I'm Ronan Harrington, an international keynote speaker that delivers "world class" resilience programmes to leading organisations including Sky, KPMG and the UK Government.
The clip above helps people understand why even with the best intentions, we fail to do the things that we know are good for us.
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My Approach to Wellbeing
If there’s one thing forward thinking organisations have gotten right over the pandemic, it’s wellness. Wellness Wednesdays, wellbeing weeks and an attractive package of benefits are now all common place. This hides the fact that a lot of the time we are stuck in learnt behaviours that are the antithesis of wellness.
As a wellbeing keynote speaker, I remind audiences of the line from the Persian poet, Rumi: ‘maybe you are searching amongst the branches for what only appears in the roots.’ Wellness can only be pursued properly in conjunction with proper mental health and resilience training that helps people overcome engrained, unconscious behaviour.
Wellness triggers allergies for a lot of people. At first blush it feels indulgent and smacks of new age self improvement. Other people feel rightly cynical at corporations encouraging wellness, while simultaneously pursuing profit margins that inevitable mean that staff are worked to the bone. As a wellbeing keynote speaker, I try to situation wellbeing in a holistic context. There are things you can do to increase your wellness, and you are also embedded in larger work and societal environments that make wellness more or less possible to attain.
I tell people that a lot of wellness comes down to ensuring that a consistent pattern of goodness runs through your life. This is really a case of leveraging neurochemistry and diary management. If we can schedule activities that ensure we are getting enough serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins we are on our way to wellness.
For me this looks like swing dancing on a Monday, a family meal on Tuesday night, a singing lesson over lunchtime on Wednesday, date night with my partner on Wednesday eve, singing in a choir on Thursday and lots of long walks and social outings on the weekend. You can imagine that anyone with a week like this is going to have moments of joy, even if facing pressures at work.
One of the areas where organisations can make a practical and meaningful difference is time. Really respecting people’s lunchtimes and evenings and encouraging them to fill them with ways that make them feel good is important. Doubly so because often a way people deal with stress is over-work. It’s one of the quickest ways to get a dopamine hit and soothe a stressed nervous system. We’re also often so overwhelmed that we don’t have time to think about what we might plan in the evenings after work, and so when the evening eventually comes, lost for a better alternative, we continue working. I advised one client in London to make a directory of some of the best evening courses, classes and workshops and then offer to subsidise and book it for their senior busy people. If it’s in the diary, people will just go to it as the next thing on their to do list. It’s about making easy the things that are important for us.
A report by a consortium of mental health bodies found that social capital is one of the biggest predictors of long term resilience (along with wellbeing and skills to manage thoughts and emotions). When I work as a wellbeing keynote speaker, I tend to fold social capital into wellness, as we derive so much wellness from relationships where we can simply be ourselves. There’s a profound relaxation of the nervous system when we are in a place where we feel safe to show up as we are, where we belong.
The poet David Whyte said “a dwindling circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble”. This is particularly important in the wake of Covid, which decimated our weak tie friendships, those people who you wouldn’t necessarily intentionally meet up with, but when you encountered them (at conferences or social events) would bring a lot of joy and interesting perspectives to your life. One interactive exercise I get employees to do as a keynote speaker is to write out five weak tie friendships that they’d like to revive with an in-person meet up.
Often organisations feel like there is a trade off between emphasising wellbeing and encouraging high performance, erroneously assuming that encouraging wellness will make their staff soft. They eventually prioritise it as a long term investment in productivity. If they didn’t, their people experience is sub-par compared to competitors and talented staff will go elsewhere. Adding wellness to the bottom line is really an opportunity for innovation. I just spoke to one creative agency who are thinking of buying a farm, which triples as a practical way to offset carbon, a retreat space for staff to restore themselves for two weeks a year, and a gathering space for clients to have visionary conversations. Another client I’m working with gives everyone one ‘spirit day’ a quarter, which is a space to do whatever it is that feels good for you. Of course, it’s in those relaxed spaces, that we gain some perspective and our best ideas come, benefitting the business one hundred fold.
Wellness is the low hanging fruit of people experience. While I generally caution against one-off experiences as a wellbeing keynote speaker (they don’t allow employees to go on a learning journey where they are integrating practices over time), this is one area where they work really well. They key is to realise that most of us actually know what we need to do to stay well, however we also have competing commitments to not engaging with our wellness in practice. Organisations that identify those competing commitments and make it as easy as possible to live well, reap the benefits. This sometimes requires a more concierge approach to wellness, (e.g., booking them onto an evening course) but if people actually do them, the benefits come right back to the business in a reciprocal exchange.