Wellbeing is a skill
As much as it is a trait/state of being, well-being is a skill
In the past two weeks, I’ve had a lot to do…and this is normal for all of us
Juggling multiple things – sounds like just all of us…
What’s the solution?
Do less? – not possible…
Plan better… – yes def.
However, one reflection I’ve had over the last few weeks (which perhaps is a rather obvious reflection), is that the only way to achieve all of this is being calm, being present, and being mindful…but this requires a high sense of well-being doesn’t it?
Exactly…and that’s it…well-being is a skill, not a state of being.
Well-being isn’t about going to the gym, spending time with friends etc. only…it’s a state of being, a skill we need to cultivate. As Richard Davidson puts it, it is fundamentally no different than learning to play the cello.
Our level of well-being of course depends on the environment around us, and to a large extent our lifestyle (i.e. you cannot expect to feel ‘well’ with no activity, lots of cake…). However, well-being is also based
Resilience – the rapidity with which you recover from adversity… specific parameters in the brain that relate to how much time it takes us to return to ‘baseline’. These individuals have higher levels of well-being…prevented from the adverse consequences of life’s … stuff happens, and we cannot buffer ourselves, but it is really about how we recover … resilience is focused on this recovery
The belief that others are ‘good’/Pro-social behaviour/Generosity
A lot of people start off with being cynical/distrusting…
Patanjali – a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The problem isn’t having a lot to do, or knowing
47% of the time adults do not know what they are doing, or are unaware of their thoughts. Can you imagine a world where this number goes down a little?
In this ‘fast and furious’ world, is it possible to feel a continuous sense of well-being?
In the 20th century, we taught people to read, write, think…In the 21st, we need to teach people mindfulness…
Well-being is a skill, one that consists of
- Awareness and Attention
- This moment is like ‘gold’
- Pro-social behaviour & Gratitude
- Self-compassion, hope & efficacy
Now, of course, the way our environment is, the kind of lifestyle we live…all of this contributes to the above feelings…however, any one of us can cultivate this mindfulness, and well-being
MINDFULNESS (being in the now + awareness/attention)
Preventing work from overtaking your life seems harder than ever. But it might actually be easier than you think.
Is well-being a skill?
Over the last few months, I’ve been doing a lot of learning and work in the area of well-being. Whether it’s well-being coaching with clients, Yoga practice & teaching, as well as working on enhancing my well-being.
Through this work, my thinking about an individual’s well-being has shifted from well-being as a static thing or a state of mind, to a set of ‘skills’, that can be cultivated over time. In Richard Davidson’s words, “Well-being is fundamentally no different than learning to play the cello. If pone practices the skills of well-being, one will get better at it.”
In its simplest form, wellbeing is our ability to feel good and function effectively. It is what provides us with the resilience to navigate the natural highs and lows we all experience in our lives, while enabling us to intellectually, emotionally, socially and physically flourish. An individual’s eco-system (i.e. home or work), personal lifestyle, and personality have a significant impact on one’s wellbeing. Having said that, there are also some habits or skills, which if learnt, and practiced, can help us through the everyday ‘fast and furious’ life of our times. Whilst there is a lot of advise on prioritizing, and doing less to achieve more, this may not always be possible. Most of us are ambitious in our careers, perhaps pursuing an activity outside of work, and have family & friends we want to spend time with. Therefore, we are bound to have those ‘crazy’ days with conflicting priorities. To navigate such days with equanimity and a sense of feeling good, is what well-being is about.
Here are 4 habits, which have helped me, navigate this ‘fast and furious’ whilst not just retaining, but actually enhancing my individual well-being:
Awareness & Attention
Sage Patanjali, the father of Ashtang Yoga has begun his commentary by saying “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” He then goes on to describe the modifications of the mind, and distractions on the path of one-pointedness and equanimity. Also, recent research across a large group of people found that people spend an average of 47% of their life not paying attention to their thoughts, or what they are doing. Given we have over 35 thoughts a minute (i.e. 50,000+ in a day), this seems natural.
Can you imagine a world, or a workplace, or a home, where this number (of 47%) goes down?
