In 1979, Dan Rather did a health segment on 60 Minutes and said, “Wellness, there’s a word you don’t hear every day.”1 Now, almost forty years later, we live in a world where we often hear the word wellness, every day and more.
While we may hear the word a lot, wellness isn’t always clearly defined. The dictionary tells us:
-the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the
result of deliberate effort.
-an approach to healthcare that emphasizes preventing illness and
prolonging life, as opposed to emphasizing treating diseases.
Physical wellness is the most easily grasped aspect. We know to exercise and eat healthily. We don’t want to face disease or infirmity. However, wellness involves more than just the physical body. Even our dictionary definition includes being healthy in the mind. Here’s the reach of true wellness begins to come into view. Wellness of the mind involves our thoughts, our stress levels, our relationships, feelings of satisfaction, fulfillment, calm and more.
As the definition of wellness gets clear to us, we may begin to embrace wellness as being an asset to cultivate in order to thrive in today’s society. Our world is growing continually busy, chaotic and sometimes unsettling or downright frightening. These stresses take a toll on wellness. The cost of healthcare and drugs is skyrocketing, encouraging more businesses and individuals to take the value of wellness to heart.
Wellness isn’t just a good idea. Wellness is important to survival. It is time to get a grip of what wellness means and how each of us can contribute to building a culture of wellness for ourselves, our families, our communities and the world.
History of Wellness
Wellness began drawing attention mid 20th century. Abraham Maslow had written a groundbreaking book about self-actualization. J. I. Rodale, launched Prevention magazine, a pioneering publication promoting alternative/preventative health care and organic foods. People began learning that they could take control of their health, happiness, and fulfillment.
In the ensuing decades, we focused on running, or time in the gym. We started learning that we are what we eat… later getting a clearer picture on the sad state of our foods. We have dieted, cardio’d and pumped iron. We tried vegetarian, vegan, keto and more. We love yoga, meditation, walking, and forest bathing. With all the “latest fads,” people got distracted from the deep and important facts about wellness.
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The term wellness, as the opposite of illness, has been around for centuries.2 Public interest in wellness began growing in the 1950s. At that time, physician Halbert L. Dunn began lecturing on the concept of wellness, introducing the importance of disease prevention. His first book, High-Level Wellness, documented a shift, suggesting that health professionals shift focus from just treating the ill to beginning to understand the well. Research began to explore the factors that are common in well people and how those factors could be taught or otherwise cultivated.
In the 1970s, Dunn’s book became the basis in developing public awareness for the need of wellness in our country. Some pioneers from that period include: Dr. John W. Travis (opened the first wellness center in Mill Valley California), Don Ardell (author of High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs and Disease), Dr. Bill Hettler (founder of the National Wellness Institute) and others.
Abraham Maslow published A Theory of Human Motivation, presenting his view that once a person’s basic needs were fulfilled, then they could explore higher interests. Once food, water, companionship, and shelter are present then deeper needs are revealed. Travis, Ardell, and others embraced Maslow’s principles in their work.3
Through 1980 to 2000, wellness moved into the mainstream. The fitness and spa industries grew dramatically. Workplace wellness programs were begun. People became interested in self-help celebrity wellness experts. People were running, jogging and doing aerobics. Interest in healthier foods, lifestyles and even healthier corporate values grew.
Psychologist Judd Allen, PhD. a board member of the National Wellness Institute polled many experts in the field of wellness to arrive at this definition:
- “Wellness is a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential.
- Wellness is multi-dimensional and holistic (encompassing such factors as lifestyle, mental and spiritual wellbeing and the environment).
- Wellness is positive and affirming.”
Wellness carries a strong component of positivity. Historically, psychology has studied human problems in hopes that shortcomings or illnesses be resolved to “normalcy.” Later in the 20th century, interest began growing in regard to the positive aspects of psychology. Positive psychology leaves behind a world of mental distress and seeks to build psychological resources (positivity, satisfaction, happiness, self-acceptance, positive relations and purpose in life.)
