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Job design, health and wellbeing – why it matters and what can we do?

Work is generally good for physical and mental health and well-being (Waddell and Burton, 2006). However, research shows that not all work produces benefits for health and wellbeing and some jobs can even be harmful, in fact, how jobs are designed is one of the most important levers for wellbeing (What Works Wellbeing, 2020).  

According to Torrington et al (2011) job design is ‘the process of putting together a range of tasks, duties and responsibilities to create a composite for individuals to undertake in their work and to regard as their own. It is crucial: not only is it the basis of individual satisfaction and achievement at work, it is necessary to get the job done efficiently, economically, reliably and safely’.  

Why is job design important?

One of the reasons job design is so important is because jobs have two broad factors that contribute to wellbeing; demands and resources (Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model; Bakker & Demerouti, 2007; Demerouti et al., 2001).  Accordingly high job demands exhaust our mental and physical resources and therefore lead to the depletion of energy and to health problems. This is the health impairment process. In contrast, job resources foster employee engagement and extra-role performance. This is the motivational process (Bakker, 2020).  Evidence suggests that job resources can buffer the effects of job demands on our wellbeing, and this is particularly true when job demands are high.

So what do we need to pay attention too when designing jobs?

Truss et al (2014) identify four elements of job design:

  • Job content – actual content of the job should be designed to enable people to find their work meaningful, see how their job fits into the wider whole, allow people to use their skills and knowledge. 
  • Job context  – includes factors such as ergonomic job design, work setting, technology, and flexible working options.
  • Working relationships – job design needs to consider not just the job itself, but also the way the job holder is intended to interact with those around them.
  • Line manager – the line manager has a vital role to play in bringing the individual’s job design to life. Simply having a well-designed job will count for nothing with an unsupportive line manager who provides no feedback. 

We can improve the quality of jobs by training workers to make their own improvements to their work (job crafting) or changing to the way work is done (job redesign) accompanied by appropriate training (What Works Wellbeing, 2020).

Implications for managers and leaders

Because jobs are inter-dependent thinking about how managers and leaders can support job design at individual, team, organisational is important (based on Wang et al, 2016): 

Individual

  • Provide feedback. Boost efficacy beliefs by raising employees self-confidence and providing positive feedback about performance.
  • Support the development of personal resources.  Provide employees with empowerment, training opportunities, autonomy, decision making latitude, work-related information. 

Team

  • Support the development of a psychologically safe environment for teams to develop and experiment with new work methods (Kahn, 1990).
  • Support teams to take time out.  We know that teams that practice reflexivity are more productive “taking time out as a team leads to an average 25% uplift in performance” (cited by White & West AffinaOD) and so supporting teams to have open dialogue with regard to expectations, responsibilities, behaviour’s and responses.

Organisational

  • Raising employees’ identification with the organisation. Explain to employees what  the organisation is trying to accomplish and why, help them see how what they do connects to the wider organisation, community, society. 
  • Build an open and trusting climate.  Display  behaviours signalling openness and  support (e.g. listening to employees’ individual needs, considering new ideas,  encouraging personal development, taking actions to address the matter raised).
“You’ll feel better in the morning” – The benefits of sleep on your wellbeing.  Guest Blog from Nicola Blakeman, HWB Ninja

“You’ll feel better in the morning” – The benefits of sleep on your wellbeing. Guest Blog from Nicola Blakeman, HWB Ninja

The Effect of Sleep on Resilience

Resilience is a well sought after quality and we often heard it said that we should learn to build resilience. Many of us have tried to strengthen our resilience by learning special techniques. Sometimes it’s said that life experiences teach us resilience or that certain personality types are more pre-disposed to being resilient. Often successful people are hailed as having admirable resilience. But we don’t hear much at all about the impact that sleep has on enhancing our resilience. Or conversely, how sleep deprivation can severely deplete it.

What does being resilient actually mean

In order to dig a little deeper into this, let’s examine what resilience actually means.  A dictionary definition usually summarises it as the ability to bounce back quickly. To me, bouncing back quickly has several components. When we experience an unpleasant event or a set-back it means being able to: control our emotions in the moment; assess the situation accurately; make objective decisions in the immediate aftermath; and be objective when we look back at the event so we can take the learning, detach from the emotion and move on.

