Wellbeing: The new frontier

Teaching is one of the hardest professions in the world, Zephyr Bloch-Jorgensen writes. It is also one of the noblest: in your classroom is the mindset of tomorrow and the decisions that will elect leaders, select values, and steward humanity for the next 70 years. In this pivotal age, the nobility of teaching and its importance to society cannot be overstated.

In carrying out your role as a teacher or teacher aide, amid school politics, parental expectation, and student trauma caused by drought, fire or flood, it is easy to lose perspective on why we teach, and how to best realise our calling. It is difficult to hold this calling centrally in the mind if one feels exhausted, anxious, defeated, or depressed. So, hand in hand with how we teach is how we feel. And how we feel can be a compass to self assess our wellbeing and steward our calling. Feeling well is elemental to our ability to teach optimally and intrinsically important to mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

A history of wellbeing: Why the late start?

In the 1950s profound questions and research emerged from pathfinders such as Maslow, Rogers, Fromm and Erickson. Central to the research of these investigators was the question: How do we actualise our potentialities and achieve a flourishing life?

Few subsequent questions about how humans flourish were posed in the fields of psychology and psychiatry because the lens of investigation came to focus exclusively on mental illness driven urgently by Korean and Vietnam war related research into post traumatic stress disorder. However, thanks to American Psychologist journal and the mandate to ‘make life better for all people not just the mentally ill’, we now know that optimal wellbeing spans superior psychological and physiological functioning and predicts increased longevity and healthy ageing.

On 1 January 2000, the American Psychological Association released a Declaration of Independence in the millennial issue of American Psychologist which introduced a radical change of focus with a new term: positive psychology. This new focus shifted mental health research beyond just the risk factors for mental illness and toward the horizon of an optimal state of wellbeing.

Subsequent research has flourished in fields like psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, and sociology as radical advancements in technology enabled the wellbeing revolution to track the brain’s behaviour in real time, measuring changes in both the networks and anatomy of the brain.

This wellbeing revolution has facilitated a paradigm shift in our understanding of what wellbeing is and the nature of happiness.

...amid school politics, parental expectation, and student trauma caused by drought, fire or flood, it is easy to lose perspective on why we teach.

A schematic of Centeredness Theory’s five geometric domains

What do we know now?

The science of wellbeing remains at an early stage, with a lot still to discover about the upper end of the wellbeing spectrum, namely, what it means to flourish, and how.

Previous developments focused on the individual as an autonomous unit as if wellbeing were an independent experience for each of us, totally unrelated to the significant people in our lives – whether romantic, family, friends or work related.

A schematic of Centeredness Theory’s Self domain

The innovation of Centeredness Theory (CT), introduced in 2018 by Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), the University of NSW, and my team is its systems level perspective and the way CT incorporates all our relevant human relationships into its analysis of individual wellbeing through accurate measures and the ability to target interventions at the level of both the individual and their human relationships.

CT’s systems level approach to wellbeing and deep performance measures wellbeing across five separate but interrelated domains and facilitates better adaption to stress, mindfulness, and achieving meaningful goals.

CT models a human life as an open system comprising interconnected domains, each of which must be balanced within the individual domain itself and between the other domains of:

  • self
  • relationship
  • family
  • community
  • work.

Each domain has four sub-domains, making a total of 20 sub-domains. States of wellbeing cross feed within and between the entire five domains, and 20 sub-domains. Your wellbeing is a rich system incandescent with a dynamic interplay of experiences, emotions, and states of wellbeing. For example, what you feel and experience in the classroom affects how you interact with your family, and vice versa.

The self is at the centre of our wellbeing because it is from the self that we have a sense of identity and the aspiration to achieve meaningful goals.

The sub-domains for self are:
  • inspiration
  • contentment
  • adaptability
  • awareness.
These sub-domains define the way our self expresses our personal individuality in the world through our life’s purpose and meaning.

The four domains that orbit Self also feed into the Self and vice versa in a two way reciprocal flow. For example, the sub-domain awareness in the Self domain feeds into understanding in the self domain and vice versa.

To be centred, balance is required between the five domains, and that balance must exist within our domains on the sub-domain level, and between our domains. To achieve balance, meaningful goals must exist inside each domain followed by a meaningful advancement towards those goals.

What is a goal?

