New Zealand Law Society - Talking about Mental Health: Wellbeing — enough's enough

Talking about Mental Health: Wellbeing — enough's enough

By Martin Wilson

I’ve wrestled with this …

For no amount of my preaching about the what and how of wellbeing is likely to make a jot of difference. We need to action wellbeing to be on a wellbeing path. Rather like, if we’re into biking, we need to do more than think or talk about it and actually ride that bike.

What fuels a shift from wellbeing as a good idea or a wishful dream into a more grounded, living reality? For that’s what seems to be the sticking point. We understand the value in wellbeing, we’re comforted by the idea of it, yet we struggle to live it. With that in mind:

A. When do we get on a wellbeing path?

B. How might we UP or better ‘generate’ that shift (from wellbeing poor to wellbeing prosperous)?

C. What makes wellbeing a lasting habit, distinct from a one-day wonder?

Much of the answers to each of these questions might be captured in the word: ENOUGH. When:

  • We’ve had enough of our lack of wellbeing (we ‘recognise’ our need);
  • We accept we’re enough and worthy of choosing an alternative to wellbeing deferral (we ‘own’ that path);
  • We action wellbeing in a good enough way (we ‘live’ and ‘are’ wellbeing).

I’ll come back to the idea of what’s enough in addressing these questions (A – C). For much of the way forward with wellbeing lies in “enough’s enough”.

A: When do we get on a wellbeing path?

Whereas wellness might be an idea or outcome, wellbeing’s an action. For some, simply actioning wellbeing is all it takes, with next to no forethought nor soul searching. They opt in, boots and all. For most of us though it takes more.

Most of us get on the wellbeing path by feeling our way forward. Most especially in feeling we’ve ‘had enough’, or there might too arise a feeling of not in fact being bullet proof. As some put it:

  • “I’ve had a gutsful. I’m at my wit’s end.”
  • “I’m sick of rescuing others. How about me?”
  • “I’m fed up saving face. By saying ‘yes’ when I mean ‘no’”
  • “This isn’t how I planned my life to turn out. Lifeless, joyless, endless.”
  • “I’m so tired … but I can’t sleep.”
  • “If I’m really honest, I loathe how I’m ‘living’ right now.”
  • “I get pissed off how people say I’m so serious these days, no fun anymore.”
  • “I keep on thinking I can do it. And I do. But at what price? I’m not sure I want to find out.”
  • “I want to be more responsible for those whom I love and feel a sense of belonging. Not kneeling at the altar of ‘others’ and their problems.”

When we feel our way forward to wellbeing we begin to notice our underlying need for wellbeing.

To feel, we begin by actually noticing and allowing our feelings. We notice what our senses reveal about us internally and of our immediate environment. We give increasing presence to our self, tip to toe. We’re aware of our feelings experientially, as physical sensations.

For the body is always present. A truth-teller of sorts. We need to appreciate what it’s telling us. It broadens our intelligence, beyond the limits of the ever employable – but sometimes distorting, denying – mind. None more so than when it’s not partnered by what we feel, when it runs rampant, when it rules the roost.

In getting on a wellbeing path, we often discover we’ve been ‘sitting on’ our own wellbeing. As in, much of what we pick up and experience again are habits had or choices made before we got off the wellbeing path. Such as the feeling we’ve had after a week on holiday, in getting home early, in eating well, sitting still for once, in building a tree hut with the kids or baking a cake together.

We don’t need to go in search of wellbeing. We can reflect on our past wellbeing lived life for:

  • People or factors which were influential in our choosing a wellbeing tack.
  • Circumstances or an environment which supported us to live in a more wellbeing way.
  • Our wellbeing choices and preferences back then, including living in a responsible way (eg, not being overly or unhealthily responsible for others).

Unless there are more deep-seated psychological or emotional factors at play, it doesn’t take as much as we might think to rediscover wellbeing. It’s not such a big deal. Yet, its deferral is potentially a calamity or worse. We can have hope, for a small drop of wellbeing activity (or possibly inactivity, eg, being still) can produce a surprisingly large pool of wellness. We too can have faith that in getting on the wellbeing path we’ll be rewarded.

B: How might we UP or better generate that shift (from wellbeing poor to wellbeing prosperous)?

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” as a former colleague of mine coaxed me once. This being uncomfortable is akin to vulnerability, where we risk being more fully seen, in feeling more emotionally open (even exposed) and in our clinging less to undue certainty. Vulnerability leverages wellbeing.

