Happy work Humans Leadership

My (not entirely foolproof) Secret to Staying Sane

Tracey Foulkes
Written by Tracey Foulkes

I’m typing this perched on a window seat in a loft apartment in the very heart of Cape Town city centre. As a country girl, this is not a familiar environment for me. By day the city is alive with the crazy bustle of worker bees, at night it’s a metropolis for the homeless and a couple of crazies, one in particular who chooses to hurl abusive superlatives all through the night. I’m assuming he sleeps during the day.

Traditions are wonderful things, many dreamed up and released despite great intentions. In my case, I consider myself exceptionally fortunate to be on my 11th year of a fabulous tradition that quite literally reignites my head + heart + soul. It keeps me (semi) sane in an every changing world. Hubby and I call it our non-negotiable 3-night retreat (somewhere different each year), sans kids or technology, just the two of us, in all our beauty, celebrating love and life and all things good.

I sometimes think there’s more important things to do than take 3 days off to ourselves, I blame work or life or finances or kids, but in honesty, this time is too special to sacrifice to excuses.

We use our sacred time to unplug and recharge but unlike a sleep all day approach, we actively work through our year that was, while planning the one that lies ahead. Goal setting, though scoffed at by many, for us is a liberating experience. It allows us to lead our best lives.

So I’m asked how we do it more often than why we do it and the answer is simple. We do it differently each year, no fixed rules or agendas. We create these ourselves individually and then use each other as a sounding board during extended breaks that generally involve long walks or slow food of the most delicious variety. It’s a true celebration of love and life and all that is good. We savour each moment.

So some years I’ve come out with an A1 poster size picture depicting the life I choose in the year ahead. I’ve walked away on other years with a spreadsheet of detailed actions per quarter or month, or week. Most years I scribble down my thoughts on loose sheets of paper. Last year I started a book but forgot that at home this year so I’ve now started another. My agenda this year has been simple:

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My favourite bit and a way to get into the moment. What am I grateful for, big and small. The fact that I can feel and acknowledge the breeze on my skin, or taste great food or have the ability and opportunity to work is just as important as giving thanks for the big things like; one of my favourite humans making it through a year long battle with breast cancer or the fact that my father-in-law passed away so quickly after the loss of our darling mother in-law.

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I ceremoniously walk through the year that was in my mind and note down anything that stood out as a moment worth remembering. The pain, the heartache, the euphoric joy gets jotted down in no particular sequence. Spelling and grammar remain unedited, it’s the free flow of thought that makes me happiest. I often review previous years notes or ponder where I am in comparison to where I’d hoped to have been. This year I scribbled 2 pages worth; on previous years my reflections have been as short as 5 short sentences or 10 pages worth of babble.


Because I adopt a loose flow approach and arrive with limited preconceived ideas, it’s important for me to take a moment to decide exactly what it is that I’d like to achieve from this years goal setting sessions. This spans over 3 days; some trips I’ve only worked on them for a couple of hours, most years though, I do something each day. It’s usually these years that have the most impact for me. On the final day I wrap everything up. Review my musings, make sure things are clear.

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Free flow thinking:

Well it’s not so free in that there is some structure. I allow my mind to ponder what it is that I’d like to achieve at work (mental), play (emotional), wellbeing (physical) and spirit. Some years I jot these down into short, medium or long-term categories. This year I chose to write a short paragraph of where I find myself right now. I then listed the key actions I need to take to get to where I want to be in a year from now. I have trips I choose to encounter, blogs I plan to write, projects I want to dive in to, medical check-ups I really can’t put off anymore and a couple of crochet projects I’m keen to explore to preserve my sanity during what promises to be another massive year of work ahead.

Bring it together:

Make a choice:

Make a plan:

All laded up rolling into #4 this year. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest … it’s all part of the beautiful free flow process.

Make it happen:

and now for the fun bit. Taking the next 12 months to let these dreams unfold into the mesh that is my life. There will be curve balls, there always are, sometimes they are big enough to derail me for some time, I review them with each goal setting session and observe how my life has shaped around them. Most of all, there will be adventures and travel, progress and good intentions to be a little better, to live my best life, to be more me, more often.

Some of my favourite photo’s snapped up around Cape Town over the 3 day’s …

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Goal Setting 1

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