It’s time to stop saying, ‘I’m only a fitness professional. Every fitness pro knows that you are a confidante, a best friend, a coach—maybe even a self-esteem consultant—and that needs to be honored,” says Robert Holden, PhD, New York Times best-selling author; director of Success Intelligence, a consultancy group offering leadership programs and coaching; public speaker; and weekly radio host of Shift Happens! Holden believes that a key to professional success is making the shift from simply having a job to experiencing deeper professional purpose.
Acclaimed as a leader in psychology and spirituality, Holden promotes happiness, love and joy as a means to a purposeful and successful life. At the 2018 IDEA World Convention in San Diego, attendees learned his key principles and practices during a special keynote at the Opening Ceremonies, where Holden inspired fitness professionals to live their life purpose, follow their joy and grow their business.
Holden is best-known for his groundbreaking work as director of The Happiness Project, founded in 1994, and as a coach to the leadership team at Dove for its Real Beauty campaign. Learn more about his work and you’ll discover how his teachings can affect your career and help you boost the success of your clients.
Lessons From The Happiness Project
Holden’s professional training as a psychologist focused principally on unhappiness, but his instincts told him the focus should be on happiness instead. And he fundamentally believed that happiness is something much more than the absence of unhappiness. In 1992, he created a Laughter Clinic course “for people suffering from a desire to be happy.” The course quickly became oversubscribed with a waitlist, leading to the development of The Happiness Project in 1994.
Holden created an 8-week program, not for people who were clinically depressed, but for those experiencing low spirits. “[The Happiness Project] explores what true happiness is, what blocks happiness and what enables happiness,” he says. “The real purpose of the work became helping people to stop searching for happiness and to start following their joy.”
In 1996, the British Broadcasting Company created a documentary that vividly showed the transformative power of Holden’s 8-week course. Documentarians recruited independent scientists to track three participants throughout their course experience and at follow-up evaluations 6 months later. Each week, participants completed mood questionnaires similar to, but more comprehensive than, the Happiness Test, described below. To supplement questionnaire results, University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers collected EEG data and MRI scans from participants when the course began and 6 months after it ended.
At follow-up, the three participants showed significant improvement both in outlook and in brain functioning. In other words, they not only felt happier, but they had experienced a shift in brain activation patterns from an unhappy resting state to a naturally happy resting state.
Fast-forward to 2018, and Holden combines his experience with research findings to outline 10 key areas that can shift to increase happiness:
1. Self. Learn what you love, what inspires you, what you are made of. The better you know yourself—and accept yourself—the happier you will be.
2. Relationships. Identify your most important relationships. Consider
how you can be a true friend to important people in your life. Studies show that “rich and satisfying relationships” increase happiness.
3. Work. Love your work. Have a strong sense of purpose.
4. Attitude. Choose to be happy now. Much of happiness rests simply on your intention to be happy, without any change in circumstances.
5. Gratitude. Practice gratitude—it will shift your perception to a more positive state and increase your ability to be present.
6. Forgiveness. Let go of past hurts and disappointments and free yourself from suffering. Forgiveness lets you release resentment and brings you to the present.
7. Humor. Live more lightly. Be spontaneous. Let yourself have fun.
8. Health. Be kind to yourself. Take care of your own well-being.
9. Spirituality. Know what inspires you, supports you and gives you strength. Studies show that people who commit to a spiritual life path are twice as likely to consider themselves “very happy.” Spirituality connects you to your “being” so you don’t get lost in going, doing and having.
10. Now. Be present. Living in the “not now” is a chief cause of unhappiness. Your happiness score increases the more present you are in your life.
The most important lesson Holden has learned about happiness is that it is much more than a positive feeling. “Happiness is in our spiritual DNA. We experience happiness when we are being authentic and true to ourselves.” Holden challenges people to investigate: “If you’re not feeling happy, what is missing from your life? Perhaps what is missing is more of you.” What he is referring to is the inner connection with who we really are—our inherent value—and finding that connection is a spiritual path.
“Happiness exists in the present,” says Holden. “Mostly, we create contracts with ourselves, like ‘I’ll be happy when I drop 10 pounds.’ We have a lot of ifs, afters or whens. But actually, it’s a mindset. It’s a never-ending loop of ‘I will be happy . . . ,’ and we keep adding to the list. This is a never-ending search for happiness. It’s important to end the search. In fact, the best predictor of future happiness is our willingness to choose happiness now.” (You’ll find Holden’s principles for moving happiness to the present in the sidebar “6 Creative Principles for Living a Happier Life.”)
