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The Power of Being Alone: My 24-Hour Solo Retreat Experience | Dean Pohlman | Better Man Podcast Ep. 082

The Power of Being Alone: My 24-Hour Solo Retreat Experience | Dean Pohlman | Better Man Podcast Ep. 082

Today’s hustle culture tricks men, myself included, into jamming more activities into our day to become more productive, more successful, and more fulfilled. 

But this relentless pursuit of self-development opens up a void in our life. The more things we shove into our day, the less time we have to slow down and reflect on what actually matters. 

In other words, adding more productivity hacks doesn’t result in significant improvement. It does the opposite: It drives you to the verge of burnout. 

Nothing made this clearer to me than when I went on a 24-hour solo retreat. During these 24 hours of solitude, I realized some crucial things about my business, relationships, and life. And I want to share the template I used, so that you can do the same in your life if you’re feeling burnt out and unfilled. 

In this episode, I reveal: 

  • Why being alone, free from external influences, unlocks more meaningful change in less time 
  • How doing less makes you more fulfilled 
  • The exact template I followed during my 24-hour solo retreat that resulted in immediate transformation 

And more

The Better Man Podcast is an exploration of our health and well-being outside of our physical fitness, exploring and redefining what it means to be better as a man; being the best version of ourselves we can be, while adopting a more comprehensive understanding of our total health and wellness. I hope it inspires you to be better!

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Episode 082 Highlights

  • 6 simple questions to ask yourself to make 2024 more successful and fulfilling than 2023 (4:53) 
  • Why listening to your own thoughts instead of relying on external influences (like books and podcasts) unlocks meaningful change—faster (6:12) 
  • 8 activities to dabble in when you’re feeling burnt out to refuel and revitalize you (7:11) 
  • How long hikes clear out all your “brain gunk” and help you find mental clarity (even when you’re up to your neck in stress) (9:07) 
  • Why “feeling” your way to self-development instead of “thinking” your way there unleashes significant improvement (and how to do this) (11:29) 
  • The “building and optimizing” mistake of self-improvement that keeps you stuck, unfulfilled, and on the verge of burning out (15:41) 
  • Constantly in “Go, Go, Go Mode?” Here’s why doing less makes you feel more fulfilled (19:41)
Episode 082: The Power of Being Alone: My 24-Hour Solo Retreat Experience - Dean Pohlman - Transcript

Dean Pohlman: Hey, guys, it’s Dean. Welcome to the Better Man podcast. Today’s episode is a solo episode, and in this episode I want to talk about the power of being alone, spending time by yourself intentionally for the purpose of self-development, for becoming the better version of yourself, for taking the time that you need to to think, to be in an environment where you can think consciously without influence from external sources, and ultimately to be more intentional about the way that you want to live your life.

Dean Pohlman: Now that all sounds as I say, that it sounds very dramatic is not the right word, but it sounds very powerful. It sounds life changing, life changing. And honestly, it is. So I’m going to tell you the story of how I got the opportunity to go on a I’m going to call it a solo retreat. Basically, I had a day to myself, courtesy of my wife, for my Christmas present.

Dean Pohlman: And I’ll tell you what I did on that day. I’ll tell you the questions that I ask myself. I’ll tell you how I decided to stay conscious of my own thoughts rather than allow in other sources of thought or other influences. And I’ll tell you what I came away with as a result of this process. So this is something that I didn’t find this on.

Dean Pohlman: I didn’t find this template from somebody else. This is something that I just kind of made up myself as I started this this little 24 hour solo retreat, as I’m calling it. And it’s been extremely powerful for me so far. So if you are interested in improving yourself, if you’re interested in creating meaningful change, creating change that actually happens, I think this is a powerful tool that you can utilize If you have the ability to find some time to yourself.

Dean Pohlman: I don’t think you even need a full day to do this, but it definitely helped me to have an entire day. Spending a few hours here and there over the course of a few weeks could also be a great way to do this for me, this just happened to work out and yeah, so anyways, let’s let’s get into this.

