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The Underside of Wellness


The Underside of Wellness

We assume that we work in a field that has appeal to anyone on this planet. Who doesn’t want to improve their health and wellness?  What could possibly be bad about working towards this outcome?

Well, think again.  Wherever there is a strong argument for one approach, there will be someone who argues against it!  (Remember the fitness movement and the articles and books sending the message that “Exercise can kill”?)

Of course, freedom of speech, sharing ideas, playing devil’s advocate etc. are all good things so when I came across the following interview, I listened, (non judgmentally) and attempted to filter out the learning or awareness that came out of what Dr. Spicer had to say.  

Dr Spicer was interviewed on Life Matters radio program and was promoting his book The Wellness Syndrome where sure enough, the main message was “Wellness is simply the latest obsession”. I will sum up Dr Spicer’s comments (and a bit of his rationale) and then counter them with a few of my own.

  • Wellness has become something else to worry and feel guilty about (consider the bloggers whose daily routine is something we can never aspire to).
  • Wellness trends are associated with abstinence and possibly self punishment.
  • Wellness encourages too much self-obsession (think of all the ways we have of monitoring everything we do.
  • Wellness behaviours are time stealers and take up huge amounts of our day.
  • Corporate wellness programs are becoming a way of discriminating against new employees who are not fit and thin.
  • Organisations are taking the view that a successful CEO must be able to run a marathon or climb a mountain and  productivity and wellness are inaccurately linked.  
  • Pressure is being put on employees to train.
  • Wellness is becoming a cult.
Yes you are probably thinking, “wow”! but let’s face it there are some things we recognize as being, if not problems, potential problems and this is what we must be aware of and accept that some of what he says could have merit.

However….

First, all the above points are referring to extremes.  

“Bloggers who have huge followings and expound living the perfect, rigorous healthy life with rules around everything could well make people feel somewhat inadequate.”   
My response – choose who you follow!  We need to take some responsibility over what we expose ourselves to.  What motivates that blogger?  Are they boasting or helping?

“Wellness behaviours are cultish and like religious rituals.” 
My response – anything taken to extremes can be sinister.  If a ritual is a habit, then that sounds like a positive way of incorporating a few new ones into our daily routine.  Becoming aware of what we do automatically is the first step to changing it.

 “Corporate wellness has become a way of discriminating.”
My response – taken to extremes yes, but high energy that comes from being well is definitely associated with productivity.  Anything that our society can do to encourage healthy behaviours as being the “norm” is a good thing.  If an individual does not want to consider their health as important, go and find an organisastion who doesn't care about this aspect of their employees’ lives.

Dr Spicer’s final comments are about the backlash that the wellness movement is having.  “Dude food” is increasing where people can eat as much as they want and eat real, high fat meals.”
My respose - Hey, if that’s your choice, it’s your body.

 “People are looking for meaning rather than happiness.”
My response – Agree (finally) - and we need to be.  If we search for happiness, it will elude us. If we try and find meaning in our lives, the incidence of depression will decrease.

 “The rise of neo-stocism – the belief that gains can only be made through pain and suffering and fight clubs, extreme work outs, tough mudders etc. are now becoming very popular.”
My response – there will always be people who want these things. Let everyone find what works for them.. There are plenty of softer “wellness” options out there!

In conclusion, I respect many of Dr. Spicer’s views but worry about the way people might interpret his message as encouraging a total lack of regard for whether we have healthy lifestyle habits and a continuation of the growth of lifestyle related illnesses.  

At least we’re doing something to try and slow it down.

The recording of Dr Andre Spicer was found at this link 

https://radio.abc.net.au/programitem/pg9G1mr82G?play=true



A New Slant on Goal Setting


We always encourage coaches to work with clients to create positive goals that take them in the direction of what they want!  This fits with the idea of running towards, rather than away from things in life.  

I recently had an interesting conversation with someone who had been at a conference on death and dying, with one of the speakers raising the idea of having a “Reverse Bucket List”. A very strange notion I thought - where does that go?  

The “Reverse Bucket List” consists of things that a person no longer wants to do!! Now that might mean saying “no” to a number of onerous tasks that drain energy and take precious time away from doing what we do want to do.  

