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What’s the single most important thing to you?


Two big questions that have fed my curiosity. With some folk, the conversation lasts for a long time, others a matter of minutes. But every occasion is filled with rich debate and moments of uninterrupted silence.

There’s a lot of topics making the headlines lately. Wellness or wellbeing is certainly something I hear and see more, what I’m not so sure about is the feeling that goes with it.

Why is wellbeing increasingly more visible as a subject?

Good for PR? Drive performance? We know more about its impact? It’s trendy? We genuinely care about ourselves and others?

These reasons and a ton more. But what does it mean on an individual level?

From a personal perspective, the answer to the first of my two questions requires no thought. As a father of two, nothing is more important than spending time with the three people that matter most.

Why? Now that brings a flow of responses. Each response breaks into even smaller chunks.

Take any one of these and throw a third question in: what prevents you from experiencing the important stuff more often?

Cue: uninterrupted silence.

For all the campaigns, social media and “X awareness week”: what really matters to an individual?

Why? What’s preventing more of it?

I asked a close friend, Garry Turner, why don’t we have fewer grand gestures:

“I would start by clarifying, for me, what fewer grand gestures means and am I comparing this against something? That said, I fully support making incremental, gradual shifts is more likely to result in sticking power, but the key is whatever the change, large or small, the resulting self-care should not be a stressor otherwise it defeats the object i.e. I have stopped meditating as I found it a chore”

To Garry’s question, its perhaps easier to clarify what I mean by small gestures: the meaningful stuff; the stuff that lasts long after you’ve refreshed your news feed.

It’s like everything; the quiet moments, when no one’s watching, they’re the times you know it’s meant, and heartfelt, and you-centred, as opposed to grand gestures with ‘one size fits all’. It’s bespoke, so small in scale, but significant to the individual. Small gestures.

Then the idea of resulting self-care. Ever since this brief exchange with Garry, I’ve been thinking about what my resulting self-care is. I figured it’s choice, habits, a prioritisation of good discipline.

When I’m most disciplined, I get my wellness jolt. But how do you sustain that, long after the poster has stopped catching your attention?

Do people really need significant information about the vast number of topics on wellbeing? Instead, we could upgrade our listening, concentration, empathy and awareness skills.

I asked my good friend Bekky, otherwise known as ‘The Happiness PT’, for her thoughts:

“It’s the day to day, genuine, heartfelt gestures that add up. They can be spontaneous, they can be small, but routinely completed and drip fed. This can and should transform culture. I remember the serendipitous coffee, the quick jokes, the sideways winks and comments of “you ok?”, far more than the champagne moments”

Re-read that again. What’s Bekky encouraging you to do?

There was a time in my career I welcomed someone returning from maternity leave. I’d never done this before, so rather than reaching for a manual, I sort to deeply empathise and listen.

“I can’t put my finger on it”, they described.

“Ever since she was born it’s a sudden rush of anxiety, but I don’t know if my anxiety triggers me to overthink every situation, or does a situation trigger my anxiety?”

So, what would constitute a less grand gesture I thought.

Firstly, what’s the most important thing to you? And why?

  • How can I help, little and often, to have a positive impact?
  • How can I help you move forward professionally, without sacrificing time with your family?
  • How can I show genuine care about your happiness, sense of value, career and home life?
  • How do I help you to feel proud of where you work?

Sticking with the same example, why should paternity leave be treated any different.

Opening a door in a career doesn’t mean closing one in our personal life. The ‘have you got capacity to help on this?’ moment which contributes to anxiety, resulting in cancelled date nights. The ‘I might be late home’ that takes you away from the nativity. The promotion that means Garry’s meditating habit is sacrificed, or Bekky’s marathon preparation is hampered for the second successive year.

By approaching this from a perspective of identifying with the stuff that really matters, on a smaller scale, you’ll be listening to underlying causes.

There will always be a tension between preventative and reactive self-care. But I’m poking at a few thoughts here to shift beyond the poster, beyond the awareness campaign, and connect with this idea of resulting self-care.

Fewer posters about stress. Stress doesn’t just come about. It starts from something less significant. How good are you at spotting the early signs? What’s contributing to frustrations? How does this manifest into pressure? Where is pressure becoming unhealthy and feeding anxiety or stress?

What are the triggers? What is it about the unique context that’s contributing to this person feeling the way they are.

Bekky describes happiness as a need-to-have, not nice to have. We should see happiness as a strategic driver for success, productivity and innovation.

So if you’re caught in the better-do-this-cos-its-trendy circle like many others, are you willing to collaborate outside of your organisation?

What if we all got in a room, and had a wellbeing hackathon? What would an upgrade to our listening, concentration, empathy and awareness skills look like? How would that help you reap the rewards of the important stuff more often?

It would lead to more effective, self-sustaining and meaningful conversations. But you need a huge dose of care. You then have to care even more to make sure that has a positive impact. Meaningful conversations are nothing if there’s no action.

If we create a more genuine, meaningful environment, it’s hard to imagine working anywhere else.

Chris Furnell – Learning & OD Practitioner

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