And here’s the thing, as research scientist Matthew Walker explains in his book Why We Sleep, scientists are now proving that each of these things are extremely affected by our sleep or lack of it. Not just by our natural temperament or how much we have learned from bitter experience but simply, did we get enough sleep the night before the event and will we get enough sleep in the nights following.

Let me explain each of these steps in more detail.

Step 1 – Controlling your emotions

When an event happens, we are often filled with emotions. We can feel them flooding in. Anger, frustration, sadness, disbelief. The more primitive parts of our brain responding quickly with raw feelings to try and steer our immediate reactions. But thankfully, our more highly evolved cognitive parts of the brain fires in response to receive, sift and balance the data coming in and allow us a more measured and analytical response. Unless that is, we haven’t slept well the night before (or cumulatively lost sleep over several nights). In this situation, we experience a kind of disconnect between these two parts of the brain; our cognitive thinking not quite being able to control our emotions as it should. Leaving us open to experience mood swings of high emotion back and forth from excitement to sadness or anger and back again.

Step 2 – Objective decision making

Of course, if we are in this situation, we often fail to realise this, and this leads us to the second and third points. We are unable to assess the situation accurately and we start to decision make in the moment based on our emotions rather than our rational thinking. Studies have showed two key things happen when we don’t get enough sleep. We are more likely to view situations with a negative lens and effective decision making is detrimentally impacted. Also, in laboratory studies, participants found it harder to register when a solution wasn’t working and so they would not change course. Let’s take a practical example of how this plays out. Your colleague says something terse to you. As you are tired, instead of thinking objectively that she is probably just having a bad day herself, you are immediately vulnerable to your emotions and negative thoughts and start to feel angry. She’s being rude. She doesn’t like you. You knew she had a problem with you and now this proves it. You quickly decide to be a bit terse back. She reacts accordingly. Your brain at this point perhaps not detecting this wasn’t the best course of action, you plough on, until a very tense exchange ensues leaving you both feeling hurt and awkward.

Step 3 – Learning and moving on

This leads to the final point. As you walk away from the exchange you immediately feel a new flood of emotions, which are also unable to be checked properly by your rational brain, of course, and, as you are now susceptible to mood swings, the anger is quickly replaced by remorse and sadness. Why did you do that? Now it’s going to be weird when you next have to interact. You mull over this event all day, at the mercy of your feelings and mood swings.

That night you go to sleep and your brain gets busily to work. It has a very clever solution to the risk of accumulation of too much “emotional baggage”. The brain waves of sleep act as a tonic, bathing the memory stored in your short-term memory banks, carefully extracting some of the emotional memory attached, leaving more of the facts of the event before carefully filing in your long-term memory.  Remember when your parents used to say, “you’ll feel better in the morning”? It’s not just the passage of time, scientists now think, but the processes during sleep that literally allow us to detach the bulk of the emotion so that we can wake with a more objective recollection. You wake up with renewed clarity, perspective and rational decision making ability and smile to yourself. What was all that about yesterday? I will just go into the office and find my colleague and tell her I was having a bad day yesterday and apologise. I’m sure she’ll feel the same and we can smooth it over. Unless that is, we cut short our sleep (or are unable to sleep). In this case sadly, the brain’s processes do not get time to complete, risking the retention of too much emotion and an inability to recollect objectively. In this scenario it’s easy to see how you could wake up still churning, still driven by emotion and go into work ready to relive the whole scenario again.

Resilience.  Such an important day-to-day life skill and one we often hear we need to gain more of. And we have in our gift a completely free and easy technique for raising our resilience every single day. A good night’s sleep. And in case you’re wondering how much sleep is enough. It’s 7-9 hours. Every single night. Not just on the weekend.  And now you know why.

A bit about Nicky

Nicky is a qualified adult sleep coach, a former sufferer of insomnia and a Mum of three. Having discovered how life-changing getting great sleep could be she is on a mission to share the secrets to sleep success with you.

She knows that you don’t just want more bland advice or sleep hygiene tips. You want a sustainable and natural approach to consistently great sleep which fits in with your busy life and gives you the energy and creativity to achieve your goals in less time.

10 keys to happier living: Meaning Guest Blog from Lou Harris HWBI Ninja

10 keys to happier living: Meaning Guest Blog from Lou Harris HWBI Ninja

“People who have meaning and purpose in their lives are happier, feel more in control and get more out of what they do. They also experience less stress, anxiety and depression” Action for Happiness.  

