Five Strategies to Cultivate Well-Being


Vice presidents for student affairs (VPSAs) spend a great deal of time attending to the needs of others, be it students, mentees, colleagues, or staff members. Subsequently, they have little time to care for themselves. Exercise, a nutritional diet, and good sleep habits are all important aspects of cultivating well-being, but they all take time out of a busy schedule.

The following science-based strategies can be practiced in the office or anytime for that matter. The results of consistent and prolonged practice are shown to significantly reduce stress and anxiety as well as increase compassion for self and others.

Focus on breathing. Schedule two minutes to sit and focus on the sensations of the breath in your body, or several times a day take a focused breath. This focus on breath sensation soothes the nervous system and down-regulates the amygdala, part of the brain’s integrative center for emotions and emotional reactivity. Down-regulating the activity of the amygdala with focused breathing allows for greater access to listening, reasoning, decision making, prioritizing and withholding judgement, among other executive functions.

Identify emotion sensations in your body. When you become aware that you are sensing emotion, even if that emotion takes the form of a speech to the entire office staff, stop for two minutes to focus on the breath; then gently scan your body from head to toe as you breathe. Give yourself permission to leave the room if necessary. Notice the body sensations as you experience emotion. For instance, you may notice tingling, heat, cold, lack of sensation, or tension in certain parts of your body. As you notice the sensation of the emotion in your body, ask yourself: What is this feeling? What is this emotion? What am I thinking right now? Science shows that this process may help you discover how emotions express themselves in bodily sensations, allowing you to gain increasing insight into when and where emotions begin and empowering you to choose whether you want to speak or act from your emotions.

Practice active listening. Take just two minutes to give someone your full attention when you are listening to them speak. Begin by focusing on the sensation of the breath in the body; then direct your full attention to the speaker. Avoid interrupting as you listen, and return your attention to the sensation of the breath in the body as emotions or thoughts brew. Share what you have heard, asking the speaker to clarify anything you misunderstood. If you would like, repeat the listening process for another two minutes, sharing the feelings you heard the speaker communicate. Research illustrates that this process may foster a connection that will allow others to better hear your message from both a content and emotional point of view.

See others as human beings. See your colleagues and staff members as human beings rather than as cogs in a bureaucratic process. This perspective can play a significant role in forming a connection that can lead to kind dialogue. Despite differences of opinion, experiences, or backgrounds, each of us is a human being who wants to be happy, healthy, and free from physical and emotional pain and suffering. The intention of this practice is to find a very basic point of reference for connection. Our ability to reduce the inequalities of the human experience will not likely happen unless we can connect at this basic level – if only for a few moments. 

Offer kindness. Get in touch with your kindness, and silently offer this kindness to everyone you meet. Do not forget to silently offer kindness to yourself. Offering kindness means different things to different people. For example, when I offer kindness, I think of the overwhelming joy and love that I feel when I see a baby human or animal. I sense the baby’s innocence; feel a deep desire for that baby to be happy, healthy, and free from pain and suffering; and then offer kindness to that baby. When I encounter someone who appears to be set on creating pain and suffering for themselves and/or others, I recall that joy and love and silently offer kindness, which takes only a second.

There are many practices that are designed to cultivate awareness of what Massachusetts Institute of Technology lecturer Otto Scharmer has described as the beliefs, values, and judgements that underlie our behavior. These quick and simple exercises can be silently practiced on a daily basis, and they can help you live optimally every day and resolve conflicts that underlie certain behaviors.