I have found that just by increasing one’s awareness on thoughts & feelings at any given point in time, one remains more objective, balanced, and mindful. Mark Williams, professor at Oxford University, says “Mindful awareness means non judgmental awareness. A direct awareness of what is going on inside and outside of oneself, moment by moment.”
Sounds challenging? – well, it definitely was to me. However, the everyday practice of meditation, coupled with a constant reminder to myself to become aware and assume the role of a ‘third person’ whilst watching my thoughts/feelings has hugely increased my awareness.
Why this increased awareness helps? – It lets us stand back from our thoughts, and start to see their patterns. Gradually we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over, and realize that thoughts are simply ‘mental events’ that come, and go, with no control over us. This also helps us discover a much deeper level of self-awareness; rather than only being aware of one’s strengths and development areas.
This deeper level of awareness makes one more objective, therefore, letting go of the thoughts/feelings that would otherwise cause immense stress, taking away from one’s well-being.
Resilience is the rapidity with which we recover from adversity. It is normally referred to as the ability to ‘bounce back’. However, I like to think of it as the ability to ‘bounce forward’, because if we demonstrate resilience, we will not just recover, but also learn and grow, and move on to become a stronger, better version of our selves.
Resilience is typically spoken about as an inherent personality trait – some people have higher levels, whilst others tend to be on the lower side. Experts say that resilience is also partly genetic. However, resilience can be cultivated. In Yoga Philosophy, resilience is also known as Titiksha. It is said that developing Titiksha is one of the way’s to living a calmer life.
There may be multiple ways of cultivating resilience (or titiksha). One’s that have worked most for me
- Impermanence:Embracing the impermanence of everything – Happy events, good news, trying times, and even our own life, can help one let go of the intense attachment to a situation/person, or the feverishness of wanting things to go a certain way.
- Meditation:The one stop solution to anything and everything. Meditation activates one’s parasympathetic nervous system (brings relaxation), and reduces cortisol levels (stress)…Also, meditation enhances the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is a key protein that promotes development, survival, and plasticity, of neurons in the nervous system, such that we remain positive, happy and calm. In fact, studies have found that individuals with low resilience also have lower levels of BDNF…however, with BDNF levels going up (through meditation), resilience also increase!
- Awareness (refer point one above) –Finally, moment to moment awareness (as mentioned above), helps us move on quickly from what ‘was’, to deal with what ‘is’, without worrying about what ‘will be’ – which is the most effortless route to resilience!
Exhibiting care, concern, empathy, gratitude, and compassion for others, helps enhance our well-being. By being good to others, one benefits them, as well as oneself. There is now a plethora of data showing that when individuals engage in pro social (generous or altruistic) behavior, they actually activate circuits in the brain that are key to fostering well-being. These circuits get activated in a way that is more enduring than the way we respond to other positive incentives, such as winning a game or earning a prize. This is also known as the “helper’s high”. In the words of Richard Davidson, “Human beings come into the world with innate, basic goodness. When we engage in practices that are designed to cultivate kindness and compassion, we’re not actually creating something de novo—we’re not actually creating something that didn’t already exist. What we’re doing is recognizing, strengthening, and nurturing a quality that was there from the outset.”
One can know and do everything there is, however, forgetting to be compassionate to oneself can be most detrimental to individual well-being. As I mentioned in an earlier article, so many of us associate being self-critical with being successful. We are deeply attached to self-criticism, and at some level, we probably think the pain is helpful. To the extent that self-criticism does work as a motivator, it’s because we are driven by the desire to avoid self-judgement when we fail. However, with self-compassion, we strive to achieve for a very different reason – because we care. And because self-compassion gives us the safety needed to acknowledge our weaknesses, we’ll be in a better position to change them for the better. Practising self-compassion may actually help us cultivate the healthy habits of being fit, eating well, meditating, and even being disciplined! – all this, because we care for ourselves!
So, for the next 7 days, whatever your ecosystem/situation may be, become aware, develop resilience, be good to others, and don’t forget to be compassionate towards yourself!!
Good luck, and have a ‘high well-being, high productivity’ week ahead! J