We may find meaning and purpose in different ways, meaning is something that’s individual for example some people may find it through being a parent or their faith, others may find it through their jobs.  It’s about being connected to something bigger than ourselves.  It’s a vital component of happiness and wellbeing according to Professor Martin Seligman who is the founder of Positive Psychology.

So how do we find our meaning?

One way is to think about which activities, people and beliefs bring us the strongest sense of purpose and passion and then prioritise these things.  Sometimes it takes a new stage in our life such as becoming a parent or something that disrupts life such as trauma to think about what’s important. It’s never too soon or late to start putting the really important things first.  

How did I find my meaning?

As you may or may not know from my previous blogs it took a period in my life when I suffered with poor mental health to really take time to think about what was important to me.  My job gave me purpose and meaning, and it also defined me as a person.  I will never forget about 5 years before I had a breakdown which resulted in me resigning from my job speaking to a really wise and caring person who I was working with on a consultancy basis.

She drew two circles on a piece of paper one represented me, and one represented my job. 

She asked me to draw how much they overlap, and I completely overlaid the circles on top of one another.  I didn’t realise until this point how important my job was to me in giving me purpose and meaning and it wasn’t until I resigned that I felt the full force of losing that purpose and meaning. I felt absolutely lost as a person, I didn’t know who I was, I lost my identity and so I hid away as I didn’t want to engage with people around me because I felt they would no longer love and respect me because I wasn’t Lou anymore. I soon developed depression and after around 6 /9 months I finally realised that I needed to find new meaning and purpose in my life and that the amount of meaning I had placed on my job to the detriment to other parts of my life hadn’t actually made me happy!

The road to recovery and discovery

Whilst I came to accept that work will always and does continue to provide a huge amount of meaning for me it no longer defines me.  My meaning and purpose now also comes from relationships with my close family and friends which have strengthened as a result, exercise which is fundamental to me and my mental health and wellbeing and nature, although I have always loved walking and gardening I never really noticed the wider world around me and the beauty it holds.  Linking back to one of my previous blogs in this series around emotions, I mentioned my mum always says try to see the positives in everything and my breakdown forced me to re-evaluate my purpose which I can now see as a positive. Even though I am still on my recovery journey the acceptance of this and finding new meaning has in a lot of ways made me a more grounded, grateful and happier person.  

If we can find our true purpose it can fundamentally change our lives for the better. Action for Happiness provides some information on a simple way to articulate your life’s purpose developed by Neil Croft a coach, consultant and author. The steps include asking yourself:

  • What are your talents – 5-8 things you are good at that come naturally to you?
  • What are you passionate about – 5-8 things you love to experience, talk about or do?
  • What would you like to change in the world – the purpose is more meaningful if it contributes to wider social benefit or greater good so 5-8 things that anger you about how society operates?

Then

  • Combine your answers to articulate your positive purpose – combine talents, passion and anger in a positive way
  • Think and talk about your purpose – think about and discuss your purpose with others, reflect on, is it how you are living now?  

I realise now in hindsight that undertook this process unconsciously.   It has led me to re-train in wellbeing and mental health as well as providing support and awareness to others in this area.  Because it plays to my strengths connecting with people, I am passionate about mental health and wellbeing after my breakdown, it angers me that there is still stigma and discrimination against people who experience mental health issues, I talked about moving into this area with family and friends and have never looked back.  If I were to articulate my purpose now it would be to use my experience and knowledge to look after my mental health and wellbeing and raise awareness and support others in how to look after theirs.  

10 keys to happier living: Acceptance – Guest blog from Christine Hamilton, HWBI Ninja

Some very 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”.

FACE COVID

 = 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

10 keys to happier living: Emotion – Guest blog from Lou Harris, HWBI Ninja

The benefits of positive thinking 

Have you ever noticed that despite facing some really big challenges, some people always seem to see the positives?  My Mum has always said to me and my sister “try to see the positives in everything”, I have always admired her glass half full outlook.  If I am being honest, I don’t think I have always shared this approach and over the last 12-14 weeks, my glass has been a bit depleted.  So I thought as a way to help me understand why and to see if there is anything I can do about it, I would revisit the benefits of being glass half full and if there is a way I can top up my depleted glass! 

Looking at situations in a positive light when they are not ideal is a good trait. Positive thinking is a mental attitude in which you expect good and favourable results, it doesn’t mean you bury your head in the sand and ignore problems but approach unpleasant situations productively.   

