Tag: health and wellbeing

Five tips to become a workplace health and wellbeing Ninja

This blog, written by our co-founder Su, is a reflection on what can help us to have a mindset that brings HWB conversations into the workplace.  It builds on an original blog from 2017.

How can I become a HWB Ninja?

HWBInspiration was co-founded in 2017 as a result of work that Claire and I were commissioned to lead on behalf of the Manchester’s Health and Wellbeing Board.  Health and wellbeing in the workplace has become evermore important.  The pandemic has ‘shone a light’ on we need to pay attention to if we are to remain healthy, well and lead fulfilling lives.  2020 has brought many things into sharp relief, and we’ve been more reflective about the workplace factors and conditions that need to be in place to promote positive health and wellbeing.

I’ve been writing blogs over the last 3 years.  It’s interesting to look back at some of my earlier posts. I realise that some of the tips and hints for health and wellbeing still hold true despite the sense that the world has been ‘tipped’ on its axis.  I’m being cheeky and reusing some of the tips from a previous blog to encourage us all to think about the small habits that we can put in place to focus on our health and wellbeing in 2021.

Back in 2017, I reminded myself that we all need to have knowledge, skills and expertise to support each other in our health and wellbeing endeavour.  When I think someone has mastered a particular mind set or skill, an image of a Ninja pops into my head. I was delighted to see that the informal definition of Ninja is “a person who excels in a particular skill or activity’.   We’ve taken this concept further over the years and it has become part of who we are and how we think. 

Glimmers of Brilliance (GOB)

This year we developed our #GOB21 calendar with two of our fully-fledged HWB Ninja’s, Jess and Matt.  #GOB21 has hints, tips and resources to support individual and team HWB activities and ideas.  If you would like to become a fully-fledged HWB Ninja, share a blog, case studies or resource with us.  Until then see if you can find the HWB Ninja Apprentice behind the one of the tiles.  Enjoy the hunt.

Practical Ninja Moves

Here is a reminder of some of the practical ways that you can apply Health and Wellbeing activities in the workplace.

TipMe (Ninja)My teamMy manager/organisation
1Find your healthily work life blend and take breaksEncourage the team to discuss their work life blend, have lunch together, scrutinise all the meetings the team attendsRole model good management practice – take breaks, avoid sending e-mails ‘out of hours’ or let people know that you don’t expect a response ‘out of hours’
2Avoid presenteeism (coming to work when unwell)Discuss what presenteeism means as a team – especially now that we are using digital platforms and experience ‘back to back’ phenomenonMake it clear that you expect people to stay at home when they are unwell (that it’s not a badge of honour to come to work when you are unwell) Review sickness absence policies to support people to return to work
3Develop health and wellbeing objectives for yourselfSupport colleagues with positive HWB behaviours by developing team health and wellbeing objectivesBuild in time to discuss health and wellbeing – simply ask how people are and celebrate positive health and wellbeing behaviours
4Be active, use the stairs, move around from your desk, use apps to encourage you to get up and walkHave team meetings standing up or while walking, pedometer challenges.  You can still do this despite the restrictions.Develop options to support people to be active at work such as virtual walking groups, running groups, yoga
5Keep yourself healthy and ask for help when you need itEncourage the team to ask each other for help when they need it and how to support each other when specialist help may be neededEnsure that people have access to excellent occupational health, rapid access to counselling, physio, MOT’s

Go well into 2021 and I’m hopeful that we can find a path through this together.

Health and wellbeing interventions in healthcare

Health and wellbeing interventions in healthcare

This blog summarises a rapid review of health and wellbeing interventions in healthcare, published by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES).

Last week Zofia Bajorek and Jenny Holmes from the Institute for Employment Studies published their rapid review of health and wellbeing interventions in healthcare. The review captures papers published in the last 10 years which focussed specifically on wellbeing interventions (both physical and mental wellbeing) in healthcare settings. They review two types of intervention; those focussing on treatment (e.g. once a health and wellbeing issue has been identified) and those focussing on prevention (e.g. interventions to prevent a health and wellbeing issue). Below is a summary of findings taken direct from the executive summary, its well worth a read. To find out more take a look at their paper (https://www.employment-studies.co.uk/resource/health-and-wellbeing-interventions-healthcare)