We’re sometimes too comfortable, drowning or suffocating as we do in seeking a ‘better’ life, so-called success, over-achievement, or the acquisition of ‘gotta have’ stuff, typically of a comforting, unsustaining, often avoiding, kind.

Brene Brown, of “The Power of Vulnerability” TED Talk, speaks of the ‘comforts’ we employ to avoid vulnerability, a vehicle for living more wholeheartedly (ie, with courage, compassion and connection).

These comforts might arise in our getting a rewarding hit – of “Ah, I’m actually okay after all” – out of persistently going beyond what is reasonable or necessary (ie, perfecting or a slave to certainty). Where we get a comforting ‘spike’ in buying that umpteenth outfit or device, that sugar-laden ‘food’ (ie, numbing agents). Or, in telling our colleagues heroically that we work 12–14 hour days when in fact it’s about wearing a people pleaser, saviour or martyr mask (ie, pretence). In our laughing off the fact we’ve got 50+ days paid leave owing (more pretence). In the meantime, we remain invulnerable to what’s really going on. We don’t fully experience (feel) what we’re about. We hide behind a narrative of “she’ll be right”, “I’m good to go”, “I’ll give it another six months”, and so on.

These comforts (or avoiders) may not – in themselves – be a problem, especially if they’re the exception, rather than the norm. It’s our over-attachment or clinging to the numbing, pretending, certainty fixing or escaping comfort in them – at the expense of our wellbeing – that’s the problem. For in being so, we miss out on or avoid what might be at the heart of wellbeing, namely, CONNECTION … with our enoughness, with what’s enough, with how it’s enough to be a human being and what that involves, including stumbling or feeling uncomfortable, fragile or incomplete. Vulnerable.

How might we make the uncomfortable, vulnerable shift from the comfortable (ie, numbing/avoiding) life to one that’s more wellbeing in character? Erik Rittenberry’s article on, “The Comfortable Life Is Killing You” is helpful. Summarising his take on things, we can make this shift in these ways:

  • Letting go of over-attachments and choosing that constant of life ie, change (Refer “From The Recipe Book To The Platter” LawTalk Issue 830, 25 October 2013).
  • Having our suffering (‘had enoughness’) grow us, and not be a place of familiar, clung-to comfort.
  • Becoming more self-aware and vulnerable, for self-awareness facilitates more self-supporting choices and vulnerability untaps our capacity for self-empathy (Refer “Self-Awareness and Vulnerability” LawTalk Issue 820, 7 June 2013).
  • Consuming (including shopping) less. Enough said. Other than it opens us up to more experienced-based choices of a wellbeing rewarding kind, and to deeper connection to ourselves (to our body, purpose, experience, new ideas, soul and with others).
  • Getting into nature, in terms of our own nature (eg, via reflection or meditation) or the physical environment (eg, a garden, a bush walk); where we might experience nature on the outside and in our internal response.

In vulnerably shedding such ‘comforts’ we’re saying: “I’m enough”. The more we vulnerably own our enoughness (and, at least initially, uncomfortably experience or connect with ourselves more fully), the more we UP our wellbeing. Ultimately, at a personal level, we begin to feel more like our true selves. A sense of ‘I AM’, I simply AM.

C: What makes wellbeing a lasting habit, distinct from a one-day wonder?

In the mid-1990s I undertook counselling to help find my wellbeing feet again. I was numb and fractured. I asked my counsellor “Why do I keep flip-flopping between being on track and being out of sorts? WHEN will I finally feel consistently well, more sorted?” She replied “When you’re more fully integrated. For instance, when you’re out of sorts, not latching or clinging on to one or other piece of the person ‘pie’, psychologically or behaviourally, eg, blame or being overly accountable. More choosing from time to time a combination of pieces of a whole person pie, eg. feeling your upset, owning your part, exploring what you might do to change things, practising self-care”. Her advice was a vital clue of the way forward. It was later reinforced in my reading David Whyte’s The Three Marriages: Re-imagining Work, Self and Relationship and Parker J Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life.

A more integrated self is in large part a successful ‘marriage’ between:

  • one’s internal self (often neglected, but often more about one’s heart and soul); and
  • more external ‘selves’, in the form of a work self and a ‘relationships with others’ self (often overly inhabited or captured by mind or ego).

