Press Pause Before Life Does It For You with Danielle Marchant
On the benefits of living in a rural area, how she reached burnout and what she did to feel better, and on her book Pause, what Pause Retreats are and who are they for.
Today’s guest is Danielle Marchant who is the author of Pause: How to press pause before life does it for you and the founder of Pause Retreats. She talks about the benefits of living in a rural area, how she reached the point of burnout and the steps she took to feel better. She also talks about her book Pause, what are Pause Retreats, the different kinds of Pause Retreats and who are they for.
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Today’s guest is Danielle Marchant who is the author of Pause: How to press pause before life does it for you and the founder of Pause Retreats. Hi, Danielle. Welcome to the show.
Hello, Clare. Thank you for having me.
It’s great to have you here. I’d love to hear a bit more about your story, how you came to be doing the work that you do today. Also, unlike many of our guests, you don’t live in a city and so I’m interested in exploring why that is and what you believe the benefits of living where you live in a more rural setting are.
How did I reach the point of burnout? The way that I talk about that is I think it happened slowly over time. It’s really possible for me to pinpoint a moment when it happened, which would have been in 2011. It was one day when I was living and working in Singapore and I was unable to get out of bed one day. I was the managing director of two companies. I was, I guess, what you’d call a high-flyer, I suppose. I’ve been building these businesses for couple of years in Asia. I’ve been whizzing around the region and having a great time as an expat as well. One day, I was running a very high profile programme. We had people flying in from all over the world. It was for five days. On day two, I couldn’t get out of bed. I think there is that moment that’s a defining point that says that’s when I was aware or when my body just said, “No more.” Actually, to reach that point took I think a couple of decades but certainly a sustained period of time.
How did you take small steps in those early days to try and feel better?
Initially, I think I was still in denial to be honest, Clare. I didn’t actually want to admit that there was anything wrong with me. Although, I wasn’t able to get out of bed, at that point I got my laptop into my bedroom and I carried on working. I was really on this treadmill of being addicted to the work that I was doing. Partly, that’s because I really loved it. I really felt passionate about it. I really enjoyed it. I really believed in it. I just thought that it was good for me. What I hadn’t appreciated was there is a way of working that needed to involve me in that experience where I wasn’t put to one side at the expense and cost of everything else or everyone else. I had to learn some things.
One of the things I had to learn was that I had some limits. I didn’t want to learn that at all but that has been a big lesson for me. There are some limits that I have as a human being and that I need to live within them. This sounds really basic. I can remember thinking a time, I’m in my 30s and I’m having to learn how to eat. Then later, I realised when I hit my 40s, I also needed to learn how to breathe. That was some quite fundamental things, basic level that I needed to educate myself. One them was eating and another was just as simple as sleeping. What was the right amount of rest for me and was I going to do what it takes to give myself that level of rest on a day-to-day basis rather than running the tank dry, which is what I’ve been doing for probably 20 years really.
These are not massive revelations. They are what we would just call the basic fundamentals of living. I felt like I really had to go back and relearn how to do that basic: How do I live well in my life? How do I eat well? How do I rest well? How do I sleep well? How am I going to work in a way that includes me in the overall experience rather than ignores my needs? How am I going to socialise in a way that feels healthy for me? What’s going to be the way that I move my body in way that feels right for me? It was a really massive transformation on a fundamentally foundational level. It was like I had to just rebuild myself from the bottom up.
That sounds like there was a period of experimentation trying to inform yourself differently and make decisions and experiment in a way to discover what was the right thing for you and your body, your well-being.
Also, a period of recovery. I was burned out. I had had an extreme lifestyle and I talk about needing to have had an extreme recovery because of that. I actually took three months off, which I know is not something that everybody can do. I actually ended up needing to have that length of time because I’d pushed my limits so far to the extreme that I needed to actually just sleep a lot for a number of months to rebuild my system and repair my system. Then as you described, experimented with what I was going to eat, how I was going to eat, when I was going to eat, how I was going to sleep, how I was going to socialise, all those things I spoke about.
Crucially, you were living out in Asia. Is that right?
I was but for my recovery, I actually came home to the UK. I’m from Cornwall originally and I had been living in Singapore, which anybody who’s listening all know that’s quite a small island, a built-up city. It’s got a population of five million so it’s about the size of the Isle of Wight. It’s quite compact and intensive as a city. I was there for about three years or so. I just found that I needed to come back to nature actually. Coming back to Cornwall for that period of recovery was quite critical at that time.
Were you inland or were you on the coast?
