Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

Power of Meaning, Pillar of Belonging Part 1: Is Happiness What We Really Want?


















We often refer to happiness as the holy grail. Surely this is all we would want for our children? If only we could achieve happiness, then it wouldn’t matter about the rest (because the rest would be what was making us happy?) Isn’t this what health and wellness coaching is really all about? Helping people find happiness by living “well”? It’s not quite that simple. Physical and emotional wellness is affected by many factors, but back to the holy grail.

The trouble with happiness is, the more we chase it, the more it will elude us. Although “feeling good” may be better than feeling bad, it does not mean that we are living a “good” life. This question has been researched and debated for many decades and there is now a growing recognition that having a sense of meaning, or choosing to pursue one, ultimately allows us to live fuller – and happier lives! There are times when meaning and happiness can be at odds with each other but the former will sustain us when times are hard.

So where do we get this sense of meaning? The meaning of life has never been revealed but much work has been done to try and establish where people can find meaning. Of course the answers are endless and individual yet, like most complex factors, they fall into broad categories.

Emily Esfahni Smith has written a landmark book called The Power of Meaning and she identifies four “pillars of meaning”. We are going to look at the first:

Belonging – our close relationships which often come from our community are critical for a meaningful life. But not only do our close relationships give us this sense of wellbeing but what has been referred to as “high quality connections” is also important.  Sharing short term high quality interactions with people we love gives us a great sense of meaning but it can be just as important to share those moments with friends, acquaintances and possibly strangers. People give value to others and feel valued themselves when their interaction is empathic, caring and showing mutual regard and respect.

Letting people be seen, heard and acknowledged creates bonds. Compassion lies at the centre of the pillar of belonging. Everything we strive for in our coaching practice supports this pillar. Our very conversations can add to our client’s and our own, sense of meaning.  

So how else can we use this information to add value to our coaching?  By helping and encouraging our clients to seek out opportunities for routines and activities that allow a sense of belonging. By exercising with others, joining groups, group coaching? But also helping them recognize and appreciate where they already “belong”. Often we forget that we have communities around us that if we took the time to acknowledge and promote those communities we would help ourselves, and others!

Reference:  Emily Esfahani Smith, The Power of Meaning.

Financial wellness – a new or an ignored frontier?


Life is never simple, which is why it is so interesting!  Here’s an example. Have you ever had several goals you wanted to achieve, yet at times they seem to conflict with each other?

One case of this that we hear often is from people who want to “follow their passion” (in their professional life), but also want to be financially secure.   Yet their passion may not hold the level of certainly around financial security they require.  

Of course, this applies to many of students who want to study health and wellness coaching, yet are concerned that it may not pay the bills.  When we get a dilemma like this, we can experience tension, stress and a sense of “stuckness” as we struggle with what really amounts to two conflicting values.  So how do we get round this?   We may also experience a sense of guilt or disappointment in our failure to follow our heart.  After all, surely financial “stability” should not be as important as doing what we really want do – living the professional dream?

Yet finance (or fears around lack of finance) is one of the biggest stumbling blocks when it comes to people achieving their goals.

Lea Schodel, a recent graduate, does a lot of work in the field of financial wellness.  She says,

“Money has such a large influence over our day to day lives, our sense of success and self-worth and our overall happiness and wellbeing. Our career choices, our ability to spend time with our family and friends, or to do the things we love, whether we can join a gym or practice yoga, how much we can spend on food, healthcare, self-care and other treatments, the type of neighbourhood we live in, the relationships we have and even our self-esteem are all impacted directly by our relationship with money. 

Our finances play such an integral role in our total wellbeing yet, so often they are ignored, put to one side or handed over to someone else to manage.

The elements of wellness

Image souce:  wellnessutah.com

There are many elements that comprise of our overall wellbeing: Social, Physical, Emotional., Spiritual, Environmental, Occupational, Intellectual and Financial. What is important is to recognise that there are many elements (other than diet and exercise) which contribute to or detract from total wellbeing and we cannot have total wellness unless we pay attention to and seek balance with all elements of wellbeing in our lives.

So how can we align our goals so that we achieve both a career we love and healthy finances? 
This was a question we had to address when we put together our latest training program – the Professional Certificate in Health and Wellness Coaching with Business Pathway (PCBP).  We love helping people learn to coach. And we have recognised the need for support in setting up our own business for some time. We have provided the Passion to Profit program almost as an add-on for people who finished the training and then realised they ill-equipped to actually make money from coaching.

So, we decided that we would combine all our programs and offer an inclusive “journey” that guided people along the path to becoming a proficient and effective health and wellness coach but at the same time, kept their eye on the end game – how they would make this work for them as a business.

