I had a longer vacation recently. I was well prepared – backlog of things to achieve, some extra daily routines, places to see, people to meet, all that stuff. The results were, well, surprising: none. Yes, you got that right. I did nothing of what I planned to do. And, damn, I’m glad that things turned out like this.

I’m a man of self-discipline. Just a few days back, one of my friends distinctly mentioned that in a recommendation on LinkedIn for me. It was never my natural trait (my genetics, upbringing, and my own past actions led me to be quite the opposite) and it took me years to build it. Being genuinely proud of that, I got words “per disciplinam libertas” (Latin for: “through discipline, freedom”) tattooed on my right forearm, in a place distinctly visible almost 24/7 (I’m not a fan of long sleeves). I’m happy when people ask me about that, as I can share my story to help them achieve more in their own lives.

About a year ago, my tattoo started a completely unexpected short conversation that, by random twist of events, pushed me to rethink my holiday plans. I was asked about it by one of security guards screening me before training at One World Trade Center. We got into a discussion, where I was happy to credit Jocko Willink for sharing his extremely efficient life philosophy, my understanding of the concept, and so on. Then, the guard made a remark, along the lines of “One should be careful of what they’re disciplined at”. Not wanting to be late for my training, I didn’t continue the conversation much further and had almost forgotten about it soon afterwards.

Fast forward to Monday morning, just few days before my vacation. It was just 5AM, yet I was already sweating at my gym. I like to learn as I go, so I pulled one of Tim Ferriss’ recent podcasts – one with Greg McKeown, author of “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”, a book that I wholeheartedly recommend. Among variety of covered topics, they spent some time talking about the idea of retreats. What is that? Basically, spending a week or two every few months on revising what one’s doing. It includes being as detached as possible – no emails, no social media, no business meetings – just deliberate reflection on whether one’s pursuits are truly essential and meaningful or not. 

As I was returning home from the gym, I connected the dots. I woke up at 4:15AM that day, just the way I did virtually every single day for at least a year. By 6, I was already after a heavy workout routine. Before 7, I would get into my car, drive to work, and get my magic rolling. Discipline at its finest, for sure. But, returning to that random conversation in New York – did it help me pursuit the right things?

Or was I just disciplining myself to close the gap between who I was and who I think I was, burning time and effort on chasing the wrong goal?

Hours later, I was watching the sun setting over my home city, the industrious Wroclaw. I had a distinct feeling that my plans for the vacation probably made no sense anymore. With some serious doubts, I decided to drop them altogether. What would I do instead?

Whatever.

Damn, it was worth it. As I dropped all of my routines for these two weeks, something had to fill the gap. And something I didn’t do for quite a while did just that: fun, in all varieties. One of going out. One of creativity. One of imagination.

I retreated from my fixed reality. I found new dots I wanted to connect. Then, with my big theme still present, I reengaged.

I made some tough choices. I scaled down my consulting business. I cut off some of the relationships that should’ve been forgotten and put with mothballs. I get up at 5:30AM, ridiculously late for my old standards, but I feel better with it. At least for a while, I swapped extensive workouts for lightweight runs, rarely exceeding 3 miles (5k). I write far less, yet my content is more focused. I don’t work 70-hour workweeks anymore.

With that in mind, my theme is the same. I just follow it more easily right now, having more energy to spend on what’s truly essential. And, two weeks in, I can already see spectacular results. Stay tuned to see them.

And go for your own retreat. Stay away from everyday, find what matters, reengage.

Then rinse, repeat.