Working & Living Well

A Series Focused on Helping You Live Your Best Life

Given the importance of wellbeing and balance in our professional and personal lives, LTEN is proud to have partnered with Deborah Bonzell to share multimedia content. On this page, you’ll find links to Deb’s new Working & Living Well column in LTEN Focus on Training magazine, links to her Wellbeing Rx LTEN webinar series and links through to her website.

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  Winter 2022


The Wisdom of Reflection

By Deborah Bonzell

Amidst the bustle and noise of daily work-life, carving out time and space for contemplation — both on your own and with others — may be the smartest thing you do all day.

Recently, I facilitated a virtual learning session for an intact team at a growing biotech company. According to the team’s leader, they were a caring and highly skilled group who took great pride in their company’s innovative genetic testing technology. They were also, in his words, “regularly working ourselves to a state of exhaustion.”

Team members agreed. From full days of back-to-back meetings to a ceaseless flow of emails, texts and Slack messages (which regularly continued late into the night), there was a general feeling of overwhelm combined with “fear of missing out.” It was clear to all of us: This team was on the path to burning out.

As our focus shifted to solutions, we broke into small groups for a two-part discussion. First, each person spent a few minutes thinking about what aspect of their work-life most exhausted them personally, and then took turns sharing their insights out loud. This experience of naming unhealthy stressors was, on its own, revelatory.

Next, they considered one thing that, over the next month, they could stop or start doing on their own during working hours to increase their enjoyment. It’s important to emphasize here that the challenge was to change a workbased habit, as opposed to doing something to increase enjoyment during so-called leisure time.

While several folks committed to blocking time for a short exercise session or taking a proper lunch break with a family member or friend, the majority spoke about the need for something else. In their words:

  • “Let myself be unproductive”
  • “Focus on the now”
  • “Block time to disconnect”
  • “Don’t force urgency”
  • “Take mini-breaks to just think.”

When the breakout discussions moved on to the second question — what small well-being experiments can you try together? — a similar theme emerged:

  • “Put a pin in it”
  • “Revisit our strategy”
  • “Conduct a retro-review to ask: What did we say we were going to do, and did we actually do it?”

In short, this team came up with solutions to satisfy their individual and collective need for reflection.

Our Addiction to Action

On some level, I’m guessing this team’s story resonates with your own experience as a working professional. Why? Because although our ability to reflect is a fundamental human trait, many of us have been “overdoing” — both at work and at home — for a while now. Consider these statistics from the past five years:

  • As of 2018, the average American was spending more than 51% of their time answering irrelevant emails (23%), attending unproductive meetings (16%) and commuting (13%), according to research published on
  • A similar survey of senior managers shared in Harvard Business Review indicated that 64% of respondents felt that attending meetings got in the way of deep thinking.
  • Time spent “thinking and reflecting” has largely been replaced by time spent on screens — the daily average spiked from 13 to 15 hours/day during the pandemic according to the most recent American Time-Use Study.

These numbers shed light on an ironic truth: We are alive during a period of history that has been dubbed The Information Age — in which more than 1 billion people worldwide are classified as “knowledge workers” — and yet many of us don’t seem to be spending much time “thinking about our thinking.”

This omission is costing us dearly, in terms of our health, happiness and productivity. But as a seasoned life sciences trainer, you also know this: We humans can fundamentally change our habits when we’re sufficiently motivated.

Building a Bridge to Learning

When we reflect, by definition, we “give careful thought to our beliefs, behavior and past experiences.” Reflection is rooted in the process of inquiry and involves looking at a situation from different perspectives. This form of contemplation allows us to construct a mental bridge between having an experience and learning from it. That’s quite an important outcome for trainers and educators like us.

Establishing a regular reflection practice can take many forms. For some, waking up early to think, pray, meditate or write in a journal works well. For others, taking a solitary evening walk or doing a mental review of the day just before bed is effective.

