The 13 Key Differences Between A Boutique Business Retreat And Other Business Retreats

Red and yellow orchid flower at Being At The Cottage boutique business retreat

The word â€˜boutique’ originates from the French, meaning a small shop selling fashionable clothing and accessories.  More recently it has also come to mean a small company that offers highly specialised services in a specific area.

It goes without saying that at a boutique business retreat the surroundings are stunning, the food is delicious, and we have hand-picked massage therapists who will help you unwind soon after you arrive.  However, one of the key ingredients of a boutique business retreat is its matchless intimacy. 

Below are 13 more key differences between a boutique business retreat and other business retreats:

Bespoke V Off-The-Shelf 

The experience is tailored for you and your vision, so it’s important to get to know you.   We’ll begin working together a couple of months before your stay with initial conversations over the phone to learn about you and your vision.  We’ll talk about the plan, conundrum or vision you want to bring with you, your likes and dislikes, what you love to eat and what you hate and the little things that matter to you.  Every client will have a unique experience as a result of this preliminary work. This ensures that you have the optimum experience possible when you get to the cottage.

Private Space V Public Space 

You have the luxury, the intimacy and the privacy of having the cottage all to yourself for a minimum of 4 nights.  The time spent here is always all about you.  There’s no need to search for a quiet corner to snatch some time to reflect and ponder.  Time to reflect, go deeper and process is a natural part of this business retreat and gently runs in the background throughout your stay. 

Progressive, Provoking Conversations V Fact Finding

You may or may not have developed the art of self-enquiry.  Either way, having a skilled and impartial listener provides a counter-point to spending time alone, and is a fundamental part of the week. Probing, provoking and full of curiosity, the conversations are woven into the experience.  These can be held in the sitting room or talking while walking in the hills above the cottage. The conversations are intended to gently elicit answers or challenge ingrained assumptions and are woven into the experience to open up paths to your unconscious, helping you to discover information held in your hidden seams of inspiration.  They pull together all the threads of the insights gathered throughout the week.

Personalised horoscope notebook for creative ideas

Just You V A Group Of Colleagues

Spending time alone is an overlooked but important element of teamwork, dovetailing into and enhancing your work with your team.  In developing visions, taking time out to reflect, to process and to evolve is essential. It’s a time where you can glean information in a pure and uncluttered space, then return to share your findings.  Sometimes, other people, however important they are, can be an un-necessary distraction.  

Inspiration V Motivation

Inspiration is internal – motivation is external.  When you’re inspired, you’re pulled forward by something bigger and unstoppable.  You might not feel completely in charge of the process, but you can’t help but allow it to take you.  You trust that it will unfold.  Motivation needs to be generated from you or someone else.  It’s external.  When you’re motivated, you’re pushing things forward – it can be an effort. Being inspired is effortless.  

Your Agenda V Organiser’s Agenda

While there will be suggestions and pointers for you about how to get the most from your time at the cottage, including a loosely choreographed timetable, ultimately you can choose your agenda – when to eat, when to sleep, when you get up and when pay attention to your vision.  You can go with your gut instinct and choose what you do when.  The entire experience is designed to provoke intuitive nudges, get creative solutions and answer the bigger, deeper questions.  You won’t have a train of thought interrupted because you need to be somewhere else.  You’re in charge.   

Roam the Black Mountains plateau above the boutique retreat see mountain ponies

Creating V Analysing 

Everyone has an innate potential to create.  The intention of the boutique business retreat is to encourage more of your creative seeds to germinate and flourish while you’re there and to have put down deep enough roots so that they will continue to grow long after you’ve left. You won’t see any charts, graphs, modules or handouts at the cottage.  

Allowing Intuition V Thinking Hard

There’s no wracking your brain, searching online or thinking hard.  The experience is designed to help you connect with your intuition, to naturally trigger insights, answers, possibilities and new ideas.