  • timely access to face-to-face physiotherapy treatment resulted in a reduction of self-reported pain and increased productivity
  • early access to a telephone-based sickness absence management service which provided quick access to interventions also led to reported reduced levels of sickness absence by those who used the service
  • interventions that focussed on both the promotion of physical exercise and improved nutrition were reported to result in positive changes in health behaviours
  • stress management tools delivered via a web-based programme was seen to reduce self-reported nurse stress, with participants who spent more time on the programme reporting greater improvement
  • in some cases ‘psychological based’ interventions could improve mental wellbeing, including more ‘person-directed’ approaches to reducing burnout, and mindfulness-based stress reduction courses


  • studies suggested that a ‘whole-systems’ approach (i.e. focussing on a number of different schemes to address different aspects of employee wellbeing) could be beneficial for improving both quality of work and wellbeing outcomes
  • developing appropriate ‘spaces’ in the physical healthcare environment (for example, rest, sleep and eating facilities) helped healthcare staff feel valued and supported by their organisations
  • a range of ‘group-based’ mental health interventions were also identified to provide safe spaces for staff to openly reflect and share the various challenges they experience within their role (e.g. Schwartz Center Rounds’)
  • other mental health interventions thought to be helpful include those that focussed on ‘wider aspects’ of work, including team interactions, flexibility and autonomy, and interventions that healthcare staff actually ‘want’ and think will be effective

The authors highlight the variability in quality of evidence and methodology and conclude “The results indicated that there is currently limited evidence of a ‘best-practice’ intervention, and there may not be a one-size fits all solution to wellbeing interventions. However, the interventions that did have positive uptake and where positive wellbeing outcomes were reported were those that included a ‘whole-systems’ approach where healthcare staff could engage with the interventions that best suited their needs”. (p3)

How to boil a frog….

How to boil a frog….

This blog from our HWBI Ninja, Rob Sanderson considers what we can do to spot stress and practical things we can do to acknowledge it and minimise the negative impact on our health and wellbeing.

What?!! I hear you ask, why would anyone want to do that? Firstly, I don’t condone boiling frogs, please don’t try this! I love frogs and even built a pond for them at the bottom of the garden, so, to be clear, it’s not something I have tried or intend to.

So how do you boil a frog?

It shouldn’t be at all possible. Frogs are sensitive to temperature. Regardless of this, in 1872, scientist, Heinzmann experimented and concluded if you increase the heat of the water very gradually, the poor frog doesn’t notice until it’s too late.

What has this got to do with health and well-being?

Firstly, I wanted to be sure I had your attention (you are still reading, right?) and secondly because it’s an excellent metaphor for the point of this post:

Just like our ill-fated frog, millions of people are [metaphorically] boiling themselves alive with stress and anxiety. The rise in this pressure is so gradual they don’t realise until it suddenly gets too much.

As a psychotherapist and clinical hypnotherapist, the most common conditions I help people with, are stress and anxiety, related. While many people recognise stress or anxiety, a surprising amount do not. Symptomatically, it’s evident when people are experiencing stress and anxiety, yet they don’t realise it. People explain, “I don’t suffer from stress, I just want to stop biting my nails,” or “I don’t have stress, I drink too much,” “eat too much,” “can’t sleep,” “have headaches,” “anger issues,” etc. sure signs of stress. Surprisingly, some clients have been so unaware of their extreme stress levels until it manifested itself physically when they were rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack. I call this stealth anxiety.

How can I spot the warning signs?

Some of the physical signs of stress and anxiety include poor sleep, frequent need to use the loo, stomachache, sudden weight gain or loss, breathlessness, headaches, palpitations, sweats, tiredness and fatigue. The effects on mental health can include, panic attacks, lack of concentration, anger, feeling uneasy, depression and low mood.

It’s not too late, act now to turn the heat down or jump out!

Being positive is a natural defence against stress, anxiety and depression. As a Solution-Focused therapist, people are encouraged to look for the solution rather than focusing on the problem. Being solution-focused is powerful against stress and anxiety because finding solutions reduce stress. One way of doing this is by practising what we call the 3 p’s, which are to think positively, be active in a positive way, and to interact positively. When we do this, we create patterns in the brain that are proven to help fight stress, anxiety and depression.

On a positive note, here’s a happy ending!

In 2002, Victor H. Hutchison, a zoologist reveals, that more recent experiments show as the water is heated, the frog tries to escape, and eventually jumps out.

If you are worried about stress, anxiety or depression, you can talk to your GP or arrange an appointment with a talking therapist. If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me using the link below.

Rob Sanderson

Clinical Hypnotherapist and Psychotherapy

Help Hypnotherapy | Liverpool & Merseyside


Photo by Darko Pribeg on Unsplash

What would inspire you to get active?

What would inspire you to get active?