But consider this: You are a knowledge worker. This means that your job is to synthesize ideas and information. In other words: You get paid to think. Therefore, prioritizing reflection time during your workday is not an act of laziness or rebellion — it’s what you’re supposed to be doing.

Here’s a simple four-step reflection practice that I follow myself, and that my team and I share with participants in our well-being workouts:

  1. First, take three slow, smooth, deep breaths to relax your body and mind. You may also find it useful to visualize a clear sky or vast body of water to invite a quality of openness.
  2. Next, choose a question as the focus of your contemplation. We use a set of reflection prompts that can be remembered by the acronym PAUSE:
    • Purpose: What matters most to me?
    • Attitudes: What experiences have most shaped me?
    • Understanding: What do I know and not know about a person or issue?
    • Strengths: What activities give me energy or are effortless?
    • Emotions: What words best describe how I feel right now?
  3. Now, allow your thoughts to arise like floating clouds or ocean waves. As they come, observe them silently, say them out loud or write them down. Give yourself permission to sit with the question and resist the natural urge to quickly land on the ‘right answer.’ Remember: This is a mental practice, not a game show!
  4. Finally, consider how you might apply your insights going forward. What would you tell another person about what you’ve gained from ‘thinking about your thinking?’

Like all healthy habits, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for a daily reflection practice; you’ll need to adapt it to fit your schedule, deliverables and mood. The key is to practice reflection both consciously and consistently to reap the benefits.

The Science of Reflection

Let’s start with a fun fact: Did you know that apes, whales and dolphins use self-reflection to learn and change their behavior? We can draw inspiration from these wise sentient beings.

For us humans, the list of benefits that can be felt from even a few minutes of regular reflection is long and includes:

  • Improved self-awareness and selfregulation — two key components of emotional intelligence.
  • Enhanced perspective and the ability to respond, not react — both of which have been shown to enhance decision-making.
  • Improved confidence — which can lead to greater levels of motivation and goal achievement.

In the realm of workplace studies, researchers from Harvard Business School demonstrated that call center employees who spent time at the end of each workday reflecting about lessons learned performed 23% better after just 10 days than those who did not reflect.

Another Harvard study of working adults found a similar result — employees who were prompted to use their passive commute time to think about and plan for their day were happier, more productive and less burned out than people who didn’t.

Finally, some neuroscience. Through fMRI scans, we have learned that the act of self-reflection activates the Default Mode Network, an area of our brain that is involved in nearly all significant cognitive and emotional activities, including:

  • Creativity, intelligence and language ability.
  • Moral and emotional judgment.
  • Empathy and overall mental wellbeing.

At the risk of sounding glib, this seems like a pretty darn good ROI for a few minutes of proverbial navelgazing, doesn’t it?

Food for Thought

Like other healthy rituals that support employee well-being, adopting a daily reflection practice is a choice that requires both intention and attention. Our fastpaced, distraction-filled and tech-enabled modern lifestyle has created barriers to regular contemplation that I believe can — and must — be overcome if we are to continue to learn and evolve as individuals, organizations and a global society.

My sincere hope is that the few minutes you’ve just invested in reading this article will inspire you to spend a few more in contemplation mode, either on your own or in the company of others. Because as the great philosopher Socrates once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”

The Crisis of Overwork

A 2021 survey of five million U.S. workers by the job site Indeed revealed that 80% of respondents felt the pandemic had taken a negative toll on their work-life and more than 50% had, in the past month, experienced full-blown burnout — a serious health condition characterized by physical exhaustion, mental brain fog, emotional cynicism/ hopelessness and social disengagement.

The Three Depleting S’s are a big part of the problem. Consider these recent findings:

  • It’s estimated that the average American office worker now spends upwards of 15 hours a day in a seated posture, doubling our risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, colon cancer and depression. Doctors have rightly warned us: Sitting is the new smoking.
  • Excessive screen time is also doing a number on us — straining our eyes, impairing our sleep and shrinking the grey matter in our brains. During the height of the pandemic, adults in the U.S. spent between 13-17 hours per day looking at screens, counting both work and free time.
  • More of us are also suffering from “terminal seriousness.” According to Gallup’s 2021 Global Emotions Survey, the percentage of people who said they had something to smile or laugh about in the past day declined 9 points in the U.S. and Canada, the lowest scores in the survey’s history.