Higher wellbeing is achieved when we have meaningful goals in all five domains and when balance is achieved within and between our five domains through thought and behaviour that is congruent.

Why goals?

The science of how to create a quality goal is extensive and instructional:

1. A goal is intrinsic and self-generated when the aspiration is to satisfy a basic psychological need and independent of the reaction of others; for example, self-acceptance, growth and autonomy. In contrast, extrinsic goals, associated with reduced wellbeing, are a means to an end, dependent on others, and include pursuits like social recognition and looking attractive. Intrinsic goals apply to all people, regardless of cultural differences.

2. Higher wellbeing is associated with approach goals. An approach goal targets a positive outcome; for example, to be open and cheerful when meeting new people, to exercise regularly for improved fitness. On the other hand, avoidance goals target moving away from a negative outcome (for example, to stop being a bore at parties, or to stop eating fast food). Plus, an approach goal is more likely to be achieved than an avoidance goal.

3. Goals are also more likely to be achieved if they are congruent with your personal values; namely, one has strong social and self regulatory skills, a strong positive belief in the goal, and the goal is aligned with inherent psychological needs. These psychological needs depend on one’s self concept and self related wishes, as well as the demands in the environment. Therefore, if a person’s motives are oriented toward the achievement of independence, self-assertion and mastery, then goals that are aligned to this will create higher wellbeing, and lower wellbeing if misaligned.

So, every goal that we set in each of our five domains must be ‘intrinsic’ and ‘self-generated’, ‘approach oriented’, and ‘congruent’ with our personal values.

Aside from applying this goal architecture to our own adult lives, imagine what future adult lives could look like if we taught and workshopped these three principles in schools. What kind of generation of capacity and potential could be created as a result of a national or global meaningful goal initiative?

Pivotal to crafting a meaningful goal is the role of our imagination because it is the source of our ideas, inspirations, aspirations.

Functional Magnetic Resonance (FMRI) image showingactivity in the Default Mode Network

Wellbeing and imagination

In the last eight years, insight into meaningful goals has burgeoned thanks to neuroscience and the discovery of the Default Mode Network, and the discovery that the future plays a pivotal role in our wellbeing.

The Default Mode Network spans areas in your brain that are more active during times of rest compared to times of cognitive activity. It is a dynamic and rich neural network that spans deep, wide and long neural real estate and is activated when you recall a memory or envision a future event.

Time, from the perspective of the Default Mode Network, is not linear and because of its discovery the field of psychology is undergoing a second revolution called Prospection or Future-Mindedness.

Zephyr Bloch-Jorgensen is the Founder of MAP Biotech – Better Wellbeing

MAP is a health technology, life science and information services company that provides web based, scientifically validated applications and systems that measure and improve individual and collective wellbeing, happiness, and deep performance in real time.
MAP works closely with industry partner Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) a world leading institute affiliated with the University of NSW and Prince of Wales Hospital.
Bloch-Jorgensen graduated with a Master of Laws from the University of Sydney and advised leaders of state government. In the early 2000s he encapsulated many of his thoughts in a book entitled MAP: Living a Centered Life, which started an initiative to encourage people to think more deeply about their lives and the way they might improve them.

Until recently, psychology posited that only the past and the present were relevant to mental health, but with this new understanding of the brain and the hitherto unknown role of the future on mental health, we may have a skeleton key to access deep insights into clinical work like depression and a vastly better understanding of how to flourish.

Future Mindedness also helps to explain aspects of Centeredness Theory, because in CT each life domain is pinioned to our identity and aspirations for the future and informed by rich emotions that buttress wellbeing. Together, meaningful goals can help us to shape our local community and the type of world we’d like to be a part of. When Mahatma Gandhi advised ‘be the change you want to see in the world’, it was a concise and elegant reflection of system’s theory, Future-Mindedness, and Centredness Theory in action.

Your wellbeing is an ecosystem

If you visualise you and your colleague’s mandala interlocking with yours through the work domain, you can see that we are all interconnected and enabled by the connections we share with others.

Wellbeing and happiness are contagious across three degrees of separation. Your wellbeing and happiness not only affect those around you at work but even your colleague’s partner and their immediate social network. Gandhi was more right than we could have ever predicted.

Take the Assessment at MAP and improve your wellbeing with activities. It’s free at http://mapwellbeing.com/

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