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“5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize” With Beau Henderson & Michelle McQuaid

Teenagers tend to be under the impression that everyone else has it all figured out and they are the only ones who are struggling. Helping teenagers understand that nature has wired all of us to be perfectly imperfect so that we can learn, grow, and evolve can take the pressure off the need for perfection. […]

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Teenagers tend to be under the impression that everyone else has it all figured out and they are the only ones who are struggling. Helping teenagers understand that nature has wired all of us to be perfectly imperfect so that we can learn, grow, and evolve can take the pressure off the need for perfection.


As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle McQuaid.

Michelle McQuaid is a best-selling author, workplace wellbeing teacher and playful change activator. With more than a decade of senior leadership experience in large organizations around the world, she’s passionate about translating cutting-edge research from positive psychology and neuroscience, into practical strategies for health, happiness, and business success. She holds a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently completing her PhD in Appreciative Inquiry.


Thank you for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

After a decade in branding roles all over the world, I became increasingly interested in how to help people in the workplace do their best work each day — after all, your people’s behaviors are one of the most important experiences that shape any brand. I found that most of what we understood about behavior change didn’t work, it was important to me to gain a deeper understanding of the latest sciences behind enabling human flourishing and see how this could be applied in the workplace. I then completed my Masters of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and began experimenting. This was the beginning of what is now — www.michellemcquaid.com

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

These days I get to help all sorts of workplaces and communities create positive changes when it comes to supporting people’s wellbeing. One of my favorite opportunities to do this was with a regional community in Australia who brought together 22 different schools and representatives from their local sports clubs, churches, businesses, government, and aboriginal elders to help them teach their young people to thrive.

Over two days in a small country school hall, more than 200 people of all ages gathered together to discover what was already working in their community to support the wellbeing of their young people, they dreamed of ways that they could build on their community strengths, design new approaches they could take forward, and then agree how they would deliver on these actions.

Three years later young people and families in this community are thriving as they take part in mental health first aid training, positive education school programs, family strengths training, and a range of other community wellbeing initiatives. It’s amazing the positive change that can be created in a small country hall when people come together to learn about ways they can improve wellbeing.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I started my career in Public Relations and it was my job to get people into or keep them out of the media depending on what they were doing. One of my first clients was The Royal Melbourne Show, a huge agricultural event that would bring the country to the big city of almost 5 million people each year.

Going to the Show had fallen out of favor over recent years. Too big. Too expensive. Too many rides and show bags. My job was to create a big media event that would demonstrate the show was all about experiencing a slice of country life in the city and to help sell tickets to the event.

We decided to go back to the Show’s traditional roots. One hundred years before the present, the show had included a grand parade of animals down the main street of the city (mind you this was before cars and trams). I organized to close the street, found 100 sheep and somewhere to unload them, rounded up cattle dogs and farmers on horses to drive them through the city, filled in all the forms for the police to stop the traffic, and even got the city mayor to agree to be present to officially welcome the Show to town.

Everything was going perfectly. The dogs were moving the sheep in a big flock down the street. The farmers on their horses were following. There were news cameras everywhere. And then we got to the first intersection.

Apparently, the police were not briefed on the fact they were stopping traffic due to a mob of sheep running down the street, saw the sheep coming directly towards them, and left their post. In the blink of an eye, the street we’d closed down was empty and the sheep were running all over the city.

Eventually, we managed to round up all the sheep, dogs, and horses safely (no sheep were harmed during this event) but by then, the headlines were coming off the press: EWE-TURN IN THE CITY. I watched the nightly news bulletins from underneath my bed covers sick to my stomach and sure my new career was over.

They say there is no such thing as bad press and in this case, it proved to be true… the client later told me I should have let them know I was going to lose the sheep to make bigger news headlines. It was still too soon for me to laugh about it all, but what I learned was that sometimes your best lessons come from your biggest mistakes.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I had a great boss when I was working in my first senior marketing role in London. During my dreaded performance review, she gave me the first really useful piece of feedback I’d ever been given.

She explained how my ability to see the big picture and think strategically, whilst also being able to dive down into the smallest details of a task, was an unusual strength. Most people, she explained, could only do one or the other. I understood that I had these abilities, but it came so easily to me that I just assumed that everyone could do both of these things.

