One Hour Can Change Your Life

Relax and focus - in one hour - at or near your home. Use your One Hour Retreat to get back on track - in your business, in your relationships, or in just being YOU!


A One Question Retreat

What if you could love yourself the way I love you?  -God

What if you could love yourself the way God loves you?
(Feel free to substitute your own word for God or the name of the most compassionate, loving, welcoming person you know.)

What would it be like to give yourself that level of respect?

What would it be like to give yourself that much empathy and compassion?

What would it be like:
  • To see your mistakes through the eyes of love, rather than judgment?
  • To really claim your talents, your strengths, and your idiosyncrasies?
  • To fully acknowledge your challenges, without being consumed by them?
  • To know that you have a God-given right to take up space in this world?
  • To treat yourself the way you would treat an honored guest? 
What would that be like?  What if you could love yourself THAT much?


National Relaxation Day - August 15th

According to a recent survey, three-quarters of Americans would like to see National Relaxation Day become a national holiday:

The survey was commissioned by Princess Cruise Ships, and that could well easily have swayed the results (I'm not maligning the pollsters, just noting the source...) But a casual glance at my friends, colleagues, store clerks and other people I come into contact with every day bears out the truism that people find it hard to find time to relax.

We are being bombarded with information and asked to do more with less every day. It can sometimes feel like we live in a pressure cooker. We get lots of cooking done, but we're waiting for the day we can release the steam valve. Some days it feels like that won't happen until retirement.

Ways to release the valve:

1) Control your e-mail rather than letting it control you:

2) Take a lunch break - even if it is only a 10 minute walk to the coffee shop. Getting out of the office, into the plein air will revive you and help you hit the re-set button.

3) Take a One Hour Retreat once a week. Need some ideas? Scroll down for prior posts, or sign up for my free e-book in the box to the right.

4) Take a vacation. It needn't be extravagant. It needn't even be away from home. A stay-cation can work, as long as you are committed to taking a vacation from routine. Painting your house can be a vacation - the Zen of painting is a break from the ringing phone, pinging e-mail and constant interruptions that plague many jobs.

And let it be known that, while the survey says people in general do not agree, I am firmly in the camp of experts who espouse "me" time. While I agree that it can sometimes take a couple of days to truly wind down, I also know that it is possible to relax in a single moment. And practice makes perfect.

What is your favorite way to relax? Please share it below.

Brain Decluttering a la Harry Potter

My daughter grew up on the Harry Potter books - and in some ways, so did I.  So, in honor of today's release of the last of the movie series, I offer a mind clearing technique inspired by Harry Potter.

If you are a Potter fan , you are familiar with Professor Dumbledore’s magical Pensieve.  And, if you're not a Potter fan, you have probably already stopped reading. 

The Pensieve is a stone basin etched with runes and filled with a shimmering, viscous silver substance that we eventually find out are peoples' memories.  Dumbledore, the school Headmaster, can ”download” his thoughts for retrieval and examination at a later time by pressing his magic wand to his temple and extracting material from his brain (which is, despite appearances, a harmless, painless process).  This allows him to “declutter” his mind, which aids him in focusing his full attention and considerable brain power on the matter at hand, and allows him to view his memories from a "third-person" perspective.

"I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind.”  [Boy, do I know that feeling!] …One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure.  It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.”  (Prof. Dumbledore to Harry Potter, Goblet of Fire, pg. 597)

What a wonderful invention!  How much more present, attentive and effective could I be if I could download all the clutter that rattles around in my brain?

Alas, I am a mere Muggle (a non-magical person, in Potter-speak).  What’s a poor Muggle to do?

Write it down.  Make a pencil-and-paper (or electronic) version of a Pensieve.  When my brain gets so cluttered with “to-dos” that I don’t know where to start, it often helps to “download” everything to paper.  I was reminded of that this week, when I got overwhelmed with an accumulation of big and small projects.  I was having a hard time doing anything – but then I remembered the magical Pensieve. Make a massive “To-Do” list (use your laptop or iphone if you prefer).