Given these alarming facts (and my recent bonk), the next question is: How can we shift our overall work experience from exhausting to enjoyable?

Taking more rest breaks is an obvious solution to help us rebalance from prolonged sitting and screen time, and I’ll be devoting a future article to this important topic. But to make the act of working (at a desk, using a computer) feel less serious, we need something more. We need to tap into the power of play.

The Science of Play

Play — in its many forms — makes us feel simultaneously relaxed and energized. Why? Because playing floods our brains with a bubbly cocktail of chemicals and endorphins, inducing a pleasurable mood state that’s been called runner’s high — exactly what a bonking marathoner (or working professional) needs.

Employees who experience play on the job report less fatigue, boredom, stress and burnout. More broadly, playful cultures are positively correlated with job satisfaction, a sense of competence and creativity.

And when it comes to adult learning, the case for play is equally strong. In one notable study, when a task was presented in a playful manner, participants were more involved and spent more time
completing it. If this sounds like the opposite of disengagement (one of the symptoms of burnout), you’d be right.

Creating a ‘Work Playground’

With these benefits in mind, let’s get tactical. The day after my bonking episode, I began a two-part experiment to infuse my writing and design time with more playfulness.

Here’s what I did: I started by incorporating a series of playful behaviors as an antidote to sitting, screens and seriousness. My goal was 10 minutes of play for every 50 minutes of work. I rotated between three science-based practices that I regularly teach in my stress-busting wellbeing workouts. For fun, I’ll call them The Three Energizing S’s:

Imaginative stretching. Sure, some basic calisthenics like arm raises and toe touches can ease sore, sedentary muscles. But in the frame of “work as play,” how we stretch matters. So, as I raised my arms overhead, I pretended that I was standing in front of an enormous apple tree, trying to pick the ripest fruit from the tallest branch. And as I bent forward, I imagined each of my toes had a face and I waved at them one by one with “jazz hands.”

Sound silly? You bet. But as any athlete will tell you — visualization works.

Joyful sounds. Since screens tax our sense of sight, I decided to introduce up-tempo sounds into my quiet workspace. I hummed and whistled while doing routine tasks like Internet searches. A Spotify playlist called “Playful Jazz Beats” became my go-to background music, simulating the vibe of a lively café.

And when I needed a quick boost, I did my signature play move — a three-clap chant that goes like this: “very good, very good, yay!” My inner five-year old jumped for joy every time.

Spontaneous smiling. Finally, I drew a smiley face on a sticky note and stuck it to my desk lamp. This visual cue helped me remember to smile and giggle periodically throughout the day for no reason, as if it was another form of fun exercise (which it is — Google “laughter yoga” to learn more).

And during moments of anxiety or overwhelm, I reminded myself of an amazing biological fact: Our brains cannot register fear when we’re laughing. Ha!

The Playful Mindset

After playfully hacking my work routine with The Three Energizing S’s — stretching, sounds and smiling — I moved on to more challenging terrain: adopting a playful mindset.

This step has proven more challenging, as my “no pain, no gain” mentality is hard-wired. Yes, my inner critic still visits me daily — “stop goofing off,” she shouts.

But I’m getting better at tuning her out. As a result, some deeply engrained and wholly unhelpful beliefs — about work and its role in defining my identity and inherent self-worth — are starting to fall

Now, when I catch myself grumbling about the things I have to do, I pause and shift into feeling grateful for some aspect of what I get to do. I’ve also started strategizing about what my best next moves are time and energy-wise, like in chess.

In short, I’m trying to gamify work in my mind.