At that point, I was on a farm so I was inland. The farm actually is one that I had visited on and off for different reasons in my life over the 20-year window that I was describing. I went actually just for a week’s holiday and that one week turned into three months. I actually run the Deep Pause there now. It’s the place that we go for that retreat because I know the land is very healing. It’s been in the family that owns it for several generations and is very well looked after. That’s part of what’s missing from many of us is that our land is very built-up these days so we’re not necessarily connected to the cycles of the land and the rhythm of nature and even the simple things like as day turns to night, then we slow down and we search before we go to sleep.
This sounds ridiculous when I say it now, but at the time it was completely normal. I would work until 3:00 in the morning and then start work again at 6:00 AM. My day was 6 until 3 but that was 6:00 AM until 3:00 AM. That wasn’t unusual for me. I had lost that connection to the natural rhythm that as the day decreases and day turns to night, we need to turn off. We need to slow down. We need to prepare for sleep. I had totally disconnected from that natural rhythm, that natural cycle and as a result my adrenals just wore out. There is only so much that you can do with your body before it says no more as I learn.
I’d love you to tell us a bit more about what a Pause Retreat is and who is it for needed?
We have different Pause Retreats for different people actually because we see that there are different requirements that people have. We’ve got a lovely one-day Instant Pause, which is designed for people who live in the city, people who feel just too busy to really take time out. The one day pause is designed to just help you have an experience of what it feels like to slow down for a short period of time. People say to me, “Is a day enough?” Actually, it can be and we see a great deal of transformation happen just from people giving themselves what can feel like a really big luxury of one day just for themselves. The Instant Pause is great for people who live in a city.
For people who are knowing that they’re on the brink of burnout or that they feel like they’ve already crossed that line and they have burned out then there’s the Deep Pause, which is designed particularly for people who are burned out. It’s what I felt I needed that didn’t exist when I hit that point. That’s what I was describing. We go back to the farm, there’s a three or five-day version of that retreat and really a varying nourishing healing retreat. We spend a lot of time in nature. We go to the ocean. We go to the river. We spend time in the woodlands and just allowing ourselves to connect back to that natural rhythm and to inquire about our questions. So often, we’re interested in life’s answers or our answer to life if you like. We forget to consider the questions. The Deep Pause is really about slowing down enough to ask some of the big questions that might arise.
I’ve just come back from another retreat that we ran, which is the Wild Pause, which is really great for the guys actually. A lot of people think this work might just be for women but I see it as being both for women and for men. Burnout is not exclusive to the female population. The Wild Pause is really great for the guys. It’s a weekend where we invite you to let go of responsibilities. We know that men shoulder a lot of responsibility, a lot of burden and just actually for a weekend let go of all of that and go out and find a sense of freedom. We do that through camping. We sleep on canvas. We kick around the fire. We go out on the ocean so we go kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, coasteering and we’ve really just get as close to nature as we can.
There are other retreats. There’s a five-day retreat in Bali, which is a Sacred Pause, very beautiful, deep inquiry into spirituality. Good for people who want to really get to the essence of who they are. We have a twelve-month Transformational Pause that’s designed for people who are standing on the edge of a total life change and want to go through that transformation as little trauma as possible. How do you create transformation in your life without it feeling traumatic and that you’ve just ripped off the sticking plaster? It’s something for everyone from the one-day one to the 12-month one from UK to Bali. We’ve tried to develop a range of retreats that suit different requirements and different people at different times.
How does the person who does not yet realise they’re bound for burnout find out more about your work?
I think the simple starting point is the book. Pause is available in the bookstores online and in an audio format if you’re not a reader and want to listen to it. I think the book is a really good starting point because it gives both a taste of what the pause is about but also some really practical simple ideas for people to bring the pause into their everyday life. We’re great believers that it’s awesome to go on a retreat but also we’ve got to be able to find ways to add what we call micro pauses into your everyday life so that you can not necessarily be bound for burnout, but that you can start to live your life in a way that feels a little bit more balanced day-to-day.
What kinds of micro pauses might you recommend to our listeners today?
The most simple one actually that I can recommend is to breathe. I talked about I’m at my 40s realising I needed to learn to breathe. This sounds so obvious but actually most of us are not fully breathing in our day-to-day lives. What you’ll find is that most of us are holding our breaths in our chest. At any point that we feel tense or stressed or anxious and for a lot of people that’s almost from the moment that they wake up and can be a state that they’re in all day that they’re not even realizing now that that isn’t their normal settled state because the anxiety is so prevalent all day. Being able to notice if your chest feels tight, if it’s difficult for the breath to go down any further than that point and to simply allow yourself to breathe.
