Wellness Defined – an update

I recently came across a way of looking at Wellness that resonated strongly with me. I was listening to a new podcast from Dallas Hartwig (coauthor of It Starts With Food) and Pilar Geronismo (health & wellness writer extraordinaire). In the middle of their first episode, as they were outlining the goals for the podcast and where they hoped to take it, they said the following (I’m paraphrasing wildly):

Wellness is about how you show up, about how you allow yourself to be.

I would add: It’s not about how you look, or how much you can lift. Those are aspects of Wellness to be sure, there are just so many other aspects that to focus on those two is to shortchange yourself and to lose track of the goal – whole body well-being.

In my earlier series on defining wellness (parts 1, 2 & 3) I started with a dictionary definition of wellness and built from that. In this update I’d like to take a parallel path toward that most elusive of ideas – what is wellness?

To get started, I offer this summary answer: Wellness is what YOU make it.

That may sound like a cop out to some of you, please remember that there are no concrete metrics for wellness. There is no test your doctor can run, no results page with a list of numbers. I’ve said all along that wellness will be defined differently by different people, or even by the same person at different stages of life.

Starting from there, how can we hope to come to a concrete definition? Let’s reframe that – why do we feel the need to have a concrete definition for such a fluid concept? We might as well be asking, “How can we come to one concrete definition of wellness that will work for everyone?” We can’t. Great, now that we’ve ruled out that possibility, we ought to be able to get somewhere.

Reframed question – How can we define wellness in a way that each person seeing that definition will know how to interpret it, FOR THEMSELVES?

Here we go, now we’ve arrived at where I think the paraphrase above comes into play and why it resonated so strongly with me. Look at wellness as a state of mind. If you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and your first thought starts with “why can’t you…” or “why aren’t you…” your state of mind that day won’t be brimming with wellness, will it? You’re going into the day feeling shame for some aspect of your appearance, or by chastising yourself for a perceived flaw. That’s going to color everything you do, all day.

What if when you looked in the mirror, you thought of 3 things you appreciate about your life? Or 3 things you’re looking forward to that day? Now you’re starting off with positive thoughts, no shame in sight, and no dwelling on that perceived flaw (that in all likelihood isn’t a flaw at all). Doesn’t that sound more likely to engender a good state of mind?

And that better state of mind will in turn influence how you show up in the world – and according to this new definition we’re looking at, your wellness. Your interactions with coworkers will be more pleasant, because you aren’t seeing everything through either the filter of body shame, or the “what if” filter. This is what creates the sense that all of your interactions are with people who are judging you, while in reality this is just your negative self-talk being projected onto others.

Eliminating these filters allows you to just Be with the other person, free from assumptions and self-conscious self-talk. To NOT project your insecurities onto them, to simply Be there with the other person, in that moment.

Understanding that wellness is a fluid concept is the first step. The second step is understanding that you can influence this state, moment to moment, in myriad ways. In upcoming posts, I’ll look at some additional ways you can shift how you show up, and in turn affect your overall wellness.