You may find that you have 50 to 100 items on your mind - no wonder it’s hard to focus!  Write down absolutely everything that comes to mind, whether it needs to be done in the next 5 minutes or the next 5 years, whether it will take 5 minutes or 5 years.   If it’s taking up space in your mind, download it to the paper.  Don’t worry about priority at this point.  Once it is on paper, it will be much easier to prioritize the items into “do, dump or delegate” categories,  and to set up reminder systems for those items that need attention at a later time.

Dump the baggage.  Journal, talk to a friend or coach or get therapy to unload excess baggage from the past.  Do you really want to keep cluttering your brain with that old junk?  And it’s not worth putting in the Pensieve, either.  While in the Harry Potter novels, the Pensieve is used as a flashback device to educate Harry about the events of the past and how they have shaped present reality, not all past events are worth retaining.  Most of us would be loath to give up memories of our baby’s first smile or our teenager's  junior prom, but do we really need to remember every past slight, or hold onto anger, or wallow in self-pity?

Focus.  Meditate, pray or connect with Nature to quiet your mind and access your inner wisdom.  Many people find that focusing the mind on a single point, whether it be the breath, a candle, or the presence of God, substantially quiets the internal “chatter” that often disturbs our peace.  Instead of random thoughts pinging here and there like steel marbles in a pinball machine, we can feel the wholeness of the Universe and more clearly see our direction in it.

These techniques are so powerful, they are almost like magic.  Harry Potter would be impressed.

Full disclosure:  this is an update of a post I wrote in 2007.  But it's still timely - brain decluttering is a task that needs to be repeated from time to time.   I know that I could benefit from doing it at least once a week!


The Spirit of Play

Boy do I need a retreat!  All work and no play is making Cheryl a dull girl.

It's not like I work all the time.  But what's been happening over the last couple of months as I've been ramping up my coachingand retreat business is that I find myself thinking about work too much of the time.  And continuing to work after "quitting time."  Because there is always "one more thing" that would be good to do.  And one more thing after that, and one more thing after that…

Another thing that's been happening is that I've been taking work much too "seriously."  So that work that used to feel like play is now feeling more often like, well, "work."   And the third thing that has been happening is that I haven't been using my downtime – my playtime, so to speak - to do things that really feed my soul and replenish my energy. 

All of this came to the surface as I started to prepare for the upcoming "Spirit of Play" virtual retreat.   What I want is to take my life seriously, but live it lightly.  And that includes work.  And what I want is to bring a spirit of play into my life, including my work.  And what I want is to just be myself,  and to bring my whole self into both my work and my play. 

So I'm planning to retreat and regroup and have some fun this weekend.  Without leaving my family.  Because retreat, like play, is as much as a state of mind as anything.  And I don't want to retreat from my family – I want to engage with them. 

So here's my plan:
  1. Start every day with by connecting to Spirit – in bed – before any demands for breakfast or  invitations for canoeing or distractions to read or write or quilt can intervene.

  2. Organize family and/or solo hikes to places of particular beauty – high overlooks or secluded ponds.  Scenic vistas feed my soul – and the exercise to get there is great for my body.

  3. Enjoy the natural beauty all around – even when we go into town or out in the motorboat.  Be mindful of the sights, sounds, and smells of nature, and of man-made beauty as well.

  4. Soak up the sun, if it chooses to grace us.  If it does not, choose to find a way to savor the beauty of the gloomy or rainy days.

  5. Ask a friend to lend me a great novel in case I feel like reading (no personal development  reading allowed!)

  6. Take a technology fast.

  7. If I catch myself thinking about work, acknowledge that, focus my attention elsewhere and let the thought pass through without attachment.  Or – if it's a good one – write it down and forget about it until Tuesday.

  8. Allow myself the freedom to write (even about "work") IF that's what I really want to do.  I often get a creative rush when I'm on vacation and in nature, and I want to both honor that and ride the wave.  So writing – and even a bit of journaling – is OK, but no sitting down to write something in particular. 

  9. End each day with a prayer of gratitude for this time with my family (regardless of what scuffles have occurred during the day) and for this opportunity for a retreat-without-retreating.
I'll let you know how it goes!

P.S.  Please share your thoughts or links on the spirit of play below.


10 Questions for Your Next Retreat

For me, retreat is all about connection and clarity - first and foremost, taking the time to get connected to the wellspring within, and then, from that place, allowing myself to be open to receiving clarity about issues that are troubling me. 