Last week was Great British Week of Sport The campaign is intended to provide inspiration and help us all find ways to get active to boost our health and wellbeing.  We are about to land in October, which is Breast Awareness Month. This blog, written by our co-founder Su, is a personal account of how becoming more active led to the discovery and successful treatment of breast cancer in 2018.  If it hadn’t been for Couch to 5K the outcome could have been very different.

Runner… me? Friends that provided inspiration.

In 2018, I was counting myself very fortunate.  I had a job that I enjoyed, a network of great friends and a loving family.  Generally speaking, I was fit and healthy, did most things to lead a healthy lifestyle and had taken it upon myself to step up the exercise.  During a trip to Eire with friends (both runners), I stated that I would “love to take up running”. But thought I was “passed it”.  My friends pointed out my self-limiting beliefs. Within 3 months I had signed up and completed the Couch to 5K with my running buddy (husband).  We were rather proud of our achievement and decided to step it up to 10K during the autumn.

How running saved my life.

Any of you that have taken up running will know that there are consequences. The odd toenail may have to be sacrificed and various muscles ache.  So, when I felt breast tenderness and a lump, I thought that I just needed a better sports bra.  Just to be on the safe side, I thought I would get checked by my GP, who reliably informed me I was difficult to assess as my boobs were ‘lumpy’ anyway.  He referred me to a ‘one-stop clinic’ at St Helen’s and Knowsley NHS Trust.  I had all the tests in one day and within three weeks of my GP appointment, I was diagnosed as having breast cancer and on a treatment pathway.

It was an emotional roller coaster.  I will blog a little more about that and what helped me get through in the future.  But for now, the focus is on ‘why get active’.  I believe if I hadn’t started running, become more acutely aware of my physical health and body, I wouldn’t have gone to my GP. This would have delayed the necessary investigations and successful treatment. 

We know the health and wellbeing benefits of being more active. Yet, finding the time and inspiration can be a struggle.  The tips on the NHS Better Health website help to see that small changes can be achievable and really beneficial.  The three that helped me:

  • Track your progress – I never knew I was so competitive
  • It’s better together – having an exercise buddy
  • Find something you enjoy – running is great, find your own pace

Maintaining the habit

I’ve never regretted going for a run or long walk.  I’ve been frustrated with myself when I haven’t. I’ve joined Strava, an App that links you to an online community for support, inspiration and encouragement.  I would heartily recommend the Couch to 5K App.  It seems to have inspired many during the pandemic to get out.  If running is not for you, any small/regular amount of exercise has positive health benefits. 

There are so many people to be thank. I’m hugely grateful to my fantastic family, friends and work colleagues who supported me through the treatment period and beyond.  I’m especially grateful to all the health care professionals that were involved in my treatment, health care assistants, health care scientists (radiotherapy physicists), nurses, consultants, receptionists and all.

Poor Connections: Part One – Is this remotely working?

Poor Connections: Part One – Is this remotely working?

This blog, inspired by Dan Robinson and written by our co-founders Su, explores the impact of more people working remotely. Are we burning through the social capital that we have been building up over years of interactions with each other both in our social and work lives?

What tips do you have?

How have you maintained social ties?

Much has been written about our human need for social interaction and connection.  It’s both hard wired and key to our survival.  Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve been curious to see what impact moving to more virtual/remote digitally based way of working would have.  In the early days of lockdown, I was grateful for the availability and ease of access to different web based video conferencing platforms.  

Some clients (pre COVID) had started commissioning individual coaching as an on-line option to manage costs (travel and room hire).  So for me, the transition to on-line and virtual working had already begun.  Although, I noticed that it wasn’t necessarily the ‘norm’ for others, there seemed to be a natural resistance, which I could related to.  Over the last 5 years I’ve been gradually transitioning to on-line as the technology has improved.  The main driver was working with peers and work colleagues that were distributed around the country.  I continued to favour meeting people verses conference calls.  And that seemed to be the case for the majority of individuals and teams that I worked with.

Coincidently in January 2020, a contract for coaching GPs and practice managers meant that my coaching practice pretty much moved on-line, at the same time I was coaching clients from a higher education institution as part of a leadership development programme.  I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of work that was possible to do and yet…. Intuitively something was missing.  I couldn’t quite put my ….. excuse the pun …. finger on it. 

The importance of touch

One of my coaching clients was in the shielded category.  Hearing their experience had a profound impact on me and inspired me to write a blog about the importance of touch .  I also began noticing the ‘dehumanising’ effect of on-line interactions and began talking about these with friends, peers and work colleagues.  The absence of those small informal interactions and exchanges.  Walking into a room, having a chat about something or other we had in common.  Sharing mutual humour and exasperation about something we had heard on the radio.

