On Health and Wellness



Being Healthy -- It is something many of us would say we want. Who would ever say I don’t want to be healthy? Then again, for a good chunk of my life I personally never considered what does “being healthy” actually means to me. Nor have I stopped long enough to seriously consider what I would have to start doing, stop doing, or keep doing in order to be healthy?

Today, anyone who knows me well knows that I am a huge proponent of health, on a personal as well as professional and organization levels. In a work setting, happy customers are served by healthy organizations, and healthy organizations come from healthy teams. But we can only build healthy teams if those are made up of healthy individuals. I do not know whether or not the previous statement is the ultimate truth, but it is a core philosophy that I personally follow. Looking at it from the other end, individual health doesn’t start and stop when a person is on the clock; it is always there (or not). When a person is healthy, not only are they in a better position to engage with their professional life, they are in a better position to engage with their ENTIRE life. This is why these days my health as well as the health of people around me is one of my top focus areas.

A while back, I wrote a story about myself where through a series of seemingly random events my life has changed, and even I did not walk away the same person. This post, is another aspect of the changes that happened during that same time period, and as such it also has its roots in the randomness of those events.

Looking back, 5-10 years ago I was NOT a healthy person. All my life I was a night owl. When I worked for my previous employer, I’d often stay up late, often working (or not working, but also not sleeping) until 3 or 5 o’clock in the morning. Then in 2012, I joined a 7-person start-up company and really started staying up late. I would sleep 4-5 hours, repeat the cycle again, barely last until the weekend and then crash for majority of Saturday and a good chunk of Sunday. By the end of 2015, I was just about burned out and couldn’t even see it. While I still "felt" productive at work, I would come home and have ZERO motivation to interact with my family, or maintain my home or do just about anything else. My favorite activity outside of work has become to sit and look at a wall. In hindsight, it was not the best of times.

And then...

After a series of less-than-skillful episodes at work, I ended up in a box. To this day if you were to talk to my then boss, she’d probably insist, “it wasn’t a box; it was a swimlane” but being in whatever-it-was-labeled sure felt like it had 6 sides, all either being parallel to one another or coming together at 90-degree angles. It was basically a corporate version of being incarcerated.

I’ve got to say... forget the universe, time spent in a box will change a person. I came out of that with a shifted outlook not just on my work, but my entire life. As I was no longer consumed by work and everything that’s going on at work and things that had to get done at work, I started paying attention to other things, like eating well and taking morning walks with my wife. And because I didn’t have a mountain of code to write at night, or rather the code was still there; I chose not to do it, I started going to sleep earlier and got into a regular rhythm that many other humans apparently have been enjoying for eons. And then...

I lost 25 pounds without even intending to do that.

Many months later, during one of my regular weekly reflection sessions, all of this got me thinking: feeling healthy feels great and lately I’ve been feeling very healthy. I love feeling great. And when I feel great, I even seem to get more done. And other people around me seem happier when I feel great. What if I was to be healthy intentionally rather than just by being nudged by various external circumstances?

Putting on an engineer hat, I set out to find a more thorough, systematic approach to defining what it means to be healthy. Which just means I went back to Google and searched for something along the lines of “wellness and being healthy” and then spent hours digesting a whole bunch of pages, the majority of which seemed to have come from organization with an ".edu" suffix in their site name. Apparently, the topic of wellness is heavily promoted by many colleges as part of helping their student population to keep things together after leaving the cozy, sheltered lives of their parents’ homes.

What I found is that health/wellness has several different dimensions, and everyone agrees on that. These dimensions break down being healthy into specific focus areas, and using these, a person is able to start thinking about things one level deeper into how they are doing in each of those individual dimensions. However, I also found that no one, including government and various psychology organizations, really agrees on just how many dimensions there are, and everyone labels these dimensions slightly differently.

This is the checklist that I ended up borrowing/combining from various sources:

  • Physical Health - Am I taking care of my body? Enough sleep? How is the diet? Enough exercise?
  • Intellectual Health - Do I regularly engage in activities that challenge/stimulate my mind? Am I regularly learning?
  • Emotional Health - Am I able to experience and constructively live with full range of human emotions?
  • Social Health - Connection and relationships with other humans is very important. How is the circle of people around me? Here, we have a few sub-categories...
    • Marital Health - How is the relationship with my wife?
    • Parental Health - How is the relationship with my son?
  • Spiritual Health - Am I living my life with a sense of meaning and purpose?
  • Financial Health - What is my overall financial picture? How does my income compare to expenditures? How are the investments? How am I doing on the path toward financial independence ("don't say 'retirement'; people freak out when you use that word")
  • Occupational Health - How am I doing in my job? How is my career moving? Where is my career moving?
  • Avocational Health - How am I spending my leisure time and what activities are important to me here?
  • Environmental Health - Do I live in harmony with my environment? Do I like my environment? Does my environment like me? Does it support/enable me? Hinder me?

