Environmental Wellness

Terry Lieb Living out your Faith, Total Wellness 1 Comment

Environmental Wellness was the last of the 10 areas of wellness that I added. The environment we operate within, from our personal space to the planet we live on, has a profound impact upon our wellness.

Unfortunately, “the environment” has become highly politicized. Some people shut down at just hearing the word! My goal as a wellness coach is not to push any kind of political agenda but to stay focused on the overall wellbeing of the client. What about their environment—however they choose to define that—is getting in the way of their Total Wellness?

I was coaching a very driven woman in her early forties named Melissa who had made significant strides in several of the areas but felt she wanted to skip the environmental area. I happened to ask if there was anything in her immediate personal environment that was causing her any level of stress or uncomfortableness?

“Would embarrassment count?” she asked.  I assured her it definitely would!

She explained that her housekeeping was acceptable but her “carkeeping was atrocious”!

It turns out this issue went back to her college days when she commuted from home. Pressed for time, she did everything while driving to school including eating, applying makeup, and even some aspects of dressing!

“My cars have always looked like a pig pen since then,” she said. “Actually, my husband refuses to ride in my car! It’s a joke at work. I just can’t get that part of my life under control.”

First, I explained she needed to change “I can’t” to “it’s difficult.”  An “I can’t” is a negative self message which subtly undermines your efforts.

Subtle but frequent negative self-messages can become cancerous to our overall total wellness journey. These messages are cumulative and begin to hook up with other self messages such as, “I can’t gain control over what I eat or drink,” “I can’t get myself to exercise on a regular basis,” or “I can’t find time to fit fun into my schedule.”

Melissa committed to cleaning the car that week, but she’d done that in the past only to have the mess reappear. More importantly, we decided to try adjusting her routine, which was easier once we reframed her traveling multitasking as a safety hazard!

After several weeks of getting up fifteen minutes earlier to eat breakfast at home, she reported  back that not only was her car cleaner, but she was eating healthier, felt more relaxed, and even felt closer to her husband after starting the day together!

This may seem like a small example, but small, incremental changes are more likely to be integrated and, as Melissa’s experience shows, they often have a bigger effect than what you expect. This is particularly important when it comes to larger environmental issues.

In the past few years, I’ve heard more and more people expressing concerns about the state of our planet. At the same time, they often say some version of, “the issues are so huge, realistically what difference can one person make?” There is an underlying sense of powerlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness.

Just like with Melissa, my response is always the same: “Our goal is to change our position to, ‘yes the issues do feel overwhelming but here are the two or three action steps I am taking to begin to address this particular concern.’” This simple shift in approach can make a huge difference in our personal wellness journey.

Of course, just because I gave that advice out doesn’t mean I was following it myself! For some time, even though I was increasingly concerned about the state of our natural systems, I wasn’t actually doing much about it. Feeling a bit hypocritical, I committed to making  effort in a variety of small ways.

For example, I started a compose bin, began hanging out the laundry pieces that take longer in the dryer, and use cloth bags when I go to the grocery store. I also began replacing our struggling lawn with rapidly spreading ajuga plants. This one change has meant no lawn fertilizer or weed control, dense green ground cover year round, about one fourth the cuttings and about six weeks of an amazing thick purple carpet of beautiful flowers, not to mention a lot of “interesting” comments from family and friends!

Terry’s no-mow lawn

The power of small changes was never more forcefully demonstrated than in the case of a recent coaching client. A former colleague referred his brother, Walt, who had lost his wife of fifty-one years and his oldest daughter within a five-month period, both of cancer. After the death of his daughter, about a year earlier, Walt totally withdrew and seldom left his home for any reason except to buy groceries, a drastic change in his personality.

Walt had expressed many times over the years that this counseling was “bullsh-t“ and refused to attend family counseling when their youngest son was wrestling with depression. So his brother did a “little sleight of hand” and recommended some “wellness coaching” to help him get his life back on track.

Walt was clearly struggling with situational depression, but he clearly had no desire to delve into any “emotional” issues. I have always been seen by my colleagues as an unorthodox, “out of the box” clinician and  this challenge was certainly going to require me to utilize that approach!

I usually ask the client to look over the 10 areas of wellness and choose which area they want to begin with.  In this case I suggested we start with emotional wellness, Walt immediately said,

“this feels like my brother conned me into counseling!”

I quickly backpedaled and said, “Walt, why don’t you choose where you want to begin?”

To my total shock he asked, “Does littering fit into that environmental category”?  I quickly assured him it certainly did, with no idea at all where this was going to take us!