The Positive Psychology Center, headed by one of the fathers of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, explains it this way, “Positive Psychology is founded on the belief that people want more than an end to suffering. People want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. We have the opportunity to create a science and a profession that not only heals psychological damage but also builds strengths to enable people to achieve the best things in life.”4
Today’s seekers of wellness want much more than physical fitness. Wellness includes your satisfaction and outlook on your life, your resilience, calmness, and health in the emotional, physical, spiritual, relational and community arenas. As we assess our own wellness in any particular aspect of life (family, work, recreation, study, spiritual expression), we consider ways to achieve our full potential. We consider a decision or lifestyle change in ways that address the whole person. We are encouraged to seek opportunities in which we can explore our strengths, positive qualities, and dreams for our lives.
Aspects of Wellness
The National Wellness Institute has suggested ten dimensions of wellness. They include:
- Physical 6. Intellectual
- Sexuality 7. Safety
- Nutrition 8. Occupational
- Emotional 9. Environment
- Self-care 10. Spirituality
As you can see, that’s the “big picture” approach to wellness. You may be committed to regular exercise and healthy eating. But a well, happy human being has so many more aspects to consider. This long list of areas to be considered in your wellness plan can be a bit overwhelming. Take a deep breath and calm yourself. Just choosing to read this article on wellness is a great step. Becoming knowledgeable is important in deciding how you wish to change your life. No decisions need to be made quickly or dramatically in most cases.
Dr. Michael Arloski, a trainer of wellness coaches, lists ten tenets of wellness. Reviewing these suggestions can begin to help you home in on changes that might help you get a grip on wellness and find your way to a happier, more satisfying life.
Wellness is Holistic
Any change to improve overall wellness needs to take into consideration all aspects of you- body, mind, spirit, career, family, environment. Look at change as a balancing act. That can feel very strange at first. Just don’t make changes in one area of your life that require unhappiness in another area.
Self-esteem Plays an Important Role
Wellness is about caring for you… and caring about you. At the end of the day, no one is responsible for cheering you on but you. As you assess wellness and determine what changes are needed, don’t be critical of yourself. Wellness is about self-love. If you plan changes, include plans for affirmations, support, ways to soothe and encourage yourself towards your goals
Find Some Support for Your Wellness Lifestyle
In short, surround yourself with people on a wellness path and your success will come much easier. If your family or work team doesn’t embrace or support the changes you plan to improve your wellness, make sure you find support somewhere.
Conscious Living Means Cultivating Awareness
Begin to pay attention to how you make choices. Do you allow marketing, advertising, packaging or peer pressure to determine your tastes in food, purchases, and amusement? Begin to notice why you want what you want. Pay attention to times when tensions rise and how you respond. Allow yourself time to assess your decisions. Take time to understand when you were making choices based on old habits or what others think is right for you. Strive to make decisions based on what you truly know is best for you.
Connection is So Important
The media today tend to build energy of divisiveness. Wellness calls us to begin to see how people are much more alike than different. Find your connection with others in love and not in fear. Take time to find your relationship to nature, enjoying the calm and wisdom that you can experience when immersed the natural world.
You are in Charge of Your Health
Embracing this realization is very empowering but takes a bit of getting used to. Yes, genetics or environment do play a role but the greatest improvement in health comes from making changes to boost the immune system. Get honest with yourself about how you deal with stress, diet and getting good rest. Building a stronger immune system has the greatest effect on our body’s natural ability to heal itself.
Increased Self-sufficiency Gives Confidence and Power
A busy lifestyle and information overload can leave you feeling like you don’t have time to learn how to best care for yourself. You turn over your medical decisions to your physician. You choose to eat what’s easy or placed before you without learning more about our food supplies today. Becoming aware of what you eat and sensing what is out of balance in your body is a very personal job. Consulting an advisor is a way to gather information but the real knowledge of how best to care for you lies deep within you. Learn how to care for yourself well. Then you have the ability to teach your friends, family, and children to do the same for themselves.
Time Spent Alone Helps Us Get to Know Ourselves Better
There is no guru out there who can tell you how to be your best self. That wisdom lies within. The only way to access it is to find quiet time and space. Learn to listen to yourself and to calm yourself. Work to develop the ability to sense what your higher self might be trying to convey to you. Quiet time is an excellent place to find your answers.
You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Well
Wellness is a life-long journey. Start wherever you are, with no blame as to where that place may be. Make small changes, with time for your mind and body to adjust. Then decide what else to change. One step at a time, sometimes with a step backward or in a different direction, is the path to lasting change. Some days are easier than others. Just keep wellness as your goal and navigate towards it.
