Boost your well-being from the inside, out.
In March 2017, Professor Robert Kelly (aka “BBC Dad”) catapulted to internet fame when his two children gate-crashed his live television interview about the politics of South Korea. In an instant, the gig was up, the curtain was pulled back, and the reality of this incredibly professional man was revealed: behind his credible demeanour and enviable expertise, BBC Dad was an actual human, with precocious children and a complex and unruly (i.e. normal) human life.
Why did this moment go viral? I believe it’s because the interview represented a very public dissolution of the professional ‘fourth wall’. We all laughed at what we knew to be true: we are all BBC Dad, trying to pretend – when we’re in ‘business mode’ – that we don’t have very human needs and very human lives. As trivial and humorous as this event may seem, it does highlight an important dynamic; one I feel all professionals ought to understand, now, as we go through what will potentially become a profound economic, societal (and possibly, personal) inflection point.
Through necessity, it is almost certain that your professional identity has recently become inextricably blended with the personal. Within weeks, a novel coronavirus has demolished the unwritten yet fiercely-protected directive that professional/business ‘you’ (sensible, rational, stoic, and indisputably in control) must remain appropriately removed from real-life ‘you’ (complex, emotionally dynamic, vulnerable, and dealing with a range of pressing personal issues). Around the world, children and pets are making cameo appearances at virtual work meetings. The preamble to many professional conversations is the shared expression of anxiety and uncertainty. On cable television, amidst the seriousness of gubernatorial policy, Chris and Andrew Cuomo are exchanging moments of tender brotherly love.
Any savvy entrepreneur or corporate leader can tell you that ongoing business success is dependent on the careful tending of several vital components: key relationships, processes, systems, and employee engagement – all of these factors must be carefully monitored and nurtured for optimal performance. However, fewer individuals acknowledge that they, themselves, are a key (and yet, highly vulnerable) component of business optimisation. As a human embedded within the mechanisms of business, your physical and emotional well-being impacts how well you function in your professional environment; ergo, these factors also require careful attention and nourishment.
To borrow from a well-known phrase: cometh the hour, cometh the lesson. And now, perhaps more than ever, the circumstances of life are prompting you to acknowledge your ‘human-ness’ and accept that your ability to thrive in a professional capacity depends on how well, and how often, you nourish yourself – inside and out.
Holistic well-being, as I term it, is the practice of enhancing your physical and emotional well-being from the inside, out. As elusive and intangible as many holistic concepts may be – such as happiness, purpose, altruism, mindfulness, compassion and social connection – research has shown that when you engage in these practices, it has a very real (and overwhelmingly beneficial) impact on the subtle physiological and neurological functions of your body. Put simply: a good life is good for you.
There are a multitude of traits and characteristics that can enhance your overall well-being and I share a few of them below. I invite you to nurture yourself, and optimise your ability to ride out this current climate, by actively engaging in:
Mindfulness and meditation. When it comes to staying afloat in rough emotional waters, there are few actions as beneficial as a meditation or stillness practice. By incorporating meditation into your daily schedule, research shows you will reduce stress, enhance your ability to sleep, gain mental clarity, and boost your immunity. A meditation practice is not something that comes naturally or easily for many people. However, I do encourage you to persevere and keep experimenting (and re-experimenting) with various meditation modalities. Eventually, I believe you can and will find a practice that works for you.
Acceptance of ‘what is’. As a member of NZ Chamber, you are likely to be an intelligent, savvy, adaptable and persistent individual. You are a problem solver, and you are used to having a large sense of control over the direction of your career or business. Unfortunately, these same admirable qualities may not be serving you well, now. There are few facets of the current environment you can control and the inability to formulate a solution and move forward could be leaving you in a state of resistance and resentment. Although this sounds cliché, it’s vital to accept the reality of what life’s throwing at you. Holding a grudge, or resisting ‘what is’ activates your body’s fight-flight response, increases stress and decreases your immunity. In contrast, by accepting that life has other plans for you right now, you can relieve some of this fight-flight response and boost your physical and emotional wellbeing.
Purposeful activity. In your ‘normal’ world, you likely gain a great deal of satisfaction from your daily business activities - for most entrepreneurs and business leaders, the act of striving, achieving, overcoming challenges and attaining goals is extremely rewarding. In the current climate, meaningful tasks and projects may be harder to find and this could leave you feeling deflated, uninspired or bored. Research has shown that purpose and meaning are not just wishy-washy buzzwords. Filling your days with meaningful activities has been shown to enhance feelings of happiness, increase physical wellbeing … and even extend your lifespan. With the internet, it’s possible to use this time of relative stillness and isolation to find other avenues for purposeful and meaningful projects. For instance, there is a multitude of online platforms offering free or cheap educational courses, and there are a thousand ways you can turn your creative prowess into a meaningful contribution to the community. The key is to tap into tasks, campaigns or projects that feel meaningful to you and/or that align with your highest personal values. (For an added well-being bonus, choose a meaningful project that serves or supports others. When we engage in kind and altruistic behaviour, the reward centres in our brain spring into action, and we flush our bodies with health-enhancing hormones.)
Applied positivity. This is not about avoiding reality – it’s tough out there and we are all uncertain and scared at this time. However, studies show that your brain and body work best when you choose to activate hope and consciously engage in solution-based thinking. Neurologically, you are naturally wired with a negativity bias – you unconsciously and instinctively notice and amplify fearful or negative information. Therefore, for your ultimate well-being, I encourage you to filter your information diet carefully and ensure that you are balancing unpleasant headlines with more optimistic and productive news. Vitally, take action on the things you can control in this environment. This will help you avoid the emotional pitfalls of ‘learned helplessness’ and will empower you with a health-enhancing sense of agency.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust us all into a new norm and many predict that, wherever we journey next, it’s not going to be on the same path we followed before this started. In my view, one of the ways we can use this situation to our advantage is to start integrating more of our inescapable humanity into the realms of professionalism and business. As we nurture our brains and bodies from the outside, we can also begin to appreciate the importance of the subtle instincts, characteristics and behaviours that sustain us from within, be more mindful of our ‘human-ness’, and better nourish ourselves from the inside, out.
Kim Forrester is an award-winning author, holistic well-being educator and consultant, blending science with spiritual philosophy to inspire fullness of living. A proud ‘free-range Kiwi chick’, Kim is the host of the Eudaemonia podcast and is regularly spotted at NZ Chamber events.