To date, we have had a great reception to our PCBP and we can’t wait to work with the people who have enrolled at the start of this year.

View the details on our Professional Certificate program here.

We are also looking forward to Lea’s professional development webinar which she will hold later in the year when she will help our coaches learn how to “talk about the money”.  In this sense, when our clients present finance as the biggest obstacle and which we so often skirt around!  Watch this space.

You can get in touch with Lea at: lea@leaschodel.com

Can Stress Become a Postive Force in our Lives?


Stress is generally seen as the bad guy in today’s busy world.  The belief that we have not got the resources to handle what is on our plate, creates stress!  Note – the belief.  Stress can make certain health problems worse and there are many downsides of prolonged, untreated stress.  But let’s get back to this idea of “belief.”

Stress is very personal.  What creates pressure and anxiety for one person might be the minimum level of responsibility needed to motivate someone else to get out of bed in the morning!  We are different by nature, experience and genetic make up, but understanding more about what causes stress and how we can control it is a great step to harnessing the energy we can get from this powerful “force”.  And it is a force – the fight or flight response that is created from being under stress also creates energy.  Perhaps it appears as negative energy, but can we turn it into something positive?  How can we make ourselves more “stress-hardy”?  Perhaps by understanding the positive that can come out of the stress response.  The fight or flight response is not the only one that can be activated.

At times, the tend and befriend response comes about with the production of certain hormones such as oxytocin that can be released in situations when we feel the need to reach out to loved ones, or strangers, to comfort them and increase our social contacts. This is often seen after tragic events have hit a community and this very connection reduces stress and can assist in recovery.

But we don’t need extreme events to try and turn our mindsets to believe that we are able to handle stress and in fact, can benefit from it.  Some of the following are useful exercises for us to try out:

  • When we notice our heart rate increase before a stressful event, realize that this is happening so that we have more energy to complete the task and use this energy to perform.
  • Ask yourself, “Are nerves caused by the fact that what you are about to do is really important to you?”  Does this situation have value in your life and therefore provide meaning?
  • When stress rears its head, acknowledge it then turn your focus to the task at hand.
  • Is your stress due to the fact that you are setting unrealistic expectations around what you can complete in a set time (day/week etc.)?  Change your deadlines and to-do list so that they are more realistic and you can think clearly about one or two things instead of feeling overwhelmed by an undoable list.
  • Switch your attention to someone else. Do something kind for another to get out of your head.  You will feel differently about your workload.
  • Ensure that you have good social networks.  Communities support each other and caring creates resilience.
  • If small events stress you, like having to wait on the phone for someone, remind yourself why you are doing this – is there a larger purpose?  Are you gaining information for something that has importance in your life?  
  • Question why you are feeling stress and look for positive aspects.   Is it making you stronger, are you feeling energized?  Are you connecting with others?  Are you feeling alive?
Once we start to see stress as merely a challenge that can help us grow, then we can learn to view it a different way and do just that – grow from it!

If you want to learn more about this interesting area, we have a full module of learning with comprehensive information and tools to use. To learn more about our Understanding Stress for you and your Clients course, CLICK HERE.

References: Healthbeat, October 2017 Harvard Medical School
The Upside of Stress, 2016, Kelly McGonigal

Can We Really Change How Happy We Are?


I have often pondered the question of whether happiness comes purely from within.  Not that I believe that we can find joy in life by focusing purely on external “things”,  but I have recently been convinced that happiness comes from both within and without – internal and external factors.

We now know that our genes play a part in how happy we are.  We have a genetic predisposition to look at things in a positive light or a negative light, or somewhere in the middle. We have a default level of happiness.  A landmark and often- quoted study found that people who won the lottery and those who became paraplegic within a year, on average, returned most of the way to their baseline levels of happiness. 

The reason for this is the “Adaptation Principle” which states that humans are susceptible to changes in certain life conditions, but not to their absolute levels.  To explain - a person who suddenly has an increase in wealth will be excited by the change, but in time will become used to having a bigger house, more expensive car and other luxuries which have become the new “norm”.  

Now the notion of increased life satisfaction is of course more complex than this.  Gerald Haidt, in his “Happiness Hypothesis” proposes that: 

H = S+C+V.

Happiness (H) is a sum of our genetic set point (S), certain conditions (C) of our life that are relatively stable (ie level of wealth) and those voluntary activities (V) that we choose to do that we know will increase our levels of wellbeing.

But what is interesting is the fact that there are exceptions to the “Adaptation Principle” which again, suggests that we will adjust and become used to certain conditions that are relatively fixed in our lives. For example, living in a cold climate, having physical disability or a level of power, are things that we simply get used to and adapt to.  They do not continue to influence our levels of life satisfaction.