Dean Pohlman: So I’m going to call this again 24 hour soul retreat. My my wife came to me on the morning of the December 23rd, so a couple of days before Christmas, day before Christmas Eve. And she gave me a present. She gave me a postcard that she had created that basically said, Hey, I’m giving you a day to yourself.

Dean Pohlman: Go to this this little cabin that I booked for you outside of Austin and to spend a day with yourself. Now, I actually just a couple of days before that, I had gotten we had gotten a new puppy. His name is Oakley. And he has been a he had been, you know, minor early terrorizing the house. So she asked me to take Oakley, too.

Dean Pohlman: So I got I got a big bag together of stuff I took and I took enough things that I wanted to be able to go hiking if I wanted to. I took my yoga mat. I took yoga equipment, towels, blocks, strap. I took a foam roller. I took my journal. That was probably the most important thing that took my journal and a couple of pairs of a couple of different outfits for being able to be outside in the cooler weather.

Dean Pohlman: And I got in my car and I drove and it was about 30 minutes away and I took the phone call to call a couple of people to call my brother and tell him how excited I was to go in the retreat, to call my my, my business partner, Edward, to tell him, hey, you know, this is what I’m doing.

Dean Pohlman: Super excited about it. And, and yeah, so that’s that was the only time that I really call it other people during this entire thing or, or really texting with other people. I texted Marissa, my wife, a little bit through it. I called her once at night just to check in, but otherwise it was just me. So I had some ideas about how I wanted to do this going into it.

Dean Pohlman: So I knew that the most important part of this whole retreat would be journaling. So I wanted to bring my journal, but I also wanted to have specific questions to ask myself. And they’re not complicated questions. These are questions that everyone can easily think of things that things that basic questions that we should ask ourselves on a regular basis and in the context of the end of 2023.

Dean Pohlman: In the beginning of 2024, I had a few questions that I wanted to ask myself. So and I’m reading out of my notebook right now, which I use for the retreat. So. So here are these exact questions. What did I like about 2023? What did I not like about 2023? What do I want to do in 2024 and what do I not want to do in 2024?

Dean Pohlman: What are my goals? How can I improve? And from here I listed a bunch of different roles. I am a husband, I’m a father, I’m a son. I’m a leader for the Mantle yoga community. I’m also a business leader for my team members. So those are those are the roles that I listed. How how can I improve? What do I do?

Dean Pohlman: Well and which why not do well? How can I improve as a father? What do I do well, what do I not do well? And so on and so forth for all of those roles. And at the end of so I took some time to journal about each of these different topics and the way that I made sure that this journaling was really effective was I avoided any sort of external influences for the entire time.

Dean Pohlman: So I listened to some music, but I didn’t bring a book, I didn’t watch any shows, I didn’t listen to any podcast. It was just me listening to my own thoughts instead of being influenced by other thoughts. And that’s something that side note, that’s a topic that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently for the last few months, and it’s something that I’ve been much more intentional, intentional about avoiding, about avoiding other thoughts, avoiding external influences, whether or not I want them to influence me, even the exposure to them influences me subconsciously.

Dean Pohlman: So that’s a that’s a topic for another time. But anyways, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t have any outside influences. So I, so I got rid of all of, all of those things, didn’t, didn’t really expose myself to any external influences for the entire irony of the weekend. I also did made sure that I didn’t journal any more than I wanted to.

Dean Pohlman: So if I felt like I was getting to a point where I was hitting a wall or just kind of losing focus, then I was going to fill that time with activities to help me kind of restore myself. So those things for me and I listed them here, box breathing, going for a walk, going on a hike, cold water or hot tub contrast therapy.

Dean Pohlman: There was a there was a pool there and one section was heated. One section was not. It was December. So I was able to go back and forth there for conscious therapy, full rowing or lacrosse cross. So I took my mobility tools. Those are something I could do practicing meditation, being present to the sounds around me. I love being out in nature.

