What is vitality?
Vitality, for me, is both the state of feeling alive, and the process of developing and keeping that aliveness in the short and long terms.
Vitality is clearly about life, and energy. Looking into someone's eyes quickly lets you know about their level of vitality. It is a felt sense of possibility and potential, but also presence. Vitality is more than a state of mind, it's about a cycle of positive action that reinforces and build upon the positive energy that you are developing. Everything I've just said also applies to the business context as well in the case of corporate vitality (organizational vitality), but more of that later.
Vitality wraps in elements of creativity and spirituality too. thus getting to topics such as beauty and truth, and connection beyond ourselves. I've had the good fortune to travel to a quarter of the world's countries so far, and most of it's continents over the last 20 years. I've visited many special places, and sacred sites, and had personal spiritual breakthroughs in places and wondrous as the Himalayas, as common as the beach in Sydney, and as banal as walking to get something to eat in London. The more I've discovered, the more I've come to understand that work and business are not separate from spirituality, but can and must be integrated in order for us to breathe life into what we spend the majority of our waking hours working on.
Below is a picture of how I look at vitality.
Rather than being an ephemeral state, I see vitality as the result of a set of mindsets, practices and tools. The same elements apply (though sometimes in different ways), whether we're talking about improving your vitality, or that of an organization. Let's have a look at the elements of vitality now.
At the top of the diagram is Meaning Making (what some of us might call "purpose" or "why?"). I've found that purpose is more often a theme and a process, rather than a thing. We ascribe meaning to past and present events in our life in a continuous process, which is constructed dynamically as we continue to learn and experience new things.
A quick way to increase vitality, therefore, is to reframe our experience of past and present in a way that enables a positive future, rather than hindering it. Deciding to believe that "the best is yet to come" is a simple example of how to change the way you think about your present and future . More often than not, we can't see all possible futures that exist for us. In my work with creatives and in coaching creativity, I've found that the most exciting possibilities that emerge from a process, are ones we couldn't even imagine or envisage at the start. Having a truly new experience or meeting someone outside your normal circle are also quick ways to recalibrate our sense of possibility, and vitality.
When you're green you're growing. When you're ripe, you rot. - RAY KROC
We'll probably see our life in a positive light if we're growing (though not all growth feels good at the time). I heard the \ quote from Kroc for the first time in my high school years, while working for McDonalds in Sydney. I think the point of the quote is about being curious and having the attitude of a lifelong learner. When you feel that you know more than anyone else around you, then you're probably in a rut and hurting your potential. It's time to expand the circle.
Growth can involve taking the challenge of building capability in areas that currently scare you (for many people what scares them is being more creative, or public speaking) but that you have a yearning for i.e. that you care about.
Community and Contribution
We're often most vital when we're part of a community that we care about. That community can be online or in-person but has to be somewhere we feel we belong. Broadcasting your authentic self is a way to let your tribe find you.
Helping others and making a difference is a good thing. Enough said.
In The Good Life Book I described what I called the "Five Pillars" of a balanced life: vocation, people, health, spirit and expression. The sense of balance I was talking about was "holism" and "authenticity" rather than a simple accounting of hours. In short, we build and maintain vitality when we continually focus on all the basics, while we continue to stretch ourselves. We must have a plan and a process for: people, health, spirit and expression, and not just for work/vocation.
Vitality Loves Company - Brett Cowell
Wellbeing is, broadly speaking, about health and happiness.
While many people see vitality as a subset of wellbeing, I see it the other way. Wellbeing is a powerful idea, but I'm always left with the feeling that it can be too self-focused i.e. "Let me achieve wellbeing, and forget the rest of you!". Vitality, however, loves company! Vitality is the type of energy you bring to situations in work and life.
The concept of wellbeing (particularly in an organizational or corporate setting) is also about the place and the physical work environment, especially related to offsetting the negative effects of sedentary work.
Creativity is a key element of vitality since it encompasses the idea of novelty and change. What often brings us to the topic of vitality in the first place is that we find ourselves in a rut, or searching for a new chapter. Creativity gives us the mindset, tool and techniques to know ourselves, and put in place the changes needed to reenergize ourselves and create a better future.
Who you hang out with is important! This applies as much in life as it does to work. If you hang out with optimistic and lucky people, you'll find yourself more optimistic and lucky. In an organizational/corporate environment culture can support or destroy vitality.
Policies, Practices and Systems
Policies, Practices and Systems are equally applicable to individual vitality as they are to organizational vitality.
It can seem contradictory to talk about "systems" for something as "soft" as vitality. Actually, this is simply not the case on either point. Firstly, a system is simply a way to get consistent outcomes. Vitality is too important to be left to chance. And developing your own policies and practices around vitality can help you to manage expectations and demands of others.
Some simple examples. You might have a policy that you're always home from work travel at weekends. You might develop a practice of scheduling all of your important re-vitalizing steps into your work calendar. For example, you might schedule time for personal reading, or a walk, into your work day.
There are simply times when things go wrong, and we need to depend on others.
Support is critical for maintaining vitality around a difficult or potentially catastrophic event e.g. sick child, a death, ongoing care demands of a parent etc.
The case for vitality
There are many different starting points for a vitality journey: being stuck in a rut or feeling burned out, searching for a new chapter, wanting to take your performance up to the next level, and so on. The need for vitality can be a life and death matter, or simply based on the desire to get the most out of life.
For me, vitality is about feeling alive, minimizing regrets and making a difference. It's not enough just to feel alive for a moment, or to try to string together an endless loop of disjointed moments, and call that a life. Vitality for me means chasing down the big hairy audacious goals in your life (and to set and legitimize those goals in the first place). The sort of goals that you don't have any clue about how you're going to achieve. Minimizing regrets also means focusing on the right things in the right way. My life became "three dimensional" when I became a Dad. Any work success I have is meaningless if my family are not around me to share it.
It touches me deeply whenever someone says that what I do has changed their life. I now feel that I'm in dialogue with all of you about what's most important in your life. And if I can help you make a difference, I'd be honored to.