extent to which the constant uncertainty and lack of control eat away at our resilience. Your holidays may have provided a change of scene and activity but may not have given you what you need to really renew and regenerate.

Why do business leaders find it so hard to invest in themselves and their health, mental or otherwise?

• They feel ashamed about asking for help especially as workplaces don’t support slowing down
• They often equate stress or burnout with a physical illness like a cold and think that a weekend away will sort it
• Investing in addressing burnout is a sign of weakness and that it’s best dealt with by working harder.

Left untreated, burnout can cause people to become depressed, anxious, and distracted, which can impact not only their work relationships but their personal interactions, too. 

Time to do something about it?

One of the best ways of dealing with it is to take ourselves out of the situation altogether.

It’s hard to admit that we need help perhaps because there seem to be so many other people who are worse off, and that we’re being self-indulgent. How many people depend on your being at your best?

Take time to regain some perspective, take a proper break. An ideal way of doing this is coming on our next retreat which starts on 1st – 3rd November. Finding your focus and direction and reconnecting with your purpose and values are core ways to restore mental balance and improve your resilience. Your business, family and friends will thank you.

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