OPINION | Well-being and well-doing

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In a world where ‘doing’ well is often prioritised over ‘being’ well, it is no surprise that the science and practice of well-being is surfacing as a core focus in our human experience.

With the experiences of many that include elevated stress levels, human dis-connection, emotional and physical health pressures and decreased resilience, together with the changing demands and complexities encountered during the Covid-19 pandemic, it remains essential that our investment is not only in our tasks or teams, but in our internal capacities that give rise to fulfillment and excellence.

The reality for many of us is that the demands of life and work dictate that we focus on our doing - skills development, systems efficiencies, time management, the meeting of deadlines, new products and services, meetings, and meetings about meetings.

While all of these are essential to our everyday responsibility and accountability, our consciousness around a sense of purpose and fulfillment, learning and growth, breathing, happiness, connection, and self-care often take a back seat.

Yet if it is the quality of our being that elevates the sustained quality of our doing, then our attention and consciousness needs to include thoughts and practices than contribute to an integrated wholeness of our human experience

The science of well-being

An Etymological perspective on well-being reveals that the concepts origin has philosophical roots dating back to Aristotle who proposed that well-being is anchored in two components - pleasure and meaning.

The pleasure construct encompasses optimism, life satisfaction and reward (liking, wanting, learning); while the meaning component includes purpose, growth and engagement. (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).

Building on these early reflections, the recent studies in the field of neuroscience reveal that happiness factors are not only stimulated through bodily exercise and other practices (which we focus on below), but is generated via brain function.

Our ability to ‘rewire our brains’ and ‘change our minds’ is a scientific reality that is possible through conscious attention and training. Just like forging new routes through forest paths relies on multiple and consistent trips towards a clear pathway effect, so too do our brains need to be engaged with constantly so that we can first, become aware of the patters of our thinking that define our behaviour, and then to refocus on our desired ways of thinking to achieve our new ways of being.

Additional factors that inform our propensity toward well-being include an understanding of our personality, negativity bias, self-esteem, levels of optimism and our social relationships.

Our psychological well-being encourages us to consider multiple biological, scientific, and psychological elements to raise our awareness of self in order to better manage self and thus generate conscious habits of well-being:

  • Negativity bias - this is our inclination to see the cup half empty, to focus on what is not working and even to dwell on that which is not serving us. While there is an evolutionary component to negativity bias, our daily habits and practices often reinforce this persuasion, resulting in an enduring cycle of negative focus.
  • Optimism - this indicates our mental attitude to confidence, hope and positivity. An optimistic outlook (which is not the denial of the hardships of reality) enables us to view challenges with a learning mindset, and to focus on the challenge as temporary rather than permeating. Through looking for what has, is and will serve us, others, and the planet, we are often able to move toward enduring hopefulness.
  • Self-esteem - there is a relative connection between self-esteem and well-being as it is often that when our happiness levels are low, so is our self-esteem, and vice versa. There is a protective role within self-esteem that guards us against the full effects of hardship, stress, and challenge. Through enhanced self-esteem we are more confident to trust ourselves to overcome and learn from that which we are going through. (Dolcos, Moore & Yuta 2018)
  • Relationships - as humans we are fundamentally wired for social connection, and the absence of social relationships or loneliness often contributes to depression, insecurity, loss of meaning and therefore directly impacts well-being. In fact, some would go as far as to say that “our brains are built to practice thinking about the social world and our place in it” (Lieberman, 2013), and the absence of connection often gravely impacts upon our well-being.

Insights such as the above are core to understanding ourselves and it is only through understanding ourselves - our current patterns of thinking, being and doing, that we are better able to consciously invest in a human experience where well-being is felt, experienced, appreciated and lived.

The practice of well-being

Two key authors that have dedicated their resources to human behavioural studies and have contributed toward integrating the science and practice of well-being are Dr Martin Seligman (Founder of Positive Psychology), and Deepak Chopra (Doctor, Author and Self-care advocate) developed the 5 Core Elements of Well-being, and the 7 Pillars of Well-being respectively.

Through their research and writings, they have highlighted the importance of the essential focus areas that improve well-being - these include nutrition, exercise, nature, relationships, meaning, accomplishment, resilience, sleep and self-awareness.

While these categories may appear apparent, there is a direct correlation between the impact and results of our well-being through the consistent practices that we engage with daily. A few of these practices include:

  • Savouring - set aside even just 10 minutes a day to savour a moment in the present. It may be 10 minutes sitting enjoying your cup of coffee, petting your dog, looking into your garden - just by practicing being present in the moment with the person, animal, or thing we are wiring our brains to remain focused and present on what is now. A mind that wanders usually wanders in the direction of what is not working and through the practice of savouring we are giving present enjoyment a center stage.
  • Gratitude - begin a gratitude journal or set time aside in your daily routine to highlight 3 things you are grateful for each day. Through focusing on this positive brain activity, we are inviting positive consciousness to take a journey with us as we forge new positive brain pathways. Gratitude boosts mood, relieves stress, even enhances immune system.
  • Nature - whether it is through grounding (where you remove your shoes and socks for 30 minutes a day and stand on the earth, grass or sand), or whether it is getting out in nature to celebrate its beauty, realise that there is a direct link between the energy and oxygen that nature provides and our well-being.
  • Time affluence - making time to think about and do what makes us happy, what fulfills us, what connects us. With the ongoing pressure of time, believe that you have time affluence and that an indispensable part of your day is taking the preciousness of time to think about your happiness. This practice releases dopamine (often called the happy hormone) which is our brains reward system that increases our experience of well-being
  • Body - focus on your nutritional intake, body movement, exercise. Just like your car needs to correct petrol to function optimally, so too do our bodies. Body movement again activates Dopamine which results in increased experiences of happiness.
  • Mindfulness and Meditation - Mindfulness has been described as the focused awareness of ‘some-thing’ whereas meditation is the awareness of ‘no-thing’. Whether you engage in practices of mindfulness or mediation, the practice and technique are proven to release happy chemicals that embrace the beauty of what is and could be.
  • Resilience - We often hear of resilience being referred to the ability to bounce back, but from the perspective of human behaviour, we are not merely wanting to return to our original state. Resilience integrates our ability to not only return (such as an elastic band), but to learn from and grow in our ability to include these learnings and transcend our actions, behaviours and emotions more wisely and with greater strength and flexibility. Resilience is the antidote and pro-active investment in our stress management and it is essential for us to know what it is that build our resilience.

Despite which practice you choose to focus on, remember that the brain is a dynamic system, and we are able to change its structure and physiology throughout our lives. This change ability, called neuroplasticity, is expansively flexible providing a welcoming invitation to think, do and be in ways that better serve us.

Through expanding our internal capacities to the practices of above and to the desires within, we are able to give rise to new horizons where we can create and re-generate our desired selves and our desired experiences.

By Reaching Out (through building meaningful connections), Reaching In (through growing in self-awareness and self-care), to Reaching Up (to renewed focus on purpose and meaning) we are investing in a powerful and sustained life course that will in turn elevate both our well-doing and our well-being.

*Sue Bakker, is director at The Coaching Centre and executive coach

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