To support his points, Holden notes that, for the past 50 years, happiness levels have remained mostly static in developed countries. In other words, regardless of improved standards of living, people are not experiencing greater happiness. Happiness, therefore, is not only about external circumstances. Holden points out that, according to mainstream research, three main influences affect happiness: genetics, 50%; choices, 40%; and life circumstances, 10%. Additionally, research on epigenetics shows us that choices we make, particularly around diet and attitude, alter the expression of our genes. So what really matters when it comes to happiness are the choices we make.
Shifting to Purpose for Real Beauty
Holden incorporated his happiness principles into the leadership coaching he did for Dove’s Real Beauty campaign—a powerful real-life example of shifting from doing a job to experiencing a deeper purpose. Holden explains how the campaign evolved: “Research showed us that there are more beauty products for women and grooming products for men than ever before. Logically, you would think we would all feel more beautiful, but we are feeling less beautiful. Only 4% of women can say, ‘I feel beautiful,’ and mean it. Studies also showed that when women read their favorite beauty magazines, they actually felt less beautiful than before they read the magazines.”
After considering these factors, Holden and the Dove leadership team focused on a shift from selling products to creating a purpose. Motivated to change the dynamic around women’s perception of their individual beauty, Dove executives sought to create a campaign that would support and uplift women so they could appreciate their “real beauty.” The shift was toward more honesty in the profession by using advertisements featuring real women whose images were not graphically enhanced by computers. The resulting ads demonstrated more love for these women by redefining beauty in their own images. The Dove campaign was much more than a way to sell beauty products; it was about adding more meaning to the company and more genuine support for its customers.
Embrace Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Fitness
How do fitness professionals apply Holden’s principles in their own careers? Holden thinks fit pros can, like Dove, bring more heart and soul into their work and into the industry. “It can’t only be physical fitness. If we’re going to serve people [in their quest] to be physically fit, we need to help them be emotionally fit and spiritually fit. With today’s technology, people can just wear a Fitbit®. But people go to fitness pros for more than physical fitness; they go for emotional and physical reasons. The industry needs to become more holistic. Trainers who embrace that [approach] will be successful.”
In alignment with the principles that drive the Dove campaign, fitness pros can be important catalysts in helping people to feel better about themselves, says Holden. He explains, “One of the significant issues in the fitness industry, like in the
beauty industry, is body image. And social media is exacerbating the body image issue. Historically, people compared themselves with only a few people. Now, it is with everyone on social media. And we are judging our bodies in unrealistic ways. Research shows an increase in dysmorphia [false anxiety about one’s appearance].” Fitness professionals can change this dynamic.
Holden recommends that each fit pro begin with him- or herself. “It’s your presence as a fitness professional that will matter most. On a deeper level, fitness professionals are not self-esteem consultants but self-love consultants. The fact that you can show up and be confident in your body and love yourself as you are will help your clients to have great self-esteem and self-love.”
Accept Yourself Today
Holden is a firm believer in the power of self-love. This is rooted in a significant principle: “No amount of self-improvement can make up for a lack of self-acceptance. People need to give up self-improvement to achieve self-acceptance.” This is a big shift. Obviously, it’s possible to improve skills, and Holden fully supports that. “What I’m saying is don’t try to improve the essence of who you are. Who you are is good enough and whole and beautiful. Now is the time to accept that, and when you accept that, your life definitely improves.”
He emphasizes that trainers, health coaches—all industry professionals—need to be aware of mindsets. “For example, we often say we will love ourselves tomorrow. But the reality is, if you can’t love yourself as you are right now, you’re still not going to love yourself after you’ve dropped 5 pounds, because you’re fundamentally in the habit of criticizing yourself. You are caught in a loop of self-judgment that will never end until you start looking at the cost of judging yourself and you become motivated to change that. It’s not really a how-to; it’s a want-to.”
Holden notes that the habit of the human mind is to judge. Therefore, we have to cultivate a different relationship with judgment. We won’t stop judging ourselves overnight. But what we can do is start taking those judgments less seriously. This is a big step on the way toward more self-acceptance and authentic happiness, which then leads to success.
Be Happy Now
Holden believes fitness professionals can play a valuable and necessary role in helping people achieve self-love, happiness and success. He urges pros to genuinely connect with the deeper purpose associated with why they do the work that they do. Understanding that purpose, he says, will connect fitness pros with their joy.
He adds, “People who follow their joy discover a depth of creativity and talent that inspires the world.” Holden believes fitness professionals can truly Inspire the World to Fitness®.