A Unique Dynamic V Something A Bit Similar

Spending an extended amount of time on your own creates a unique dynamic and connection with your Self and your surroundings.   A boutique business retreat isn’t about deepening relationships with colleagues, although relationships are an important part of the experience.  It’s about helping you notice your part in something much bigger.  The relationships you’ll begin to notice evolving are with yourself, your surroundings and your vision, because you are free from the usual interactions with colleagues and the mundane distractions of the office. Spending time alone, and immersed in nature, it’s almost impossible not to become aware of a deeper connectedness at play. 

Being V Doing

When I was thinking of what to call the business, the phrasebeing at the cottage wouldn’t leave me alone; so it stayed.  When you stay at the cottage it’s all about being more and doing less.  In the peace, the solitude and the potential that is inherent in being immersed in nature, it’s about finding that extraordinary part of yourself which in turn supports you in pursuing something extraordinary and making a difference, potentially on a significant scale.   You pack your vision and you leave the rest behind.  Doing becomes insignificant.

Allowing V Making It Happen

This is about going with your own flow and allowing things to evolve.  You’ll begin to listen to your Self and learn to tap into the information your unconscious holds – mining those hidden seams of inspiration.  There’s no need to roll your sleeves up, brainstorm and ‘make this thing happen’.  When you get good at having a dialogue with your inner self, you’ll notice synchronistic events unfolding more and more.  The striving to â€˜make things happen’dissolves and life and events flow.  It all starts with allowing. 

Offline And Unplugged V Internet Connection

Research shows that deeply resting and relaxing your brain takes a minimum of 3 days.  For this to happen effectively it’s important to be offline and unplugged. In order for you to settle down and in to the experience of a boutique business retreat you need to be able to feel peaceful, unhurried and undistracted.  So, there’s no access to any of the usual tech stuff.  There’s nothing here to remind you of the office.   

Your Way V No-one Else’s Way

A boutique business retreat is about supporting you to optimise the realisation of your vision – your pursuit of something extraordinary.  The answers you’re looking for are already inside you. The experience is designed to help you to elicit those answers.  There are no â€˜done for you’ handouts.

How The Brain Makes Creative Solutions

‘The evidence that the brain responds to events that do not appear in consciousness is overwhelming’.  The Wayward Mind – Guy Claxton

I know that when I want to find solutions to puzzles or get into a creative flow, I need to access a different state of mind – make my brain work in a different way that never feels like work – to reach down into my unconscious to get the answers from my hidden seams of inspiration.  This isn’t news to creative people.  I’ve been reading Guy Claxton’s book recently, ‘The Wayward Mind’, and for the first time I came across the explanation of what is going on in the brain when we switch between expansive wondering and reverie to acting on the ideas and insights we retrieve from our unconscious and want to act on them. In other words what the brain does to trigger creative solutions.

Claxton writes that the most basic form of activation in the brain is excitation – when a pattern of connections becomes active and goes on to positively affect other patterns associated with it.  The yin to the excitatory yang is inhibitory, whose function is to suppress the activity in the connections further down the line.  Guy Claxton uses the analogy of the accelerator and brake in a car. Having both pedals gives us much finer control over our speed and consequently steering.  In the same way, the brain, with its ability to excite and inhibit has much finer control over its own stimulation, and instructions and information can be channelled much more precisely.

These are not recent discoveries. Over 150 years ago, the Russian physiologist Ivan Sechenov recognised inhibition in the brain of frogs and associated them with the human ability to override our own movements.

Sechenov argued that it was the inhibitory action that allows the brain to unhook thinking from action, allowing our minds to wander, meditate and come up with novel ways of ‘thinking’, keeping it internal without the need to turn into an external ‘thing’.

Through inhibition the brain can capture and constrict its own natural outpourings allowing its internal activity to become deeper and wider.

So, how does this affect creative solutions?  How is it that creative ideas just ‘pop’ into our heads (our conscious awareness) from out of the blue?  And is creativity nurture or nature?

According to what scientists have discovered, creativity has 2 phases: inspiration and elaboration and the thinking behind each process is different.