Remember that you are seeking wellness, fullness, and happiness. This isn’t a grind or a race. Make time for joy. If you can’t remember how to have fun, then talk to friends. Maybe it is time to dust off your bicycle or hiking boots. Perhaps buy tickets to a comedy show? Laughter is incredibly stress reducing and healing. Find your funny bone… it’s so good for you.
Where to Begin
Ready to begin? The question might be where to begin. Try to approach the idea of improving your wellness as a sort of puzzle. No one is here shaking their finger at you if you need some improvement. We ALL need to improve. Wellness is a journey that you follow through life. We can make changes and improvements along the way. This may be the first time you’ve tackled analyzing your wellness but hopefully, it won’t be your last.
Now is a great time to break out a journal and start writing. If you respond to the following questions in your head, it will be difficult to sort out clear answers. Write down words, phrases or thoughts. Spelling and sentence structure isn’t important. No one is grading this. You are simply writing as a tool to help yourself learn more about your wellness needs.
Consider these areas of wellness, writing out your thoughts on how well you perceive or manage these areas of your life. The list is here to make you think. You don’t have to answer every question. There’s no list of right or wrong answers. Often, we already know areas where there’s room for improvement. Writing out your answers to some of these questions will often help you clearly see a place to begin.
Do you eat healthy meals on a regular schedule?
Do you sleep well and wake up feeling rested?
Do you get regular exercise doing activities you enjoy?
Is your weight stable and within a healthy range for you?
Are you well hydrated?
Do you minimize or moderate alcohol consumption?
Do you pay attention when you begin to feel ill and take action to recover?
Do you recognize stressors in your life and have skills to calm and care for yourself when stressed?
Do you make quiet times to reflect on your life and explore your feelings?
Do you feel empowered to take action to make changes if needed?
Can you share your feelings and ask for help?
Do you love and accept yourself?
Is there fun in your life?
Is your work satisfying and in line with your life’s purpose?
Does your work provide adequate financial compensation?
Does your work feel important to you or do you feel it’s important to the world?
Do you have the skills you need to work in the field you dream of?
Do you feel you have a good balance between work and home?
Do you live in an environment that is safe and nurturing?
Is your home uncluttered and clean?
Are you aware of how your choices affect the health of the environment around you? (Ex. using toxic chemicals, conserving water, recycling, etc.)
Do you make time to get out in nature?
Are you involved with your family, friends or community socially?
Do you have time to build and sustain healthy relationships?
Do you feel a sense of belonging to a community (neighborhood, family, friends, spiritual group)?
Can you express your beliefs, feelings in a way that is honest, yet respectful of others’ beliefs and feelings?
After a bit of writing, can you see one of these segments of life that might need a bit more work than others? That is a great place to begin to improve your wellness. If you are still unsure where to begin to improve your wellness, Psychology Today offers a Healthy Lifestyle Test online that might be more your style.5
Do you Need a Coach?
Wellness is important. It’s also a wide and sometimes complicated subject. For some people, just getting started can feel overwhelming. To get your wellness journey off on a positive note, you might consider working with a wellness coach.
A wellness coach is trained to help you find your way to a healthier, happier life. A coach can help you determine which changes might be most helpful for you, then teach you some great techniques on making changes that last.
The true purpose of a coach is to help you look inside yourself for answers. Each of us is a different and unique individual. There is no “one way” to live your best life. A coach is trained to help you explore what changes you might need to make and how you can best approach accomplishing the changes successfully.
Weight loss is one change that many people understand. Many of us have tried to lose weight but not been successful. Or we lost weight only to gain it back. Those experiences can leave us feeling like we have failed. A coach can help encourage you to explore what might have gone wrong in your last attempt. Did you try to lose too much weight too fast? Did you neglect to keep balance in the rest of your life while losing weight? Maybe you didn’t plan healthy ways to satisfy food cravings?
A coach is an educator and encourager. Your coach has training in proven ways to approach successful change in life. If one tactic doesn’t work, there will be other approaches. A wellness coach doesn’t do the work for you but is there for you to check in with, to be accountable to and to be an encourager along the way.
Wellness coaches work with clients in many different ways and have very different pricing structures. Some work with you online through emails and video conferencing. You might find a coach locally who will meet with you in person as you get started. Often coaches offer a 3 or 6 month package including evaluation, goal setting, then weekly check-ins to help you get started on your wellness program. A good coach is there to help you learn new skills so that you can help yourself.
