“Well-being” Is Whole-Person Wellness


Plunging Into Whole Person Wellness
Plunging Into Whole Person Wellness

The term “Well-being” may have come along at just the right time. Public speakers and marketers are re-branding wellness as wellbeing by saying that well-being is more complete, more holistic. Well-being, they say, incorporates the whole person, their environment, their financial picture, their career, etc. On the one hand it’s too bad that we have to invent a new term to refresh our memory of what “wellness” really is. On the other, with the way that corporations and organizations have allowed their wellness programs and products to deteriorate into overly simplistic efforts, based on single-measurable-variable pieces of research, “well-being” may be the kick in the pants that reminds us about “whole-person wellness”.what-is-HWB_04

Twenty to forty-year veterans of the wellness and health promotion field hear speakers appear to create false distinctions between the terms wellbeing and wellness. And yet, are they indeed false distinctions?

Has the term wellness been worn out? It has certainly been misused and abused. Here in Northern Colorado a “wellness center” is probably a medical marijuana dispensary. “Google” the word and the number one listing on that search engine is always the “Wellness” brand of dog and cat food.

What may be more disturbing though, is how we have come to look at wellness in ways that jettison its original holistic meaning. In an effort to be more scientific and “evidence-based”, we have embraced research efforts to show the effectiveness of our approaches to wellness and health promotion. While this research is important and has yielded much of great value, too much of it has been focused on what could be called the measurement of a single variable. As we’ve tried to apply the scientific method to this cause we’ve oversimplified our approach far too often.

Skinner boxWhen we want to study the health behavior of human populations the challenge is daunting. It’s easy to control extraneous variables in a “Skinner Box”. Any social scientist will tell you that people are a lot more complicated. The result has been too many health behavior studies measuring one aspect of activity, one blood lipid level, one blood sugar level. While those little building blocks all help to assemble the scientific foundation we need, too much is concluded from them. In our online digital world a simple study with twenty subjects, run one time, has its results proclaimed as headline news.

Following the medical world, where the threat of litigation for malpractice hovers over every practice like a vulture, we have sought to provide only programming that is “evidence-based”. That means, as Dee Edington stated at the 2013 American College of Lifestyle Medicine Conference, “if you only do evidence-based you’ll never innovate!” The temptation is to “dumb-down” our concept of wellness to just physical fitness and nutrition. The temptation is to be happy that we got someone to walk three times a week and call it good.

620-667-I-G36There Is Nothing New Under The Sun

Dusting off the yellowed pages of my edition of Donald Ardell’s High Level Wellness: An Alternative To Doctors, Drugs and Disease (1977) I found my long-time friend Don referred to his colleague and fellow wellness pioneer, Jack Travis, as Jack and he defined wellness: “Travis believes that wellness begins when an individual sees himself or herself as a growing, changing person. High level wellness means giving care to the physical self, using the mind constructively, channeling stress energies positively, expressing emotions effectively, becoming creatively involved with other, and staying in touch with the environment.”

Travis - 12 Dimensions Model
Travis – 12 Dimensions Model

Ardell posed five dimensions of wellness, Bill Hetler six (http://www.nationalwellness.org/?page=Six_Dimensions), and Travis, including a number of psychological dimensions, built a model with twelve dimensions (http://www.wellpeople.com/Wellness_Dimensions.aspx). Clearly “wellness” has always been meant to be a holistic concept as I stated in 1994 in my article “The Ten Tenets Of Wellness” (published in Wellness Management , the newsletter of The National Wellness Association, which also can be found in Chapter Two in Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed.)(http://wholeperson.com/store/wellness-coaching-for-lasting-lifestyle-change.shtml).

Indeed we’ve seen it all before. The term “Mindfulness” has been skillfully re-packaged by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others. Studying today’s version of “mindfulness” someone like me is transported back to about 1968 when I was in college and reading books like Bernard Gunther’s Sense Relaxation Below Your Mind(http://www.amazon.com/Sense-Relaxation-Below-Your-Mind/dp/B000VLH7Q8). Of course everything we’re talking about here is based on practices that go back thousands of years in the traditions of meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi, and more.

While in my doctoral program in the 1970’s, I was blessed with the opportunity to learn deeply about biofeedback and how to apply it in working with stress-related disorders. I specialized in that for many years as a psychologist and served as the President of The Ohio Society For Biofeedback and Behavioral Health. The beauty of the research done by biofeedback pioneers Elmer and Alice Greene (http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Biofeedback-Elmer-Green/dp/0940267144 and http://www.consciousnessandbiofeedback.org) was to use recently developed technology to study the consciousness practices of Indian Yogis, monks, and others. By examining their subject’s brain waves and various physiological indicators they ended up validating the legitimacy of such practices. Thus we see that today’s “mindfulness” has its roots in research completed under other names as well.