Interestingly though, Haidt states that there are five changes you can make that are not subject to the adaptation principles and may well make you happier in the long term.  These are:

Living with noise – people generally do not adapt to chronic noise – particularly if it is intermittent or variable. 

Commuting – traffic causes stress hormones and they do not reduce with time.

Lack of control – the human drive to be self-determining is extremely powerful and we do not adapt well to having it removed or reduced.

Shame in appearance – a person’s appearance may seem trivial in the happiness stakes, however, it has been shown that plastic surgery or other changes that make a person less self conscious or somehow deficient can lead to increases in self confidence and wellbeing.

Quality of relationships  - we never adapt to interpersonal conflict and it will eat away at our life satisfaction every day.

So it might be worth considering what voluntary activities we do that make us happier and also whether there are certain “conditions” of our lives that might be worth reviewing.  
Voluntary activities are many and varied and include things like exercise, mindfulness, spending time with loved ones, any time that positive emotions are experienced and things that really give us a sense of purpose of meaning.  And of course, the cream of the crop, those that give us a sense of flow.  

So our genetic make up does play a part, however, with study in epigenetics receiving more attention, who knows, perhaps we can also change our genetic make up and find ourselves looking at life with more of a positive frame!

Worth a thought?
  

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!


Why Measure Happiness?



We often use the terms wellbeing and life satisfaction in favour of the sometimes wrongly interpreted label of “happiness”, yet there is no getting away from the fact that happier people do better in life – on many fronts! But first, how do we measure happiness? There are two commons ways of measuring “happiness” – firstly, subjective wellbeing – people are asked about the degree of life satisfaction they experience and this is matched with a high level of positive emotions and a low level of negative emotions. This is more about a snapshot at any one time. The second way is of a more enduring measure – how much fulfillment we are getting from our relationships, how much meaning we are experiencing in our life and whether we feel we are developing as a person. 

So when we have this “score” what correlating relationships do we then look for?  Well, research has shown that happier people experience the following:

  • Greater productivity at work;
  • Greater creativity;
  • Higher earning and better jobs;
  • More likely to be leaders;
  • More satisfying relationships;
  • Better overall health;
  • More likely to be helpful and generous.
Sonja Lyubomirsky presented at a Coaching conference in September this year and emphasised that the research also showed that happier people tend to be more focused on others, and sadder people more focused on self.  We might question which comes first, for example, if we are not experiencing good health, then surely we will be unhappier.  However, Sonja described a study which exposed people to the cold virus (after measuring their happiness levels).  The virus was actually injected into their nasal passages. And guess what? The happier people were less likely to develop a cold. This gives weight to the notion that happiness is the cause rather than the effect of all these other positive factors.  

So we know that around 40% of our overall happiness can be influenced by the activities we do.  (The other 60% is either genetically determined – 50%, or linked to our circumstances.)  What are those activities?   Well there are many but here are a few tried and tested:

  • Express gratitude;
  • Be physically active;
  • Be mindful and savour experiences;
  • Practice forgiveness;
  • Set life goals;
  • Perform acts of kindness (make someone else happier).
The important thing also to note is that the activity needs to be a good “fit” for the individual. It needs to fit your personality, culture, and even strengths and what might work well for one person may not work for another. We need to remember this when working with clients and at times help them find the source of their unhappiness and come up with an activity that will counteract this.

Mood Tracking Aps: Support or Crutch?



In my own life, and in my coaching, I am a proponent of the importance of mindfulness of emotions in cultivating overall wellness. I often encourage my clients to practice awareness of their emotional states by checking in various times throughout the day to what they are feeling. In a recent session, a client challenged me with “there MUST be an app that can help with this”. Now perhaps I am a bit slow on the technology front- but I had no idea how MANY apps already exist for mood & habit tracking. So many, in fact, that I needed to seek out a good blog that would compare them all, and tell me which one was best for what. 

I came across a useful blog- cleverly entitled “The Quantified Soul” and after reading a breakdown of the pros and cons of each app, I decided to download one to try it out myself! Now to be honest, I have mixed feelings about the idea that one can create a state of mindfulness and wellness through responding to a prompt on one’s phone (or computer).  To me, mindfulness is something that takes a level of commitment to take the time to be present and tune into oneself, not a simple tick off of a long to-do list.  However, after having an app on my phone for several weeks now, which prompts me several times a day by asking “How are you feeling?”, I can say that it can be a useful reminder to take time out of the busy-ness of the day to notice what I’m feeling.   