Dean Pohlman: I love the sound of rain. It also happened to be raining, so that was easy for me to practice being present with those sounds, yoga and stretching, gratitude practice and food got to eat right? So those are the things that I used as brakes during this period, but otherwise I was journaling. So and then I also wrote What do I want to come away from this experience with?

Dean Pohlman: So I set my expectations for myself at the end of this 24 hours, what do I want to have? And for me it was having a clear idea of myself, my goals, free of outside influences. I wanted to clarify, remember my values, something that I do when I do get time alone. So the last time, last instance of this, I can remember before December I was in my my grandparents.

Dean Pohlman: I was at my grandparents house in Door County, Wisconsin. So my whole mom’s side of the family was up there. It’s beautiful, primarily vacation based city in the Midwest. You’re surrounded by lakes on either side, beautiful. It’s great for nature. And the last time that I remember being really in touch with my values of being clear on my values was after going for a hike there.

Dean Pohlman: And the thing is that every time I go on these long hikes and I’m able to kind of tap into myself and get clear on myself, my values, I come up with the same answers. So what I wanted to do this time was to be able to use this opportunity as once again to clarify my values, but then also to write them all out and to get really clear on them so that when I did have time to create plans based upon those values, I wouldn’t have to go through the value making process first, which is what I’ve done a lot in the past.

Dean Pohlman: So now I wanted to come away from this solo retreat with all of these established values in place to make it easy for me to to easily come back to that and make decisions and reflect so that was that was something that was basically a vision, a vision for my values. That’s one of to come up with a vision for my life for the next year.

Dean Pohlman: So this was really important. Still is. I wanted to create kind of the plan for the next year, clarifying the values now be able to come back to it as a reference. So that’s what I wanted to get out of it for you. You might have different goals, but for me, as far as using this as an opportunity to kind of recenter and to get clear on my goals, my desires, my values and where I want to go for 2024.

Dean Pohlman: That’s how I did this. So and then we started with the journaling. So the first thing that I did was I just wrote, What do I want? What do I want? Which sounds like a really easy question, but it’s not for a lot of us who practice, we spend a lot of their time considering their wants within the context of others.

Dean Pohlman: And I’ll say being nice and I won’t say that in a good way, that’s a topic for another time. Reading a book called I finished a book called Not Nice, which I really enjoyed. And one of the concepts in there is that especially if you’re a guy with a lot of demands from other people and not demands, but if you have if you’re responsible for other people, then you tend to neglect your own desires and wants.

Dean Pohlman: And instead of being direct about what you want, you do it within the context of other people. So for me, I wrote What do I Want? And I just answered the question without any external influences. So I had a whole two pages in my journal of that. So I went through all of those things, just wrote them out, and then I wrote What do I not want?

Dean Pohlman: So I scanned my I kind of scanned my thoughts, scanned my body, and I, I felt my way to these answers. That was another part of this week. And I didn’t want to think. I wanted to feel my way to the answers. I wanted to intuit the answers rather than spend the time being logical about them. I just want I knew I had the answers to already.

Dean Pohlman: I said to feel them. So I wrote all the things that I didn’t want. I wrote out all the things that I felt internal resistance to. These are the things that you think you should be doing, but you really don’t want to be doing. So obviously you’re going to have a you know, there’s going to be things in your life that you have to do even if you don’t want to do them.

Dean Pohlman: But maybe there are things in your life that you are doing just because you feel you should be doing them. So I wrote out all of those things as well. So I had two pages of What do I not want? Two pages of? What do I do want? And from there I went into my reflection. What went well in 2023?

Dean Pohlman: What were the good things? And then I wrote about what were the bad things. And at this point I’ve got like eight pages and I think I have already taken a break at this point. So the first part took an hour and a half. So it took me it took me a long time to do all this journaling.

Dean Pohlman: You know, if I actually look through all the changes that I have here, I think I had about you had about 24 pages of journaling here, so a lot of writing down. So anyways, after I wrote what was good in 2023, what went bad in 23, what did I not like then I wrote What do I want for 2024?

