I used to row

09 July 2015

I took up rowing quite late compared to most people, when I was around 30. I’d played a bit of sport at school, but never at any serious level, so this was quite of a departure for me. I started with a couple of learn-to-row sessions at the weekends and found that I really enjoyed it. I also found, mainly on account of being quite tall, that I was able to contribute something to the crew, basically by making the boat go faster and therefore making it slightly more enjoyable/less painful for everyone else.

I fairly quickly moved on from the learn-to-row programme to joining the Novice squad and rowing more seriously. We started racing, and we started winning. Training got more and more intense until I was doing 13 sessions a week in the run up to big races. Morning sessions on a Tuesday and Thursday started at 6am. Weekend sessions at 7am on Saturday and Sunday. The whole crew were at the club 4 nights per week. I was constantly exhausted, my hands were ripped to shreds, could never stay up past 11pm, I got covered in freezing river water in the dark during winter training and had to spend more time than anyone should wearing a Lycra one-piece and wellies. But despite all this, I loved every minute of it and I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so content.

The reason I’m going into a bit of detail about the rowing, is that I’ve been thinking about this in relation to work we are doing in HSA on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing. I didn’t know about the 5 ways, or the concept of wellbeing at the time I was rowing, I just found myself enjoying an activity and feeling better as a result.

‘Why’ I was feeling better never really occurred to me.

Now I know about the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, it’s quite clear why rowing had such a profound effect on me. I was learning a new skill, connecting with a whole new group of people, being more active than I’d ever been and getting to spend huge amounts of time in beautiful surroundings which I would never otherwise have taken notice of or had the opportunity to see. I’d challenge anyone not to enjoy sitting in the middle of the Thames on a crisp winter morning with the sun rising over the London skyline.

Prior to learning about the 5 ways to wellbeing, I just thought of what I was doing as exercise. Now I look on it as something that was contributing hugely to my wellbeing. It seems like something I shouldn’t have stopped, and something I really ought to go back to. (Someone please hold me to this…)

Since I first learned about the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, I have become more and more convinced that they are something everyone should be aware of. It’s a very simple but powerful idea – ‘if you do more of these 5 things, then you will feel better’. I think the biggest strength of the 5 ways is that there is no prescription on ‘what’ you should learn, ‘how’ you should give or ‘what’ you should take notice of. What we learn to look for are things that work for the person, to look for balance, and to help other people look for balance.

I think of the 5 ways as being like a lens you can look at your life through. You start to see your regular coffee with friends after a walk in the woods as something that is really important to your wellbeing. You see coaching your kids football on a Saturday as more than just exercise; you’re looking after yourself too by giving and connecting. You might take on that evening class you’ve been thinking of doing to do because it is good for you to learn.

For those of us who work in services, I think the potential for using the 5 ways to wellbeing is enormous. A typical activity for a member of staff to do might be to help someone plan out their activities for the week. How much impact could we have if we looked at activities through the ‘lens’ of 5 ways? Might we identify that someone would benefit from meeting more people? Or learning a new skill, just for the sake of it? Or finally getting that bike fixed so they can ride through the park again? Might we also look at the activities we offer in groups and see if these can be improved by keeping the 5 ways in mind? Endless possibilities!

The the Fink Cards we’ve just produced on wellbeing are a great way to have conversations about what works currently and new things we all might try to improve our wellbeing. Having these sorts of conversations will be positive, is applicable to everyone and doesn’t focus on problems. You can use them with friends, family, children, people we work with and within staff teams. They’re great fun and will lead to people thinking differently about how they look after themselves and the people they care about.


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