“A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.”
Anonymous – Spanish Proverb
Wellness: Why and What for
Wikipedia explains that wellness is a term used to define a healthy balance between mental, physical and emotional levels, resulting in a state of general well-being.
In the professional field, wellness is associated with greater work efficiency, thanks to a greater ability for complex decision-making, more creativity, better concentration and greater resistance to stress. That’s why wellness initiatives are an upward trend in many organizations today.
Aside from the tenets proposed by this movement that started in North America, the latest neuroscientific advances show that the human brain requires two conditions to achieve maximum performance: diversity and disconnection.
It’s logical; a machine that always does the same thing non-stop is a machine that wears out quickly and breaks down easily
In order for the brain to reach maximum potential it needs to perform in optimal conditions. This happens once the brain enters a process of continuous alternation between opposing and complementary states: concentration and distraction, work and play, solitude and social interaction.
The wellness movement has gained popularity over time because it seeks to make all the above possible. However, one of its major failings is how it sometimes confuses causes with symptoms, probably because, in the beginning, back in the 1950s neuroscience was not studied as thoroughly as it is today.
If it's so great, why should we promote it?
In the mid-twentieth century, the wellness movement emerged disruptively, since it posed a radical change to the health paradigm in those times. Until then, health was something one simply had and when it was lost, one acted reactively to recover by visiting doctors.
In contrast, the wellness approach is totally proactive; there is no waiting until health is lost before acting. Moreover, it posits we start acting right away, not just to stay well, but to also improve our overall state of health.
On the other hand, seventy years ago, when the wellness movement arose, people didn’t know how much positive influence could a series of healthy habits have over our life and work.
However, today it is general knowledge that regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and resting well at night have a direct impact on our health and on our personal and professional performance.
This leads us to raise a fundamental question: if everyone knows the importance of leading a healthy life, why don’t people start taking initiative?
Wellness as a Cross-skill
One possible answer to the previous question would be that even though people are aware of the importance of health and wellness, , they simply fail to remember, and so they don’t apply what they already know. Another possible explanation would be that the inertia of routine is too great and that’s why people don’t change their habits. Even more radically, we might even think that people are too lazy to lead a healthy life and prefer unhealthy comfort to the effort that it takes to change lifestyles.
Possibly these three explanations, like many others, clarify some specific cases and situations, but my professional experience in skills development leads me to think that for most people, the answer is probably a little more complex.
What wellness really proposes is skills development; to learn and internalize a series of concrete, observable behaviours that we know are linked to achieving certain health and performance outcomes.
Developing any skill requires three elements: awareness, will, and when there is a will, there’s a way. I’d venture to say that today most people in most organizations know what to do to lead a healthier life. What’s more, I’ll go even further and claim that they also want to put into practice what they know. The problem is that they can’t, or at least, they feel that they can’t do it because they lack time.
Some wellness initiatives are aware of this problem and try to tackle this in their lightweight and ineffective programmes. I am referring to "training pills" about time management; this is outdated and full of well-intentioned, useless tips and advice that science has invalidated more than a decade ago.
The Key to a Sustainable Wellness Programme
Trying to get people to change their habits without changing anything in the rest of their system shows deep ignorance in human psychology.
For any wellness programme to triumph, you must first create the minimum conditions needed to make it possible. Specifically, we must ensure that people have enough "free mental space" to be able to confidently embark a process of change and sustaining their new routine until it becomes a habit.
After devoting over seven years to the development of personal effectiveness in all kinds of organizations, across all kinds of positions, and with all kinds of people, I can attest that the development of this cross-skill unequivocally provides the free mental space indispensable for any type of change process, even one leading to a healthier life.
They are probably out there, but I don’t know anyone who has cemented a change in habits through a wellness programme. On the contrary, I know many people who, because of developing their personal effectiveness, have set off onto the path of wellness, engaging in sports again, getting enough sleep, or taking up hobbies they previously thought of as "impossible dreams". This is the evidence that convinces me that sustainable wellness unavoidably, begins by developing personal effectiveness.