Authentic H CoverToday’s dynamic Positive Psychology movement has invigorated the field of psychology and is providing the sound research evidence that is validating what the Humanistic Psychology folks have been saying since the 1950’s and 1960’s. The “Human Potential Movement” of the late 1960’s and the work of Abraham Maslow, Virginia Satir, Carl Rogers, Rolo May and many others, emphasized looking at human behavior from a positive growth perspective instead of the usual clinical/pathological perspective. Saying that Martin Seligman “founded” the Positive Psychology Movement may be accurate in recent history, but he did so standing on the shoulders of these earlier giants. Our field of coaching also built its self on these same shoulders and from its inception always took on a positive psychology, strengths-based approach to working with people.

WellnesssunsetkickA Return To Whole-Person Wellness

Looking at wellness programs merely as “cost-containment strategies” has caused us to develop a tunnel vision ROI-only view. Some companies today are spending more money on their incentives to get people to take a health-risk assessment, etc. than they are spending on their wellness programs! When we view employees only as statistical units that drive up healthcare costs, we down-size – or “dumb-size” our thinking. The “well-being” approach would have us view employees as whole people who can contribute to the mission and purpose of our company and do so through creative, higher performance that happens when they are “well” in this holistic sense. The term to shift to is VOI (Value On Investment).

More Than Just Corporate Health Promotion

BIGGARD_SU_C_^_SUNIQWhen we step outside of the corporate world we see wellness, and now well-being, at work in our healthcare settings, communities, schools, places of worship, and among groups and individuals who want to live their best life possible. We are realizing the powerful effect that connection and community provides for our health and well-being. We are seeing how having safe green spaces to walk, play and exercise increase the health of communities. Part of our approach to wellness/well-being is to step outside of a myopic corporate perspective and remember that not everyone works for a company with the benefits of a wellness program. Being inclusive of under-served populations in both rural and urban areas, Native American/First Nations Reservations, and others means maintaining this big-picture view of what wellness/well-being means.

If “Well-Being” helps us remember to work with the whole person and view them from a holistic perspective – great! If the term refreshes programs and generates engagement – wonderful! Bring on “Well-Being” while we remember that it really is – Whole Person Wellness.


Note: This June the National Wellness Conference will celebrate it’s 40th Anniversary. (http://www.nationalwellness.org/?page=NWC2015) The latest in wellness and health promotion will be on display as well as an opportunity to create community in the wellness field like nowhere else. Among the celebrations will be a special Legacy & Vision Talk with a number of the founders of the wellness field. Come and join us and experience what Whole Person Wellness is really all about!

The Language of Effective Coaching Accountability


While mentoring a coach along the path towards her ACC (Associate Certified Coach through the ICF – International Coaching Federation – http://coachfederation.org) I observed her repeated hesitancy in using accountability in her coaching. As we explored this I found that in her coach training she had been exposed to a style of enforcing accountability instead of co-creating accountability. The words turned her off, and she feared they would turn off her client as well.

“How will I know you’ve done this?” “How will you let me know you got this done?”

Drill Sergeant Approach Not Welcome.
Drill Sergeant Approach Not Welcome.

The subtle (or not so subtle) tone of the supervisor/teacher/drill sergeant comes through with words like this.

The MINDSET of the coach around accountability is paramount. Through Real Balance Global Wellness Services, Inc., (https://www.realbalance.com) and in my book Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed. (https://wholeperson.com/store/wellness-coaching-lifestyle-change.shtml) I am always teaching that in effective coaching the client is not accountable to you, the coach, they are accountable to themselves. The client wants to be accountable and follow through on their commitments. The accountability that coaching offers is, perhaps more than any other single feature, what put coaching on the map. It is a premier value that coaching offers. Clients want to have a way to finally succeed and “get er’ done”! When the coach realizes that accountability is something the client truly wants and appreciates, yet doesn’t want to be bossed, the mindset becomes one of collaboration instead of supervision.

The Word Choice Is Keywords-have-power

“How can I help you follow through and get this done?” “How can I help you accomplish this?” “What’s the best way to handle accountability around this?”