Thinking positive and being glass half full leads to experiencing positive emotions like joy and contentment which broaden your mind to possibilities and can lead to:

  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved life satisfaction
  • Increased wellbeing
  • Increased problem-solving ability
  • Help you be better able to cope with difficult life events

Glass half empty – “It’s not the things in themselves which trouble us, but the opinions we hold about these things” Epictetus. 

Our thoughts are vital to our wellbeing, they help us make sense of the world and influence how we feel and behave.  One of the most useful things that I learnt about during cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was the impact of thought distortions.  I now help others become aware of thought distortions in themselves and others through delivering Mental Health First Aid Training.  

We all have familiar thought patterns – thinking habits and beliefs systems which have been shaped by our life experiences.  Thinking distortions are unhelpful thinking patterns, they can lead to distressing feelings and prompt behaviours which can maintain the distressing feeling.  We can be more prone to these types of thoughts when we are feeling upset, anxious or low (for example over the last 14 weeks since lockdown).  Learning to recognise and challenge thinking distortions can help reduce the difficult emotions that they cause or maintain.  Some common thinking distortions include:

  • Overgeneralising – making general negative conclusions based on one example or incident i.e. burning dinner once and deciding you’re terrible at cooking based on one example.
  • All or nothing thinking – Thinking in extremes or extreme possibilities and neglecting the more likely middle ground i.e. stumbling over a few words in a presentation and then thinking the whole thing was a mess.
  • Jumping to a conclusion – making a judgement and assuming its right with little or no evidence or facts to back it up i.e. waving to a friend you see across the street who doesn’t wave back at you and assuming they are upset with you when they may not have seen you.
  • Labelling – rating yourself or others with labels based on a situation or incident i.e. labelling yourself a failure when you burn the dinner.
  • Negative filter – seeing only the bad in something or dwelling on negative events instead of positive ones and or explaining away positives for no reason or down to luck i.e. not being successful in an interview focussing on not getting the job instead of giving yourself credit for coming so far in the recruitment process.

CBT helped me to recognise, challenge and address my own thinking distortions.  It is important to recognise the ones you struggle with before you can effectively change them.  Positive Psychology has a great resource that describes cognitive distortions to help you decide ones that you may be dealing with and ways to challenge them.  

Glass half full 

Martin Seligman suggests that we can learn how to become more optimistic and train ourselves to see the world in a more useful way.  He adapted Albert Ellis’s ABC model of adversity, belief and consequence and added disruption and energisation creating the ABCDE model.

  • A = antecedent (i.e. the situation that triggers the response)
  • B = beliefs (out thoughts/interpretation of the situation/event)
  • C = consequences (the way we feel or behave)
  • D = disruption (effort to argue and dispute beliefs)
  • E = energisation (outcome or effects from redirecting your thoughts)

We tend to blame A (the antecedent) for C (the consequence) whilst it is B (our beliefs) that make us feel the way we do. Once we can see this, we can then dispute the way we are looking at a situation.  Disputing our beliefs can help us see the situation in a new light and change the way we feel.  

So how can we put this into practice?  

During the next few adverse events, you face in daily life, listen to your beliefs, observe the consequences and dispute your beliefs. Try recording this. Once you have done you can go through the process in your head. Below is an example which may resonate with a few people:

Adversity

You arranged a meeting online and couldn’t quite get the technology working at the start of the meeting

Belief 

I am rubbish at using online meeting technology, I won’t use it again

Consequence

You turn down invites to other online meetings for fear of the technology getting the better of you and you miss out on important social time with family and friends

Disruption 

I haven’t had much experience of using online meeting technology

The technology is new

Others also had some technical difficulties too

After the first 5 minutes, the meeting went well

There are 4 ways to make your disruptions convincing:

  • Evidence – show the negative beliefs are factually incorrect – most are overreactions. What is the evidence for this belief?
  • Alternatives – are there different ways to look at the problem which are less damaging to yourself, focus on changeable causes i.e. I was tired and specific or its only one time this has happened?
  • Implications – de-catastrophize, even if you struggled with the technology it’s not impacting on the rest of your life
  • Usefulness – question the usefulness of your belief  

Energisation 

Consider how you feel now you have challenged your beliefs.

This is an ongoing process that you may need to repeat and remind yourself of as I have through writing this blog, however, if you use these steps when facing a challenge eventually it becomes easier to challenge negative thoughts and approach challenges with greater optimism.  