The computer says….

A recent article published in the New Scientist by David Robson, explores the impact of working remotely and the impact on our social capital, i.e. the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling the society to function effectively.  There are at least 3 forms of social capital:

  • Bonding – emotional support
  • Bridging – Identifying practical help or areas for cooperation
  • Linking – Identifying some kind of resource or important information through ‘the grapevine’

Researchers of social capital measure our dense social connections in terms of the number and strength of the links we have with family, friends and acquaintances.  What the researchers have discovered is that people with high social capital:

  • May both perform better at work
  • Find it easier to land a new job due to greater possibility of constructive collaboration
  • May be more likely to live more healthily
  • Have better mental health

The article was a great reminder of all the studies over the last 20 years that have explore our need for and benefits of connectedness.  In summary social capital:

  • Sooth our stresses
  • Help us to live more healthily
  • Lead to a lower risk of mental illness and physical disease

One study, a meta-analysis conducted by Julianne Holt-Lunstad (2017) found that a lack of social connection presents a large a risk to our health as smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day. 

David Robson suggest that there may be 3 subtle ways that our social capital may be being eroded:

  • The loss of shared experience – joint activities such as sport, cooking, eating
  • Exposure to non-verbal communication – such as physical touch.  Studies show that rubbing someone’s arm triggers neurological and physiological changes
  • The loss of weak ties – vague acquaintances and brief interactions such as exchanges with co-commuters, barista’s in coffee shops

It was surprising to me that one study where participants were encouraged to create small talk with strangers showed a marked improvement (17%)  in their measure of happiness.  It was also interesting that there appears to be a gender difference, with the suggestion that women fair better than men.  Robson cites a study that highlighted that women rely on the frequency of communication (face to face, calls or texts) to maintain social ties, whereas men relied more on shared experience.  Given most interactions during lockdown have been video conferencing the suggestion the impact on wellbeing due to absence of share experiences may be greater.

Maintaining social capital

Rethinking how we maintain our social ties is an important issues, irrespective of the pan demic.  Turning our virtual experiences into share joint activities.  Here are some things that my friends and colleagues have shared:

  • Quiz night in lockdown was a surprising phenomena
  • Secret cinema set up a series film nights and Drive In, watching the same film and then connecting on zoom to share
  • Virtual book clubs
  • Wine tour in your home facilitated by an expert

More practically

  • Reaching out to colleagues, informal calls and check ins
  • Making the most of chance encounters
  • Sending an open invitation to a video conference – just bring yourself
  • Vicarious touch – Watching videos of people stroking cats or dogs has been shown to reduce anxiety

Let’s not forget virtual reality and augmented reality is becoming available to the masses. 

  • What tips do you have?
  • How have you maintained social ties?

Learning to do this together is important, our social constructs and habits are changing. Off to hold a chicken for a while…..

Robson, D (2020).  Missed Connections.  New Scientist. 15 Aug edition, p. 32-36 www.davidrobson.me

Holt-Lunstad, J (2017). Why Social Relationships Are Important for Physical Health:  A Systems Approach to Understanding and Modifying Risk and Protection.  Annual Review of Psychology,  Vol. 69: p437-458, January 2018

HWBInspiration co-founders, Su & Claire, are grateful to our Associate HWBI Ninjas for sharing their knowledge, skill and insights.

A = Acceptance – 10 Keys to Happier Living: Christine Hamilton, HWBI Ninja

Some practical self-care steps for living in the “New Normal” by applying Acceptance and Commitment Theory (ACT).

I was drawn to an on-line lecture covering the practical steps I, and others, could consider putting into practice in order to personally deal more effectively with the unprecedented challenges of “Lockdown” and other Covid impacts. Dr Russ Harris, a key proponent of ACT, has produced an acronym – FACE COVID to help us remember what we can do when we become suddenly aware of excessive anxiety within ourselves or others. (In such times it is, of course, an entirely rational reaction to feel concern and anxiety).

When I first heard about ACT, I thought it sounded a bit “hippyish” which was both appealing and, I thought, impractical for busy modern lives- “who realistically has time to mindful?”.  And I wondered if “Acceptance” was just another word for “let yourself off the hook of striving for high performance” i.e. it was for wimps. I have subsequently realised that ACT offers the potential for me and my coachees to accept our humanity and to commit to moving towards more meaningful lives. I found the webinar, presented by Associate Professor Nuno Ferreira, of Nicosia University, insightful and it energised me to share his and Russ Harris’ work.  So I’ve outlined a definition of ACT and the steps advocated and you can make your own mind up.
( I have listed additional links and resources should anyone want to read more about the origins and evidence around ACT).

