I don’t know what it feels like to foster a child but I do know what if feels like to conduct a child protection investigation and to sit on a child protection hearing and be responsible for the decision to remove a child from a family who, for a myriad of complex reasons, are unable to provide that child their birthright to have a loving and supportive family.
And within that process I also know how it feels to be completely unravelled by it. To lay awake at night traumatised by the horror inflicted and questioning every decision made.
I served as a police officer for 16 years specialising in training before finding myself in child protection, a role that very much chose me and not the other way around. 16 years’ service became my end point as a result of brain surgery.
Serving as a police officer was tough on my personal wellbeing and if I’m honest, my time in child protection broke me into pieces I struggled to put back together.
There is a Japanese word called kintsugi. It’s the art of repairing broken pottery with beautiful gold glue. The concept extends to the idea that by showcasing the repair with the beauty of gold, we acknowledge the honesty of the cracks and the journey it’s been on.
Kintsugi is a concept that humans can also embrace, every one of us experiences a diverse, sometimes beautiful, and sometimes difficult life. And wherever we are in our journey at this point, every one of us has picked up some cracks, emotionally and physically.
My work is focused on enabling people to understand the concept of well-being, particularly in the leadership space. It feels like well-being is a word banded around a lot, it’s the hot potato as they say. If you ask people to define well-being, they struggle to do so.
Our definition is “well-being is being able to understand the impact the natural highs and lows of life have on our ability to be-well, and to be armed with the skills to navigate them positively.” [Growth Pod]
It’s really helpful for us to have a definition but it’s the skills that help us navigate well-being that’s the most important element of all.
There is a new psychology kid on the block, it’s called positive psychology. Whilst psychology is concerned with looking for what makes us mentally unwell, positive psychology is interested in what helps us flourish. Our evolving understanding and interest in happiness has grown from this field and the emerging research is fascinating.
Positive psychology is a concept coined and researched by Professor Martin Seligman. A traditional psychologist by trade, he became frustrated with the purist focus of relieving misery and instead turned his focus to what makes life worth living.
His subsequent research found that well-being is a construct, not an outcome. Being well does not grow from one element but instead a number of elements which he calls pillars.
When we can understand these pillars, we arm ourselves with the skills to navigate those natural highs and lows we all experience.
When someone wants to get physically fit, they might go to a gym. They will be greeted by a qualified trainer who will ask them what their goal is. They will then teach them how to use the equipment they need in order to reach their goal and write them a bespoke plan of action.
So why is it then, that we are so great when it comes to teaching people about physical training but not when it comes to mental?
I am going to take you to the well-being gym and be your well-being coach. Protein shakes and lycra is optional!
Let’s start by understanding that every single one of us is unique. My well-being is different to yours, and yours is different to everyone else’s. The trick to well-being is knowing what you need. The other thing to consider here is that selfcare is not selfish. So many people equate taking time out for themselves to indulgence. If you have ever been on a plane you will know that the cabin crew tell you to put your own mask on before helping anyone with theirs.
This is not only the best advice should oxygen become an issue but advice we should be putting in our daily lives too. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of others?
Professor Martin Seligman found there are 6 pillars of well-being. Let’s take a look at them in a bit more detail.
In early human history, being good at tuning into bad and dangerous situations was quite literally a matter of life and death. Whilst the environmental threats have changed, our brains are still hard wired to this threat detection tendency. This bias can of course still serve us in some circumstances but it’s not as useful in the present day as it once was.
The simple fact is that our brain is not aware that the threats we face now are not the same threats we faced historically. Our brain is hard wired to focus on things that are not going well in our lives and that can become our default way of thinking.
Researchers have found that the experience of heartfelt positive emotions – like joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love – can make you more optimistic, more resilient, more open, more accepting, and more driven by purpose (Green, et al., 2009).
