Well-being is a big thing. It’s now legislated for in the UK. We all want to feel good. We know when we feel good we do our best. Stress fades away, we get things done in a matter of fact way, we make better quality decisions (with none of the endless deliberations and getting bogged down in analysis), we have better relationships and connect and understand people. We pretty much perform in free thinking mode, in free flow, or in the zone as they call it in sport.
And yet there’s the big misunderstanding where well-being comes from and how to achieve it.
For example it’s thought that doing sport or exercise makes you feel good. It’s commonly assumed that ‘feeling good’ feeling comes from the sport or exercise. Well, for that to be true, everyone who did sport would have to feel good. And I’ve seen plenty of football and tennis and rugby matches where many of the players coming off the pitch obviously don’t feel good! And yet they’re playing sport and exercising for 90 minutes!!!! Does that make sense?????
At least this is the premise in the 2008 NEF report titled Five Ways to Well-Being. Even though on page 3 of the report it says “It should be noted, however, that there is little epidemiological evidence examining measures and determinants of well-being”; and, “Therefore, confidently asserting causality is, in most cases, difficult”!
And despite this lack of evidence – in a report that has reviewed much of the evidence on well-being – it recommends a bunch of activities to do to achieve well-being!
The assumption is: people who experience well-being tend to do one of more of 5 ‘good’ activities, therefore you can reverse engineer well-being (i.e. create the well-being by doing the effect of well-being) by encouraging people to do one or more of the activities. And so billions of pounds of public money is directed in this way, despite the lack of evidence for it.
Because well-being doesn’t come from being active, nor connection, nor gratitude, keeping learning, and giving, which are the five ways to well-being the report recommends.
People with a high level of well-being naturally do these activities because it makes sense to them – they’re in their right mind – and they therefore enjoy it. You can’t reverse engineer the effects of well-being, by practising the effects, in the hope of achieving the cause, well-being. That’s like trying to unscramble eggs to make eggs.
There’s a big fashion of mindfulness and meditation as a way to achieve well-being. And I’ve seen lists of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. But they’re not the benefits of mindfulness or meditation, but the benefits of being in a meditative state: having a clear calm mind. And that’s our default position. Have you ever met someone who’s annoyed because they haven’t practice their daily ritual of mindfulness and meditation!!!! Hmmmm, that works then!
Where do you think someone is who says to themselves: “I must be present in this conversation I’m having right now?” Fully open to listening and understanding the other person, or stuck in their head with the practice of trying to be present. I know when I’m present and connected to someone I have nothing on my mind, I’m fully open and connected to them. The act of trying to do something to be present merely gets in the way of being present and connected.
And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these activities. But practicing them as a way to achieve well-being you’ll find very haphazard, short term, and inconsistent. Many people who ski will say they feel great when they ski. And if they don’t ski great, they’ll say something like I didn’t feel great, therefore I didn’t ski great – and then list a whole heap of reasons why they didn’t feel great, but the true answer was right at the start, they just didn’t feel great.
And there’s the answer: the feeling great has to turn up first, before the skiing, so the skiing feels great!!!!
The same as the NEF report. To connect, you have a high level of well-being. To be active, you first have to have a high level of well-being – just in the moment. Sadly, there’s a lot of billions of pounds and resources and people working in the field of trying to unscramble eggs, wondering why what they do doesn’t always achieve the results they want.
Business is no different either, for example with leadership training. It looks at what great leaders do, and then tries to train leaders by teaching them the consequences of good leadership. Again, this is based on the premise that by reverse engineering the effects, you can create the cause. Like great chefs create great scrambled eggs, it’s assumed by unscrambling the eggs you’ll create the qualities of great chefs.
It’s the same with pretty much with all behavioural change training. They try to reverse engineer to achieve the cause by teaching the effects. This was picked up in the 2014 White Paper: Future Trends in Leadership by the Center for Creative Leadership. It realised that behavioural change training didn’t achieve the desired effects. And it’s response? More behavioural change training. Although the author in his final thoughts says:
However, there is one thing that I have become certain of and that is that the methods that have been used in the past to develop leaders really, truly, categorically will not be enough for the complexity of challenges which are on their way for organizations (and broader society).
And the reports response? By doing more of what doesn’t work. It’s why 2/3 of change management programmes fail, and why 80% of major IT projects fail.
But if everyone else operates under the same misunderstanding, it’s understandable you’d operate from the same misunderstanding too.
And you can spot this misunderstanding a mile off: the results are quoted in percentages and probabilities and likelihoods. All theories and not truth as Garret Kramer put it recently.
Like prior to germ theory it was thought that disease came from bad smells, atmospheres, personality, or fear. And in the absence of knowing about germs, a multiple cause conceptual framework was created that was causing disease.
And that’s not unlike today, where it’s common to have multiple cause conceptual frameworks of the source of problems with people, neighbourhoods, organisations or society. And the results? You get more of the problem. And the response? It must be more complex than we at first thought, and then as you dig around looking for other causes to add to the framework the problem gets worse! Are you noticing a pattern here?
Any complex system – like humans – has to operate on simple principles. The more complex the system, the more simple the operating principles for it to function. For 7 billion humans the operating system has to be incredibly simple. Society has it back-to-front. And yet I hear people frequently say the answer – like the NEF report or Future Trends in Leadership report – then fall back in to more of what doesn’t work: trying to change behaviour by changing behaviour.
All behavioural change happens the same way: you don’t change your thinking, your thinking naturally changes when left alone. The very act of trying to change your thinking actually prevents the natural self-correcting system of your thinking changing from kicking in, or at least being over-ruled. If analysis worked, then therapy and counselling and behavioural change and public health programmes and change management programmes would all work very quickly and with huge success. But they don’t. Success rates are lamentably low.
I was asked recently what is it I do with my project teams to get exceptional results without any of the crises and I said: I work with the way people work, never against it.
I don’t try to unscramble eggs, or disappear in to the murky hole of getting analytical as I know that’s a blind (albeit compelling) alley.
And I’ve noticed some distinctions between whether people are in or out of well-being, or in or out of great leadership, or solving problems – in their right minds or not:
- We’re either very lightly curious or deeply analytical.
- We’re either consuming little energy or lots of energy.
- We’re either being highly efficient or very inefficient.
- We’re feeling impersonal or taking things very personally
For example, have you noticed whether solutions to problems come from deep analysis or come insightfully to mind when you’re not thinking about it? Like in the shower, or mowing the lawn, or playing with the kids? (And I’m not suggesting your reverse-engineer these activities otherwise you’ve completely misunderstood where I’m coming from).
When people are operating out of their health and wisdom they no longer do the acts (behaviours) people are trying to prevent, Jack Pransky, Prevention Expert
Now in the field of banking, or public health, or business that’d be the holy grail, wouldn’t it? Just think what a shift that’d make to your programmes or organisations or business, unleashing the natural creativity of people to solve problems – or the problems not arising in the first place?
Right minded people act right.
Your response to this will be either curious or analytical – you’ll know which – and either of these will come with a different feeling. If you’re curious, send me a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you my green paper which explains this even more simply.