As a former workaholic who prioritised work demands over other things, focusing on wellness been exercising my mind for quite some time now. It wasn’t until I took time out for a month and did a walk in the wilderness late last year that I truly learned what it takes to experience and enjoy tremendous wellbeing.
My walk was a silent retreat for a month. I walked solo 400 kilometres of the Te Araroa trail from the top of the South Island to Lake Coleridge whilst raising money for KidsCan. (You can read more about it here.) It was a glorious saturation of my senses in nature and a tremendous slowing down of my overstimulated brain. The result was a complete sense of wellbeing and joy as well as increased fitness and health.
I knew that the challenge would be maintaining this sense of peace and calm as I returned to my everyday life. I knew I had to live differently from how I had before. What I discovered during that month I have put into practice in order to continue to enjoy an ongoing sense of wellbeing.
There are 4 key things I learned that I now practice on a regular basis:
- The power of mindfulness and being in the now – the research is extraordinarily clear about the benefits of mindfulness and being in the now. It reduces stress, leads to improved health outcomes and increases your capacity and creativity. By walking in the wilderness on my own for a month, with nothing more to do than put one foot in front of the other – I became completely mindful and present. I was here now. For the first time in my adult life that I could remember, I didn’t have any future things to think about and I wasn’t worrying about the past, leaving me free to be truly there and just enjoying the present. I experienced the glories of nature, the sun on my skin, the breeze, the lush green of the bush, the singing birds and the stunning views. The result was overwhelming joy.
Now … I take time to stop and be mindful often in my day. I notice what’s around me, what I can see, smell, hear. I let my senses enjoy and appreciate what is around me and bring myself back to the present.
How do you take time to be mindful? How can you build mindfulness into your day?
- The importance of quiet and time alone – whilst social connections with others are critical to our health, so too is quiet and time alone to just be. We live and work in increasingly noisy environments – open plan offices, loud urban environments and homes with TVs and beeping technology that demands our attention and takes us away from ourselves. We used to live with a lot more quiet. But our brains need downtime to rest and renew. We are not wired to be on and stimulated all the time.
Now … I make sure I spend time in silence in my day – whether it’s time in the house with no TV and other technology to distract me, unstructured quiet time, meditation or walking alone. Valuing this and building it into your day, week or year is critical to your sense of wellbeing.
How do you build in quiet time and time alone to reflect and let your mind rest and wander?
- Regular exercise – I have always known that my mental health is better when I am exercising every day. But I always found it hard to maintain when I was in busy, demanding roles. Work demands often took priority over everything else. The research is so clear about the benefits both for your brain and your overall health – increased longevity, decreasing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, increased mental health and creativity. And now the evidence is overwhelming about the negative effects of our sedentary jobs and the increased health risks from sitting down all day. When I was walking every day it was amazing to see the impact on my body – how the weight that I could never lose at home fell off me and how my body felt like an efficient and happy machine.
Now … I do a brisk walk every day. Not only am I exercising, but I am being mindful as I am out in nature bathing my senses, getting some time alone and letting my mind wander. It also means I am lengthening my life, looking after my health and again ensuring each day I will live as well as I can for that day.
Are you exercising regularly? Does the type of exercise you do meet other needs apart from fitness? What could you do to improve your exercise routine?
- Journaling – many writers have written about the power of journaling. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, writes about the power of morning pages – showing up at the page first thing in the morning to see where you are right now, to face it and process it. From this process many things emerge – you can let go of stuff you would drag around at a subliminal level all day otherwise, freeing you up to be more creative and make more choices. New ideas emerge, new creative approaches to problems arise, and you find new ways to respond to situations you may have found tricky. You can see where you are on and off track and do something about it. I have journaled for most of the past 20 years and know that when I am writing every morning as part of the set-up of my day I am more conscious and I live better. On my long walk, I blogged about my experiences as a reflection tool and it was a great way for me to cement what I was learning as a result of the experience.
Now … I journal most days in the morning and that keeps me on track and conscious about whats going on and gives me more choices over how I am responding to situations.
Have you ever journaled as a reflective practice? What impact did it have? What do you notice about your life when you were journaling versus not journaling? How could you build journaling into your day and into your life? What benefits would it produce?
Our constantly connected, high demand fast lives now invite us to be overstimulated and divorced from our needs. The costs can be high to our health, sacrificing connections with others and connection with ourselves. It takes mindfulness and courage to listen to ourselves, stay connected and be guided by our needs and deepest desires.
When you look at this list, how many of these practices are you using to stay connected to you? How do you ensure you are maintaining a sense of wellbeing as you go about living your life?
I was fortunate to be able to take a month away to give full focus to my wellbeing. As a result, I was able to put in place these practices and make them a regular part of my lifestyle.
You don’t, however, need to take a month away or walk 400 kilometres to begin your own focus on wellbeing.
I can help you discover what the equivalent is for you – we can discover what the path is for you without removing you from your everyday life.
Contact me for an initial conversation about what’s keeping you from focusing on your wellbeing.