About a year ago, I heard an old legend that went something like this:
Once upon a time, there was a brother and a sister who had been farming side-by-side for over 40 years. They had always been helpful to each other, sharing labor and resources as needed.
But one day, a conflict arose. What was at first a small misunderstanding grew into a major dispute followed by harsh insults. At last, the brother and sister decided they wanted nothing to do with each other anymore. They not only stopped collaborating, but also stopped communicating.
One morning, a carpenter knocked on the brother’s door. “I’m looking for work,” he said. Would you have a few small jobs I could help with, by any chance?”
“Actually, I do,” responded the brother. “Look across the creek. That’s my younger sister’s property. Up until a few days ago, there was a meadow between our lots. But she spent hours and hours shoveling around the river levee until she successfully created a creek between us. She has done this to spite me, but with your help, I’d like to outdo her. Can you see that pile of lumber by the shed? I’d like you to use it to build me a fence. Make it as tall as you can, so I can’t see her face or place any more.”
The carpenter thought about his response for a moment, and calmly said, “I understand the situation. Let me get my tools, and I’ll do a job that pleases you.”
The brother helped the carpenter get started, then went off for the day.
When the brother returned, the carpenter had just finished his work. The brother’s jaw dropped and his eyes opened wide as he gasped. Instead of a tall fence, the carpenter had built a solid bridge tying together the brother’s and the sister’s properties.
Before the brother had time to respond to the carpenter’s work, his younger sister came across the bridge, her arms wide open. “You are certainly the bigger person here, Brother! Building a bridge, after all I’ve said and done… I apologize for all the wrong I’ve caused you.”
The brother accepted his sister’s embrace and apologized as well. They turned to the carpenter, and asked if he’d join them for dinner. “I’d love to stay,” the carpenter replied, “but I have many more bridges to build.”
From Vicious Cycles to Virtuous Circles
At the beginning of the story, the brother and sister have engaged in a vicious circle of misunderstanding, disrespect and detachment. If you think of your own conflicts, you’ll agree that the more of these 3 ingredients we add to the mix, the worse things get.
But as soon as one party injects a little of the opposite behaviors – a little love, respect or understanding – the other’s defenses start to melt. Typically that’s when we start recognizing the other’s perspective, apologizing for not having seen it earlier, and giving each other a little more love, respect and understanding. The vicious circle is broken, the relationship improves, and a more virtuous circle can arise.
What Does This Have to Do with Health Promotion Strategies?
When it comes to managing health, the same principle applies. Our sleep, food, mood and exercise habits are all mutually reinforcing together the same way love, respect and understanding are. Improve your sleep habits a little and soon you’ll notice your moodiness and food cravings diminish. Work on your mood for a few weeks and you’ll notice that you move more and sleep better. Exercise a little more and your stress will decrease while your body will be asking for more nutrient-packed foods.
Knowing that, we can build from strength. Rather than support our clients as they fuss over their areas of weakness, for example eating well, let’s guide them to build from their better habits, whether they be related to sleep, mood, or exercise. Let’s start from a place where they can feel capable, resourceful, empowered, and resilient.
This is the philosophy behind our health promotion model. I have taught this principle to hundreds of wellness coaches, professionals, and enthusiasts over the last few years. So far the feedback has been even better than I anticipated. For example, here’s a quick comment from Elizabeth Schenk, a WellCoach who found it so powerful that she decided to train with me and start offering our online wellness program:
The Smarts and Stamina program gave me new tools to help drive clients’ attention towards ideas that support the goals they are struggling with. For example, I had a client who was struggling with exercise and diet. We took a look at her sleep habits and voilà! She was able to take a more effective, well-rounded approach towards her well-being.
I hope the SaS philosophy can help you build your wellness leadership and help others become and stay healthier. I encourage you to try it out, and then be in touch to let me know how it worked for you.
The book I co-authored with my partner-in-crime, Positive Psychology News Daily Editor Extraordinaire Kathryn Britton, can help you use the Smarts and Stamina philosophy in your practice or business. If you’d like a few more details, contact me to organize a customized training session.