The tone here implies the work of an ally who is standing shoulder to shoulder with the client and wants to be right there during the tough part of behavioral change and action. It keeps the essential client-centered nature of coaching intact. It honors that the client is the one in the driver’s seat and the one responsible for their actions, or lack thereof. And concomitantly it takes the responsibility off of the coach’s shoulders where it can feel like more of a burden.

Teaching Our Clients To Be Clients

A crucial part of effective coaching is to build a great alliance with our client and part of that is educating them on how coaching can work for them. The accountability that our clients are used to is almost always completely from a subordinate position. They have experience being a student, an employee, a patient, and a child. Perhaps they even have been on the receiving end of an unhealthy relationship with an intimate partner who bossed them around. The “drill sergeant” approach portrayed on television by the ruthless fitness trainer makes for entertaining TV, but defies all that we know about how to help someone succeed at lasting lifestyle change.

As coaches we offer something completely different in the world of accountability. We offer an alliance to help our clients achieve what they want to achieve. The client chooses what they want to work on, and with our assistance they refine what accomplishing their tasks will look like. The action steps they define fit into a larger plan (in wellness coaching we call this The Wellness Plan). We co-create AGREEMENTS about how the client wants to be accountable to themselves, and how the coach can assist.

One of the most brilliant sayings about coaching I’ve ever heard is:

Coaching is not a helping profession. It is an assisting profession.

As we coaches explain how accountability in coaching works the mindset of this co-creative alliance must pervade our language. The coach is essentially saying: I’m just here to help you do what you want to do. You’re not accountable to me. I want to help you (assist you) find the best way possible to complete this. You’re the one in charge here. It’s not about pleasing me, it’s about pleasing yourself.

Loophole-Free Accountability

Once clients understand how coaching accountability works they truly appreciate it. If our client truly wants to accomplish a certain goal and knows that the action steps required to get there must be done and done consistently they really do want serious accountability. The irony of coaching is that the coach provides accountability without the client being accountable to them.

In Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change, 2nd Ed., I talk more about what I call “loophole-free accountability”. Clients appreciate assistance in helping them avoid their own self-deception and the tiny part of themselves that resists change and may even engage in self-sabotage. Holding fast to commitments that have been made, but having zero expectations delivers a message that the coach will be solid in following the accountability agreements.

I once received what I took to be a supreme complement when my client said I was “the iron fist in the velvet glove” when it came to accountability. My language always was clothed in the velvet of kindness and that of a true ally, but the iron fist showed up in the form of language that held fast and true to our agreements.


The Sound of Great Coaching Accountability

CLIENT: I know I should practice the Tai Chi that I learned more often. I know it would be great for my knees and other joints and help me feel more relaxed. I’ve done the class now, read all I can read. I know it’s good for me. I’m ready to get serious about practicing.

COACH: Excellent! You sound like you’ve prepared all you need and now it’s time for applying what you’ve learned and benefitting from it. What would really consistent practice look like for you?

CLIENT: Well…I know I can’t do it everyday. I’m not there yet. But, you know, if I practiced say three to five times a week that would be fantastic. Realistically, let me begin with three times a week.

COACH: Great! So are you ready to make a commitment to help yourself by practicing three times a week?

CLIENT: Yes. I know I can fit it in at least three times. If I do it less than that I really won’t get the benefit I want.

COACH: Okay. So how can I help you follow through and really get that accomplished?

CLIENT: What do you mean?

COACH: Well, you really want to do this. How can I help you be accountable to yourself to practice three times a week?

CLIENT: I guess I’m not sure. I suppose we could just talk about it at our next coaching session.

COACH: Absolutely. That might be entirely sufficient. We can do that for sure. Let me ask though… since you are attempting to begin practicing three times throughout the week, would it help if you sent me an email informing me when you have practiced?

CLIENT: Actually that would help. In fact, could you send me reminder emails?

COACH: What I’ve found works best is if instead of me being responsible to remind you, that you hold yourself accountable to remember to practice and then let me know that you accomplished that. How does that sound?

CLIENT: Yeah. That probably is best. So when should I email you?

COACH: Well, let’s figure out what will work best for you. You could email me after each time your practice, or we could set up certain days that you agree to email me about it. What would be best for you?

The Client Stays Behind The Wheel

Effective coaching accountability must be a client-centered process. However, a coach can be very client-centered and still be moderately directive. Effective coaches do confront and challenge their clients. We do draw upon our training and experience to suggest implementing strategies that have a greater chance of success. It’s still the client who decides.

The coaching profession has long drawn upon the areas of communication studies and linguistics for good reason. Perhaps in no other area of coaching is language more vital than in co-creating agreements around accountability and helping clients succeed in achieving their goals.