In order to encourage inspiration, we must let the excitation element in our brains have command over the inhibitory tendencies so that many ideas can flourish at once, overlapping, spreading out and allowing for new, expansive connections in the brain.  This musing means that different ideas can mingle together unconsciously, and when something gels, the concentration becomes increased so that it pops up into our conscious awareness.  

To arrest this phase of creativity, we want our brains to behave differently.  Rather than the wandering, random pattern of unconscious thoughts, we are looking to be more focused, purposeful and selective.  In other words, to inhibit the ideas that are no longer relevant so that we can keep the new thought process on track.

Creative people know intuitively that to lapse into reverie will allow ideas to bubble up.   But, when you let it, this is what the brain will do naturally.  

Creativity is, therefore accessible for everyone.  Recent research by Guy Claxton and Paul Howard-Jones at Bristol University, indicates that for those who seem to have forgotten how to use more of the excitatory aspect of their brains, undoing this rigidity is for many people quite easy.

Relax your brain and you open up to previously untapped inspiration and insights. 

Get Unplugged Go Offline – Disconnect To Reconnect

Last Friday, 1st March, was a national day of unplugging.  Well at least it was in the US.  In the 1990’s getting unplugged meant rock stars like Eric Clapton moved away from the embellishment of their electrical set-up and returned to acoustic guitars with a stripped back, purer sound, and made some stunning music. 

While some of today’s music stars do perform unplugged, in the 21st century going unplugged has different connotations.  It’s about disconnecting to reconnect.  Going offline, taking some time away from the ubiquitous screens that have insinuated themselves into our lives. Returning our attention to, arguably, fundamentally more important things.

I was unaware of this national day of unplugging because, the irony is that I already was.   I’d spent the week at Graig Ddu, also known as the cottage in the forest, just being – completely unplugged.  No mobile reception, no television, no WiFi.  Part of me wished that there was still no electricity.  I was cocooned in the complete stillness of the place.  In spite of that week being the warmest winter week ever recorded and there was not a breath of wind to stir the tops of the trees, the stillness was much deeper than that.  There is always a tangible, unpolluted purity at the cottage regardless of the weather.

I spent the week with the privilege of living to my own rhythm, time passing as it chose.  I was ensconced in my own world and thoughts with nothing and no-one to distract me from whatever I chose to do.  The luxury of pleasing myself.

Unplugging from tech isn’t new or news anymore.  Just plug in and go online to discover the plethora of studies about the damage that EMF (electrical magnetic frequencies) could be doing to us all and the multitude of benefits of stepping away into solitude – or ‘scrolitude’ (my word for solitude from screens).

According to one researcher, today’s technology could be compared to the arrival of the cigarette centuries ago.  We won’t know for many years the cumulative damage that it may be doing.  The difficulty is that we can’t do without this technology, whereas cigarettes, though they are addictive, they aren’t a necessity.

Being At The Cottage – No Information Overload

While we’ve all heard the headline by now, that unplugging and going offline is good for us. It’s certainly not time to be using it for wrapping our chips in.  Like the marketing messages that bombard and overload us on a daily basis, most of us do need to hear some things many times before the message begins to sink in and we give it a higher value.  

Like with so many things, we don’t know what we don’t know until we’ve tried it.

Part 3 – 6 Shortcuts To Insights And Inspiration

What Makes A Boutique Business Retreat?

Packing your vision and leaving the rest behind to spend time alone.  Here are elements 5 and 6 of what makes a boutique business retreat and this blog wraps up the last of the fundamental elements that define Being At The Cottage.

In all, there are 6 fundamental elements that make Graig Ddu – The Cottage In The Forest a unique business retreat. Three are synonymous with many beautiful places to stay, but three elements are game-changers which elevate the experience at the cottage into something unique, and the combination of these elements make up more than the sum of their parts.  You can read Part 2 here:  https://bit.ly/2X9CyTN     

Part 3 – Meeting your unconscious mind through conversation. 

Our unconscious mind is one of the most under-utilised human resources.   It has an infinite capacity and guards all the answers that you presume you don’t know yet.  If your unconscious is doesn’t know you want to develop a relationship with it, it will continue to hold onto the secrets it could be sharing with you.

