5 Steps to Better Mental and Physical Health: Step 2 - Engagement


To mark “Mental Health Awareness Week” - which this year has its focus on body image - I’m writing a daily blog describing five foundations for wellbeing and happiness. 

Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, developed the PERMA model to show what we need in our lives to feel better both mentally and physically:

  • Positive emotion

  • Engagement

  • Relationships

  • Meaning

  • Accomplishments

This week, I’ll consider how each pillar can help us to see body image in a different light and build towards a healthier mind and way of living. Body image has two important aspects:

  1. how we think about ourselves and our bodies

  2. how others perceive us and the effect that can have on our mental state

Yesterday we were talking about positive emotion and body image

Today’s post is about the second of those pillars, engagement. This is the feeling you get when you really lose yourself in something; your attention is absorbed and you’re focused.

Being in this state of mind brings a host of benefits. These include feeling more connected with life and less isolated, having a stronger sense of self, and possessing more self-belief. 

Finding your flow

One way that we can build engagement is to find activities that are pitched at the right level for us. By “right”, I mean that they’re not so easy that we get bored and not so hard that we feel overwhelmed or anxious.

When we find this middle ground, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it ‘flow’. Whenever we move into this flow state, we’re fully engaged with the task that’s immediately at hand and not easily distracted by other things.

In the wellbeing workshops I run with businesses, I enjoy getting into conversations about flow. I’m fascinated how this intense state of engagement can be found in such a diverse range of activities, including cooking, surfing, gardening, knitting, hiking, and running.

Engagement and body image

So how do we enhance our body image using the concept of flow? When we’re in this state, we’re often doing something that's challenging and yet ultimately rewarding for us. So perhaps an activity that’s good for our bodies (and minds) would fit the bill? 

I’m thinking of yoga. If you’ve never tried it, don’t despair - there are loads of great community classes out there and you can also practise at home. I really like Yoga With Adriene (find her on YouTube), where I’m encouraged to ‘find what feels good’ and ‘focus on sensation’ rather than pushing my body into a perfect yoga pose.

When we focus on what it feels like to do that activity, rather than what we look like (or whether we’re doing it perfectly), we're cultivating a really positive body image for ourselves. 

So I encourage you to think about the activities you do where there’s just the right balance between challenge and skill, where you lose your sense of time. Make time for these things, especially those that can help you feel good about your body too.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll be looking at the third PERMA pillar: relationships.