It also might encourage our clients to take a good hard look at what they spend their time on - believing that they enjoy it and yet we come to the realisation that we don’t enjoy it any more!  

This type of “bucket list” can actually be very empowering!  Yes, it might be more meaningful to us as we get older and realise the value of the years left to us, but I think it's worth considering and playing around with. It’s really no different from asking, “What do we want more of?”, and “What do we want less of?” Try asking it of yourself and see what comes up! 

Happy culling of unwanted and unrewarding activities!


Helping our Clients Define Success



Inevitably, our clients want to move forward - in a direction that they may have struggled with in the past. In fact they may even have failed in that area. So their drive is to succeed this time, which is why they have a Wellness Coach.

Our job as a Wellness Coach is to help them define exactly what it is they wish to achieve and of course to help them get there. But first, conversation around this concept of “success” is essential. Closely related to the idea of achievement is the notion of  ”ambition” and an exploration of both terms can reveal interesting insights for both ourselves and our clients. 

Some people describe themselves as ambitious and others may not relate to the term. The word is often associated with competition and succeeding at the expense of others, but if we accept that a better and more accurate definition is “a strong desire to do or achieve something", surely we would like our clients to become more “ambitious” around their goals? Words can do strange things to our interpretation of life. Success and ambition are really very personal constructs and relate purely to what a person truly wishes to obtain in their life. So to be motivated and enthusiastic about working towards goals is a great thing as it can lead to success, but in this sense, “success” is not about “winning”, neither is ambition.

The first question to ask a client is “what makes you fulfilled and happy in life?”  By doing this we can uncover a person’s core values.  So let’s take a look at a few examples. They may identify strongly with any of the following:

  • Imagination and creativity;
  • Kindness and compassion;
  • Lifelong learning;
  • Building relationships and connection with others.
These are all values and also strengths and if we can recognize what really drives us, we can then set goals accordingly and ensure that the steps along the way give us opportunities to incorporate these core values.

The next question is, “How do you measure success?” The answer to this could be anything, and you may hear responses such as:

  • How much fun I have in life;
  • How peaceful and calm I feel;
  • How much I can contribute to the world.
These bigger picture questions and answers can help shift someone’s mindset and help them identify changes they would like to make that may be somewhat different from what they thought they wanted, or at the very least affect the choice of the ways in which they choose to move forward. When we work with clients to help them define the steps they wish to take, we must never forget to explore their bigger world view first.

The Prison of Perfectionism


How many clients do we work with who admit to being perfectionists? (Often said quite wryly but we can sense the pride behind the statement.) It’s as if they know they are trying to achieve impossible goals yet are upholding a value that often defines them. So we get this sense of conflict which so often happens with our client. They know it’s unrealistic to expect to be perfect all the time but they’re driven by an internal measure. I.e. their heart dictates the value. Sometimes perfectionism comes described as being an  “all or nothing” person. Unless they totally give something up, they can’t cut down, they have to embrace change completely or they won’t bother taking the first step. 

Sound like perfectionism?  It is

Perfectionism has been linked to a wide array of mental health issues – depression and anxiety being the most common.  Instead of thinking it as a virtue, we need to think of it is a form of vice – or a prison that keeps us locked into unrealistic expectations - that we will never fulfill.

There is a better approach. moving from perfectionism to optimalism. Optimalists also strive for success for they are “more flexible, resilient and adaptive in the pursuit of their goals”, according to Tal Ben-Shahar.

So what’s the difference between an optimalist and a perfectionist? Here are a few, Which do you lean towards?  
  • Perfectionists have a fear of failure – optimalists view failure as feedback
  • Perfectionists are defensive – optimalists are open to suggestions
  • Perfectionists look for faults – optimalists look for bright spots
  • Perfectionists are rigid and inflexible – optimalists are adaptable and flexible
One of the most debilitating characteristics of perfectionists is their tendency to procrastinate – simply because unless they can do something perfectly, they hesitate to begin or to do it at all. They freeze. 
 
“Don’t let great get in the way of good” is an excellent mantra for these people.

So what do we do with clients who are perfectionists?