There’s a way that you can breathe that goes in through the nose, down into the stomach and then out through the mouth. It’s called an intentional breath. Nobody needs to know you’re doing this. You can do it at any time: standing in the supermarket queue, when you’re driving, when you’re in a meeting, when the kids have pressed the button to the absolute max, that you can allow yourself to take this intentional breath and do that as many times as you need. It could be three times, it could be five times, it may be ten times, but to practice it so that the breath goes right down into the stomach. That’s a really simple tool that I can offer to people listening that anybody can do that doesn’t require you to be sitting on a meditation cushion for hours that will actually have an effect for you.
Another really simple thing that people can do is carry a small bottle of lavender oil, which you can get from some health food stores, you can buy online. Lavender is another instant calming effect. Not all essential oils can go directly on to the skin but lavender is okay to do that and you can put one or two drops in your hand and inhale. It’s really nice to have it on your desk at work or in your handbag. Again, it can be really done discreetly so nobody needs to know you’re stressed at the moment or you’re having a funny five-minute. You can just drop a bit of lavender on your hand. Rub your hands together, breathe in deeply and you’ll notice that rebalance the system very, very instantaneously.
I’d love to talk to you a little bit about the process of writing the book and also, as you’ve grown your business, how you make sure that you don’t lose yourself in this work that you do today that you don’t slide back into those hold habits, even though the work that you’re sharing with the world is encouraging people to remember to pause and to look after themselves. Before you answer, just to qualify this, I think there are lots and lots of people who are listening who are seeing their passion, they are creative entrepreneurs. It’s actually ironic that many creative entrepreneurs and people working in the wellbeing space, often end up running micro-businesses that can also create a situation whereby they’re bound for burnout again, if they’re not careful. I’m interested to know about how you protected your pause time during the book writing process and as you’ve been growing your business these past few years.
The first thing I would say is I think I run the Pause now as my own reminder to myself of what I need to learn. This work is as much for me. In fact, one of the retreats I was saying that to one of my team, “I’m here as much for me as I am for holding the space for others.” It’s my constant reminder that this is my work. I have a natural propensity to overwork and the pause is my constant reminder o me that I must remember to slow down. The simple answer to your question is sometimes I don’t get this right. Sometimes I do still overwork and miss that, “That was my limit.” I think what I’m better at now is noticing that much faster. I’ll be aware after one or two late nights that my system is out of balance. I don’t have the desire anymore to push that beyond that. There’s just sometimes inside of me that goes, “Now, it’s time to go to sleep. It’s time to get some rest.” That retracting back of the elastic band when I’ve stretched it too far happens a lot faster for me now than it used to do.
Ways that I help myself and protect that for myself: one is that I have psychotherapy twice a week and have been doing that really since before I burned out and certainly ever since. The level of supervision that I have to do my work and to live my life is I’ve made sure that I have that at a very high level. That’s one of the things that I do. Then, as much as possible, and I think I’m still learning this and I think I’ve still got quite a way to go with it, is I try and create a natural rhythm in my life. As much as possible have the same time that I wake up in the morning and I go to sleep at night. I keep my coaching days when I do my one-on-one work as set days, and everybody who I work with has a set time so that that’s all scheduled in as a very clear boundary rhythm so I don’t give too much, I suppose, but that I can really give what I need to in that confined period of time.
Apart from when I run retreats, I don’t work at weekends. I keep that my time for me, that’s really important. Also, I think just making sure you spend time with other people. I don’t have email on my phone so that’s an important thing for me as well. I keep email confined to my laptop. It’s a very practical thing that I did a number of years ago. The world did not stop turning. It was quite remarkable. Just some of those things I do to protect my time really.
In relation to writing the book, it’s interesting to be asked that question because I think the book was written over a number of years. The actual process of writing the book took two weeks but that was because I was then gathering in everything I had written before then and just writing the pieces that needed to bridge the gap. To write the book, I came back from France on Boxing Day and I turned Outlook off and wrote for two weeks. I knew that period of time nobody would really want me in terms of coaching or it’s a time for people to be doing other things. I just used that window of time to turn everything else off, disconnected from any social conversations at that point and I simply wrote. It was a really lovely experience. I enjoyed the total immersion into it because since I was five years old I’ve wanted to write a book, so it was time.
Also having a deadline helps to be honest. The publishing deadline, I won’t lie, was definitely motivational. Also knowing there was a support of a really great editorial team behind me was helpful. I also think that just getting rid of the fantasy that I had that I would sit in a beautiful log cabin in the New Forest and that I would be undisturbed for three months while I had this ethereal experience of writing my book. As soon as I got over there, I realised I was going to be sitting in a London flat with my noisy neighbours downstairs and the cigarette smoke wafting through. This was just how it was going to be and get on with it. Shattering that illusion was actually quite a good thing for me. There are no perfect conditions to write. You just have to show up, right?