‘If the unconscious is the turbid bottom of the lake of the mind, you have to be peering down into the lake to notice it.’  Prof Guy Claxton – The Wayward Mind

One of the most powerful ways to help you to peer down into the lake is to have a conversation.

We can all spend time on our own and not always get the answers and outcomes we want.  Having a conversation with someone who’s good at listening and asking the right kind of questions, can unlock a wealth of inspiration and insights.  

The conversations are a pivotal part of the process and spirit of Being At The Cottage. They are a potent and powerful way to gently sift through all the information that gets absorbed into your streams of consciousness which are naturally kindled by spending time alone.

Conversations with an intelligent stranger

Your unconscious doesn’t have free will like your conscious mind does.  It takes instructions from you.  As you understand and deepen your relationship with the unconscious it will begin to dissolve any barriers to progress and it will gratefully offer up information and insights it has been holding onto. 

Your unconscious is your gut feeling and where your intuition lies.  The more you can connect with your unconscious, the more extraordinary results and eureka moments it will give you.

Putting a conundrum into words by taking it outside your internal mind chatter, releases new insights and perspectives from your unconscious, creating expansion and possibility.   A good conversation sculpts the fragments of insights gleaned into more than the sum of their parts.

Part 2 – 6 Shortcuts To Insights And Inspiration

What Makes A Unique Business Retreat?  Packing your vision, leaving the rest behind and spending time alone.  These are elements 3 and 4 of what makes a unique business retreat.

In all, there are 6 fundamental elements that make Graig Ddu – The Cottage In The Forest a unique business retreat. Three are synonymous with many beautiful places to stay, but three elements are game-changers which elevate the experience at the cottage into something unique, and the combination of these elements make up more than the sum of their parts.  You can read Part 1 here: https://tinyurl.com/yy3rbymx

What may be one person’s nemesis is someone else’s bliss.

Spending time alone is an overlooked and under-rated element on the road to succeeding. Having only your vision to mull over is a luxury, while spending time alone is an inspiring leveller.

Being At The Cottage - Notice The Small Stuff

Notice The Small Stuff 

When you leave behind the thrum of city life and all the stuff that’s competing for your attention, you have time to stand and stare.   Time to notice the small stuff.  Being able to choose the rhythm of your day will help you condense and distil your thoughts.  You can empty your head, stop the mind chatter, and then wait and see what fills the space.

Packing your vision and leaving the rest behind means going offline, unplugging, disconnecting from habitual distractions and reconnecting with yourself.   There is richness in being rooted in the present moment, and you’ll find that you’re able to evoke your most inspired ideas when you settle in to being by yourself for an extended period of time.

Muse

Spending Time Alone

The extended period of time matters.   David Strayer, cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah who specializes in attention and is researching the psychological benefits of being in nature, says there is a 3 day effect.  â€œIf you can have the experience of being in the moment for two or three days, we don’t only feel restored, it seems to produce a difference in qualitative thinking and mental performance.”  Through EEG scans of his students while out backpacking in the wilderness, he has now been able to show this.

When you give your brain the chance to adjust into relaxation, then you begin to connect to your hidden seams of inspiration.

When you’re immersed in your vision, there’s a sense of anticipation and completeness. A blending of you with it and it with you.  Spending time alone with your vision allows you to re-calibrate, re-evaluate and re-group.

Earl Nightingale said that success is the realisation of a worthy ideal.   Sometimes to have success you need to get away for a while.

6 Shortcuts To Insights And Inspiration – Part 1

What Makes A Boutique Business Retreat?

I believe that houses choose their owners. In 1991 Graig Ddu chose me.  You can find that story here:   https://tinyurl.com/ydyz5wp3 But back to the present.

After leaving an out of character foray into the corporate world as a property manager in 2018 where I had over 100 holiday cottages to oversee and their owners to manage, I knew that it was time to withdraw Graig Ddu from its role in that bricks and mortar rat race and make the transition from holiday cottage to a boutique business retreat.