If you are seeking clarity about something, here are ten of my all-time favorite retreat questions.  I use these often in my own retreats and on the guided retreats I lead for others.  Choose one or more for your next retreat.  Investing just five or ten minutes focusing on just one of these questions could turn out to be a great mini-retreat in itself.

10 Questions for Your Next Retreat

1.      What is going right right now?   (Alternate:  what do I have to be grateful for, amidst the chaos?)
2.      What would I like to create?
3.      What is the very next step?
4.      Am I “playing the victim” in any way?
5.      Am I “shoulding” on myself?  (i.e., saying to myself, I should…)
6.      How can I make this easier and/or more enjoyable?
7.      Am I fighting against “what is”?
8.      What am I hiding? (Alternate:  what don’t I want other people to know)
9.      What small change, if implemented consistently, would make the biggest difference in my life right now? 
10.    What wants to happen here?

Try these questions on for size - and feel free to share your own favorite questions in the comment box below.


Un-Procrastination: The Next Step

Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.  -William James

A couple of weeks ago, I invited you to make an “Unprocrastination List” – a master list of things long procrastinated - and to start tackling it, one thing at a time.  

Completing long procrastinated tasks can free up enormous amounts of energy - the energy that you are currently using to beat yourself up for not having completed those tasks.

But that list sure looks daunting!  Here's how to get past the overwhelm and get going:  chunk it down.

Look at your list and identify the very next step you need to take on each item.  I discovered this technique in David Allen's Getting Things Done book a few years back, and (when I remember to do it), have found it to invaluable for managing projects large and small.  And for things I have procrastinated, it is essential. 

For example,  the first item on my Unprocrastination List was “new pair of pants.”  Now I know that for many people, getting a new pair of pants would be a simple retail transaction.  Go to the store, take a pair off of the rack, and go pay for them.   But I have trouble finding pants that fit and flatter, and can try on 20 pairs and not find any I like.   I had been thinking about getting a tailor to make me a pair using my favorite (now battered) pair, but dreaded both the cost and the thought of parting with my pants for a week or two.  What would I wear then? 

So, on my list, I identified the next step as “call the tailor and get a cost and time estimate.”  But then I realized that that wasn’t the very next step.  The very  next step – the first step toward completion of this project – was to look up the phone number of the tailor.  So I did that right then (2 minutes on the Internet) and wrote it on The List.  The next step was to call the tailor.  I procrastinated that until the following day. ;-) 

I called the tailor and found out that the cost was much more reasonable than I had imagined.  The next step was to go to the fabric store to buy the material.  Done when I had a chance to shop, two days later.  Next was to take the fabric and my current pants to the tailor, which had to wait a week because that was the first opportunity I had to get there during the hours they are open.  Then I had to wait another week – not because I was procrastinating, but because the tailor’s daughter had a baby.  Remember that there is a difference between delay and procrastination. 

I invite you to take a moment right now to identify the very next step for each item on your Unprocrastination List.  Then when you have a free moment, you can scan the list and tick off one of the “next steps.”  Instead of a big chore, you’ll have one small task to complete.  Slow and steady wins the race.  This will also allow you to bunch errands that can be efficiently done together, rather than going to the office supply store to get folders and realizing after you get there that the dry cleaner is right next door and your dry cleaning is back at home.

So:  what’s the next step?

P.S.   If you've been procrastinating taking a One Hour Retreat, do it before you tackle the other items on your Un-Procrastination List! 

Retreat from Procrastination

It turns out that we can blame our propensity to procrastinate on biology. 

So you’re not a lazy slug – you are the victim of your genes!  Blame it on your limbic system.  An article in the April issue of Real Simple magazine reports that scientists have found that the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that kicks in to cause you to flee from dangerous circumstances, also kicks in to cause you to flee from unpleasant tasks. 

Because the limbic system operates on autopilot, it often wins out against the more deliberate pre-frontal cortex.  The pre-frontal cortex is the part of your brain that can review all of the data and make conscious and wise decisions.  Like, for instance, “if I do the dishes right now, it’ll only take 5 minutes, but if I wait three days, it will take me 15 minutes to scrub off that caked-on gunk and another 20 to do the rest of the dishes that have accumulated.”  Or, as another, more important, example, “if I keep up with my annual health screenings, I'll be much more likely to avoid major health problems down the road."