Dean Pohlman: What are the things that I want? And I didn’t really restrict myself in my answers. You know, that’s the point of the initial dump here, is to just write out everything. And then my plan was go back into it later on and then to really start and then from there to be more intentional about creating action lists or creating a priority list of some sort.

Dean Pohlman: So, so I had my anyway, so then I wrote what I want for 24 would I not want for 2024? And then I got into kind of my reflection in terms of what do I do? Well, as so I had two pages on one side, I wrote the things that I do well. On the other side I wrote the things that I do not do as well.

Dean Pohlman: And this is why I wrote out what I do as a husband. What do I well, with what I do well as a father, what do I do? Well, as a leader and as a boss or as a as a manager for my team. And then I wrote out the opposite. What do I not do? Well, as a husband, as a father, as a leader, and as a boss.

Dean Pohlman: So I wrote all these things and I realized that for me the big thing that was sticking out is for me the big things that were sticking out in these reflections were that I could improve in areas without going into this too far because ultimately, guys, I really want this podcast to be for you guys. I want you to use this.

Dean Pohlman: I want you to be able to use this as a template to reflect on your own life and be intentional about creating a life and actions and plans that are reflective of your values. And so and so for me, as I was going through this, I just realized, wow, there are things that I can improve. So I say that because I want you to be able to use examples.

Dean Pohlman: Hopefully this is something that you can take and practice yourself and you’ll come up with your own answers. So then from there I came in to my goals of I just wrote about what is, what are my fitness goals for 2024? And it came back to for me. I wanted to keep doing the things that work well for me to do.

Dean Pohlman: The challenging movements that don’t cause pain and to to make sure that I was working out with a focus on longevity instead of short term or trying just to get really jacked with muscle at the expense of long term health. And then I and then some of these prompts I didn’t actually write down at the beginning. They just came up later.

Dean Pohlman: So I wrote down What am I repressing? And that was a question that brought up a lot of a lot of things that I am just not allowing myself to feel or express. And in the context of self-improvement, it’s incredibly important to it’s incredibly important to make sure that we aren’t just building and optimizing. I think a goal that I think of mistake that I made was self-improvement for many years is that I just wanted to create strategies to be more productive or I want to tools.

Dean Pohlman: And one of the most powerful parts of self-development of becoming better is figuring out what’s holding you back. What are the subconscious blocks that you’ve put in your own path and getting rid of those and addressing those. Those are painful. Those often come with tears. Those often come with resistance, with feelings of discomfort, with feelings of shame. And those are really tough, but those are the things that are going to help you go faster, go further.

Dean Pohlman: So if we think of self-development and the analogy of you going on a walk, when you go on a walk and you have a £20 weight tied to your waist and you’re dragging it along behind you makes things really difficult. So yes, you could do things to make your body stronger and make you walk faster. But if you have that £20 weight holding back, you’re not going to go as fast as you want to.

Dean Pohlman: So it’s a really good idea to figuring out the things that you’re repressing, things that you are not allowing yourself to feel things that are truly part of you. And you need to be able to confront, acknowledge all the different parts of you, to accept, to love all those parts. And that’s not an easy process and that’s not something that doesn’t just automatically happen.

Dean Pohlman: It’s something that we peel back layer by layer, but it does take effort. And so for me, when I wrote What am I repressing, I the goal here was trying to figure out what are the things that I’m doing to hold myself back. And for me, those things were not expressing myself, particularly to loved ones, particularly to people in my family, making not making time for myself, and also a lot of selfish thoughts, things like I want to be stronger and more muscle, more muscular.

Dean Pohlman: I want to I want more time for myself. I want to be more successful with my business. So that’s why I wrote down things that, you know, I want to make more money. These are things that I wrote down that I was repressing, that I wasn’t being honest with myself about, but were there. And the goal here is again, getting getting rid of some of the subconscious barriers that are that employ myself back.

Dean Pohlman: So if I did all those things I went through, I went back through this list. I took some time. I think I did this the following morning. I did all these, you know, all this journey. I think journaling. I think I finished by the morning after that. And then I had some breakfast, came back to it, and I looked at this and I looked at this list.