As I was gushing about my idea to a friend one day, she bluntly said to me that she didn’t get how it would be any different from going away on your own to any other cottage.  What?

How odd, I thought, as I reflected on what was so clear and beautiful to me somehow hadn’t hit home to her!  I’d obviously made the mistake of leaving  a large amount of information in my head.  I retreated and thought more deeply about the nuances of the idea.

Over the following months I identified the 6 fundamental elements that capture the spirit of the boutique business retreat and why they are so important to connecting with intuition and capturing elusive insights.  Three are fairly common to many beautiful holiday cottages, but three elements are game-changers and elevate the experience at Graig Ddu into something unique.

Being At The Cottage - Graig Ddu - The Cottage in the Forest

Let’s start with the leading actor – Graig Ddu – also known as The Cottage In The Forest.  On the face of it, it’s a simple two up two down cottage ….. but yet, not at all.

It’s sheltered below the great domed moorland of the majestic Black Mountains in the Llanthony Valley, surrounded by forest.  With no WiFi or TV it’s immersed in timeless tranquillity and really is on the fringe of 21st Century life.

I’ve struggled to find the right words to describe just what it’s like to be there.  So, I’ve chickened out and left it to others who are far more eloquent than I.

There are many who are completely spell-bound by their experience of staying at the cottage and, after nearly 30 years, I still am.

I remember turning up the forest track to the cottage in October 1991 to meet my future landlady.  The crunching of the stones, the steady pull up the hill, driving deeper in amongst the trees.  Keep right at the fork, carry on climbing, go around the hairpin and then, the clearing amongst the trees with Graig Ddu standing there.  Every bit the cottage in the forest.  I knew, at that time, it didn’t have electricity, and I thought about what it would be like living without it for the shortest time.  After all, it was only going to be for 6 months.

Being At The Cottage - Small band of Welsh Mountain ponies above the Grwyne Fawr reservoir

But the thing is, you could pick up Graig Ddu and plonk it down in another rural area, and the magic would have vanished.  The Black Mountains, and the Llanthony Valley in particular, have a very special aura.  They are steeped in history and ooze ancientness.  Walking across what the farmers call ‘the flats’ you will always be walking in another’s footsteps, who knows whose inspiration and insights you may pick up on.

In these exquisitely peaceful surroundings, which are becoming increasingly rare and difficult to find, is another of the 6 elements which are a pre-requisite for capturing the spirit of small, but perfectly formed, business retreat.

Stay – Choose From 3 Exceptional Experiences

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The Moon And Creative Solutions… Really?

So what do you do when your creative solutions desert you?  Suck it up? Force it out? Tear out your hair?

For the last few weeks I’ve been bursting with ideas and creative solutions, on a high and full of energy, but during last weekend I noticed there was nothing there.  Flat, empty, imagine-less.  Those hidden seams of inspiration were no longer bubbling and popping.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time that this had happened, and it won’t be the last. But why do we get that feeling that it’s all fallen fallow?  Where does it all go?  As I was planning to draft my blog over the weekend, I began to think about this more deeply.

I have a confession.   I’ve always had a thing for the moon.  The word ‘lunatic’ comes directly from the Latin lunaticus– ‘moon-struck’ or from the late 13c – ‘affected with periodic insanity, dependent on the changes of the moon’ from Old French lunatique.  Obviously, we don’t use the word like this these days, but there has long been a sense that the moon can cause changes in our behaviour.

Is there a role of the lunatic in creativity?  Does the moon hold any sway over us as it waxes and wanes month after month?being at the cottage - moon creativity

I had heard about this possibility, and after a quick search online it appears that there are plenty of people out there who believe in the theory.   

Just as the tides are created by the pull of the moon’s gravity on the Earth, why couldn’t there be some effect on us too?  After all we are largely composed of water.

What if paying more attention to the phases of the moon could make a difference? Could it help us to develop a powerful rhythm and flow in?  An ability to predict our creative times and fallow moments.  Simply put, the perceived wisdom is that we are most creative after the start of a new moon and during the 2 weeks that it waxes into the full moon.

