I don’t like opera and I have no intention of ever going to see one.
I’ve not been to one before and my only experiences have been the odd clip on the radio or TV. I have a friend who goes regularly and claims that it is one of the most wonderful experiences that they have during a year. Opera, they claim, unleashes emotions and feeling in them that no other experience gets close to. I still don’t buy it but it does make me reflect on what gives me similar feelings and these are normally sport or exercise related. It also made me think about how I easily reject my friend’s claims for opera and how it would be almost impossible for them to get me to go.
This led me to think about some of my own work and how we aim to encourage people to exercise more. It’s made me realise that some people view exercise in the same way I view opera and it doesn’t matter how many studies, health scares and magical transformations I share with them, they will never get it or participate. Part of my resistance to opera is class based, it’s not something that people from my background had much experience of. I didn’t grow up with it and I have a caricature of opera as elitist. This is similar for people who haven’t grown up with a culture of sport and exercise, it’s something other people do and not for me.
The question then becomes how can we help people to exercise more as it is critical for health and wellbeing. I have thought about the only experience of opera that I have had and enjoyed were Barcelona by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1fiOJDXA-E and Nessun Dorma by Luciano Pavarotti https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VATmgtmR5o4. Both were TV theme songs for sporting events (Barcelona Olympics and 1990 World Cup respectively) and both will immediately take me back there and evoke an emotional response. I wouldn’t have recognised these as ‘opera’.
There is a growing number of organisations taking a similar approach to exercise by helping people recognise that a lot of their daily activity is about movement rather than exercise http://www.getbritainstanding.org. If we can encourage people to move more without saying that you have to go to a gym, for a run, swim or bike ride then we have more chance of helping people to achieve this. We ran a wellbeing programme at Sony Europe for our top 80 executives focussing on improving their energy and eventually their performance. During the first programme and just after the first of two sessions, one of the most influential people on the programme (MD of our UK office) said that it was OK but that he ‘didn’t do gyms’ and so would struggle with the exercise part. When we next came together and we talked about what had worked for them in the intervening period the UK MD talked about how he had played football with his son and his friends and how brilliant this had been. It had made him realise that he could exercise and spend time with his son whilst doing something that he really enjoyed. The secret being that he didn’t see it as exercise.
As a result, rather than bombard people with studies and reports that inform them of the dire consequences of not exercising, we should help people identify activities that they do that involve movement and then encourage them to more of them. A few examples could be gardening, building something, painting & decorating, walking round a museum, walking in nature, playing with your children, housework and so on. There are additional benefits to these type of activities beyond the physical movement, as the Sony UK MD discovered. These can be connecting with people who give us energy, being in nature (numerous studies have shown the therapeutical effects of walking in nature), being in the moment and therefore switching off and so on.
It would be great to hear your stories of activities that you do that involve movement and the additional benefits that you derive from them. Please share them in the comment box below. Or if you think you can persuade me to go and watch an opera, I would love to hear from you.
Roy White is a Senior Consultant at Impact UK with over 25 years of experience in HR and L&D. Prior to joining Impact Roy worked for 25 years with Sony Corporation, working in Germany, Singapore, Japan, Sweden and the UK including roles as HR Director, Sony Europe and Global HR Head for Sony Mobile. Roy has recently completed a Masters in Sports Psychology and has a specific interest in the psychology of performing when it matters.