Dean Pohlman: I went through all these things and I looked at what’s sticking out. So I looked for themes. I look for patterns, and the things that I came up with for me were a lack of authenticity or a lack of a lack of truthful expression, not just expressing things or and or saying the truth when prompted, but letting, but expressing things that I felt, expressing things that I felt without being prompted.

Dean Pohlman: So those are the things that I was repressing, holding back, saying, not saying the things that I thought might make other people uncomfortable. I also realized I had a desire for deeper connection and in deeper fulfillment overall, just more depth. I wanted more than surface. I want a deeper connections with with my family, with with potential customers or with friends.

Dean Pohlman: I wanted deeper connections. I also wrote doing less so minimizing day to day. So that I can be more present and have time for the things that matter. This was something that that was that that kind of hit me in the face. I realized that I had been rushing to do everything that I was always in this go, go, go mode and that it was this.

Dean Pohlman: It came from this desire to want to accomplish more because I needed to accomplish more in order to be loved, in order to feel worthy. And so by doing less, I am allowing myself to be more present to recognize that I’m already worthy, now that I don’t need to do anything more to be worthy of love or to be enough.

Dean Pohlman: And by practicing doing less, I could practice being worthy. Or that record the the the knowledge that I am worthy now that I am enough. Now, it would also give me more time. Creating doing less would also give me more time for my selfish needs, for my personal world, for my energy, for myself that I would have more energy later in the day.

Dean Pohlman: I tend to get kind of really tired by the middle of the day because I see my mornings are they feel so busy. They feel so rushed. So by me having time to myself, I’m doing less. I would have more time in the evenings for my family and then also I’d have more time in the afternoons for my workouts because that’s that’s when I do my main workout around three or 4:00.

Dean Pohlman: And then the other thing that really came up with is doing what works. So I had a lot of lessons in 2023, some business failures, some some life failures, some relationship failures. And I learned things from that that I need to remember to do. It works. Instead of doing the things that don’t work, instead of repeating things with the expectation that there will be a different outcome.

Dean Pohlman: So that was another really big theme. I’m having less stress at home. That was one thing that I wrote about in just really stressed at home because I was scared that I wasn’t doing the right things. I scared that I wasn’t contributing enough, scared to have conversations around difficult topics or sensitive subjects. And that was something that was causing a lot of stress for me.

Dean Pohlman: So after I did all of that, I wrote What do I want to do in 2024? And so I wrote out all of those things. I also addressed the question, How can I reduce stress at home? And then I typed all of this up and it actually took me about 30 minutes to type all of this up, which is kind of surprising.

Dean Pohlman: So it took me about 30 minutes to transcribe all of these notes, and then I went through them again and I came up with six values for myself. And so this is just what I did. You’re well, you can or cannot do this. I think it’s I think it’s a good idea for you to go back through your journaling in this process and to come up with a pattern, look for patterns, look for, you know, look for patterns, look for similarities, look for things that stick out.

Dean Pohlman: And for me, there were six different values that came out of this. And for the last month, I have been practicing these values. I’ve been writing out how I’m going to implement these values on a weekly basis. I’ve been repeating the values to myself. I printed them up and I put them in my office so I could look at them and hear the values and kind of in importance in order of importance.

Dean Pohlman: The first was create space. So create space in my life, basically do less, create space so that I can think, create space, so that I have more awareness and more ability to create change, create space so that I’m not rushing everywhere, so that I am remembering that I’m worthy. Now that I’m enough, now that I don’t have to accomplish more in order to feel good enough.

Dean Pohlman: So the first value was creating space. The second value is practice authenticity. So there’s a lot of ways to do that. But for me it meant expressing my true feelings, and particularly with close ones. You know, this isn’t something that I need to do with everybody that I meet, but particularly with loved ones, particularly people who are close to me, it’s important for me to express my true self instead of putting on some sort of, you know, putting on some sort of charade or holding myself back somehow or not expressing what I’m truly feeling.