As the moon then begins to wane our creativity and its solutions also begins to wane and a period of reflection, consolidation and stillness sets in.   This lasts for around 10 or 11 days until the time of the new moon comes around again.

I have no idea whether there is any truth or scientific proof, but why does my Western mind and paradigm demand scientific proof anyway?  Sometimes, couldn’t it just be because it is?

At the weekend, I looked up at the sky and saw that the moon was indeed on the wane.

What do we do when our creativity dries up?  One of my favourite quotes, attributed to Lao Tsu, is – “Accept what is in front of you without wanting it to be other than it is. To try to change what is only sets up resistance.”  So, let things lie fallow – rest, surrender, allow.  We are only ever blocked if we believe we are.

being at the cottage - hidden seams of inspiration grand canyon

According to a moon phase calendar I found online, the next new moon is on 4th February.  Not so long to wait.  And, then, get ready, as like the sun forcing its way out from behind the clouds, those hidden seams of inspiration which have been lying quietly waiting for that moment, will be ready …… if you believe in the power of the moon.

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The Only Constant Thing In Life Is Change

When we observe and preserve an alert watchfulness over life, we can see the unfolding and enfolding evolution of everything – constant change.  It may seem banal, but this also includes holiday cottages.

I moved to Graig Ddu in 1991 – you can read the story here:  https://www.beingatthecottage.com/2019/01/14/synchronicity-at-its-magical-best/

For 9 years I lived and worked at the cottage as a ceramic artist. In 2005 I made some improvements and it became a holiday cottage.  Since then, this industry has completely transformed.

being at the cottage - graig ddu the cottage in the forest

For the next stage in Graig Ddu’s evolution, and mine, I was drawn into following an unusual direction.  One in which afterwards, I felt that I’d been transported into a parallel universe wearing a straight-jacket liberally lined with grit.  I developed an empathy for Rudyard Kipling’s story of How The Rhinoceros Got His Skin – (it was filled with stale cake crumbs by the Parsee when the rhino took off his skin to go for a swim).

The small but very successful agency that the cottage had been marketed by was bought out. Over lunch in September 2016, my friend, who’d sold this company, said there was a vacancy. Was I interested?  Weirdly out of character, applying for the job felt like the right thing to do.  A week later I was employed as the property manager for the Black Mountains area.

Marie had gently hinted that the company was ‘quite corporate’, and would I be ok with that?  As I hadn’t worked in a corporate environment in over 30 years, the answer was – Who knew? Time would tell.

I lasted 15 months.  During that time, I did my job, all the while craving creativity, initiative, inspiration and freedom.  However, throughout that time, as I went from property to property and visited the office in Devon, (in an evolutionary sense preserved in aspic, suspended in a 1970’s time warp), I got invaluable understanding and insights into the holiday cottage market.

Every cloud has its role in synchronicity.  I couldn’t have got these insights in any other way. They were the catalyst and the catapult for the evolution of Graig Ddu into its next role.  Being At The Cottage was born and so began the transformation from holiday cottage to boutique business retreat.

being at the cottage - every cloud plays its role in synchronicity

Over the months, as I have developed the details of the experience, I get the strongest impression that Graig Ddu has been waiting patiently for years for me to catch up in my own evolution so that together, we can fulfil a higher purpose, while at the same time, offering the opportunity and space for others to fulfil theirs.

The only constant thing in life is change.

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Synchronicity At Its Magical Best

Finding Graig Ddu – The Cottage In The Forest

It wasn’t so much a case of love at first sight, mostly because I hadn’t lived without electricity before, and the cottage was pink!  I wasn’t sure which would be more of a challenge.

Continue reading Synchronicity At Its Magical Best

A Holographic Garden

It’ll be three years ago this summer that I began restructuring the garden at Graig Ddu.  Many of the small shrubs were over 30 years old and reaching the end of their lives, and some were diseased. It was in the ensuing chain-sawing, uprooting and burning that the holographic nature of the garden wove its way into my awareness.

Continue reading A Holographic Garden