10 keys to happier living: Resilience – Guest blog from Lou Harris, HWBI Ninja

10 keys to happier living: Resilience – Guest blog from Lou Harris, HWBI Ninja

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!

10 Keys to happier living – Direction:  Embracing goal setting for purpose, meaning and motivation

10 Keys to happier living – Direction: Embracing goal setting for purpose, meaning and motivation

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.

References

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

10 keys to happier living – Trying Out

Trying Out

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.  

References

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.

Awareness – 10 Keys to Happier Living – Guest Blog from Lou Harris, HWBI Ninja

Awareness – 10 Keys to Happier Living – Guest Blog from Lou Harris, HWBI Ninja

“There’s more to life when you stop and notice”

Learning to be more aware and take notice can positively impact on our wellbeing. The key to taking notice is mindfulness “Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment – free from distraction or judgement, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them” (1).  

There are numerous benefits associated with mindfulness on physical health, managing stress, psychological wellbeing, relationships, performance and happiness and a recent study in March (2) found mindfulness buffered the impact of COVID 19.  

As this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, it is also worth noting that research (3) has shown that mindfulness helps reduce anxiety and depression. “It teaches us how to respond to stress with an awareness of what is happening in the present moment rather than simply acting instinctively, unaware of what emotions or motives may be driving that decision. By teaching awareness for one’s physical and mental state in the moment, mindfulness allows for more adaptative reactions to difficult situations” Anxiety.org (4)

In our busy worlds, it may not be something we practice naturally, however, I wonder how many of us may have had greater opportunity to practise mindfulness over the past few months? You can take a 15 item questionnaire to measure mindfulness called the Mindful Attention Awareness Score (MAAS). The higher your score the greater your ability to be mindful. If you don’t score as high as you would like then don’t worry through practise, we can learn to cultivate the state of mind that lets us be mindful. 

Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness and spring is a great time of year to start. There is so much in nature to see, hear and smell for example noticing the colour of the  flowers, the birds singing and the smell of new blossom. On my daily dog walk since lockdown, I have noticed ducks and birds that I have never seen before including mandarins, herons and parakeets (yes we do have bright green parakeets in Sefton Park in Liverpool!), flowers including gorgeous miniature daffodils, the smell of the amazing rhododendrons which are vibrant and colourful, all things that I have never really noticed before, despite walking in this park most days for four years with my dog, Indy.  

The benefits speak for themselves, and you can start practising mindfulness right away in the comfort of your own home (handy in our current climate!) so why wouldn’t you try it? Positive Psychology has lots of great information which includes 10 tips for practising mindfulness which include:

  • Take a few moments to be aware of how your breath flows in and out, how your tummy rises and falls with each breath you take.  
  • If you are walking somewhere focus on the here and now. Rather than letting your brain drift into thought, bring them back to the physical act of walking. How do you feel? Pay less attention to where you’re going and more on what you’re doing as you step and how your feet feel. This is a nice one to try on sand or grass.  
  • If you notice yourself turning back towards thinking just focus once more on your breathing. You can return your focus to how your breath comes in and out of your body, and if you can feel your muscles relax as your doing so even better.
  • Understand that your mental processes are just thoughts, they aren’t necessarily true, nor do they require you to take action. Mindfulness is about simply being and about being relaxed in accepting things around you as they are. This implies internally too – it’s part of knowing your mind.   
  • Let yourself notice when your mind drifts back towards judgement. Remember this is only natural and doesn’t have to be part of yourself. Part of mindfulness practise means freeing your mind from practices like judgement. You may find that this becomes easier with time and practise.

As well as practising mindfulness in daily life it can be helpful to set aside time for a more formal mindfulness practice such as meditation. There is a lot of great support to help you and  Action for Happiness and NHS have some great guidance on Mindfulness and how to get started. 

https://www.actionforhappiness.org/take-action/bring-mindfulness-into-your-day

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/

References

Exercise and the 10 keys to happier living

According to Action for Happiness one of the important ’10 keys to happier living’ is Exercising “regular activity will provide an endorphin boost and increase confidence”.  During the lock down we have seen the rise in popularity of The Body Coach, Joe Wicks (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAxW1XT0iEJo0TYlRfn6rYQ) encouraging us to work out at home. We are permitted to ‘take one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household’. 