How? Studies by Professor Barbara Fredrickson have repeatedly demonstrated that positive emotions help you to broaden the way your brain responds to opportunities and challenges helping you to see new opportunities, think more creatively, and work more collaboratively. She has also found that as positive emotions accrue, they also build up your psychological, intellectual, social, and physical resources leaving you more resilient. (Stolen with pride and permission from Michelle McQuaid)
There are many ways we can increase our ability to become in tune with our positive emotions more frequently so we can enjoy these benefits. Expressing gratitude is one of those ways. Using a journal to write down what you are grateful for, creating a family habit, starting or ending your day by asking everyone to share something they are grateful for or even asking everyone over dinner. When we verbalise what we are grateful for, it challenges our negativity bias and tips the balance. The more consistently we consciously engage in positive grateful thoughts, the more we are able to rewire our brain to think this way more frequently without us having to work so hard at it.
We all have different neurological super powers and those super powers include our strengths. Most people don’t know what their strengths are but there is an easy way to find out. Simply go to https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register take the free survey and your 24 strengths will be organised from 1-24.
Strengths are personal qualities which link to our values and they shape how we think, feel and behave. Because we have spent our whole lives practicing these strengths, sometimes without knowing, our brain is wired to perform at its best when we use them, and when we do, we feel good.
Making sure we get to use our strengths regularly (particularly our top 5) is really important for our well-being. Because many people don’t know what their true strengths are, it makes it more challenging to embed them in our daily routines.
My top five strengths are, creativity, fairness, love, love of learning and spirituality, and my lowest strength is perseverance. When I have to do tasks I don’t enjoy, I try to use my strengths. I hate doing my accounts, so to make it more engaging I get creative, colour code my receipts and spreadsheets, and it brings a little bit of joy to a task I ordinarily struggle with.
Perseverance is my lowest strength. Because I am so creative, I can be distracted easily with new projects and find it difficult to finish ongoing ones. But because I know this, I’m able to treat myself kindly, and not get upset or feel lost when I struggle to finish things. Instead, I have created strategies and tools to get things finished which is better for my well-being.
My husband’s top strength is perseverance, and because we know this, it gives us a shared understanding into each other’s personalities. He understands why I have a tendency to leave my chores half-finished because I have been distracted by something else and knowing that has helped strengthen our relationship.
Once you know your strengths, you can consciously use them to bring you joy. Get everyone else to map their strengths too and explore how to use them together. Helping young people understand their strengths is a wonderful gift.
Some of us are born into families that are unable to serve us and most of us at some point have connected with people who are not so good for our well-being. From toxic relationships to people who are simply not very positive (I like to call them mood hoovers!) we can all find ourselves connected to people that impact our well-being.
Recognising who these people are is the first step to taking action. Being conscious about how others impact you is a great way to protect yourself. Think about those around you, who makes you feel good and who doesn’t? We are social creatures who are designed to be connected so spending more time with those who make you feel good and putting boundaries around those that don’t will boost your well-being.
We also have a relationship with ourselves, some people talk to themselves in a really negative way, berating themselves for not being good enough, criticising themselves when they get things wrong. Take a check of your internal language, how do you speak to yourself, is it with love and kindness, or with criticism and judgement? Test your language – would you say what you say to yourself to another human? If the answer is no, then don’t say it. Instead of hurting yourself treat yourself with respect. When you practice this, it changes your internal relationship and positively impacts on your relationship with others.
Role modelling this is super important for those around you, especially if you have a young person who is struggling with their own internal language. Talk openly about relationships and explore how some relationships serve you, and others don’t.
Meaning is our foundation, our core, our authentic self. Sometimes we can lose our sense of meaning and identity. It’s important for our well-being to rediscover it and be mindful of our purpose in our everyday lives. When we know our true meaning it gives us a sense of purpose and direction, and living a meaning-led life is incredible for our well-being. Our meaning can change over time
depending on our experiences and circumstances. My meaning and purpose have changed through some of my bigger
experiences, like becoming a mum and losing my father.
Your meaning and purpose is embedded in your core values and beliefs. Being conscious of them and how they impact on you, your thoughts, emotions and how you respond to events can help you see their power. We all have a calling. For you, helping others is clearly evident and answering these three questions can further help you to connect with your meaning.
1. For what and how do you want to be remembered?
2. Who do you want to be remembered by?
3. What values and strengths do you hope
people describe when they talk about you?
Answering these questions yourself is beneficial. Maybe encourage the young people in your life to answer them too. When we know the answers, they become our moral compass, guiding our decisions, direction and goals.
