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We live in a culture where we tend to talk about everyday well-being and transformational shifts in very heightened terms. We want to enjoy amazing well-being or experience extraordinary transformations. But is that thinking helpful? In this blog, we talk about how it can adversely affect your aspirations and what might be more helpful instead.
Let’s get curious.
Desperately seeking silver bullets: a simple solution to a complicated problem
When you feel poorly, stressed, unhappy, or agitated in some way, there’s often a sense of urgency to ‘fix’ what’s going on. The body’s only ‘overdraft’ facility is adrenaline and related stress hormones. This means that regardless of the reason for your experience, your biochemistry is in the fight-or-flight-or-freeze mode or stress state.
Because of this biochemistry, you are less able to think with your more recently evolved curious, problem-solving and big-picture brain. The more intense this feeling is, the more you are thinking with the most primal part of your brain. You’re likely to feel angry, anxious or numb. It can become so intense that you’re actually crocodiling a lot of the time, reacting from instinct rather than mindfully thinking and feeling into what’s genuinely most helpful.
The feeling is characterised by being uncomfortable, sometimes unbearably so. This makes sense. The whole point of this experience is to drive us to take action to change whatever it is that’s causing this feeling. The risk though is that we spend money, time, and hope on silver bullets that make big promises and potentially deliver little. Or we feel paralysed, unable to take action, stuck in freeze mode because it all feels just too overwhelming. Either way, the inner critic is likely to have a field day and we end up feeling bad about ourselves.
But what if it isn’t that uncomfortable, what if it’s just ‘meh’…?
Frogs and heaps of sand: tipping point of burnout
The Sorites paradox refers to a heap of sand that’s gradually reduced by a single grain of sand at a time. This means that the tipping point from being a heap of sand to a non-heap of sand isn’t noticeable. You may be more familiar with the metaphor of the frog who’s placed in tepid water that’s then heated to a boil. According to the metaphor, the frog doesn’t jump out because of how gradual this increase in discomfort is and dies. The point of these metaphors is the corrosive nature of barely noticeable discomfort. You just gradually find yourself less and less and less alive and well, until you’re barely there. Think of it as marginal losses, just as impactful and effective as marginal gains.
Everyday well-being: change and transformation
So what have silver bullets, frogs, and heaps of sand got to do with everyday well-being and transformational shifts? The focus puller on a film set is responsible for maintaining the image sharpness and basically keeping things in focus (Thor worked in film and TV throughout their 20s hence the frequent referencing to films in the Helpful blogs and the use of film therapy).
When you are caring for your everyday well-being, you move quite effortlessly between the state of stress and the state of maintenance, often referred to as the rest-and-repair mode or rest-and-digest mode. You feel agile and able to speed up and slow down in relation to what’s going on in your life. This ability to shift between the stress and maintenance states works like your zoom lens. You can zoom in into details (like threats) and zoom out to see the bigger picture (including opportunities and resources) You’re able to keep things in focus.
What are the six areas of everyday well-being?
So what are you looking at when you’re zooming in and out? We always talk about health in all three dimensions: physical, mental, and social health. Take those three dimensions and apply them to the six areas of well-being where you can get your sherlock on and get curious.
- Mood – this is how you’re feeling, your state of being
- Symptoms – these are symptoms you’re experiencing, physical and mental
- Relationships – these are both personal and professional interactions you have
- Activity – this refers to your capacity to be active and how you are using that capacity
- Food – this refers to everything you eat (and drink too)
- Sleep – this refers to the onset, quality, duration of your sleep, dreams and how you feel on waking
The environment and other factors are important for your well-being too
There are a number of models for well-being ranging from the broad (including factors like environment and politics) to the specific (like fitness or money). For the purposes of this blog, we are using the six areas of well-being that we work with when we support people to better health.
From the Helpful perspective, your feelings are your go-to place, they’re like a ‘live-stream’ from inside your experience. They let you know what you need for your self-care. Remember feelings are information.
Look at these six areas and check how each area feels for you in terms of your physical, mental and social health. Does it feel poor, ok, or good? Your observations will give you the clues to where to pay attention and invest your focus.
A note on health and well-being: good health and well-being are contextual to what’s relevant to you. You may have a disability or a physical and/or mental illness and be in good health and experience well-being. You may be functional, feel and active and actually be in poor health with little sense of well-being. This is about getting curious about the actual lived experience of being you.
The theory of marginal gains
Because of the urgency we mentioned earlier, there can be a sense of pressure to make big changes, all at the same time. This then not only feels overwhelming and even paralysing but also is often highly impractical.
We favour looking at gathering incremental changes and marginal gains to create transformational shifts. It’s the Sorites paradox the other way. Here instead of the heap decreasing, it’s now increasing, grain by grain. It’s easier to tweak ten things by one percent than it is to shift one thing by ten percent. Focus on the marginal gains of multiple one percents and the momentum gathers for that tipping point into transformation..
Ways to find joy in your everyday life
So what do we mean by one percent? It’s using the details of everyday life as practice and focus for your self-care. The detail can be to close doors rather than slam them (unless of course, that’s actually beneficial to your well-being). It can be to sherlock and get curious about whether you like the smell of the soap you use. If you don’t like it, get something that you do like. It can be to write a few lines at the end of the day about what you’ve enjoyed that day. It can be to place your ‘stuff’ rather than ‘dump’ it (notice the mindfulness of ‘placing’ versus the often absent-minded act of ‘dumping’).
Mundane magic refers to savouring your everyday life, a good cup of tea, the view out your window, the smile on someone’s face (and yes, that includes your own). It’s about paying attention to the little things that are often remarkably easy to improve (like the smell of the soap) so that they connect you with joy, appreciation, or even contentment.
What drives small wins? Mundane magic
Moving towards the transformation you seek with the help of mundane magic can be profound. Often it’s less dramatic and costly in terms of your own physical, mental, and social resources. Indeed it can also be less costly in terms of your financial resources as you’re not spending money on silver bullets and stuff that then gather dust and self-criticism. This is a way of creating the conditions for transformational shifts.
We’ve even got a 12-minute meditation on Mundane Magic and Savouring the Everyday to help you find joy in your everyday life.
Our invitation to you
We encourage you to look at where you are putting yourself under pressure for big changes, or maybe not even noticing how poor your well-being is. Remember it’s information that will then give you the clues as to how to move towards changing it. When the discomfort and urgency of wanting the shift ‘now’ becomes unbearable, remind yourself of the marginal gains approach and how the seemingly insignificant actions you’re taking today will actually move you towards the shift you crave and need.
If you’re struggling to get out of a constant state of stress check out this blog with the ABC technique, which is a practical technique to help you shift states. You can also learn it on the First Aid for Feelings online meditation course.
In the last couple of blog posts, we’ve talked about the importance of having allies and support as well as cultivating traits like compassion, courage, curiosity, and confidence. If you’ve not read those yet, have a look as together with this post, these three blog posts support aspirational living. Savour your day and the shift will happen.
Go gently, hold steady, stay the course.
All the best, Thor