Well, Well, Well - We’re Talking WellBeing!
Last week, I was invited to hold a session on Wellbeing for a creative organization- we had over a 150 people attend, and it ended up being really productive and even a lot of fun. The founder was personally keen on equipping the entire team with some tools for coping with the current situation – speaking to their Culture team, we discussed how everyone seems to be under stress - with adjusting to working from home with limited domestic help and space, client businesses under pressure - as well as much disturbing news and social media conversation on mental health floating about. It turned out to be really engaging and conversational session despite the large number of people on the Zoom meeting (of course, we had some comical moments that tend to ensue when people leave their mics on by accident) – I had picked some of my favourite tools from my coaching conversations; everyone had their pen and paper handy; we did a series of exercises together, with space for individual reflection followed by people sharing their thoughts.
The four sections in the conversation were as follows -
1) Taking a Step Back:
We used the Life Wheel for this. The basic idea was that we often get overwhelmed by one aspect of our lives – for example, work – and then we end up missing the big picture. I particularly love the Life wheel because it is so simple, intuitive and clarifying: And in fact, within a few minutes, everyone had drawn their own wheel, which included life areas important to them. We then reflected on few key questions involving their current levels of satisfaction with each area, what needed work, the ideas that came up for them immediately and so on. The folks who shared their findings mostly that it was improvement in personal relationships and self-care around mental health/spirituality practices/meditation that they felt would most impact their overall wellbeing. A sample wheel that one lady shared with me is below - she ticked 'Spiritual' development as her own area of focus.
2) Stepping Within:
The idea here was to reinforce the importance of silence and reflection. We had some active meditators in the group, but the vast majority of folks did not have a regular practice. The main idea of this section was to get them to actually get them to experience a meditative silence for just two minutes – but to do so without self-judgment. When I was learning Transcendental Meditation last year, my teacher drilled it into my head that the process supposed to be effortless. ‘I’ll try to remember that.’ I promised him. ‘No trying.’ Was his immediate rejoinder. ‘Effortless!’ The penny dropped for me when he told me that thoughts were supposed to be part of the meditative process - so this is what I emphasized to the group before we got into the two minutes silence together. After this exercise, someone shared their realization that the job of the brain is to think, so why attempt to stop it? I agreed, and said that we were going for something else – the awareness that comes from just watching a thought. Another lady shared that she realized from this exercise and the previous one on the wheel that the reason she was in decent shape during the pandemic was because she had invested time in working on her self through her meditative practice, and this has helped her get strength in all other areas. By this time, we were all beginning to sense a theme here.
3) Finding Your Rhythm:
Given that the main issue is the lack of clear structuring of time due to the changed situation of working from home without help ( and often without clear boundaries for personal time), I wanted the group to know that they could create their own rhythm. I shared with the group my concepts of Flow and Pause ( two words that I love so much that I’ve got them tattooed on my own wrists as reminders). For years, I was personally incorporating many flow activities into my schedule ( dance, fitness, writing and so on); and it was the lack of rest and ‘doing nothing’ time that caused me to get really stressed. Things only changed when I allowed myself some time to rest and be unproductive; I also shared my own time-table with the group ( a childish, colourful creation that I’ve stuck on my wall a couple of months ago). The exercise for the group was to identify their own flow and pause activities and commit to creating their own calendar to reclaim their personal time before they burn out. One lady described her favourite pause activity – a cup of tea while curled up with her cat as she stared out the window for a few minutes every evening. The bliss in her voice really made me want to get a cat myself. Some day.
4) Challenging Your Beliefs:
Possibly my favourite section because we had a conversation around limiting beliefs and the Inner voice. In my coaching conversations with so many clients, I’ve found a common theme – so many of us carry around some constant, repetitive self-critical inner chatter and this can really hold us back in so many ways. I am personally quite wary of this inner bully and enjoy the moments when a coachee realizes that this voice is really not their own. So when one lady shared that as a result of a simple two minute reflection on their common self-criticisms and asking the question ‘whose voice is this?’, she was able to realize this: She often judged herself for making a mistake by saying to herself ‘You’re so stupid.’ For the first time, she said, she realized it was her mother’s voice – as a child, she’d heard the phrase used a lot for situations where she didn’t get something immediately. I picked up on the wonder in her voice at this insight, and told her that when the voice did come up, she really had to just notice it – there really isn’t a point in either ignoring or trying to fight our inner bullies. The act of noticing them and realizing they aren’t ours is usually enough to quiet them down so we can move ahead. The last part of this section was a quick evaluation of the four stages of growth as per Michael Beckwith ( Victim, Manifestor, Channel, Being); and we had a discussion around where we thought we are at the current moment, with an invitation to see what it might take to get to the next stage. And ended with a recognition that it’s entirely possible to climb a stage, slip back down, and even go around in circles. I talked about my feeling that I’m often playing a game of Snakes and Ladders myself – making great progress and then finding myself at the mouth of a snake and finding myself at the starting point again. And how that is really okay.
‘Everyone is Okay’ and that ‘Everyone has the resources within themselves that they need to solve their problems’ are two basic principles of both the Solution Focussed Model of Coaching and Transactional Analysis Therapy; it is these principles that first attracted me to both schools, and this was also the basic message of the session. I had to take care to include a last word: while we seek to strengthen ourselves, it is a hundred percent okay to ask for help as well. Whether it’s from a friend, colleagues, manager or getting an intervention such as coaching/therapy – this is the time to recognize that we can not – and need not – always do it alone.
I’m really happy this company is recognizing the need to invest seriously in the wellbeing of their employees – they’ve committed to do these Wellbeing sessions as a series - so it's not a one-time thing.
If more organizations take such initiatives – well, that will mean many more employees will get exposure to the simple, little, oft-ignored ideas that can make a huge difference to the quality of their lives. And that would be pretty awesome.
(If you would like to run a session for your organization, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org)