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a coaching and therapy approach which encourages people to make progress through the development of psychological flexibility.  It  invites people to: open up to unpleasant feelings; to learn not to overreact to them or to  try to eliminate them (by overindulging in unhealthy/unproductive behaviours); to learn not to avoid situations where such feelings are invoked; and instead to embrace their thoughts and feelings rather than fighting or feeling guilty for them.  The approach combines mindfulness skills with the practice of self-acceptance.   It helps people to be present with, and accept, what life brings them and to planfully “move toward valued behaviours”.


 = Focus on what you can control                      = Committed action

= Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings  = Opening up 

= Come back into your body                               = Values

= Engage in what you are doing                         = Identify resources

                                                                                         = Disinfect Distance

The Overall key is indeed to Focus on:

  • What you can actually control? 
  • How you can choose to behave?     Right here, right now ? 
  • And when anxiety gets too much? When you can’t stop worrying? When things just feel so out of control? What actions you can take?

Notes and references

Steven C. Hayes developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 1982 in order to create a mixed approach which integrates both cognitive and behavioural therapy. 

A leading author and teacher of ACT is Dr Russ Harris see https://www.actmindfully.com.au/ and his 5 minute video on FACE COVID https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmvNCdpHUYM

HWBInspiration co-founders, Su & Claire, are grateful to our Associate HWBI Ninjas for sharing their knowledge, skill and insights.

R = Resilience – 10 Keys to Happier Living

R = Resilience – 10 Keys to Happier Living

This blog, written by our HWBI Ninja Lou, focuses on how we can boost our resilience and attend to our health and wellbeing. She also draws attention to team resilience ….. we are more likely to be resilient together after all.

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. As much as it involves “bouncing back” from difficult experiences it can also involve personal growth. “Becoming more resilient not only helps us to get through difficult circumstances it also empowers you to grow and even improve your life along the way” (American Psychological Association).

There are many definitions of Resilience. I recently watched a webinar by the Association of Executive Coaching in partnership with Resilience Engine. They talked about resilience as our adaptability and a measure of resilience as our capacity for change. Robertson and Cooper describe resilience as a combination of personal characteristics and skills “The characteristics which are associated with higher levels of resilience are inherent in our personalities, however, resilience skills can be used to help us adapt our natural style and tendencies”. So, resilience skills can be learned and developed.  

So how can we measure our resilience? 

There are some really useful tools freely available to help you to measure and understand your resilience. They  typically explore 5 common themes including:

  • Self-control
  • Adaptability
  • Optimism
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Persistence

The Resilience Engine offers their Resilience Check – In tool which provides you with your resilience level in relation to their Resilience Dynamic and some top resilience enablers. The Resilience Dynamic details 3 levels of Resilience: Breakdown, Break-Even and Breakthrough.  

Robertsoncooper offers their i-resilience tool which provides you with a detailed report which covers their 4 key components of resilience which are: Confidence, Purposefulness, Adaptability and Social Support. Tools and resources focussed on these four areas for building resilience are available on the i-resilience portal.

So how can we build our resilience?

The College of Wellbeing offers great tools and tips:

The boat and water mapping tool is a simple and effective tool for mapping factors that influence our resilience. By identifying the negative and positive influences on our resilience we can develop ways to reduce the negative and strengthen the positive.  

The SSRI toolkit offers a framework for identifying the tools that we already have available to build our resilience. It is based on the concept that the choices we make and actions we take can have a natural anti-depressant effect. SSRI in this model stands for :

  • Strategies i.e. practical things we can do i.e. meditation or attention to diet and exercise
  • Strengths i.e. what you can draw upon internally in yourself i.e. courage and determination
  • Resources i.e. where can you seek external support i.e. friends and support groups
  • Insights i.e. can you look at things differently to help you move forward? i

Everyday Health offers an Everyday Health Assessment which provides you with a resilience score and 9 attributes that can help you develop to become your most resilient self which has been adapted from Dr Sood’s model of resilience. The attributes include internal factors i.e. skills we have or have learned and can better develop such as self-control and self-confidence and external factors such as personal relationship, purpose and meaning and communities and social support.

There are also some really useful guides for building resilience in the era of COVID 19.