The benefits 

There are, as we know, many benefits to exercise, according to the NHS website, it can reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart diseasestroketype 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%.

Another benefit is to our mental health.  I was struck by a blog a colleague Wyn Jones wrote for us (https://www.hwbinspiration.com/missing-the-gorge-an-insight-into-being-present-and-noticing-in-the-moment-guest-blog-by-wyn-jones-hwbassociateninja/) he talked about going for a ‘head run’ to clear his mind and help his mental health. Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression (Guszkowska, 2004). 

My route to exercise 

I used to be a couch potatoe, I never liked sport at school and this extended into adulthood. My business partner began running and I decided to join in, that was 13 years ago.  I enjoyed running and still do. About 5 years ago my husband got a road bike and I decided to join him.  About 2 years ago my business buddy started running and that got me back into running…You can see there is a pattern here…  

I have decided to cycle more during lock down, it was a conscious decision and I am enjoying it (the weather helps!). Here are some of the things that help me:

  • Set a goal and monitor progress – When I say cycle ‘more’, I didn’t set myself a goal in terms of the number of miles, but I did set myself a goal that I wanted to cycle 4-5 days a week for a month (which was April, now extended to May).  I post my cycling on the free Strava app (https://www.strava.com), so I can see my progress through the week and it holds me to account/motivates me by the fact that others can see my progress.
  • Plan when to go – I know I am more motivated to exercise in the morning, so I try to go before work if possible. Each week I plan what days I am going to cycle and stick to the plan (e.g. Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat or Sun)
  • Get your gear on – On the days I know I am going to cycle, I get up, showered and put my cycling gear on I don’t think about it, I just get dressed – this motivates me to get up and go.  I find it much harder and I am less motivated if I get dressed and then have to change into my cycling gear later in the day. 
  • Real or virtual buddy – I am lucky that I have a cycle buddy, my husband, so on the days when I am not feeling like going, my buddy motivates me.  I also have virtual buddies on Strava, I can see when they have been out and that also motivates me to cycle or run. Strava also segments your route and gives you virtual medals (bronze, silver and gold) which is motivating. 
  • Mix up my routes – I have spent time making up routes to cycle and uploaded them onto my sat nav.  I only really have four routes, but I also do my routes backwards so mix it up.  The routes vary in length and gradient. 
  • Track how I feel – I do actively notice how I feel before, during and after cycling.  Sometime I am really not up for it and I remind myself it could be one of those least expected days (I recently watch the Netflix series about the Movistar cycling team, which is well worth a watch https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/81130094). Usually after cycling I feel a sense of achievement for going which is motivating in itself (I can also feel tired which is ok too). I actively try to ‘take notice’ as I cycle, this time of year I see baby lambs, llamas, wisteria, and we have a village which hosts a scarecrow competition in May, well worth a look (https://lovegoostrey.com/announcing-the-2020-goostrey-scarecrow-competition/).

The challenge going forward 

The key for me will be to continue to maintain a healthy level of exercise beyond the lockdown, whatever that might look like.  I know the benefits for me are immense, I will need to find a way to give myself permission to prioritise my wellbeing above work and that’s always been a bit of a struggle for me! Which got me thinking about how I can coach myself to maintain my behaviour.  

Model of behaviour change and maintenance 

Back in 2007 I got an opportunity to work with colleagues to design a health trainers programme.  Core to this was the Transtheoretical Model of Behaviour Change which was developed by Prochaska & DiClemente in the 70’s. The model provides a blueprint for changing health behaviours such as health, fitness, wellbeing.  It identifies five stages people move through : pre contemplation (‘I wont’, ‘I cant’), contemplation (‘I May’), preparation (‘I will’), action (‘I am’), maintenance (‘I still am’).  I found a really helpful article linking this to coaching (https://downloads.lww.com/wolterskluwer_vitalstream_com/sample-content/9780781772624_Moore/samples/MooreSampChap3.pdf).  So for me in the maintenance stage there are some things I can do:

  • Stay connected to the value of cycling/running in serving my vision and goals
  • Set new goals that are interesting and attainable 
  • Maintain my social networks of people who also enjoy cycling/running
  • Remind myself of the motivation to take up cycling/running and discover new motivators 
  • Share my commitments with others
  • Be aware of lapses and identify early recognition and rapid response to get back on track
  • Avoid judging myself 

Guszkowska M. (2004). Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood. Psychiatr Pol (38), 611–620.