How to host a self-retreat

Catherine Andrews
4 min readNov 22, 2020

Carving out time for self-reflection at the end of the year

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Taking time to reflect and prepare with a self-retreat

Happy Sunday, Soothers. About a month from now, I will be driving down to the Blue Ridge mountains, setting up in a little Airbnb cabin by myself, and doing my 2020 annual self-retreat that will help me reflect on everything that happened this year (lol) and set myself up for the things I want to feel, experience and achieve in 2021.

(Just in case it has to be said, I will be bringing my own food, not dining out or shopping in the area, only stopping for gas, wearing a mask, and totally solitary the whole time.)

An annual self-retreat is a concept I dipped my toe into about 4 or 5 years ago, when I took my first solo vacation (which I wrote about a while ago for Vox). When I packed up the car that time to go to a little beach house on the Chesapeake Bay, I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I certainly wouldn’t have called those few days a self-retreat. I just knew I was exploring my own identity and resiliency, and I had a sense that a few days alone on a solo trip (something I’d never done before) would help me with those things. (They did.)

Those early trips, I swanned around whatever rental I was in, readings books, doing yoga, going on aimless walks, journaling, no plan except relaxation. And it was exactly what I needed.

But after a few years of refinement, I now make these annual self-retreats a little more structured. taking them as my chance to set up a period of self-reflection, self-assessment, and to create a launching pad for all I want to experience in the next year.

This year, I picked a cabin in December in the woods instead of a beach cottage in September, and I planned out an agenda for each day:

Day 1: Check in, unpack, cook a nice dinner, light a billion candles, do a ritual bath, and concentrate on my intent for the retreat
Day 2: A day of admin. I have a lot of detail-oriented and biz goals I need to hunker down and accomplish to wrap up loose ends from 2020 and set up for 2021, so I hope to accomplish most of them by early afternoon. Then ideally a hike, a bath (see a theme? I will be packing ALL the epsom salts), a book.
Day 3: I am blocking out today to do the grandmamma of all self-reflection guides, Susannah Conway’s Unravel Your Year. When I did this workbook in 2018, combined with a regular morning pages practice, it was the start of everything changing for me. I can’t recommend it enough for anybody.
Day 4: Hike, set my 5 big goals for 2021 onto a vision board, and do a goal-setting ritual I have developed.
Day 5: Maybe one last hike, pack, and back to the real world.

Now, I’m privileged to be able to book a cottage, take time away solely for myself, and spend several days on this. But the idea of a self-retreat is available to anybody, and can take any form (half a day, virtual, alone, with others, a focus on self and the personal, or a focus on business).

If you want to set up your own self-retreat but aren’t sure where to start, I created this self-retreat guide and workbook for you. If you download it, you’ll get instructions and reflection on how to set up the right self-retreat for you this year.

I know 2020 has been painful and felt so hard to plan things because there’s a sense of, what’s the point, it could all crumble anyways? But I urge you to create this space for yourself and your dreams. If using a self-retreat to do reflection on the year and plan for 2021 seems hard, or has an air of “what’s the point?,” try instead leaning into questions like, “What were the most important things I learned about myself this year?” and asking yourself, what feelings do you want to lean into in 2021, as opposed to specific goals, if those feel too hard to plan and hold on to.

The Sunday Soother self-retreat worksheet



Catherine Andrews

Teaching awakening + healing through vulnerability + self-compassion. Finding hope in a messy world. Author of the Sunday Soother.