The Real Simple article includes seven ideas for by-passing the procrastination response and tricking yourself into productivity.  The one that caught my eye – and the one I had never heard before -  was to “plan an unprocrastination day.”  A Real Simple editor and one of her friends cooked up this idea, and spent an entire day (9am to 7pm) doing errands they had long put off. 

While the concept of unprocrastination intrigued me, the idea of devoting a whole day to the dreaded tasks sounded like cruel and unusual punishment, even with the support of a friend. But after reading this article, the idea of unprocrastination  took hold and wouldn’t let go.  So I decided to make my own Unprocrastination List, and just tackle a few a week.    The Unprocrastination List is different than a to-do list.  For one thing, I don't have any intention of doing them all today, or even this week.  For another, I'll stop transferring them from day to day (month to month, year to year....) on my other lists.  I'll just matter of factly tackle one or two at at time, one step at a time.  It’s only been a couple of weeks, but I’ve already ticked a few things off my Unprocrastination List, and made progress on others. 

Perhaps more importantly, I’m more conscious of not procrastinating things in the first place. So today, as I was about to sit down and buff up this article, I remembered that I had a couple of higher priority things to do first.  They weren’t nearly as fun as writing, but they had a higher value in the grand scheme.  My first thought was to do this article first and then do the other things “later.”  Then the irony of that hit me – I was about to procrastinate some non-urgent but important tasks to write an article about avoiding procrastination.  The complete absurdity of that engaged my pre-frontal cortex (and my funny bone), and  I am pleased to report that I "unprocrastinated" the most important things, and completed them.  And then wrote this post.    

What can you unprocrastinate?  Play with that idea over the next few weeks and see where it leads....

For more tips on avoiding procrastination, see .  Or get the April issue of Real Simple magazine if you want more background in the brain science behind the tips.

I’ll be posting some of my own tips soon.  Feel free to share your best unprocrastination tips in the comments box below.

Note to readers:  I’m finding the retreat theme to be a bit “one-note” and I suspect you may be too.  So I will be broadening the scope of this blog to include thoughts on some of those things in life that cause us to want to retreat, and tips and techniques to help us carry the benefits of retreat back out into our daily lives.


Stop, Look and Listen - A Retreat for Lent (whether or not you observe Lent)

If you are of Christian heritage, you may or may not know that the Christian season of Lent started yesterday.  The season of Lent used to have a vaguely negative association for me, resulting in a vaguely guilty feeling that I should be doing more to observe it, that I should be denying myself, suffering in some way, sacrificing in some way.  This despite the fact that when I was a child, my church barely mentioned Lent, and required no sacrifice or suffering.

The Catholic kids I knew always gave up candy for Lent.  Kids being kids, they were never able to explain to me what the point of it was, other than that they "had to," or "to understand the suffering of Christ."  I never understood what giving up M&Ms for the duration of Lent could possibly have to do with understanding God.

I now understand that there are various ways of observing Lent, just as there are various spiritual practices that can help us draw closer to God.  Fasting may be one path, but this post is not about fasting. It is about using the 40 days of Lent as a time of reflection, in whatever way works for you, with the goal of returning yourself to a closer alignment with God

Who among us couldn't benefit from living in closer alignment with God, or Spirit, or the Universe, or whatever words you use to describe the indescribable Source and Connection and Love? 

Whether or not you consider yourself Christian, why not take some time this week (and perhaps some time in each of the next six weeks) to stop, look and listen for Spirit?  Stop what you are doing, look (really look) at your life; and listen (really listen) to Source. 

Stop.  Set aside some time - an hour would be great, but 15 minutes will do - to just stop.  Find a place of solitude, whether in your home, a pubic garden or library, or even your car - where you can be alone and undisturbed for this brief period of retreat.  Bring something to take notes - either a pen and paper, or an electronic notepad of some sort.