It might also be fostered by growing one’s self-awareness. From that ‘platform’ we’re better able to develop and integrate self-management and relationship-building competencies. The combination of these takes matters to another level of self-integration, as in our employing emotional and social intelligences more competently, which helps grow or facilitate our wellbeing and that of others.

In undertaking our wellbeing journey, the more we explore and understand our integrated self, the more we fathom upon what’s enough, including our own sense of enoughness, presence and worth. It’s an all-important turning point in having wellbeing become part and parcel of who we are and how we live.

At a less conceptual level, this is what integration might look like …

First, in terms of a person’s self-awareness in relation to enoughness, as expressed to me by two acquaintances:

“I’ve been feeling fragile today, not really sure why, not feeling that flash, and yet as I walked down the hill to the gym I felt a wellness, a sense of OK-ness with my off-ness. Almost ‘enjoying’ my state of feeling a little flat and emotional. And I felt physically well and strong. I don’t know why but tears are coming while I write this. It’s weird. But there you have it. I’ll accept them, as well.”

“I felt depressed this week. Some days, I felt like I’d swallowed lead, that it flowed into my veins, weighed me down, poisoned me. Not every day. But it challenged and interested me watching the thing, allowing it, feeling compassion for myself. I accepted where I was at. Cared for myself regardless, understood that the pain and sadness and fear in the world just IS. It occurred to me that, yes, I feel my share of it too. That even when the fear and sadness feels like a bottomless abyss – a black vortex that might swallow me whole and leave no trace – the remedy for me is acceptance with love. Not a passive, floppy, helpless resignation, but a soft, loving acceptance that flows TOWARDS what is, rather than withdrawing or tensing up. That’s all a bit long-winded I realise ... the actual feeling of doing this, of experiencing this shift in me, is much simpler.”

Secondly, in the form of some outline or structure revealing what personal integration might be or mean for oneself. For me it looks something like this, in broad terms. A ‘marriage’ between knowing the driver for and direction in which I’m headed (the end in mind) coupled with actioning that end in mind (getting it on the road).

Knowing the end in mind (internal) involves:

  • A Why (my Purpose), which for me is to recognise and own who I really AM and how then I might best contribute to and connect with the world around me (external); and
  • A Where To (my Objectives), which for me are several but basically come down to LIVING life to further my Why.

Actioning the end in mind (mostly external, but some of which is internal actioning, eg, being) involves:

  • Exercising personal leadership (who I am or choose to be), including being self-aware/loving/accepting, wholehearted, ‘parenting’ myself and in building a strong personal foundation (Refer “A Strong Personal Foundation” LawTalk issue 821, 21 June 2013).
  • Having a Toolkit (of what I do), including practising mindfulness, embracing change, exploring new pastures, stretching and growing but knowing my limits, eliminating my To Do list and scheduling instead, operating in a ‘wheel of life’ like way, maintaining my health across the board, learning in an ongoing way, cultivating good relationships, and doing work that’s purposeful and growing, etc.
  • Locking in and employing good habits (Refer “Practising Well … As A Matter of Habit” LawTalk issue 846, 18 July 2014).

This is one of many takes on how to get on a more integrated, wellbeing tracking life path. There are others. It’s important to work out what that might be for oneself.

In conclusion …

For me, there was a reckoning of sorts. An “enough’s enough” moment. The integration insight I got in the mid-1990s was an integral part of that. A waking up to a gap between a ‘golden (or good) boy’ myth about myself and my associated quest to shine and succeed, AND my reality. And, for a while, I plunged into a feeling of ‘not enoughness’.

In time though, as I began to know myself and marry up my inner and outer selves, I was able to develop a more integrated and grounded whole self. A whole self consisting of both light and dark, wonderful attributes and dismal shortcomings. Eventually the level of inquiry around whether “I’m enough” or not subsided. With that, so too did my undue attention given to trying to prove myself (or lose myself) externally, via workaholism and over achievement.

Nowadays, I’m more content and ‘level’. I’m not pre-occupied with being enough, but enjoying simply checking in with being how … I AM. In my experience, that fundamental sense of presence, morphing as it has out of a pupa like ‘not enough’ self, is at the heart of wellbeing.

Martin Wilson is the Principal of Selfmade Coaching ( His experience includes 24 years in legal practice, partnership in a large commercial law firm, and 11 years running his own commercial law practice.

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