I’m not going into detailed definition of each of these categories of wellness, as many other sources have already done a great job at that. For anyone that wishes to learn more, you can get lots of info from “dimensions of wellness” search on Google. Outside of that, I have also found Trent Hamm’s 8-part article series to be very informative, enlightening and inspiring, although his angle is just a bit skewed towards financial aspects. Can’t really hold that against him considering his blog’s primary focus is on personal finances.

So now I have a wellness checklist. And maybe you have a wellness checklist for yourself. So what? What do you do with it? What’s it for? Is this one of those exercises (like many that an HR department attempts every couple of years) that you do and and then move on with your life? That would not be very useful.

The way I have incorporated this into my daily life is to periodically (every 2 months or so) come back to this checklist during one of my weekly/monthly reflection sessions. I would think through one dimension at a time and consider its current state. At that point, I would decide if and what kind of a course correction is in order.

Just to give a few examples inspired by my wellness checklist:

  • I picked up yoga almost two years ago as a way to fill a vacuum primarily in the physical health, but I chose yoga over other alternatives, including HIIT which I previously did, because I felt it would also contribute to emotional and spiritual (not financial though) dimensions. The premise being that yoga is a form of moving meditation, and it helps to center your mind as well as your body.
  • My wife and I instituted a monthly date night (or day) to make sure we intentionally set aside time for ourselves
  • In the beginning of each month, we also set aside one Friday night for a board game night with friends.

And then there were other, more gradual and longer-lasting transitions that got set into motion as a result of this exercise. One of the first ones was around spiritual health. When I first saw the word “spiritual”, my immediate reaction was, well that one isn’t for me, aannnnddd... skip; I’m an atheist and I’m happy staying that way. But the descriptions on the various wellness websites all converged around approaching life with a sense of purpose and meaning. Regardless of what your denomination or belief system is, even if that’s no system at all, who wouldn't want to live a life with a sense of purpose and meaning. Yet, I had absolutely no sense of what my own purpose and meaning were. It felt like a big gaping hole in my overall wellness plan. As my path continued to unfold in subsequent weeks/months/years, answering this one topic/question has become a major part of the journey.

The other interesting one has been the environmental dimension. At first I wasn’t feeling much at all about it and many descriptions like...

the extent to which one cares for the earth by protecting its resources. It is the ability to recognize personal responsibility for the quality of the air, water and land

... didn’t do it for me. I’m not quite ready to join any of the “save the..." baby dolphin, the rainforest or the warming of the globe crusades. Maybe someday. However, my relationship with this dimension changed after I read, Willpower Doesn't Work: Discover the Hidden Keys to Success. The key message in that book is that while we want to believe we are all individual and independent (and American culture is really big on that), in truth, we are not all that separate from everything around us. Rather, there is an interdependence where we have the power to shape and influence our environment but by the same token our environment continually influences and shapes us. Looking at and considering the environment from this perspective made this dimension much more real, relevant and closer to home for me.

That’s the story of my transition where health and wellness went from something I was vaguely aware at the periphery of my thinking to me beginning to incorporate it into the fabric of daily routines and habits.

As always, it is just a story and it is my story. I write these posts and part of me is still thinking, all you do is talk about yourself here; seems kinda self-centered, wouldn’t you say. Yeah, it does. But I can’t write about you because I don’t know you. And I can’t tell you what to do because I don’t have any answers. I never discovered “the truth”. So the only thing left is my story. Maybe what I’m sharing here will help you with the next chapter of your story. Maybe what I’m sharing here will make you think, but the actions you take will be very much different from the ones I took. Maybe what I’m sharing here will bore you and you wouldn’t even get that far down to read this last paragraph. Maybe someday, I’ll stop feeling like a self-centered jerk grandstanding on a soapbox (doesn’t help that my colleagues got me an actual soapbox). But that’s the beauty of life, none of us know what’s going to happen, and our health, happiness and freedom all reside at the very core of finding peace with that realization.