Look.  Look - really look - at what is going on in your life right now.  Are certain areas being neglected?  Are others getting too much of your attention, perhaps due to guilt or a feeling of obligation?  Observe - with as little self-criticism as you can manage - and make notes.  How often are you living from center?  We all get off-balance from time to time, from hour to hour, even from moment to moment.  But how much time, in the aggregate, are you living from center, with intention, as opposed to running from place to place without giving thought to other options and other choices you might make? Once again, observe, without judgment, and make notes.

Listen.  Listen to your heart.  Listen to that wise voice inside of you, whether you call that voice God, or Spirit, or your Higher Self, or something else.  Listen to what that voice has to say to you.

Act.  Heed that voice, and take action to follow it.  You may not be able to change your bad habits or your kids' overcrowded schedules overnight, but you can take action every day to bring your life into greater alignment with your values and your purpose for being here.

Repeat.  Make retreat a habit.  Make listening to the voice of Wisdom a habit.  Make living in alignment with Wisdom a habit.  And, over time, you will find yourself living more and more in alignment with your values, and with that voice of Wisdom.  And you will find yourself being able to recognize that voice of Wisdom more readily, and able to live from that place of center more easily - even while in the midst of the daily chaos. 

If you are of Christian heritage and are still considering whether or not to "do something" for Lent, here are two resources:

1) Meditations for Lent:  Into His Presence, a six-week guided meditation practice which is available by telephone free of charge.  (Full disclosure:  I lead this series on behalf of the Oxford United Methodist Church.)  As Christians, we believe that God is ever-present and always with us.  But the question is:  how often are we present to God?  In this series, we will practice ways of opening ourselves to the Presence of God, and of removing blocks that keep us from allowing ourselves to be present to God.  The series starts on March 9th, but you can join at any time in the next six weeks.  You can participate live or listen to the recordings, and you can attend as many or as few sessions as you would like to or are able to. For details, send an e-mail to  

2) For more active ways to observe the Lenten season, check out the "Top Ten List:  Things You Can Try for the Lenten Season" in this Lent 101 blog post from Upper Room Ministries (scroll about half-way down the page for the list):


A Spa Retreat - Ahhh...

At home or at the spa, services that relax and nurture your body also relax and nurture your mind and soul.  Treat yourself to a spa retreat this month.  If time and/or funds are tight (as they often are this time of year), then give yourself a "spa retreat" at home.

Choose one or more of the following activities, whichever appeal to you:
  • Manicure
  • Pedicure
  • Bubble bath
  • Long shower
  • Aromatherapy (essential oils or scented candles)
  • Nap
  • Facial
  • Yoga, Pilates or gentle stretching
  • Meditation (silent or using an audio recording)
  • Fresh made soup (chicken, lentil or vegetable)
  • Journaling
  • An uplifting movie
  • A tall glass of water, with a wedge of lemon
  • Herb tea
  • Snuggling up by a fireplace 
If you have a willing partner, you might even be able to finangle a massage.  If not, treat yourself to a self-massage:  do a few minutes of very gentle stretching and finish by gently kneading your hands and feet, being sure to cover each finger and toe and both the tops and bottoms of your hands and feet.


Breathing Space

"I just need a little room to breathe...," I complained to a friend.

And suddenly it became clear to me:  I am the only one who can give myself that space.  I am the only one who can say no, the only one who can reschedule my obligations and commitments, the only one who can delegate, ask for, or hire help.   I am the only one who can let myself relax when I do have a spare minute, rather than spending that time thinking how busy I am, berating myself for not planning more carefully, or grousing about how so-and-so should be helping me with whatever-it-is.  I am the only one who can give myself room to breathe.

What about you?  No matter HOW busy you are, you CAN give yourself room to breathe.  But it takes a conscious effort to stop and truly let go of everything that is going on.  To stop planning, to stop worrying, to stop grousing and complaining and berating yourself and others.  To allow yourself a little space.

As I was writing this, I looked up from my computer and glanced out the window.  A flock of chickadees was flitting back and forth from the feeders to the shrubs.  I said to myself, "get back to work!"  And then I realized, THIS is what I am talking about.  THIS is what life is about - allowing myself the breathing room to take a mere 30 seconds to enjoy watching the birds, to let my body relax, to restore my soul.

So what about you?  How can  you give yourself a little breathing room?  How WILL you give yourself a little breathing room?