By Nikita Singh | Posted: January 18, 2019
While there’s a lot of advice on prioritizing, and doing less to achieve more, this may not always be possible. Most of us are ambitious in our careers, enjoy an activity outside of work, and have family and friends we want to spend time with. Therefore, we’re bound to have conflicting priorities, making some days seem overwhelming. Handling such times with equanimity and a sense of feeling good is what well-being is about.
An individual’s ecosystem, lifestyle, and personality have a significant impact on his/her wellbeing. In addition, there are many habits and skills, which can help us through everyday life.
Through my work in the area of well-being in the last few months, I’ve had a seemingly obvious, yet significant shift in my perspective: well-being isn’t just a static concept or state of mind, it’s a set of skills to be cultivated. In Richard Davidson’s words, “Well-being is fundamentally no different than learning to play the cello. If one practices the skills of well-being, one will get better at it.”
Here are 4 habits/skills that can help us navigate the everyday chaos of our lives, while also enhancing well-being:
1. Awareness and attention
Sage Patanjali, the father of Ashtanga Yoga, began his commentary by saying “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” He then went on to describe modifications of the mind, and distractions on the path of equanimity. However, recent research has found that on average, people have over 35 thoughts a minute, and spend an average of 47% of their life not paying attention to these thoughts!!
Can you imagine a world, or a workplace, or a home, where this number (47%) goes down? Research has found that by increasing one’s awareness on thoughts & feelings at any given point in time, one remains more objective and balanced. Mark Williams, professor at Oxford University, says “Mindful awareness means non-judgmental awareness. A direct awareness of what is going on inside and outside of oneself, moment by moment.”
Sound challenging? Well, it did to me a couple of years ago as well. However, the everyday practice of meditation, coupled with a constant reminder to become aware and assume the role of a third person, a seer, or witness, while watching my thoughts and feelings, has hugely increased my awareness.
Why does this increased awareness help? It lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when thoughts are taking over, and realize that they’re simply mental events that come and go, with no control over us.
This deeper level of awareness also makes one more objective. It then becomes easier to let go of the thoughts and feelings that would otherwise cause immense stress and take away from one’s well-being.
Resilience is normally referred to as the ability to bounce back. However, I like to think of it as the ability to bounce forward, because if we demonstrate resilience, we won’t just recover, but also learn and grow, and move on to become better versions of ourselves.
In yoga philosophy, resilience is also known as titiksha. It’s said that developing titiksha is one of the ways to live a calmer life.
Resilience is typically spoken about as an inherent personality trait – some people have higher levels, while others tend to be on the lower side. Experts say that resilience is also partly genetic. However, resilience can also be cultivated.
There may be multiple ways of cultivating resilience. Ones that have worked most for me include the following:
Impermanence: Embrace the impermanence of everything: happy events, good news, trying times, and even our own life. This love of the temporary can help one let go of the intense attachment to a situation or person, or the feverishness of wanting things to go a certain way.
Meditation: There’s a lot of research about why & how meditation enhances resilience. However, here’s a lesser known reason: meditation enhances the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF is a key protein that promotes development, survival, and plasticity of neurons in the nervous system, such that we remain positive, happy and calm. In fact, studies have found that individuals with low resilience also have lower levels of BDNF. However, when BDNF levels go up through meditation, resilience also increases!
Awareness: Finally, moment to moment awareness (as mentioned above) helps us move on quickly from what was, to deal with what is, without worrying about what will be, which is the most effortless route to resilience!
3. Prosocial behavior
Exhibiting care, concern, empathy, gratitude, and compassion for others helps enhance our well-being. By being good to others, both you and they benefit. There’s now a plethora of data showing that when individuals engage in prosocial (generous or altruistic) behavior, they actually activate circuits in the brain that are key to fostering well-being. These circuits get activated in a way that’s more enduring than the way we respond to other positive incentives, such as winning a game or earning a prize. This is also known as the “helper’s high.”
Human beings come into the world with innate, basic goodness. When we engage in practices designed to cultivate kindness and compassion, we’re not creating something that didn’t already exist. We’re nurturing a quality that was there from the outset. Therefore, prosocial behavior is like coming back to our nature!
One can know and do everything there is. However, forgetting to be compassionate to oneself can be most detrimental to individual well-being.
As I mentioned in an earlier article, so many of us associate being self-critical with being successful. We are deeply attached to self-criticism, and at some level, we probably think the pain is helpful. To the extent that self-criticism does work as a motivator, it’s because we are driven by the desire to avoid self-judgement when we fail.
However, with self-compassion, we strive to achieve for a very different reason – because we care. And because self-compassion gives us the safety needed to acknowledge our weaknesses, we’ll be in a better position to change them for the better. Practicing self-compassion may actually help us cultivate the healthy habits of staying fit, eating well, meditating, and even being disciplined! All this because we care for ourselves!
So, for the next 7 days, whatever your situation may be, become aware, develop resilience, be good to others, and don’t forget to be compassionate towards yourself! Good luck, and have a high well-being, high productivity week ahead!
This article was originally published on LinkedIn and is re-posted here with the author’s permission.
Nikita Singh, an organizational psychologist, a certified health & wellness coach and a leadership consultant, and the founder of The Human Prism, has worked internationally in diverse industries with a keen interest in holistic, individual development.