An article in Psychology today suggests that acceptance (Hayes et al 2011), self-compassion (Neff 2015) and gratitude (Wood et al 2010) are approaches that can help face challenging times.  The author suggests:

  • Be open – accept thoughts and feelings instead or of trying to suppress or change them “this doesn’t mean resignation to these thoughts and feelings but recognising that we have those experiences and seeing them for what they are (a thought is just that while a feeling is just that)”
  • Be aware – being fully present in the moment instead of being caught up in our thoughts and feelings. One way to help with this is to take time and focus on breathing while noticing one thing with each sense
  • Be engaged and active – take time to consider what’s important and take action to bring what’s important closer to you
  • Be self-compassionate – be kind to yourself as opposed to judging ourselves “ask yourself what a caring friend or family member might say” next time you find yourself saying critical things to yourself
  • Practice gratitude – trying out approaches to gratitude such as journaling about things that you are grateful for can serve as a beacon of hope.  

A more recent article from June in  Science Direct  discusses the urgent need for a focus on resilience during the coronavirus pandemic as “resilience is pivotal to cope with stress and vital to stay in balance”. The authors emphasise that stress and anxiety are normal reactions to the pandemic and stress reactions may include changes in concentration, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, reduced productivity and interpersonal conflict. In addition to the threat of the virus, the quarantine measures increase the stress-related symptoms. To help adapt to the mental health effects they refer to several useful pieces of advice from the resilience literature including:

  • Promoting social connectedness as loneliness and social isolation is what makes the crisis different compared to many others
  • Planning routine day to day activities and promoting self-care
  • Increased attention to exercise and nutrition
  • Regular media breaks
  • Help people feel in control (one of the findings in stress and resilience research is that the higher the controllability of a stress situation is, the better individuals cope with the situation) for example measures people can take to reduce risk of infection and minimise the spread of disease.

Finally AOD who are experts in team based working have collated  some really great resources around team working and resilience. 

Over the past 12 weeks, I have found myself consciously and unconsciously adopting some of these practices, however reading about them to write this blog has been a useful reminder of how I can take back some control over my reaction to the multitude of emotions I have experienced and continue to feel during the pandemic. I hope that you find some of this useful too.  

Note the photo I have used for this blog is a photo I took early January of a Hellebore in my garden.  It  summed up to me how resilient they must be to be able to produce these gorgeous flowers through winter!

HWBInspiration co-founders, Su & Claire, are grateful to our Associate HWBI Ninjas for sharing their knowledge, skill and insights.

D = Direction:  Embracing goal setting for purpose, meaning and motivation

D = Direction: Embracing goal setting for purpose, meaning and motivation

This blog, written by our co-founder Su, explores how setting meaningful goals can boost our health and wellbeing. This is one in a series exploring The 10 Keys to Happier Living.

It would be fair to say that in my formative years, into my 20’s and 30’s I didn’t consciously or intentionally set specific life, career, financial or wellbeing goals.  Looking back, I can see that I pretty much ‘went with the flow’.  Any successes or achievements I put down as being ‘in the right place at the right time’ or ‘being lucky’.  And I put failures down as ‘life lessons’ to learn from.  I consider myself fortunate in many ways as I:

  • Received a good education at a comprehensive school – some similarities with Grange Hill
  • Had a happy childhood – I spent a lot of time in Ireland in summer holidays, or weekends with extended family as both parents worked full time.  It gave me a sense of independence at an early age and probably contributed to my rebellious streak.
  • Have a strong network of family and friends – not without sadness, loss and upset yet I can reflect on the fact that there are ‘no family feuds’, big fallouts.  We all get along and support each other.
  • Enjoy my job role, proud that I trained to be a nurse as it has stood me in good stead for all the job roles that I have had during my working life.
  • Have an amazing life partner that has seen me in through highs and lows, put up with my quirks.

And yet up until my 40’s I didn’t get the whole ‘setting goals’ thing at a personal level.  At the time, in my line of work as a coach and facilitator, I could see the importance of them, but this ‘goal setting’ thing applied to everyone else, not to me personally as…. Let’s face it, they can be a bit boring.  Then there were a series of events in my mid 40’s that changed all that:

