August 29th, 2022

Well-Being and Well-Thinking: How to Stay Healthy in Academia

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old car driving

This article first appeared in Academic Leader on March 16, 2020. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

Resilience is about growing both personally and professionally when we face difficult situations. It is about coming out the other side as a stronger or more prepared person rather than bouncing back to the status quo. We know that our brains are highly adaptive: we can create new patterns of thinking and acting, yet we need to purposefully practice to make those patterns stick. The brain has neuroplasticity and can rewire itself with consistent practice, persistence, and training—even when we face life’s most difficult challenges.

It can help to think of taking care of ourselves as akin to the routine maintenance that supports a car’s longevity, high performance, and efficiency. As regards our mental and physical well-being, we sometimes forget to watch for the signs to slow down, to get “into the shop.” In this analogy, we share some guidance toward well-being and well-thinking to promote resilience in your “dream car.”

Checking under the hood

Take the opportunity to self-assess and “check under the hood” to gauge your resiliency. In life, you may reach a time in life known as the fertile void (McDargh, 2014). This is a threshold to something new, a growth opportunity. It can happen after a major event, when you may feel you don’t know what to do next. In this time, hold onto this “space” and listen: Seek support from your pit crew (crew of support and nurturing) to aid you in decision-making and to provide encouragement. Complete a resiliency inventory to self-assess where you are right now, at this point in time. It might benefit you to routinely check your resiliency gauge—just as you perform regular maintenance on your car. Consider investing about 10 minutes to complete an inventory and perhaps sharing it with an accountability partner, coach, or trusted colleague for additional value.

Here are two examples of instruments to consider a self-assessment to help evaluate areas that may need growth and development:

Maintenance plan

In addition to checking your resiliency gauge, it is important to have a maintenance plan for the other components of developing your resiliency well-being. Just as a car needs four wheels to move forward, you will need four skills to grow your resilient life: adaptabilityagilitylaugh-ability, and alignment. These make up the core components of your maintenance plan.

  • Adaptability: A change in thinking and feeling, reframing what is possible rather than impossible. Knowing what you can control and what is out of our control.
  • Agility: Your ability to move quickly, which includes your thinking. Creating multiple actions and solutions while avoiding analysis by paralysis—overanalyzing to the point you can’t move forward. In your body, action can take the form of physical needs (nutrition, hydration, sleep, and exercise). Remember the importance of sleep hygiene, which is the best step in clearing your mind and unleashing the power of creativity and innovation.
  • Laugh-ability: Your playtime. Think about “FISH!,” a philosophy created by Luden, Paul, and Christensen (2000) based on their observations at the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. They encourage people to play, to make others’ days, to be present with each individual, to choose their attitudes, and to avoid adopting a persona.
  • Alignment: To remain standing through your sturdy foundation. Your personal mission statement, your why in life (your core values), your why for your career, and your sense of purpose and a higher calling. Alignment can help guide your adaptability.

Ways to fuel your tank

It is important to learn what gives you energy and what drains it. We’ve all had days when we leave work smiling, energized, and feeling on top of the world; what makes those days so positive? It is possible that we have positive interactions with our colleagues, are able to laugh and laugh a lot, celebrate someone’s success, or feel valued in the work we do. And yet we’ve also had days when we wish we could hit the reset button—whether because we don’t feel valued, there is unnecessary tension or drama, or we are unable to work to our fullest on account of leadership or management actions.

Our energy comes from what psychologists Salvatore Maddie and Suzanne Kobasa call psychological hardiness (McDargh, 2014). Their research states that there are three ways you can practice to improve your emotional and physical energy: commitment (living your why), control (knowing what you can manage and change), and challenge (being willing to handle what ends up in your work space). Positive and negative emotions can co-occur. Research indicates that individuals who have a daily ratio of three positive emotional experiences to one negative emotional experience are likelier than those with lower ratios to be resilient and successfully reintegrate (Fredrickson, 2001).

Apply these concepts and be purposeful as you develop your personal and professional resiliency by identifying your energy boosters and drainers. Identify those activities or situations that fuel your tank, commit to keep them coming, and celebrate them. And when you identify energy drainers, challenge and reframe them. Maybe all you can control is your reaction to them—and that takes training in learning to let them go. Keep practicing these three so you can keep your tank full.

The autobahn—road of life

Ashley Good (n.d.), founder and CEO of Fail Forward, believes that our relationship with failure can either unlock our full potential or keep us from ever realizing it. Have the courage to try and the resilience to fail. While failing may seem daunting because of how we define ourselves, it doesn’t need to be that way. Perspective is key. By embracing failure and setting yourself up to win no matter what, you pave the way for your success.

To summarize, just as a car needs four wheels to move forward, you need four skills to grow your resilient life: adaptability, agility, laugh-ability and alignment. It truly is a combination of all four resiliency skills that will aid you in bouncing back. Adaptability helps you reframe situations and challenges as you work toward solutions. Agility keeps you nimble and helps you avoid potholes. Laugh-ability brings you energy in difficult times. Alignment helps you stay true to yourself—your purpose, your why. All these are relevant on and off road. We wish for you a long, adventurous, and successful journey.


Seena Haines, PharmD, is a professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy. Previously, she served as associate dean for faculty at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Jenny A. Van Amburgh, PharmD, is a clinical professor and assistant dean for academic affairs in the School of Pharmacy at the Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University. Additionally, she serves as the director of the postgraduate teaching and learning certificate program.

Susan M. Stein, DHEd, is a professor emerita at Pacific University’s School of Pharmacy and the owner of Sue Stein Consulting. Prior to consulting, she served as associate dean for the College of Health Professions and dean of the School of Pharmacy at Pacific University.

A version of this article appears in The Best of the 2019 Leadership in Higher Education Conference. © 2020 Magna Publications. All Rights Reserved.

References:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Well-being concepts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hrqol/wellbeing.htm

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218–226. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.56.3.218

Good, A. (n.d.). Resources. Retrieved from https://failforward.org/resources#materials

Lundin, S. C., Paul, H., & Christensen, J. (2000). Fish!: A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. New York, NY: Hyperion.

McDargh, E. (2014). Your resiliency GPS: A guide for growing through life and work. Self-publishing Partners: Studio 6 Sense, LLC.

Additional resources:

National Academy of Medicine. (n.d.). Action collaborative on clinician well-being and resilience. Retrieved from https://nam.edu/initiatives/clinician-resilience-and-well-being

Perlo, J., Balik, B., Swensen, S., Kabcenell, A., Landsman, J., & Feeley, D. (2017). IHI framework for improving joy in work. IHI White Paper. Cambridge, MA: Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Retrieved from http://www.ihi.org/resources/Pages/IHIWhitePapers/Framework-Improving-Joy-in-Work.aspx

The Resilience Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://resiliencei.com

Shanafelt, T.D., & Noseworthy, J. H. (2017). Executive leadership and physician well-being: Nine organizational strategies to promote engagement and reduce burnout. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 92(1), 129–146. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.10.004