Dean Pohlman: And that was really uncomfortable for the first couple of weeks that I did it. But honestly, my life has really improved since embracing this value of practicing authenticity. The third thing is deepening connection. So this means leaning into vulnerability. This means being trying. This means putting myself into that uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability and having conversations, talking about things that make me feel disconnected.

Dean Pohlman: So if you’re realizing that there is something that you’re not expressing and that’s preventing you from having connection with people, you’re close to, then those are things that I now talk about because I talk about all of it. Some of it is not. Some of it’s still I’m still not comfortable enough to express all of it, but I am doing more of it now, expressing things that I am previously would not.

Dean Pohlman: The the fourth value is being present. And so for me, that’s something that I still need to learn about. So my to do with this week. But for me, being present just means being there. It means focusing on what’s in front of me and not worrying about what I’m doing. Later. But being present, being there, being immersed in what I’m doing.

Dean Pohlman: The fifth thing is prioritize self-care. So a lot of that goes back into this, you know, this idea of creating space, of giving myself time to take care of myself, because I know that if I take care of myself, I will implement all of these values way better than if I don’t take care of myself. If I practice authenticity, I am able to express my need to take care of myself.

Dean Pohlman: So a lot of this kind of fits in with one another. But about value Number five for me was practice self care prior towards myself. And then the six value that I wrote is do the things that work. So I know that there are things that work for me. I’ve been doing most of these things for years now.

Dean Pohlman: Things like walking, things like doing yoga, sauna, cold plunge, you know, those are lower on the list, but they are really cool, right? I mean, some of her songs are great. Cold plunges are great, too. They’re just sometimes uncomfortable journaling a gratitude practice at night, meditation before I go to bed, writing out the things that I want to do in the morning.

Dean Pohlman: So there are things that I do that work, and it’s up to me to remember to do those things. So that’s kind of what I did wrote about. I asked myself some basic questions. I look back on my answers later on and I found the commonalities. I found the patterns from those I created values for myself, things that were important for myself.

Dean Pohlman: And then I created an action list of things to do to start working on those things. And I went first. I looked at the things that were most important. I looked at things that could be done with a single action, and then I looked at things that were more of a habit that had to be practiced, and I listed those out in order.

Dean Pohlman: So. So now I have a plan. I have things that I’m doing. I’m reflecting on a regular basis about those six values and how I did them, how my performance was within the previous week. So taking some time on a Sunday to kind of think about that for me. And it didn’t happen until after my kids went to bed about 9:00, but it happened.

Dean Pohlman: And then on Monday morning, taking some time to think about how I’m going to practice those ideas in my life that week. So this is something that you can do yourself. I think it was an amazing experience for me, actually. I was there. I decided to myself that I’m going to do this once a quarter or once every four months.

Dean Pohlman: We’ll see how that works, but I definitely want to do it every year, at least every four months. But it’s something that for me I think is going to be really powerful moving forward. So hopefully this gives you some inspiration to try out your own solo retreat. This only took a day and then when you did it, by the way, when you do get bored of journaling or you just find yourself burning out, that’s when you do something restorative, like go for a walk, You go get some food, you do some fun rowing, yoga, find a pool, jump in it, you get cold, whatever it is.

Dean Pohlman: But hopefully that’s a process. That’s a kind of a template for you to do some thinking yourself and to maybe be more intentional about your self-improvement for this year. So I hope that helps you guys enjoy this episode. If you haven’t already consider leaving a review on the Better Man podcast, it’s on Apple Podcasts on Spotify, and Google.

Dean Pohlman: Podcasts is no longer a thing phasing out there. But anyways, leave me a review if you could, if you haven’t already started this man for yoga. We have a free seven day challenge specifically made for men who are new to yoga and flexible. You can sign up for that at man flow yoga dot com slash seven DC Thanks so much for being here.

Dean Pohlman: Thank you for being part of the man for your community and I will see you on the next episode by.


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