  • Mental Health and Wellbeing – My mum developed a serious mental ill-health condition, to the point where whenever the phone rang, I would fear what had happened, what I could do if anything and how I would respond to support my dad.
  • Physical Health – I fractured my ankle, which meant that I was non-weight bearing for 4 months, I couldn’t physically go into work (good rehearsal for COVID19 as it was a form of self-isolation).  I still managed to work from home and have many a funny anecdote to share about how I adapted.
  • Grief and Bereavement – Just as I stopped using crutches, had my pins removed and was looking forward to returning to work, my dad died unexpectedly.  I hadn’t seen him for 5 months because of my fracture.  He had main carer responsibility and couldn’t really travel the 500 mile round trip.  Initially, I was able to hold it together and then 4 weeks after his death everything just seemed to fall apart.  I didn’t feel able to cope or do anything.  Work was now out of the question as I struggled to even do the basics of getting up, getting dressed, having any form of emotional containment.
  • Financial Health – Suddenly there was a need to survive on statutory sick pay.  This had a significant impact on household finances – double income down to single income.  And then the financial crash of 2010 hit and my job role was in jeopardy.  Clients stopped commissioning work, so there was minimal income into the company I worked for, so I had to make some decisions quickly.
  • Carer responsibility – Understandably, my mum was in her grieving process and in the early days, like me, seemed to be coping well and then her mental health deteriorated even further to a point where she needed intensive care and support.  We live 250 miles apart, what were we to do?

This was my unique experience; this doesn’t make me unique.

Like others, who face a series of life events that come together at the same time, I was faced with a sense of ‘sink or swim’. 

Working with my life partner, we went through absolutely everything from our finances, options I had for work, carer support for my mum, you name it… we were forensic.   He was, and is, an amazing support.  One of his key strengths is that he can see things clearly when I’m stuck ‘in it’ and has a talent for calmness and objectivity.  It wasn’t easy, but with clear goals, difficult choices and tenacity we turned things around. 

Looking back now, I find some comfort in a quote from the texts in Twilight of the Idols (1888) written by the great 19th Century philosopher, Fredrick Nietzsche, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”  In my case it was true, and I’m grateful for that.

The art of setting goals and creating a habit

Carver et al (2009) highlight that we have a natural tendency to be either more optimistic or more pessimistic.  We also know from the evidence that feeling good about the future, having a sense of purpose brings meaning and optimism to our lives. This, in turn, contributes to our sense of wellbeing.  Even when things aren’t going to plan, having goals that can be altered gives us a sense of control.  It’s also helpful to know that there are things that we can do to develop a more optimistic outlook without losing touch with reality.  What I’ve learnt is:

  • Goal setting doesn’t have to be boring, there are many benefits and advantages to having a set of goals to work towards.
  • Setting goals helps to trigger new behaviours, guides our focus and helps to sustain momentum.
  • Goals also help to align our focus and promote a sense of self-mastery.  We can’t manage what we don’t measure, so having a set of goals helps us to do that and more.

Actiononhappiness.com has great materials, tips and resources to help you, those close to you and those you work with to develop goals that are meaningful and motivating.  No goal is too small.

A demonstration of my habit in action – The ‘Tyranny’ of the Apple Watch

In 2017 I bought an Apple Watch; I like gadgets but wasn’t prepared for the impact that this little bit of kit would have on my health and wellbeing.  I was determined to improve my fitness levels.  By using the activity app has turned me from a ‘couch potato’ into someone with higher than average fitness levels (for my age), encouraged me to start running and to shift my generally healthy diet to one that is more plant-based.

During COVID19 month of May 2020, my Apple goal was to walk or run 239KM, approximately 7.7KM per day.  Under normal circumstances, I would have struggled with this due to my work patterns.  As I had to postpone other work goals, this became very motivating.  As a result, I used my one hour exercise each day to walk/run as far as I could in the time.  Not only did I achieve the target (smashed it), I also contributed to my wellbeing through connecting with nature, practising active mindfulness and appreciating those things that I perhaps I had taken for granted.


Carver, C.S., Scheier, M.F., Miller, C.J., Fulford, D. (2009). Optimism.  In S.J.Lopez & C.R. Snyder (Eds.) Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. NY: Oxford University Press cited www.actionforhappiness.org

HWBInspiration co-founders, Su & Claire, are grateful to our Associate HWBI Ninjas for sharing their knowledge, skill and insights.

T = Trying Out

Trying Out

This blog, written by our co-fonder Claire, explores how creativity and experimentation boosts our health and wellbeing.

According to Action for Happiness one of the important ’10 keys to happier living’ is Trying Out “learning new things is stimulating and can help lift your mood…learning affects our well-being in lots of positive ways. It exposes us to new ideas and helps us stay curious and engaged. It also gives us a sense of accomplishment and helps boost our self-confidence and resilience”. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I have certainly learnt a lot.  I imagine a lot of us have had to try doing new things that we never expected we would have had to try.  So if learning is good for us, how can we continue to reap the benefits in the new normal? I want to consider two things that might help: how can we get into the mindset for learning and how can we maximise learning on the job.

