Back in April of 2016 I attended a leadership development conference for Latino/as at my company in which we had a wonderful speaker, Scott Eblin. He spoke with us about the world we now experience, the constantly connected, over-scheduled, somewhat frenzied workplace, to which we all could relate. He spoke about the need to show up at our best every day as leaders, despite all these challenges. His message resonated with me and I eagerly listened to the audio version of his book Overworked and Overwhelmed: the Mindfulness Alternative. Life-changing for me. No exaggeration. During his talk he explained how our inability to breathe deeply, take breaks and re-engage our parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” response) was leading to some big health problems. His own personal story, about a diagnosis of MS, which led him to explore yoga as a way to deal with stress was a huge motivator for me to get more serious about my practice, going from 1-2 times a week up to 3-4 times a week on a regular basis.
Around the same time, I picked up a book by Tom Rath and Jim Harter called WellBeing: The Five Essential Elements. It was a time I did not feel particularly well, even though I was not exactly “sick.” I felt stressed, I felt overwhelmed and I was questioning whether the role I had taken the year before that as the clinical operations manager for an international team, was actually killing me. My weight was going up, and I was suffering from insomnia quite often. I was having a hard time figuring out how to manage it all. So I was doing what I know best: researching and reading all of the information I could get my hands on about how to make it better. I had also going to therapy every other week to get a handle on the stress and anxiety, and to work on other issues which I may write about at a later time.
The WellBeing book cited extensive Gallup data to look at various measures of quality of life that they determined are key to a life well lived and they found five broad categories that are essential to most people around the world. They are: Career WellBeing, Social WellBeing, Financial WellBeing, Physical WellBeing and Community WellBeing. If we are struggling in any one of these domains, as many of us do at some time in our lives, it damages our overall WellBeing and wears on our daily life. Though they do measure it specifically (probably because they are not so simple to measure), spirituality and faith often folds into these all aspects of WellBeing, because meaning and purpose drive aspects of all of these areas, in different ways across cultures and nationalities.
What I liked about the WellBeing book, probably because I am a Questioner, and I love data. I am a clinical researcher, so I collect data and analyze for a living. I loved that there was an assessment I could take to assess WellBeing in each of these areas. The premise of the book is that we can improve each of these areas by focusing on our daily activities and habits in a personalized way to make an impact on all of these aspects. There is also a daily tracker, and a monthly tracker to assess progress over time toward goals over a period of 6 months.
It is a very nice tool, and I decided to commit to raising my baseline WellBeing and paying particular attention to areas rated less than 70. The tool uses a scale for distinguishing degrees within zones of Thriving (70-100), Struggling (40-69) and Suffering (0-39). So tracking in each of these 5 categories over time, and paying attention to the areas that need work, one can actively work on their WellBeing with a reliable set of measures over time. There is a space on the daily tracker to record a “journal” entry, and there is also a reminder function to do the regular check-ins on a monthly cadence and to track daily (or every other day, weekly, etc). The daily tracker takes 2-3 minutes to complete.
Those of you familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s habit strategy of monitoring know that this can be a helpful way to make progress on a goal, and for a questioner like me, it is important. Someone told me once that you get more of what you focus on – so if you focus on WellBeing, you probably will be able to develop more of it. Conversely, if you focus on what you lack in your life, you may find yourself stuck. But I digress. That is for another post.
What I notice looking back on 12 months of data from April 2016 to April 2017 (you can renew the subscription for tracking beyond the 6 months if you are a data geek like me) I find it fascinating because I notice 2 distinct jumps from the original baseline. Full disclosure: I started in the low to mid 70’s. One might think I was thriving, but I had a couple of areas in the “6” range and that revealed why I felt I was struggling in terms of overall WellBeing. The first jump occurred in August 2017 about three weeks after I decided to take a break from drinking alcohol.
I was not a heavy drinker, and usually had 1-2 glasses of wine in the evenings, but I was not happy that I seemed to desire a drink immediately upon getting home after work. It was becoming a daily occurrence rather than a occasional treat. So I felt it was an indicator that I was buffering some kind of discomfort or stress, rather than dealing with the cause of that stress. I decided I did not need to quit forever, but I definitely wanted to take a break from it. Interestingly, my monthly scores immediately shot up to the high 80’s in terms of overall WellBeing.
The next big break-through happened after going from high 80’s to low 80’s in December 2016 and then shooting up to low 90’s in January of 2017. That may correlate to work stress at year-end and then a vacation I took with my husband (then fiance) to Hawaii which was a lovely, restful and restorative vacation. It also correlated to having established more dedicated practices of meditation, yoga and journal-writing, all which I found contributed to the type of personal awareness and self-reflection that seems a key to my personal WellBeing. A focus on getting adequate rest and sleep daily have also been key, and weight loss has been a side-effect, and perhaps another barometer for my WellBeing. For everyone these factors are different, but these practices have been the most relevant for me, and have led to better eating, sleeping and overall commitment to self-care that allows me to take care of the other people in my life as well.
I stopped tracking in April 2017, not because it was was no longer helpful, but because I felt a year of practice and attention helped me understand and develop the skills to know what specific elements were most critical to my WellBeing. I took the assessment again today out of curiosity because I wanted to see where I am after time away from tracking. I am happy to see I am still in the 90’s although a few points lower than my last mid-90’s assessment. I may try tuning in for another 6 months to monitor and see if I can increase my levels of WellBeing even further, since I am curious and since the winter can be a struggle for those of us who enjoy the light of Spring and Summer.
This may be the first of a series, because I find it helpful to reflect on my own experience, and I am eager to share tools that may be helpful for others. Questions to you, my dear readers: What do you believe contributes most to your own WellBeing? Are there small changes you can make today in order to increase your overall WellBeing? Please comment below if you wish. I really enjoy getting your feedback.