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Retreats

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Adjusting to the next normal

What was that about the ‘new normal’ we thought or hoped we might be moving towards? It was just the end of COVID we were hoping for, wasn’t it? On the back of 2020, we were all sure that 2021 was going to be a new start, then when that didn’t work out, perhaps 2022 was going to be the year. Funny how that worked out.

It feels like the world as we knew it has gone for a long time. COVID hasn’t gone away. It might not be as a serious disease as it was, but a lot of us are still getting it and it’s making us feel under par for a while. The cost of living, taxes, energy and fuel prices are shooting up with no end in sight and then, of course, there’s the war in Ukraine with all the massive uncertainties that introduces.

Throw in a couple of personal worries, the friend with a cancer diagnosis and the offspring being less settled in their lives than they were and…..

I have been reflecting and wondering, how to be in all of this. Acceptance feels like the first thing – there’s only so much I can do to change anything. Someone has pointed out that stress = expectations – reality so I’m going to lower my expectations of how much certainty I can find and how easy life will be over the next couple of years. This is going to be the new normal. Perhaps our joys and the things we appreciate will come in small ways, that sunset, the arrival of spring, trying a new recipe, making contact with an old friend, taking in a refugee.

We need to recognise the effect all this has on us as well though. The latest issue of Raconteur (14th March) had an article suggesting that more people are looking to take a sabbatical on the back of a hard two years, stress, burnout and the need to switch off, recharge and get work and life back into balance. If you don’t have time, or won’t get the support from work for a full sabbatical, why not think about coming on one of our five-day retreats (over three months)? They are an ideal opportunity to take some time for yourself and focus on what’s really important.

For more information please get in touch https://thenextchapter.guru/get-in-touch/

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Ways to deal with anxiety

I’m wondering when we last faced such a conflation of causes of fear and anxiety. We’ve had two years of the pandemic and while the acute effects are past for the time being there are still many cases of COVID with people not being able to work because they are ill. Then for businesses, there is the effect of Brexit on the ease of doing business, higher taxes, changes to patterns of working and many employees are choosing a hybrid model which some managers find difficult. Affecting both business and individuals are higher and more volatile energy prices. We will all start to feel the effect of an increased cost of living. Some may have been affected by extreme weather events caused by climate change. And on top of all of that comes a war in Ukraine. The biggest factor in all of this is that a lot of it is beyond our control.

It is also very easy to focus on ourselves and how other people behave in very difficult circumstances can be enormously inspiring. We’ve all been moved by the many stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Such stories enable me to find courage.

What else can we do to prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed by anxiety?

  • Being disciplined in our use of social media. The constant stream of news can be very addictive, and doom scrolling doesn’t help. There are plenty of people catastrophising which is only likely to increase our anxiety.
  • Check our sources of information especially at a time when there is plenty of misinformation on all kinds of topics.
  • Routines can also help. During lockdowns I’m sure I was not alone in finding that daily and weekly routines gave me a structure which helped me get through, for example, making sure I took breaks and went outside.
  • Keeping a sense of perspective. One of the things that can help with this is gratitude practice. Thinking of at least three things to be grateful for before going to sleep makes for a much better night and reminds us of all that is positive in our lives.
  • Mindfulness. How this works when it comes to anxiety is that we need to stop and observe ourselves and how we’re feeling to help us manage our feelings. Mindfulness creates a gap between feeling and responding and stops us from just reacting in a way which might not help.
  • Look for a way to get involved, especially in the Ukrainian situation. There is no shortage of charities who need money, clothes or food which they are transporting to Ukraine to support the people there.
  • Random acts of kindness can change our mindset and make a difference to others.
  • Exercise. There is plenty of evidence that shows that exercise is a very good way of dealing with anxiety.
  • Talk to someone. Stay connected, don’t get isolated, don’t withdraw. Keep in touch with your family and friends and if you need professional help don’t be afraid to admit that you need help. There is no shame in feeling anxious, especially now.

We’re here to talk if you’d like to get in touch.

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Where do we find hope for the future?

Sometimes I wake up with an enormous sense of hope despite all that we have been through, the disruption of Brexit, the doom and gloom of the virus, and now the war in Ukraine. What is fuelling that?

  • The way in which people are responding to the war. At a global level, so many countries and organisations have come together not only to condemn what is happening but also to do whatever they can to support the Ukrainians. Have we ever had such a unified response to an outrage like this? At the same time, let’s not forget or condemn ordinary Russians who are also caught up in this and who are as shocked as we are.
  • The inspiring example of ordinary people and their courage as well as leaders like Volodymyr Zelensky.
  • A sense that as a result of the pandemic, we have been forced into new perspectives, different behaviour patterns that we might have previously resisted but which have led to changes in lifestyle which we are now enjoying.  The tectonic plates have shifted and when that happens there are opportunities for something new to emerge. Businesses are allowing staff to choose how and where they want to work.
  • There seems to be a real shift in a commitment to do something about climate change. More and more people are seeing an opportunity to do something and are taking action.
  • Perhaps what underpins all of this is a growing sense that we need find purpose in what we do, that we can choose how to respond, choose what action to take in an uncertain world.

I know there are so many difficulties that have to be confronted and I don’t want to sound too Pollyanna-ish. What we can do is look to see what new patterns are emerging and make the most of the new opportunities that are presenting themselves to businesses, relationships and the way we want to live. Someone has pointed out that 30 years of mayhem, pillage and murder in Italy gave rise to the Renaissance, 500 years of stability in Switzerland produced insurance and the cuckoo clock (sorry Switzerland!). What do we want to see in our world? How can we make it happen?

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Do you aspire to a life less ordinary?

What do you aspire to? Do you feel you haven’t yet achieved your potential? Do you believe that it’s never too late to invest in yourself?  Do you have a sense that you have so much to give but are held back by your current role? Is there someone you’re close to you feel is holding you back? Are the circumstances of your life getting in the way? Are you looking for inspiration to take the next step? Or even courage?

It’s time to act!

We meet a lot of successful people who’ve lost a sense of purpose and direction, run out of steam, gone off the boil, been knocked off course by any of life’s difficulties and we help them get back to their best. Our clients know the power of investing in their own personal growth and development, they are emotionally intelligent and self-aware. We help nurture that awareness into action, leading to a more fulfilled life. Bringing focus, renewed energy and impact. 

If this is you, one of our 5-day retreats (spread over 3 months) is exactly what you need.

We’re not for the ‘yes but-ers’, ‘someday I’ll-ers’, ‘I’m too busy-ers’. We are for you when you’re starting to feel the effects of ‘I haven’t got time for myself’ when you find yourself making mistakes, postponing important decisions, feeling the loneliness of your position, always in a rush, never enough time for the family, not sleeping, using drinking or drugs to get you through.

‘I haven’t got time for myself’? What about all the people who depend on you: your family, staff, clients, suppliers, friends? What would happen to them and how would they feel if something happened to you?

Are you ready to take yourself on an adventure? Ready to embark on your own hero’s journey? And what about the consequences if you don’t? We are your Sherpas. We’ll get you to the top and back in one piece.

Our next ‘Your Next Chapter’ retreat starts on 7th March. See you there?

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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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