Getting into the mindset

When I did my PhD, I focussed on exploring the role of emotions and cognitions in how we interpret and experience the world of work.  I found that progress toward and attainment of work goals was associated with happiness and positive affect such as enthusiasm (Harris, Daniels & Briner, 2010).  My interest in emotions has continued in my role as coach, facilitator and trainer and was rekindled when I began to design workshops on creativity. I was particularly interested in Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden and build theory. In her 1998 article, she talked about different positive emotions, their precursors and behavioural outcomes.  For example, she talks about play eliciting joy and joy eliciting approach behaviours. She concluded that positive emotions shared a pattern, and it was different from the one that was elicited by negative emotions – in other words positive emotions are not simply the absence of negative emotions and vice versa.

Negative emotions lead to specific action tendencies; thus, they narrow emotions to what Fredrickson calls the momentary thought-action repertoire. Negative emotions tend to occur in threatening situations and narrow our options due to our evolutionary fight or flight response.  Positive emotions have a broadening effect on the momentary thought-action repertoire: They allow us to discard automatic responses and instead look for creative, flexible, and unpredictable new ways of thinking and acting (Fredrickson 2004). So positive emotions broaden our options and allow for more creative cognitive processing.

So, learning new things can elicit positive emotions and if we are experiencing positive emotions, we are more open to learning.

When I work with teams or delegates on programmes, I do a few things to help people tap into positive emotions before learning:

  • Ask ‘take out a piece of paper and write down everything that’s distracting you right now, and put the paper in your bag, I will remind you at lunch and at the end of the day to review that piece of paper’
  • Ask for ‘one good thing that’s happened over the past month that you are proud about’ (Frederickson and Losada 2005, suggests that we need to experience 3:1 positive to negative emotions to flourish).

Learning on the job

Back when I did my BSc in Psychology, I did my dissertation on flow “optimal psychological state that people experience when engaged in an activity that is both appropriately challenging to one’s skill level, often resulting in immersion and concentrated focus on a task. This can result in deep learning and high levels of personal and work satisfaction” (Csíkszentmihályi, 1996). Flow is an optimal state for learning, as it is where skill level and challenge level of a task are at their highest. This creates an opportunity for learning and intense focus, where learners can even feel that they lose track of time because they are so immersed in the task.  If we think about work, urgency has tended to trump the luxury of learning, aligned to the important but not urgent pile. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article knowledge workers carve out just five minutes of formal learning each day.  Bersin and Zao Sanders (2019) go on to introduce a new idea called ‘Learning in the flow of work’.  This recognises that for ‘learning to really happen, it must fit around and align itself to working days and working lives’.  They recommend some ways to enhance flow at work:

  • Practice mindfulness – be aware and be present as you go about your daily job, inquire about what colleagues are doing, how and why
  • Maintain a too learn list – write down a list of concepts, thoughts, practices, and vocabulary you want to explore, book mark them in your browser, and add them to your list
  • Put dedicated learning time into your diary
  • Subscribe to a number of high quality newsletters, publications
  • Contribute to a learning channel where work actually happens – e.g. teams, slack, sharepoint – create one if your company doesn’t have one.

They cite Helen Smyth, Group Digital Learning and Design Manager at Sainsbury’s Too often, learning opportunities and technology deployments are developed based on what centralized groups think would be useful, or on what is possible, rather than on what would actually enable someone to do something better or differently at work. To overcome this, it’s important that we spend more of our time as learning professionals understanding the practical realities of daily work for people, and ensuring that our products and services are in tune with those realities.”

Today has never been more important to protect and maintain our wellbeing.  As one of the keys to happier living, our ability to keep learning in the new normal will be key to adapting and bringing about a better future.  


Bersin, J & Zao Sanders, M (2019).  Making learning a part of everyday work. Harvard Business Review, Sept 19.

Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1996). Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New Yprk: Harper Collins. Chicago

Fredrickson BL. (1998). What Good Are Positive Emotions?. Rev Gen Psychol. 2 (3): 300‐319.

Fredrickson BL. (2004). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 359(1449): 1367‐1378.

Fredrickson BL, Losada MF (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. Am Psychol60 (7): 678–86.

Harris, C., Daniels, K & Briner, R. (2003). A daily diary study of goals and affective well‐being at work. Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology. 3 (76): 401-410.

HWBInspiration co-founders, Su & Claire, are grateful to our Associate HWBI Ninjas for sharing their knowledge, skill and insights.