It turns out Walt was becoming increasingly more angry every time he needed to go to the grocery store about these “folks up the road who are throwing all their trash out the car window and turning our lane into a dump!”  I certainly understood his frustration but also felt some of his unresolved residual grief from his two major losses was fueling his frustration as well.

After advising against his initial proposal of confronting the suspected culprits, I suggested we explore another action step, possibly him walking the road a few times each week and picking some of the trash up himself. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to include in this post his initial response! It was clear I was going to need to tap into my sales and marketing experience!

I asked him to at least give it a trial run for a week; after all, why pay money to a wellness coach if you aren’t going to even try their advice? In the end, I think it was primarily his desire not to waste his money that convinced him rather than any belief in me or my plan!

The first day he filled his bucket in the first quarter mile consequentially it took over four days to complete the mile stretch he agreed to. What happened on the second, third, and fourth day was far beyond what I was hoping for.

Photo by Jasper Garratt on Unsplash.com

On two of the days passing neighbors stopped to thank him for picking up the trash, one of which was the mother of the two adolescents Walt thought was throwing all the trash out.  Another day he received a note in his mailbox thanking him for his concern and efforts.

The real surprise for Walt came on the third day when he was passing the home of a woman whose husband had died three years earlier. She was out weeding her flower garden. Thanking Walt for his efforts, Connie noticed his bucket was nearly full so she suggested he empty his bucket in her trash and recycling containers, which he did and really appreciated.  She invited him to use them whenever he went past so he wouldn’t need to carry all the trash back to his home.

Over the next few weeks Walt continued his trash pickup, seeming to have forgotten that it was just a week trial! Often Connie “happened” to be outside when he came by on his “trash walk” which he did about the same time each morning. The reality was, there was very little trash to pick up after the first week but Walt kept on walking and on most days Connie “accidentally” appeared outside doing something!

Next came an offer to have a cup of coffee on her front porch.  Their friendship very slowly progressed to lunch at her favorite restaurant at which time she explained she wasn’t looking for a future husband but more importantly a good friend who enjoyed many of the things she did.

Walt was initially disappointed but enjoyed Connie’s adventurous and fun-loving personality so much he accepted her up front and honest statement as to what she was hoping for. Two coaching sessions later Walt explained that he was quite pleased with the direction of their friendship because it actually relieved him of several concerns he was having if it had moved in the direction of a romantic relationship.

Interestingly Walt said, “Our biggest challenge is trying to help both our families and our friends understand how having a best friend can be every bit as important and valuable as getting married again. Besides, it’s a hell of a lot less complicated!”

Walt and Connie became regular hiking partners, which simultaneously got him out and exercising more often. He also began attending his church again—often with his best friend—and reconnecting with his faith community.

His brother called me a few months later and said, “I’m not sure what you did but Walt is better than ever. The entire family—especially his kids—are delighted!” I thanked him but I admitted I did very little except identify one simple thing he was angry about and challenged him to do something about it. All the rest Walt did!

None of this would have happened if he hadn’t taken the first step toward environmental wellness. Walt’s one-man anti-litter campaign profoundly impacted his emotional, relational, spiritual, physical, and even communal wellness, the tenth and final stop on our Total Wellness journey. Stay tuned ‘til next month!



  1. How do you feel about your personal environment? What aspects do you find promote and enhance your overall wellness and what detracts from it?
  1. Are you willing to initiate one or two action plans to promote a healthier and life-enhancing environment?  If not, why aren’t you?
  1. Listen closely to your self-talk, can you identify any “I can’t” statements? Are there any other negative self-messages that could be hampering your wellness journey? If so, are you willing to develop a strategy to address them and turn them into opportunities for healthy personal growth? If not, why?
  1. What approach to the natural world do you want to model for your children, grandchildren, friends and your larger community? What message is your current approach sending?
  1. Do you accept the concept that even when any issue or concern feels overwhelming or too big for one person to make a difference, taking small action steps can still be worthwhile?  Do you have any personal experience with this?
  1. Does your understanding of God include Creator?  If so, does that understanding require you to assume some responsibility for the care of creation? What does how you treat the planet say about your gratitude for this amazing gift?
  1. What connection is there between your response to concerns facing the care of our environment and your personal faith journey?


Banner photo by Attila Lisinszky on Unsplash.com


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Ronald Wildasin
Ronald Wildasin
June 2, 2023 11:50 am

Your message made me think about regular attenders at church who miss so many others who seemed to disappear since the beginning of covid. They keep identifying folks that they miss. I have tried to reach out to some of them, but I think it takes more than one for this task. The next time someone approaches me with someone they miss, I will encourage them to phone, email or text that family member indicating they have been missed.