Well-being from Healthy Thinking
The title of this article is also the name of a course developed for The Learning Tree in Philadelphia this Spring. The whole rationale starts from the idea that a healthy mindset assists in well-being. Not just how content we are to be ourselves, but also empowered to achieve our dreams too.
What is a mindset? Three things are important: values, beliefs and the sense we have about our identity. Much of this evolves more or less naturally, some of it changes through pro-activity, courses, group-work and psychotherapy, for examples. But what if we chose to focus more often on these three aspects? How better might we think and feel?
Being and Doing
How we are and what we do in the world are two separate experiences. Many of us have identities that we develop from our sense of ‘what I do’. There is nothing wrong in that per se. What we do in the world can stoke self-confidence, self-assurance and stimulate feedback from others. Critically though, what we do is best aligned with our values, with our vision and with our identity. Although self-worth is fuelled by success in ‘doing’ it is helpful to attend to our sense of ‘being’ as well. In other words, what are the qualities of ‘self’ that stand on their own, even without manifested action in the world? These might include factors like:
- In awe of beauty and nature
- Thinking the best of others
- Honouring all life’s experiences as natural and learning opportunities
- Feeling grateful for each day
When we add together both the ‘being’ and ‘doing’ aspects of our lives we have a richer sense of identity and life-purpose. And this creates energy that we can use to achieve more with our lives, or to make necessary changes.
Fear of Change
Many of us have experienced the dilemma of wanting to do something different but having been frightened of the consequences. What if I gave up my work and became a counsellor? What if I led an openly gay lifestyle? I tend to ask a question, for example, “how bad does each day have to get before you will do what you want?” and “how long will it take before it gets that bad, do you imagine?” Sometimes people are willing to take a leap of faith immediately rather than suffer and also lose essential energy (that is needed to make such a change). Of course, it is not enough to launch into change – we need to think through holistically – what are the impacts? How will I feel and experience life if it was happening now? Who else is in my world now?
When we do make changes it is positive to tell people – this makes our decision real and develops a support-network to help us on the journey. Those people have to be able to can cope with your change and will want to encourage your change – not negative or resisting. If you select the right people then this experience will deepen the quality of those loving relationships and give you the opportunity to support them more deeply in return.
The Power of Acknowledgement
A business acquaintance I knew was a high achiever – marketing director of a world-class historical attraction and regular expert columnist. His family were all landed and he was connected intimately with most of the Royal Family. Each time he succeeded in something he moved quickly on to the next project without pausing. He surprised all his friends and family by wading into the river Thames at Christmas while wearing a heavy overcoat. He drowned himself. A critical error must have been his inability to acknowledge himself; to pause after each success and to briefly reflect on his decision to do something, to have then succeeded. The action of acknowledgement raises our self-confidence and self-esteem – and it is a free gift for the taking. In practice we then find that we can achieve at a higher level because our resources are more broadly grounded.
Learning from Senior Citizens
I used to spend a lot of time visiting residential and nursing homes. The experiences left me with ambivalent feelings; I saw terrible things: ignorant and careless staff, neglect, dirt and aweful smells. But it was not all bad. One of things that shone out was the character of a minority of the senior folk. These were the ones with the twinkling eyes; they smiled when they caught your eye. Often they were bed-ridden and sick – but still they chose to think positively about their experiences. It started me wondering whether they were always like that or whether they developed that ability. I am now sure that some of them learned those skills through self-development. The question is – why wait? Every moment of every day is enriched if we can just ‘re-frame’ our experiences to think and feel positive about them. Yes, it is a psychological trick of the mind. So what? Is it positive? You bet your life it is! There is grace in accepting what we cannot change.
Power from Confidence, Confidence from Success
We are not powerless of course. There is much we have dominon over if we chose to take action. Everything we do is supported by our confidence. If we could buy it in packets then most of us would be queuing at the check-out – “yes, I’ll have a box of ‘confidence around snakes’ please!” Confidence is an intangible but that does not mean we are powerless to boost our confidence and begin that process from whatever level we happen to be at now. For those that have been knocked down by a series of experiences and now fear leaving their house, the process will start as it does for those who lead busy lives but who want to emigrate or change career. It is a three-part process, Decide, Action, Acknowledge. For someone feeling paralysed and burdened by bad experiences, this may be tidying a kitchen draw for the first time in a year. The process remains the same, Decide, Action, Acknowledge.
The process is self-enduring and expanding. Keep the decisions realistic and achievable. Each success build on the last, so we must continue to be successful to get the maximum benefit from our life’s work.