It feels good when we achieve things, even small things. It gives us a sense of satisfaction and pride. Sometimes we forget all the amazing things we do every day and linked with our negativity bias, we can sometimes spend too much time thinking about what we didn’t achieve rather than what we did.
Being mindful of our achievements can help increase our well-being. We can do this by getting into the habit of reflecting each day or week on all the things we achieved. We don’t have to climb a mountain, just taking the first step is an achievement in its own right.
Helping ourselves and our children think this way is powerful. Equally thinking about where we might have struggled is also a great habit to get into, but doing so in a positive way. When we can explore our struggles, reflect on them and see how we have grown by experiencing them, we grow resilience and develop new skills.
Failing is an important element of growth so if we can learn to be comfortable when we feel uncomfortable, know this is a learning opportunity we are experiencing, we can shift our focus and grow stronger through the inevitable challenges we will all face.
Author Tom Rath states, “sitting is one of the most underrated health threats of modern time”.
Think about how much time you spend on your bottom. Working at a desk, watching TV, sat in your car. It soon stacks up! Movement in any form is good for us. Our bodies are designed to move and when we do so, we feel energised. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you start running 10k every morning before breakfast. A simple walk is good enough.
Being in nature is incredible for our well-being and being mindful in nature is even better. Mindfulness just means being present and aware. Many of us miss so much instead of being present we are thinking about the next thing or what happened in the past. We only have control in the present so be present.
Recharging our batteries is important, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of others. Many people create the false link that self-care is selfish. Looking after your own health is vital. Yes, health can relate to eating good foods, exercising and sleep but it also relates to more than that.
A recent study of 18,000 people over 135 countries found the following activities were reported the most when it comes to increasing personal well-being; reading, time in nature, being alone, listening to music, doing nothing, walking, taking a bath, daydreaming, watching T.V and practicing mindfulness.
Whatever it is that you need, make sure you carve time out to engage in it, book yourself a rest prescription, ditch the guilt and know by helping yourself you are helping others.
Talk about what you need with your family, get everyone to think about ways that supports their health and factor time in for each other to make sure you all get to invest in your health and well-being.
We know that broccoli is a super food and very good for us. If you eat it once a year it won’t have much impact. Equally if you put it on your plate now and again, you won’t get the maximum benefit. Well-being is the same. In order to get the most impact in your life you have to keep at it.
Each pillar is important, but sometimes you may be high in one area and low in others. Keeping the balance can help you navigate the natural highs and lows. We all have low points; they are an inevitable part of life. The moon doesn’t shine brightly 365 days a year. There are times in its cycle that it hides away. Humans also can’t be expected to shine all the time, so be honest, lean into your truth and emotions, and when you do shine, shine with pride. Being conscious and understanding which pillars are low and high arms you with a powerful tool, which in turn enables you to take the actions you need.
Caring for others can be draining, emotional and complex. Remember you can’t take care of those in your charge if you don’t first take care of yourself. You are a gift to the children you are caring for, and you can impact positively on their lives. Teach them about well-being, and role model good practice. Even in a short time you can impact greatly on others, because as WM Paul Young wisely wrote in his book The Shack; “If anything matters, then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again”.
About Emma Coller
Emma co-owns training and coaching company, GrowthPod. www.growth-pod.co.uk
Her vision is to build resilient, inclusive, thriving workplaces by developing leaders who know why and how to take care of the well-being of those they serve. Emma believes that by teaching leaders how to create psychologically safe workplaces employees are able to work in companies where their holistic wellbeing is served enabling them to reach optimal human flourishing.
Emma’s passion is driven from a desire to create a world where every person is valued. When people feel cared for, valued and nourished at work that extends outwards. People leave work feeling good, taking that feeling into their communities creating a ripple effect into the wider world.
Emma works one to one with people helping them grow into their conscious optimal self through coaching and energy psychology.
She believes every person is born to flourish, however on our experiential journey we pick up stories and self-limiting beliefs that can hold us back from bringing our whole selves to the world. Emma blends the latest science of positive psychology and well-being with powerful coaching tools to help people find their authentic self, enabling people to flourish and share their gifts with the world.