The Whole Person Perspective

Consider the various aspects of your life and how they differ from each other. For example, your professional existence may be quite different from who you are during social interactions with friends. Your physical health and exercise routines probably rarely overlap with your spiritual or religious practices. Furthermore, your psychological wellness is probably kept separate from your workplace interactions.

Now, think a little deeper about how these things are connected.

If you have a negative social interaction with a friend or loved one before heading to work, you’ll likely feel the effects throughout the course of your workday. When your physical health fails you, you may turn to your spiritual side for guidance. Finally, when your mental health is challenging you, your professional goals may bear the brunt of the situation.

In short, even those parts of you that are seemingly unrelated are all interconnected on a deeper level. They all make up the whole person.


The Whole Person Perspective - Why it All Matters

In life, we’re often told to focus on one thing until it’s complete, before shifting our focus elsewhere. However, when it comes to ourselves, we’re a constant work in progress. We will never be “complete” the way a task will. We are like laundry when it comes to improvement-- sometimes you get ahead of the situation, but it’s not long before more work comes along. Other times you fall behind and end up with a huge mess.

To truly be happy and successful in life, you need to address all areas of yourself. As you saw in the examples given earlier, there’s no definitive line between the various areas of your life. The whole person perspective is used in various fields of psychology and medicine. In recent years, studies have been evaluated surrounding healing the whole person to address obesity levels, mental illness recovery, performance in sports, and more.


The Whole Person in Health Care

One of the main areas where assessing the whole person is becoming common practice is in health care. It’s also the best representation of why looking at the big picture matters. When someone is healing from an illness or accident or facing the fact that they may never recover, more is taken into account than physical health.

Professionals assess one’s psychological response to their injury, often resulting in counseling to help process the information. They look at the social support network of family and friends to determine how someone will be cared for once they return home. Health problems take a toll on professional goals, through time away from work for both the person facing the health issue as well as the caretakers.

In a nutshell, a problem in one area of someone’s life could have a drastic impact on all areas. That’s why taking a balanced approach to development matters.


How to Change Your Life

To reach your goals, you need to assess whether or not your current course is in congruence with your goals and values. Sit down with a piece of paper and make six columns. Label the columns with:

  • Physical - how well you address the needs of your body (nutrition, exercise, health, etc.)

  • Psychological - your self-perception, mental health, and trueness to yourself.

  • Social - how you interact with others and give back to your community.

  • Professional - your career path and goals.

  • Spiritual - your self-awareness and how you fit into the world around you.

  • Emotional Intelligence - your ability to empathize and understand others.

Under each label, identify things you do well in that area and how you’re falling short. Highlight three areas where you’re falling short and set goals to correct this behavior. Remember to follow the SMART goal setting process. All of your goals should be:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Attainable

  • Realistic

  • Timely

For example, if you identify that your social relationships have been failing because you have been wrapped up in your professional goals, you may consider volunteering as a way to connect and give back to the community. Rather than setting a vague goal of “I’m going to volunteer,” follow the SMART practices. A SMART goal would be, “I’m going to volunteer for the local soup kitchen one weekend out of the month for the next year.”

Remember to write down your intention in a visible area, as writing your goals down makes you more likely to achieve them.


Working with a Coach

When you’re looking at working with a coach, it’s important that you find someone who can help you address all areas of your life rather than something specific. While your time together may be focused on a specific area, a good coach will be able to identify how the rest of your world interacts with your specific goals.

This is called using the whole person perspective. The main challenge of trying to take a whole person perspecitve approach to personal development is that it’s difficult to see the whole picture when you’re in it. Working with a professional can help you identify the areas that are out of congruence and give you the direction and accountability you need to course-correct.

Think about the various areas of your life and how they overlap. Think about how much you’d be able to accomplish if you could improve those various areas and create a ripple effect. Now, stop thinking about it and make it happen.


Meredith Wailes is the president of Bloom Leadership, founder of SEED, and an advisor and builder of women who impact social change. Contact her via or connect on LinkedIn to see how she can help you.