My “work as play” thought experiment was largely inspired by the teachings of the late philosopher and writer Alan Watts, who once told this story (edited for brevity):

“Imagine being a bus driver. He needs to watch out for laws, oncoming traffic and the police — all while collecting fares and giving change to people coming on board. If this poor guy thinks that what he is doing is work, it will be hell.

“But what if the bus driver thinks that maneuvering this enormous conveyance is a very subtle game? He has the same feeling about it that you might have if you were playing guitar or dancing. He goes through traffic, avoiding this and that, and makes music of the whole thing. He’s not going to be tired at the end of the day. He’s going to be full of energy.”

An Invitation

My final question is this: How might blurring the lines between work and play benefit you? I hope these stories of bonking and bus drivers give you a few ideas. As a learning expert, you know that the gap between knowing and doing can feel hard to close when we’re stressed. But when we make a conscious choice to be more playful, the road ahead can feel less bumpy.

So, if you’re ready to give something new (and fun) a try, I warmly invite you to join me in adopting a daily play practice by following by Alan Watts’ sage advice:

“Regard everything that you’re doing as play and don’t imagine for one minute that you must be serious enough.”

Whether you’re working solo or leading a group, integrating moments of play into everyday worklife can be a game-changing move to dial down exhaustion and dial up enjoyment — for you and everyone involved. To which I say: very good, very good, yay!


Deborah Bonzell is a former life sciences trainer and the founder of The WellWorkout. Email Deb at


Wellbeing Rx: The Imperative of Rest

Now On-Demand

The science of rest is undisputed — as humans, we need regular breaks from motion to restore energy and recover strength. And while sports athletes and coaches have long integrated rest periods into their training regimens, our output-focused knowledge work culture still largely condemns resting on the job as a sign of weakness or laziness.

Join us for the last in this series of quarterly LTEN webinars, as wellbeing coach Deborah Bonzell guides an experiential session on the science and art of rest.

Watch It Now


Wellbeing Rx: The Wisdom of Reflection

Now On-Demand

Our ability to engage in deliberate reflection — about ourselves and the world — is fundamental to what it means to be human. It’s also a critical aspect of the adult learning process. Unfortunately, carving out time and space to “think about our thinking” in today’s fast-paced, always-on, tech-enabled world can be a real challenge.

Join us for the third in a series of quarterly LTEN webinars, as Deborah Bonzell, founder of The Well Workout, guides an experiential session on the science and art of reflection.

Watch It Now



Wellbeing Rx: The Medicine of Connection

Now On-Demand

As humans, we are social creatures by nature; our instinct to connect with each other is biologically hard-wired at birth and necessary for our survival. Sadly, a growing number of us are struggling with chronic isolation and loneliness — including at work — which is eroding our wellbeing, engagement and performance.

Join Deborah Bonzell, founder of The Well Workout and a former life sciences trainer, guides an experiential session on the science and art of connection.

Watch It Now


Wellbeing Rx: The Power of Play

Now On-Demand

Headlines tell us that workplace stress is bad and getting worse. Chances are you already know this through personal experience. What you may not know is that research has demonstrated that purposeful play is one of the most effective ways to rebalance from stress and improve problem-solving (no kidding!).

Join us for the second in a series of quarterly LTEN webinars, as life-sciences-trainer-turned-wellbeing-coach Deborah Bonzell guides an experiential session on the science and art of play.

Watch Now

About Deborah Bonzell

Deborah Bonzell is a speaker, author, facilitator and coach who passionately believes that doing well — at work and in life — starts with being well. She helps revolutionize the world of work by guiding experiential wellbeing practices through her company, The Well Workout.

Previously, Deb oversaw high-profile training & development initiatives for Kaiser Permanente, Onyx Pharmaceuticals and, most recently, Genentech/Roche, where she managed early career leadership programs for the Commercial organization.

In 2017, Deb left her full-time role at Genentech to fulfill her personal mission of “helping employees not become patients.” To date, she and her team have guided more than 4,000 people to use simple, science-based exercises to increase energy, calm, connection and joy — all without breaking a sweat.