As coaches when we work with perfectionists we encourage the idea of setting goals as “experiements”.  As something they can learn from.  If we set them up in this way, they are more likely to enter the journey willingly and with a better attitude.  The answer to perfectionism?  Be authentic!  Be who you are, go after the things you love, use your strengths, accept your weaknesses and learn to get satisfaction from within no just from outside, i.e. other people!

Putting “I should” back under the spotlight


For many years now I have been sending a strong message about my belief that the word “should” is language that has no real use in the English language. My reasoning being that it could easily be substituted with “I could”, “I want to” or “I choose to” which is much more empowering and suggests that the value behind the action belongs to the individual rather than from outside (mother, father, peers, media etc.). Today I have to admit to realising that another interpretation is possible when someone is stating, “I should… tell her, visit him, do that etc.”  And again, it is to do with the issue of values. 

Which brings me to the interesting area of what is right and what is wrong and how do we make that decision. Once again, I am influenced by my good friend Hugh McKay (one day I’ll meet the guy), and on re-reading his book “Right or Wrong”, I came across a statement that made me change my view and allow “should” some small place in our vocabulary. The reason I have been re-reading this particular book is that I seem to have come across many situations recently that involve moral dilemmas. I have been on the outside of these and drawn into thinking about how both sides of the situation have a strong argument for being morally right, depending on whose eyes you are looking.  

We know that under very different circumstances, lying, stealing or even killing have a justifiable reason. Take the war in Israel. People involved would say they are justified for killing. (I find it ironic that a cease fire to allow people to buy groceries is considered necessary). Let’s make sure we have breakfast before we die. But I am not writing this to comment on anyone’s choices. Simply to acknowledge that when people say “I should” it may well be indicating that they are torn between two of their own internal values. 

I could cite many cases where this occurs.  
  • “I should tell her but don’t want to cause hurt.”
  • “I should change my eating patterns but don’t want to feel unhappy or deprived.”
  • “I should cut down on alcohol but want to feel relaxed at night.”
As Coaches we set out to accept our client’s values for what they are without ever putting our own into the session.  Health and fitness professionals often struggle with this notion as they have been educated to know what is right or wrong for optimal health and feel obligated to tell their clients what they “should” do.  The shift to allowing the client to take responsibility for their own choices based on their personal values as to what is right or wrong is a big one! But it is necessary. And if we are to live in a world that accepts an individual’s freedom to choose, we must step back and allow them room to do this.

As McKay says, “The right answer for me may be different from the right answer for you, and the right answer for me in my present circumstances may be different from the right answer for me in another set of circumstances.”

Reference:  Hugh McKay, Right and Wrong – how to decide for yourself (2004)

A Question of Values


The topic of "values" comes up frequently when coaching people and I have often listened to debate on whether today's value system is as good as the "old one".  What needs to be considered are the changes that are occurring rapidly in society that have meant people's ways of living have shifted and in many cases, ways of thinking.  One thing for sure, our way of communicating has certainly changed. 

With the breakdown of the traditional family and close community where people meet regularly and feel part of a "tribe" or "herd", there is a greater need, seen readily in young people, to form alternative groups to foster that sense of belonging we all need.  

Hugh McKay comments on how young people "realise that their most precious resource they have for coping with life in inherently unpredictable and unstable world is each other".  And how they maintain this contact by mobile phones, computers, social media, yet still come together socially at regular intervals.  Sharing is much more acceptable than in their parents' days and perhaps there is something to be learned from our teenagers who have adapted to a changing world to ensure they have support and "connection" in whatever way they can.  

We need community in order to establish a society that is supportive, fair and cares for each other. The more we can encourage face to face contact, the better, to prevent any growing isolation that ail inevitably lead to loneliness and depression.  So let's use technology to organise meetings and face to face contact, in this way, satisfying our need for personal relationships and some degree of "intimacy" in what can be a fast-paced and detached environment.

I was in Melbourne last week and saw on Saturday night the huge number of people who were out in groups, enjoying each others' company - people of all ages, brought together by the shared interest of AFL. I really struck me how lucky that city is to have a bond like that and how healthy it was for the community.  It made me feel that my solitary glass of wine and connection with my iPad really was second best!


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