Her feedback helped me to better understand and appreciate my value to the team and the ways I could utilize these strengths. It also taught me the power of looking for what people do best and sharing these insights with them. It turns out that many of us are blind to what we do best.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Expressing care, compassion, and appreciation are the three most under-utilized, affordable, and effective tools every leader has available to them. Studies have found that when leaders express care for their people’s wellbeing, show compassion for their struggles, and let their people know when and why their efforts are appreciated, the levels of wellbeing, connection, and performance are all positively impacted.

For example, Associate Professor Mandy O’Neill’s research has found that when leaders prioritize the creation of a positive emotional culture, their teams are more likely to have better performance, better customer service, and be more innovative. However, an ongoing culture of negative emotions often leads to burnout, absenteeism, poor performance, and high turnover.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Expressing care, compassion, and appreciation are the three most under-utilized, affordable, and effective tools every leader has available to them. Studies have found that when leaders express care for their people’s wellbeing, show compassion for their struggles, and let their people know when and why their efforts are appreciated, the levels of wellbeing, connection, and performance are all positively impacted.

For example, Associate Professor Mandy O’Neill’s research has found that when leaders prioritize the creation of a positive emotional culture, their teams are more likely to have better performance, better customer service, and be more innovative. However, an ongoing culture of negative emotions often leads to burnout, absenteeism, poor performance, and high turnover.

Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.

It’s important for us all to understand that feelings of stress and struggle are not signs that someone is breaking, they are signs that something important to them is happening, which needs their attention. Rather than ignoring, suppressing, or projecting the struggle elsewhere, we try to encourage people to see this struggle as an opportunity for learning and growth. The good news is that while our levels of wellbeing may ebb and flow based on what’s happening around us, prioritizing tiny wellbeing challenges throughout our workday can make it easier to care for our wellbeing — even during these uncertain times. For example, we suggest people try to:

● Get moving early by stretching, strengthening or getting their heart rate up after they first get out of bed.

● Prioritize a jolt of joy — a favorite song, a funny video, or anything that makes them smile — to start their workday and supercharge their energy.

● Boost their levels of engagement by aligning their strengths — the things they’re good at and enjoy doing — to a task so they can turn a morning to-do into a tah-dah.

● Improve their relationships by catching up virtually with someone over lunch so they can chew and connect at the same time.

● Make a positive difference by doing a five-minute favor to help someone out for an afternoon treat that is far better than sugar.

● Savor what they’ve accomplished by taking a victory lap and reflecting on what went well, where they struggled and what they learned as they pack down for the day.

For more tiny wellbeing challenges we suggest people try the free 5-minute PERMAH Wellbeing Survey at www.permahsurvey.com.

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

Our mental health depends on opportunities to keep learning and to stay connected with others. Retirement — if not intentionally planned for — can erase the opportunities workplaces inherently provide for both of these wellbeing necessities. An activity we have found valuable for people transitioning into retirement to explore:

● Their best experiences of feeling engaged and energized by life outside of their work. What made these experiences possible? What were the strengths they drew upon? Why were these experiences so memorable?

● If they could have more of these types of experiences as they move into retirement, and everything went as well as it possibly could, what might the next 12 months look like for them? What is most meaningful to them about these possibilities?

● Based on the hopes they’ve just described and the strengths they identified earlier how might they move from where they are today to the most meaningful parts of the future they desire? What are the three most important steps they could take?

● What’s the one action they would most like to take in the coming days to begin to make their hopes a reality? Do they need any support to get started?

How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?

The teenage brain goes through significant neurological changes — like a major house renovation, it rewires itself entirely — it helps to be mindful that there are a lot of changes happening in how they see the world. Helping teenagers understand how their brain is changing and teaching them skills like mindfulness and self-compassion can be a powerful way to support them through these transitions.

Teenagers tend to be under the impression that everyone else has it all figured out and they are the only ones who are struggling. Helping teenagers understand that nature has wired all of us to be perfectly imperfect so that we can learn, grow, and evolve can take the pressure off the need for perfection.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

The new book “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle is a wonderful reminder to find the beauty in our imperfections.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Since COVID-19 was introduced with the urge to “socially distance” ourselves from others, we have been running a movement to change this language. Given that the research on wellbeing and mental health shows how much other people matter, the legacy this phrase could leave in the way we move through the world together could create a lasting mental health challenge in our communities long after a COVID-19 vaccination is found.

Instead of “social distancing” at every opportunity in conversation, our communities around the world have been encouraging people to be “physically distanced and socially connected”. To date, we have helped change the language in major banks, government departments, schools, and the everyday conversations of thousands of people.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead. It reminds me that we can each help to create positive change in our part of the world.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

@chellemcquaid on Facebook and Instagram.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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