Being your Own Coach
Of course, you can be your own coach! If a coach is there to educate and encourage you, then be ready to learn a lot about change tactics and how to be your own best encourager.
In truth, even with a coach, you still must be your own coach. You check in with a coach once or twice a week but who will be around 24/7 to help you on your way? You, of course. No one knows you like you do. No one knows your deeper truths and dreams but you. To improve wellness and make some changes in your life, you have to be willing to do the work.
To be your own coach, you’ll have to learn a few things. Just as important, you need to unlearn some things too. Let’s start with the unlearning part because often that is the most important.
What to Un-learn to Be Your Own Coach
- Trying and not succeeding is not failure. “Try, try again” is the learning process. Thomas Edison tried 1000 times to invent the light bulb. When questioned about all those failures, Edison said,
“I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
Perhaps this quote from Michael Jordan might help make this point clear.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot … and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.”
Step one in becoming your own best coach in wellness is to embrace that trying and not succeeding is learning what doesn’t work for you.
- Give up the idea of “all or nothing.” Sometimes we get really excited about making changes in our lives. We decide to change our diet, exercise, find a new job… all in the same week? Lasting change comes by taking smaller steps and finding what works before going further. Wellness is about releasing stress so make sure to keep yourself comfortable as you make changes. Slow and easy, taking one step at a time is a good path for lasting change.
- Change is not hard. There is a perception that change is difficult but that is not true if you take the time to understand how changing a habit works. Habits, even ones that aren’t in our best interest, have become our comfort zones. When you decide to change a habit, you have chosen to push yourself outside your comfort zone. To do that successfully, you must have a change plan in place, most importantly including plans to comfort and reward yourself in healthy ways, as you get used to the new habit.
- You don’t have to be perfect. This is related to numbers 2 and 3 but deserves a bit more discussion. When we make a change, we are changing habits. What used to be our normal is no longer how we wish to operate. This can work but if you have a bad day, you might revert to the old behavior. That’s not failure. That’s just a small mistake that you can choose to correct. Don’t give up if you’re not perfect… no one is perfect.
Here are Some Things to Learn to Be a Great Self-Coach
Being your own coach involves sorting through a lot of details, evaluating and making a plan. You can’t do all that in your head. Even if you’re not a writer by nature, get a journal, or a notebook and get ready to write.
Writing things down helps you sort them out and remember them. If you’re going to coach yourself through this wellness journey, you have to be a coach every day. You have to encourage yourself first thing in the morning- every morning. You have to inspire yourself as the day goes on. You have to remind yourself why wellness is important and what goals you’ll achieve as your wellness improves. To manage all that, you need a game plan, so get that notebook out. This process might take a while so relax with it. You’re not going to sort everything out in 10 minutes or maybe even in 10 days. But keep the notebook handy and use it to encourage yourself to work on this plan to improve wellness.
Start with the “Where to begin” section above. Write some responses to those questions that might resonate with you. Take a look at which area of your wellness life might be most in need of improvement. Do you need to work first on physical, emotional, career, environment or social wellness? Is there some other category that comes to mind? We all are different. Don’t try to fit yourself into anyone’s mold. Follow your intuition.
Once you’ve got some general ideas written down, then dig deeper. Let’s say you see the most need in your physical wellness. Jot down some notes about areas that need improvement. Do you have challenges with diet or exercise? If your focus will be diet, do you need to educate yourself about healthier eating? Maybe time is your challenge and not knowledge- no time to cook, grabbing fast food instead of healthy choices?
If exercise is the challenge, what kinds of activities do you enjoy? Not everyone can face miles on a treadmill but would happily tackle the same on a trail in the woods. Write down ideas about activities that you would enjoy- hiking, mall walking, yoga, swimming or weight training.
Find your positivity. If you know that exercise is your area of improvement, don’t tell yourself, “But I hate to exercise.” Good coaches don’t do that. Rather say, “I haven’t found a form of exercise that works for me yet.” Then put your brain to work on exercise ideas that might work for you. Fifteen minutes of calisthenics, while you’re still in your jammies, is way better than doing nothing. Parking in the back row of the lot at work then walking briskly to your office is exercise. Start with small goals that work for you then work to make these small changes into new positive habits.
