WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LEARN?
In the simplest terms, learning means embodying a new capacity to think and act. Consider, for example, that you want to eat a plant-forward diet to enhance your physical health and the health of the planet, like a third of the world’s population currently does. A good start may be to understand that consuming less meat decreases the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, as well as other lifestyle diseases and climate impacts. However, knowledge alone won’t get you to your wellness goals. You’ll have to change your behavior from what it is today to what you want it to be.
Learning can transform new behaviors into authentic wellness lifestyles and connections into supportive wellness communities. When it comes to promoting wellness, a great question to ask is: How can I help myself and others learn?
UNDERSTAND THE NEUROSCIENCE OF HABITS.
Speaking about the brain and its impact on how we think and act, neuroscientist Dr. Sarah McKay shares that all habits, wellness and otherwise, have a few defining features:
- Habits are forged over time as a behavior is repeated over and over.
- Habits are triggered by a particular cue, situation or event.
- Habits are performed automatically, often with little conscious awareness.
- Habits are persistent—once formed, they are difficult to break.
Stanford Medicine neurobiologist Dr. Carla Shatz sums these features up in the maxim: “Neurons that fire together wire together.” And this wiring is powerful, driving every aspect of your life and work. Researchers say that 40% of our actions are based on habit—that is, unconscious rather than conscious thought. Think about how you brush your teeth. If you’re like most people, you do so with the same form, rhythm and routine every day, without much awareness.
SOME HABITS SERVE OUR WELLBEING. SOME HABITS ERODE IT.
Fortunately, you aren’t a fixed human being, reduced to your habits. You are a human becoming with a built-in capacity to learn. Your brain possesses neuroplasticity by design. It is adaptable and responsive to your inner and outer worlds with a structure and function that can evolve. The latest studies show that “the adult brain is far more fertile than expected and more than capable of sprouting the connections necessary for profound learning,” even for the eldest among us. As a result, you can use the same “fire together wire together” principle to grow healthier ways of being and operating throughout your lifetime.
PUT THE CAPACITY TO LEARN INTO ACTION.
As a wellness leader, how can you help yourself and others learn to make wellness a priority? Try these suggestions with your team or organization, as well as yourself:
Leading Your Team & Organization
• Let your Wellness Moonshot be your guide. What do your team and organization need to learn to bring your Wellness Moonshot into reality? Let’s say your aspiration is to cultivate a school system that elevates the wellness of every child and adult it touches. In light of the effects from the global pandemic, your team may want to learn more about the role of the built environment and technology in affecting our wellness. In addition, consider how school leadership and play impact the mental and physical health of students, staff, parents and the community. (If you haven’t looked at your Wellness Moonshot in a while, check out this article to get reinspired and to make your Wellness Moonshot more impactful.)
• Help others tap into their potential to learn. At work and home, people often feel stuck because they forget they are hard-wired to adapt and evolve. Assist them in using the same cue-craving-response-reward feedback loop that’s the backbone of every habit to break the habit cycle. And ask these questions to help them transition to a new wellness behavior:
• How can you make this behavior obvious?
• How can you make this behavior attractive?
• How can you make this behavior easy?
• How can you make this behavior satisfying?
• Turn a wellbeing experiment into a habit. Research shows that simple, intentional, positive activities, such as a daily dose of gratitude or wonder, will increase your wellbeing. Choose an action you’ve experimented with that supports your wellbeing. Then ask yourself, how can I incorporate this experiment into my lifestyle? (This excellent research by psychologists Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky and Kristin Layous offers pointers about how to make positive activities most beneficial for you.)
• Make wellness the core of your identity. Learning can be a pathway to wellness, to be sure, but it isn’t just about adopting a new behavior or mindset. Ultimately, it’s about creating who you want to be. Too many leaders still see wellness as an afterthought rather than the core of how they live and lead. Spend time exploring this question on your own or with a trusted person, such as a mentor or executive coach: How is health and wellbeing part of my narrative of who I am—and who I want to become? This is an existential discovery, and through it, you may be surprised at the new and healthier direction you choose to take for your life and work.
LEARNING IS THE BASIS OF OUR WELLNESS MOONSHOT COMMUNITY!
Helping each other grow in wellness leadership is one of the greatest benefits of The Wellness Moonshot: A World Free of Preventable Disease community. Let us know how you are learning something new or helping others do the same by sharing your story on social media with #wellnessmoonshot; we’ll spread your inspiration worldwide. And remember to join the GWI’s Wellness Moonshot celebration on September 20 to connect and learn from others!
Next month, we’ll explore the power of CHARM in your wellness leadership! Until then, check out each of these Wellness Moonshot articles from past years with invaluable insights and strategies for your wellness leadership journey.