Last week, I attended the Art & Science of Health Promotion Conference. My biggest takeaway, and the theme that I found interwoven throughout the sessions I attended, is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
We tend to think of our health as our personal responsibility, and beat ourselves up when we struggle to improve our habits. However, knowing and wanting are not enough to drive behavior change, partly because of our environment. When we zoom out, we see that our ecosystem, which affects our health, includes not only our individual actions and choices, but also the following influences:
Interpersonal - family and friends
Organizational - work and school
Community - cultural values and norms
These all make up the social-ecological model. As Michael Marmot says "It is unreasonable to expect people to change their behavior when the social, cultural and physical environments around them fully conspire against them."
Now is a great time to zoom out and look at the big picture – the whole system. What are the influences in your environment that might be keeping you stuck in unhealthy patterns or behaviors? Do your friends eat unhealthy foods? If so, consider creating a fun group challenge to support each other in eating better.
This extends beyond our personal health to even larger issues like climate change and social justice. I read an excerpt from the book Regeneration written by Paul Hawken, which states:
"The destinies of human society and the natural world are inseparably intertwined, if not identical. Social justice is not a sideshow to the emergency. Injustice is the cause. Giving every young child an education; providing renewable energy to all; erasing food waste and hunger; ensuring gender equity, economic justice, and shared opportunity; recognizing our responsibility and making amends to myriad communities of the world for past injustices – these and more are at the very heart of what can turn the tide for all of humanity, rich and poor, and everyone between. Reversing the climate crisis is an outcome. Regenerating human health, security and wellbeing, the living world, and justice is the purpose."
I'll write more about what we can do to restore our personal energy over the coming weeks, but for now, what I want to leave you with is that we must examine and understand the whole system first. This allows us to then review the pathways of influence and priorities as defined by the frame of the individual, organizational and community wellbeing.