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Are you surviving or thriving?


Performance Matters

Andrew May is a performance coach who has spent the past 15 years working with elite sportspeople.

View more entries from Performance Matters

Is this you or someone you know?

Is this you or someone you know?

When it comes to your work and your life, would you confidently describe yourself as “thriving”?

Research published in 2002 shows around seven out of every 10 people are in the languishing zone – in other words, just getting by. The Corey Keyes paper published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour studied data from more than 3000 adults between the ages of 25 and 74 and found only 17.2 per cent of people fit the criteria for flourishing, or thriving. Which are you?

The former, the “languishers”, can be categorised thus: fatigued; negative emotions; easily stressed; anxious; feelings of emptiness; disconnected; things seem hard.

If you are a "flourisher", this might look more familiar: happy; socially connected; satisfied; positive outlook; productive; creative; things seem easy.

Consider your own situation. Do you lie in bed on a Monday morning dreading the week ahead? Are you overwhelmed by the amount of tasks you need to plough through every day? Do you feel like you just hanging in there, just surviving?

At times we can all feel swamped by our personal and professional lives. But if you want to move from languishing to flourishing, to achieve your full performance potential, you need to address four key characteristics:

1. The way you think

Amanda and Kate both arrive for work on Monday morning, coffee in hand. Amanda has a sense of purpose, energy and a positive outlook for the week ahead. Kate is frustrated, grumpy and already counting down the days until Friday. Spot the languisher?

Flourishing is a way of thinking. Flourishers respond positively to all situations because they think realistically. They have high satisfaction levels both at work and at home. They have positive relationships with others. They are in charge and don't worry about things outside of their control. Sure, flourishers have bad days. But they know how to bounce back and make those days better.

Thinking skills

  • Learn how to reframe negative thoughts and focus on the positives in your life
  • Improve your self-awareness and identify what is important to you
  • Realise the situations that typically make you feel stressed and implement proactive strategies to manage yourself in these situations

2. The way you work

Amanda and Kate sit at their desks, turn on their computers and notice their inboxes are as full as a rainwater tank in the monsoon season. Kate thinks, “Crap, another crazy day. How long until lunch?” Amanda thinks, “I'd better get started and sort out the important emails and work out my focus for today”.

Flourishers get things done. They work smarter, not harder. Flourishers aren't always the people working late and starting early. They employ strategies to manage their time, energy and workload. Flourishers are people who know what their goals are, and intentionally work towards them. Flourishers spend the right amount of time in the right areas and don't major in minors.

Productivity skills

  • Create rules around how you manage meetings and emails. Take control of your information flow before it takes control of you
  • Spend time planning your day. Without planning we become someone else's plan
  • Complete a job stocktake – make a list of all of the tasks your job requires and group these categories according to how much value those tasks contribute to your business. Now look at where you are spending your time? If you're spending too much time in the wrong category it is time to make some changes

3. The way you balance stress

Amanda and Kate are on their lunch breaks. Amanda heads out of the office for a relaxing walk, eats a sandwich in the park, takes in some fresh air and goes back to work energised and ready for the afternoon shift. Kate has far too much to do, gulps down a dodgy salad and a Mars Bar at her desk and tries to finish a presentation due tomorrow while at the same time juggling the constant stream of emails. Who will have the more productive afternoon?

Flourishers have excellent emotional and social health. They see the bigger picture. They take time out of their day to clear their head. They are aware of their pressure points and can identify times of stress and react accordingly. They are resilient and can positively bounce back from stressful situations. Flourishers know where they are going and realise the importance of stopping to check that they are on the right path. They know how to recharge.

Recovery skills

  • When you experience stress your breathing becomes shallow and a stress trigger is released in your brain. This results in feelings of anxiety and a lack of focus. Use deep diaphragmatic breathing for a few minutes that helps send a message to your brain that you are no longer under stress
  • Take at least one extended holiday each year where you don't constantly check your digital devices
  • Get up from your desk and give your body and brain a break. You can take a walk around the office floor or stretch at your workstation

4. The way you move

Kate and Amanda both leave work for the day. Kate gets the bus home but is too exhausted from the day to do much else and collapses in front of the TV. Amanda rides to the office and back each day on her bike. She's also had an exhausting day but has renewed her energy levels by getting her body moving. Who will feel better that evening?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter. It lives in our body and stimulates oxygen. It is responsible for regulating our mood, appetite, behaviour, memory and sleep. We can raise serotonin levels through physical exercise. Languishers know this, but ignore it. Flourishers embrace it. Flourishers take the time to get active and don't make excuses why they can't fit exercise into their busy routines. They recognise the importance of moving and make this a way of life.

