‘The Game of Wellness’: Introducing European youth workers to wellness through games - Let the magic happen!

It is mid-December, a dark and cold winter evening. A group of 30 youth workers from all across Europe gather in an educational center in the middle of a Czech forest. They sit on chairs in a circle, silently they are thinking: What do I need to fully arrive here? What do I want to carry with me when I leave? What is this Well-ness? Where is the nearest restroom? They are at the beginning of The Game of Wellness, a 7-days Erasmus+ training for trainers. In this article, I will share with you how our training team introduced them to the essence of wellness through experiential training that combined the best of wellness, principles of gamification and non-formal teaching methods - inspiring them to do things like – adopting dogs, building their own standing desks or designing their own trainings. In short - some magic happened there.

What do you envision when you imagine the worst-case youth worker? When designing the Game of Wellness, we imagined a burnt-out person who works with great passion at the start of their career, but slowly loses the energy one day after another. Common issues being: Work-life non-balance (because when you work with passion, you don’t/shouldn’t care about long working hours, right?); low social and financial recognition (because nobody truly knows what you work on and you can never show a tangible product of your work - you are just playing with kids): a work task that can possibly never be accomplished (when can you be done with making this world a better place, making youth better humans?). Then again, I guess these few examples could apply to more helping professionals than just youth workers.

This was our group. Can you guess, if the picture was taken before or after the training? Are they burnt out, not anymore or not yet?

So, what was the aim of the Game of Wellness? To inspire youth workers to be good living examples of what they promote – an engaged and creative human being who is joyful and satisfied with their life, is engaged in their community, and makes active steps toward “bettering it”.

We have combined the core ideas of the two big trends that have spanned the world in last couple of years – wellness and gamification.

But what do those two trends have in common? It is the feeling of joy and sense of meaning and accomplishment you get when you are playing a game as well as when you are living a life full of wellness.

Think with me: What makes a good game?

It has a clear goal and set of rules – a game is no fun if you break the rules, they allow you to win and experience the reward. You usually play with other people. Sometimes you don’t even have to win to experience the joy of the play…. There are many more words that describe a game, but the idea is that gamification as such, is about adding the principles of games into daily mundane tasks that by themselves make no sense at all. In the context of a wellness lifestyle, a game is then the antidote for a tedious set of health recommendations, and too often, hard to achieve behavior change action steps.

In the context of our burnt-out youthworker – it doesn’t help to advise: “Live healthier, move more, eat less, work better.” It would just add to a ‘plate’ that is already ‘too full’. In the Game of Wellness we employed wellness oriented games to inspire them to have more joy and satisfaction in their work and in their life, which will allow them to live and work better and be more inspiring and valuable to their organizations, communities, youth, families and … everybody. (A bit simplistic explanation, but I hope you follow the red line.)

To be more specific, we set the following objectives:

  • to promote and explore concepts of “wellness”, work-life balance and healthy lifestyle in the context of youth work; and the dissemination of these concepts and principles among young people
  • to empower and motivate youth workers to develop and organize activities that support wellbeing and healthy lifestyle of youngsters in their communities
  • to introduce practical tools (such as the wellness inventory) as a framework for promoting holistic health and personal development of young people and youth workers (including experiential methods and practical principles, inspired by concepts of gamification)
  • to explore strategies/methods how to make personal and professional practice of a youth worker healthier, focusing also on prevention of burnout
  • add inspiration, creative tools and approaches to their practice with emphasis on the uplifting aspects of youth work and to develop specific action plan of its implementation

 

Sounds like a great deal of work, right? So how did we do it? First of all, we had support from the Erasmus+ program that allowed us to gather a participant group of highly motivated individuals from 9 European countries - Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom. The team of trainers consisted of Carmine Rodi Falanga (who covered the topic of games), Bara Rodi (medical doctor and expert in trainer’s skills and youth work) and myself (Introduction to wellness).







Some deep intercultural learning happening here. The question is: What is wellness? Answer: Well... it is different or each of us.

And we just locked these people together in one house, deep in a forest, for one week and the magic of learning happened by itself?