The technology can only be as mindful as its user of course; it can also be easy to tune it out altogether, or to give a one-word answer without truly being present. Alas there is still no magic bullet for mindfulness. However, for someone who is genuinely wanting to begin the process of practicing mindfulness, and finds difficulty getting into the habit of awareness, it could be a useful tool. Or perhaps the traditionalists would say it’s a crutch of technology….I’m interested to know your thoughts….?



Lucine Eusani
MA & MPhil Conflict Resolution, RYT


Ways to Achieve Mental Wellbeing


Today we celebrate World Mental Health Day, bringing greater public awareness to mental health education, awareness and advocacy. In the world of Wellness, if we believe wellness is the combination of physical and mental well being, then we need to address both to really live life to the full. 

There is a great deal of information out there on how to be physically well. We know that we have to eat correctly, exercise regularly, keep stress to manageable levels, get sufficient good quality sleep and hydrate.  Simple? Perhaps. Of course it’s never that simple because knowing what we have to do, is not the same as actually doing it. But at least we have an idea.

But what contributes to mental well being? 
The positive psychology movement with Dr Martin Seligman at its helm is all about answering that very question.  Five elements of well being have been identified and they include:

  1. Positive emotions – we need to experience at least 3:1 positive to negative emotions in day to experience a sense of well being and ward off the black dog.
  2. Engagement – we are engaged in whatever we do in our lives – be it personal or professional activities. Ie not bored or switched off or disengaged.
  3. Relationships – the most important factor in good mental health is having supportive, positive relationships in our lives.
  4. Meaning – we understand why we do what we do and have a sense of meaning around our daily routine
  5. Achievement – everyone gets pleasure and satisfaction from occasionally achieving something. No matter how small the achievement, it adds to our mental well being.
If you read that list above, how do you score on each factor?  It can be such a great awareness tool to do a “stock-take” and see if anything comes up for us that says “improvement needed here”! 

Barriers to Change - Achieving good health and wellness


I have always maintained that nearly everyone values good health and would love to have an increased sense of well being in their life.  Health is easy to define – perhaps absence of disease is the base level but adequate fitness and optimal energy are possibly the most representative of good health.  Simplistic I realise but indisputable.  

Wellness, however is something else.  For the purpose of this short article, let’s call it high life satisfaction on a daily basis, and good resilience, or the ability to deal with and bounce back from inevitable setbacks.  We also know that meaningful relationships, engagement in our work, positive emotions and a sense of achievement contribute greatly to this ideal of “wellness”.  Much of my work focuses on helping coaches to work with people to create a “vision” of what they want.  Ie to help them with the first step of imagining what their life could be like if they were to make changes.  This is valuable work and really the first step towards positive change. 

But then we have to look closely at the things that stop people from getting what they want.  The obstacles or barriers to change which come in all shapes and sizes but often are described as a “lack” of something.  So the next step is to work out how we can get more of the element that is missing – be it time, money, knowledge, motivation.  And this is where the work of coaching comes in.  I love the energy that comes out of bringing a group of people together and discussing the “Things that get in the Way” and watching their ability to brainstorm solutions.  A great coach or facilitator can witness this process and know that - provided the person who wishes to make the change is still in the driving seat – the support of others can spur that person on to action and positive belief in themselves.  I believe that addressing the barriers to change is the crucial and sometimes difficult part of any change journey.

I would love to hear what you feel are your barriers to positive change in your life?

Wellness and Wellbeing - What is this all about?


I frequently quote Dr Martin Seligman as his work is so closely aligned with that of wellness coaches, even though we approach our clients' well being often from a physical perspective. We are all trying to help them achieve the same thing - ultimately life satisfaction. 

If a client of ours managed to regain physical health, or achieve great fitness, although this would be a sign of progress, we would not feel that our real work was over if that person was dissatisfied with their life. So we cross from physical to mental to emotional all the time which often makes reflection on the new definition that Seligman has developed for Well being, or shall we say optional "flourishing". He refers to the five constituents of well being: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishment/achievement (PERMA). Each one, he says, can be increased and improved on; each one is measurable and all can be taught.

PERMA is the acronym that is used. I would like to respectfully propose that this acronym be extended to PERMAP with the P representing the physical dimension. Now this is not to say that everyone needs to be in perfect health to be happy. This would be unrealistic. It is more about the need to focus on improving our health (and fitness) to be the best it can be under our given circumstances so that our energy is optimised. This would be more representative of what Wellness Coaches set out to support their clients in attaining. And at the same time, knowing the five constituents that Seligman has proposed are equally as important.

Am I perhaps stepping out of line and confusing the issue?  We'd love to hear anyone else's view.


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