Physical activity skills

  • Make exercise something you love doing (or at least hate less). It doesn't have to be gyms and treadmills. Try surfing, mountain biking or walking with a colleague or friend
  • Don't forget to stretch - stretching improves your mobility, your posture and minimises risk of injury
  • Set a physical activity goal and train for a half-marathon, triathlon or ocean swim

None of these strategies are impossible, and it's definitely not rocket science. We can all make subtle changes to the ways we think, the way we work, the way we balance stress and the way we move. For you to flourish, start thinking about what can you do differently. Now go and do it.

What simple tips do you incorporate to help you flourish?

 References: 1. Keyes, C. L. M. (2002). The Mental Health Continuum: From Languishing To Flourishing In Life. Journal of Health and Behaviour Research, 43, 207–222. 2. Danielle Buckley, Go Beyond Psychological Solutions.


  • Would Gandhi or Jesus or Buddha have been described as flourishing?

    Performing well in a worthless job may not be important. If you hate the work perhaps it goes against your values and it would be better if you can find a job you love.

    Being adjusted to an insance society is no measure of health.

    Small changes can make a big difference. But knowing which changes is worth knowing too.

    Evan Hadkins
    Date and time
    May 13, 2013, 9:38AM
    • Your point is valid, but you need a positive mindset and a belief in your ability to manage yourself to leave a crap job. And every job has crap aspects to it, we can't expect to be satisfied or enjoy every minute of our working day, and a positive mindset helps deal with the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.

      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 10:59AM
    • Ahh isn't it great the society we humans have convoluted for ourselves.
      We can all live to work & work to live ... then we can be economically constructive, buying things we don't need, don't really want, or things that are just plain bad for us.
      I aspire to happiness & health .... please kick me in the balls ... I need to wake up to myself.
      When I ran a business employing people, registered for GST, turning over money ... the most unhappiness I have felt in my life. Though I did some key learning & soul searching.
      Now I have a peaceful, calm life, where I focus on contentment, harmony, happiness, music, photography & things I love with people I love.
      The less I look at my shares the better. The more time spent extracting myself from technology & consumerism the happier I am.
      Our society (not life) is not setup for happiness or for health ... its setup for consumption, greed & manipulation.
      I do believe we create our own reality ... though many people do their best to judge us & try to prevent us from being truly happy or healthy.
      One day many of us will wake up, or be near death & ask ourselves what have we been living for. If you are a dedicated lawyer or accountant that day may never come? But lets just take a breath & try not to force our judgements & belief on others... then lets make an effort to do a kind deed.
      Open up your mind, learn, be humble & ride the wave of Balance!

      Yuppy Ville
      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 12:04PM
    • True Rebecca. I am convinced we are all capable of more than we suspect.

      My problem is that this energy is usually channelled into maintaining the current lunacy. I want it liberated to transform our world. I see no technical impediments to utopia.

      Evan Hadkins
      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 1:59PM
    • Well put yuppy. Isn't interesting how all these life coach types tend to use the workplace and our working performance as an example of how to cope with stress and how much more productive we can become if we corporately condition our brains.
      I will give the author some credit though, insomuch as he suggested that one need not join a gym to get a bit of physical activity happening. Michelle Bridges would not have liked that though.

      Date and time
      May 14, 2013, 10:52PM
  • I actually thought this was a great article. Some simple actions here

    Date and time
    May 13, 2013, 10:11AM
    • Absolutely agree Paul. Making the decision to see a half glass full instead of empty / what we have accomplished rather than what needs to be done still can make a world of difference to the same situation.

      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 11:23AM
  • What useless advice - said by someone that has, in all likelihood never actually worked in a crappy corporate environment with little prospect for advancement or enjoyment - training elite sports people hardly qualifies someone for commenting on the drudgery of middle management!

    If fact this sort of twee advice does far more hard than good - don't you think the people who do the crappy jobs know they are crappy and would like to have better, more fulfilling work?

    for the majority, people work to get money to do other stuff - work is only to be endured - if you sacked everyone who thought this way then they would only be inane, the self absorbed and those on sedatives left

    one of the biggest problems in the work place is external consultants or 'coaches' believing they have the answers and coming up with very uninformed, unsophisticated and trite axioms that are both theoretically and practically bereft of any intelligence what so ever.

    Sportspeople should stick to play sport, and not try and tell the rest of us how to run our lives

    Point St
    Date and time
    May 13, 2013, 10:54AM
    • Uh-oh. Sounds like somebody's got a case of the Mondays.

      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 12:31PM
    • The sedatives work for me :)

      Date and time
      May 13, 2013, 1:12PM

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