I hope you know I’m kidding! Instead, we designed a dramaturgy line that guided participants on their inside-out wellness journey that started with initial days of letting go of the burdens and re-discovering their personal wellness (wellness for me – what can I do for myself to feel and be better), to the second part of the training that was focused on community wellness (wellness for others –how to create more well-functioning workplace settings, youth programs, family spaces… how to bring wellness back home).

The training was built on non-formal teaching methods (because we know that just speaking about wellness doesn’t work) and that aspect was enhanced by the fact that our can you drink alcohol whilst on lexapro was in a nature protected area. This allowed us to utilise outdoor activities – for example, introducing the 12 wellness dimensions in a nature walk was totally fun. We smelled the forest, ate leaves, searched for meaning in a nearby dark cave. Somehow automatically, nature steps in as an important factor or source of inspiration when you let people do what is good and natural to them.

Let's just naturally lose our hearing so we can hear better.

On the other hand, when you tackle the topic of games, once the game starts, a great deal of chance is involved. We invited our participants to share their “wellness practices and activities” and we received so many proposals that we adjusted the training program plan. That is the magic of non-formal methods that allow for more creativity and employ the participants more than just as passive receivers of elaborate content. We were working with a resourceful group of professionals – from experienced directors of ecological centers, personal coaches, university professors, enthusiastic founders of new NGOs, artists, poets, student mentors and many others – and they came and put their skills on the table.

Our highest goal was to facilitate a “wellness experience” for the participants, so they would have physical proof that wellness is possible, that they could feel “like that”, and realize that they already had many resources in their hands. I think it is a common experience, when you start explaining wellness (or games or other theoretical concepts), speaking and thinking gets easily overwhelming. That’s why we had invited our participants to bring their own activities, and together we connected the practice of wellness and games with the theoretical context. It made them feel they were already on track, heading towards a “weller” tomorrow. More importantly, now that they knew the holistic context and had evaluated possible wellness gaps, left feeling capable and inspired to fill those gaps after going back home.

Let's fill the gaps in our days with crazy dancing. Yess!

And when I say “wellness experience” you must bear in mind that we were still in Europe where wellness is at first thought related to spa and sauna. To address this topic, we visited how long do xanax stay in system, the biggest wellness center in the Czech Republic. This we arranged in the middle of the training, as a segue from the wellness-for-me to the wellness-for-others training. It worked very well to bring deep physical relaxation and space for reflection.

Another, and from my point of view, a more important wellness experience, was the fact that for this one week, the group of 30 individuals lived in a community that was built on mutual respect, recognition, open and honest communication, support and friendship. Across the globe, these are topics that seem to have vanished from the ‘everyday’, especially in Europe in the times of Brexit and the refugee crisis. One needs to recharge one’s belief in humanity, even if it is just for a glimpse of time.

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All-in-all, was this training successful? I guess I am not the one to judge :) but, the feedback from our participants indicate “Yes, it was!!” But did their enthusiasm and excitement for wellness last longer than the week of training? A couple weeks after they returned home, we asked them ‘How is it going?’  Here are a few of the wellness promoting activities they reported engaging in:

  • Conducting a workshop about conscious presence (Polish participant)
  • Giving a talk show on TV (Irish participant)
  • Developing a workshop about healthy sleep (Czech participant)
  • Organizing Christmas family council (Polish participant)
  • Remodeling and deepening previous workshop about watercolors (Romanian participant)
  • Starting a project preparation about climbing and wellness (Romanian and Czech partnership)
  • Implementing wellness ideas into therapeutic work with clients (Romanian participant)
  • Promoting healthier workplace through group fitness activities and standing desks (Irish participants)
  • Taking care of a homeless dog and providing her with medical treatment (Greek participant)
  • Partnering a training course about employability (Czech - Hungarian partnership)
  • Taking a year off to take full care of a spouse (British participant)

Conclusion: What they did back home – they did it themselves. In wellness coaching we believe that our clients are already whole, creative and resourceful and the same principle has proven itself in our training. We just held the space for them and the magic happened.

PLUS: The training sparkled further ideas in the trainers team and we have prepared the second edition for July 2017 near city of Olomouc, Czech republic. http://www.map.org.ph/

Copyright: This article was originally published in the National Wellness Intitute's members newsletter as a part of the international section. 

 

Článek napsala Jana Stará


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