I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s interesting to me that you said about how you’ve taken email off your phone. I think that’s a great tactic. How do you balance your relationship with social media in terms of someone who has a business? Obviously, social media is quite an important tool for many of us who are running businesses. How do you do it in a way that feels good and doesn’t take you away from the work that you’re most passionate about?
I don’t think I do, is the honest answer. For me, my preference would actually be not to have social media for me personally, but I absolutely adore the groups that I’ve got online where we’ve got online communities. At this point in time, it’s the most convenient place for us to gather given that I’ve got a virtual business that crosses continents. It is the place where we can be as a community to gather online and I don’t have a better alternative at the moment. I’m not willing to let it go for that reason but it always feels like a bit of a jar. I noticed on my personal social media that I’ve really stepped back from there and I don’t really share very much at all on my personal social media. I think if I could let that go, I would but these communities I really value and so I stay in it because it’s where I can connect with these groups of people that really matter to me.
As well as running the Pause, I actually run programmes for practitioners as well. We have different licensed programmes for practitioners who want to run the Pause. We’ve got a team of 20 around the world who do that. We’ve got a really gorgeous community there. I run a coaching programme to teach people to share another way of coaching that has been a philosophy that I’ve developed over the last 15 years. That community is just really great fun and really a lovely like-minded group of people. We do coaching for people who are practitioners who want to have that connection points to other practitioners. I can’t run this without social media but it doesn’t always sit that easily for me in terms of how I personally manage that. I often feel that needs more these better management and I’m often squeezing it in between other things. That is still part of my reality at the moment.
I think it’s really an interesting position and I don’t think you’re alone. I think particularly for people who are doing work that is all about reconnecting to self and nurturing self, it can feel jarring. I know I’ve seen some coaches who are really promoting time away from the online world and all of these different lovely juice practices and yet it seems that they are constantly documenting everything to remind me that they’re doing this stuff. They’re actually online as they’re doing it. It just feels strange, I suppose. I would love to know whether you would want to live anywhere else in the future? You live in a very, very beautiful part of the UK. It’s always interesting to hear what people have to say about whether they’re content to stay where they are or whether they fantasise about some different existence in the future.
At the moment, I feel really happy to live where I am. I was born in Cornwall. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with a county for most of my life. At times it’s felt like I’ve been too constricted here that I haven’t felt free enough, other times I’ve come back and I’m experiencing my own growth and witnessing that transition in different phases of my life. Other times I’ve simply just come here to heal. At the moment, I’m having a period of living here after having been nomadic for three years. I was living between Bali and London. I find myself back in Cornwall and I’m likely to be here for several years. I’m really grateful for it at the moment. I’m feeling very contented with life here and what I’ve been given actually, what life has provided me. What I have come to learn is I’m not in-charge of where I go. I know that sounds a bit of a strange thing to say but if I’m meant to go somewhere else, life will guide me there. My job is to follow that.
Right now, I don’t have a fantasy of being anywhere else. What I do know is I have a great privilege to travel. I really very much appreciate that privilege in my life that I have a passport that allows me to go pretty much wherever I wish in the world and to do that with ease. I know that’s not everybody’s position in life. The fact that I can just go to wherever I wish, whenever I want, gives me that sense of freedom. Right now, I’m appreciating what Cornwall has to offer. It’s such a beautiful place even in her wildest parts of winter.
Danielle, final question: What are you curious about right now?
Everything, that’s my mode of operation, is to be constantly curious. I literally am always curious about everything. One of the things I’m curious about at the moment is this idea of evolution of human beings and the idea that we expect children to develop and we expect a child to go from a baby and being into a toddler, into a child, into a teenager and into adulthood. Then we seem to think that we reach adulthood and that’s it. The notion of growth and development, we seem to have this idea we should have it all sorted when we hit adulthood. I’m really sensing that as I come into my 40s, I’m only just beginning to have some sense of what this life is about for me. The idea that we’re constantly growing and developing, why would we have that notion that that stops after childhood and that we should have it all sorted as adults. What does it take for us just to stay curious about our own growth and our own changes as human beings and allowing that to unfold really naturally? I’m curious about that huge amount. I could talk to you for weeks about what I’m curious about, everything.
That’s a fantastic answer. You’ll have to come back and tell us all. Danielle, thank you so much for being a guest on the Urban Curiosity Podcast today. Where can people find out more about you and your work?
Thank you so much.