When does doing good for others, stop being good for you? This is a question that scholar and American University faculty member Dr. Suzie Carmack has spent the past 20 years exploring in her work. It is also the central theme that she unpacks in her new book Well-Being Ultimatum. As an incentive to encourage readers to ditch their resolutions and instead make a well-being ultimatum, she will donate a portion of her royalties to support the non-profit organization Good Shepherd Housing for all books sold in January 2016.
“Many people make resolutions,” said Carmack in a recent interview. “But these are usually short-lived because they are only focusing on what they are or aren’t doing. I would recommend instead, to go underneath what they are doing, to find out why they’re doing it — which really gets at how whatever someone is doing is making them feel. Chances are what you are doing is helping one part of your well-being to feel good, even if it is harming another part.”
“For example, I might be having fun having a glass of wine with my friends, so my social well-being is high. But over time that same glass of wine becomes a problem for my physical well-being if I don’t balance it with regular activity and exercise or if I have three glasses or more in one evening, which is well beyond what is healthy for me.”
Carmack explains that if we can set a well-being agenda that sees the big picture of all aspects of ourselves — physical, financial, social, mental, emotional, spiritual and career/purpose — and get them to negotiate with each other for common goals that feel good for all of them, then we’ve made what she calls a well-being ultimatum. “We’ve decided once and for all that all dimensions of us matter. This approach is more realistic, and actually feels good as we are making healthy changes.”
Carmack’s book of the same title recommends “3 S’s” to support one’s well-being, which she calls the well-being ultimatum framework. First, she recommends “self-care practices daily.” Although she encourages her clients to create their own unique self-care plan (in conjunction with a health coach if necessary), she states that a daily commitment to self-care helps ensure that your “in-flow and your out-flow are kept in check. All day long we give our energy out in what we think, say and do. Taking time to take care of yourself — with a walk, a mindful moment, a visit to the gym, a break from the computer, or a well-balanced meal — can serve to recharge you so that you can get back to helping everyone else.”
The second “S” that Carmack recommends, is “social support weekly.” She states that her research, as well as the research of many other scholars, has shown that having social support makes a real difference in how we handle stresses – big and small, acute and chronic. “We are hard-wired to reach out to others, especially when times are tough. If we get so busy that we are failing to take time for friends and family, we are slowly deteriorating our inner reserves and our overall well-being. Plus, we miss out on the chance to help those we love. So the next time you see a too-busy to-do list, put spending time with friends or family at the top of it, not at the bottom. The rest will get done, and you’ll receive the support you need to do it well and in a better state of mind.”
The third “S” that Carmack recommends in her well-being ultimatum framework, is “services monthly.” “Many people are told or even tell others that they really should “go get help” when they have a problem. But many of us don’t like to think that we need help, especially those who Carmack refers to as “over-achievers”.
“One day it dawned on me that “type-A” people like me think nothing of getting services for their lawn, their car, or their home, and yet we don’t like asking for help. We also are more likely postpone getting the “Help” of mental health support, until we are well entrenched into a problem we could have avoided if we had dealt with it earlier on. So, I started to encourage my clients of this type to think of all health professionals — mental health therapists, a personal trainers, yoga teachers, massage therapists and others like them — as someone who is not “help” — they are instead “service providers.” It’s their job to provide us these services, so why wouldn’t we use them?” This approach helps to destimatize the use of mental health support.
She explains further that “Just like your car works better if you service it monthly, so too do we as humans. Many of us take better long term care of our cars, than we do of our bodies and minds and hearts and spirits.” Dr. Carmack recommends monthly “tune-ups” — with each month in a different topic area. “See your financial planner one month, your massage therapist one month, your trainer one month, and so on. They’ll help assure you that you are on track to your goals, or they’ll provide you with the services you need to get back on track. “Taking these different aspects of ourselves one month at a time helps it to not seem overwhelming, especially busy families with busy schedules.”
Carmack states that this “3 S” framework of self-care daily, social support weekly, and services monthly, is especially helpful for those who are going through challenging crises or trauma, and also for the people who help them. “I call anyone who is dedicated to service a ‘healer’ — they are someone who is trying to heal the world in their own unique way.” She continues that most healers are trained to be aware of their ‘inflow vs their outflow’ — and that those of us who enjoy helping others should follow this advice, especially healers who are also over-achievers too.
The “3 S” framework is part of a bigger strategic planning process that Carmack offers in the book Well-Being Ultimatum. As an incentive for readers to get the book in January and begin their new year making their own well-being ultimatum using her program, she has partnered with Good Shepherd Housing, a non-profit organization in Northern Virginia. She will donate a portion of her January royalties for all books sold in January, as well as 10% of her private coaching fees, to this non-profit to support their work in the Northern Virginia area.
About Suzie Carmack, Ph.D.
Dr. Carmack has worked in the health, wellness and well-being promotion fields since 1997. As a yoga therapist, health coach, coach trainer, and integrative health scholar-practitioner, she has personally inspired over 2000 individuals, organizations, associations, and teams. She specializes in using qualitative and quantitative inquiry methods to create customized programs that empower leaders and their teams to thrive in their work, in their lives, and in their overall work/life balance.
About Good Shepherd Housing and Family Services
Since 1974, GSH has been reducing homelessness and enabling self-sufficiency by providing permanent affordable housing, emergency financial services, budget counseling and case management to working-class families in Fairfax County. Earning numerous accolades for their work, GSH received the 2013 Washington Post Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management, and was named one of the best nonprofits by the 2014-2015 Greater Washington Catalogue for Philanthropy.
For more information, please visit www.goodhousing.org