Set your goal and write it down. Remember we’re starting small and simple. Don’t base your goals on what other people are doing. Write this goal in a way that will work for you. Your friends might run five miles after work but you hate to run. However, a one-mile hike on a trail while listening to music or an audiobook might sound great to you. Set your goals based on your current abilities. Write out several ways you can accomplish this goal. Hiking when the weather is nice, swimming laps when you’d rather be indoors. Give yourself options and alternatives.
Figure out what might be stumbling blocks. For example, you want to try yoga but don’t have the right clothes. So, top of your to-do list is to get yoga clothes. You want to start riding your bike but it hasn’t been out of the garage in 3 years. In this case, your to-do list includes dropping the bike off to have it serviced. Starting new habits is tough. Help yourself do this by looking at what is standing in your way, then plan to remove the obstacle.
Find your motivation by visualizing what benefits you’ll experience by working towards your new wellness goal. Visualization or imagination are powerful tools for success. Remember, you’re the coach here. Coaches encourage- so find ways to cheer yourself on towards your goal. Still using the exercise example, imagine you set a goal of walking or swimming 3 hours a week. If you can meet or exceed that goal for a month, on your day off, reward yourself by going somewhere beautiful for a long hike and a picnic, for example. Put a photo of that goal reward on your phone as the background image so that it keeps your goal and reward top of mind.
Being accountable is a particular challenge when you’re coaching yourself. You can’t write out your goal and plan of action, then stick the notebook in a drawer. You have to read these goals regularly. Write them out and put them on the fridge. Take a few minutes every morning to read through your notes. Make this part of your wellness routine. Keeping your wellness journey in site is a great habit.
Share your goal with good friends, especially those on their own wellness journeys. They will understand what you’re trying to accomplish and likely will have ideas to help. You get to use your self-coaching skills to help your friends along their journey also.
Stumbling blocks happen, have no doubt. As with all of life, we get surprised along the way. You might come down with a cold or work might send you to China. Obviously, these things and hundreds of others can take your attention off your new goals and take you out of your new routines. Since we know this will happen, let’s plan for it. Pull that journal back out and start writing down some “plan B” ideas. If you have to travel for work, maybe your exercise program will have to adjust temporarily. For example, accept that a gym workout might be your best choice when traveling for work. This might not be your everyday preference but can work when you have to travel. Traveling or illness can change our dietary preferences but maybe your “plan B” might be to cut back on carbs and avoid sweets until you’re back home and able to get back to your original plan.
The trick to success in upping your wellness game is to stay flexible. Plan for alternatives, be willing to make short term sacrifices to stay on track. Remember, we’re not seeking perfection. Choosing to be prepared for a few challenges along the way will help you cope and adjust smoothly.
Plan for new healthier ways to comfort yourself. If you are giving up something that is not good for your overall wellness, you need to plan for alternative soothers. Whether you have decided to give up chocolate cake, wine or worrying, you are asking your body and mind to stop doing something that has become a comforting habit. Instead of cake, you might choose fruit. Rather than a glass of wine to unwind, you might choose aromatherapy and a bit of meditation. When worry sets in, plan to take a walk and visualize all good things. The point is, you will miss your old habit. Plan a substitute or three so that you have a plan in place when you begin to miss your old ways.
Stress management is so important. The key with stress is to remember that you can’t avoid it however, you can learn to respond to stress differently. A good way to work with stress is to accept it as part of life. When stress builds, pause and take a deep breath or two. Remind yourself that even though you feel stressed, ultimately you are okay. Breathing deeply gives your body physiological messages that you are safe and that can avoid the release of a lot of stress hormones. Taking a short pause to breathe gives you a moment or two to decide how to respond to stress. Instead of an angry reaction, you can choose to respond more calmly, saving a lot of wear on your emotions and your body.
Getting a grip on wellness isn’t hard. Take time to discern which areas of wellness you need to improve. Get a notebook and start writing, sorting out thoughts and planning ways to improve your wellness. Enlist the help of a wellness coach or find like-minded friends and begin being your own coach.
Wellness requires slowing down enough to take an honest look at ourselves. We are willing to do research when we buy a car or a house. Take those same skills and use them to explore how to live a fuller, healthier and more satisfying life.
There will be a series of support articles coming to give you more help in making wise changes in your wellness. Improving wellness is easy when you understand how to successfully make new habits. We are all teachable. We all can achieve great things. Often our success is ensured by doing some homework, making a careful plan and then visualizing this happier, healthier, more satisfied version of you.
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