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Wellness Checklist with Dr. Aw

Dr Aw headshot in a circle

Update from Dr. Aw

November 20, 2020

Wellness seems easy to understand – but difficult to master. There are many definitions of wellness and our life journeys are unique to each of us. Wellness is personal. The healthiest individuals that I have met over the years in my clinical practice, personal and business life all seem to take a holistic view to wellbeing and don’t take anything for granted. Achieving wellness requires a lot of work, discipline and positive daily habits. It’s not simply excelling in one thing (i.e. physical, mental, financial, job satisfaction, relationships, etc.) - but mastery of many things at the same time.

I have found a few helpful frameworks that address the multiple dimensions of wellbeing. Traditionally – medicine has been more reactive and focused on diagnosing and treating physical and mental health. However – prevention of disease and feeling well requires a broader perspective. One of my medical heroes is Sir William Osler who was a Canadian physician who graduated from McGill University and one of the founders of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, USA. One of his quotes has always stuck with me. “The good physician treats the disease. The great physician treats the person who has the disease.”

Preventive health strategies recognize that physical and mental health are intimately intertwined with social elements such as interpersonal relationships, community service, occupational satisfaction and financial independence. Social connectiveness, meaning in life and how we feel have huge impacts on our overall wellbeing.

Another medical hero of mine is bestselling author and surgeon Dr. Atul Gawande. He wrote a few books that were influential early in my career (Better and The Checklist Manifesto). Dr. Gawande showed that the simple idea of a checklist applied to different medical scenarios can address complexity and how to get things right. In a busy world of competing interests, high volumes of information and demands on our time - a simplified checklist can help us be better.

Source: “Innovative Ways to Present Well-Being to Families,” by Dr. Isaac Prilleltensky, Dr. Ora Prilleltensky, Dr. Samantha Dietz, Dr. Nicholas Myers, Dr. Yin Jin, and Adam McMahon. (

I propose that you create your own Wellness Checklist that you can refer to daily. How would you honestly evaluate yourself in each of the wellness dimensions? How many A’s and B’s versus C’s and D’s would show up on your Wellness Report Card? Wellness is more than how many pushups you can do or feeling good about yourself. What is going well and where do you need more attention? The point of evaluating your wellness areas is to increase personal awareness and not creating additional stress. It is not a competition. It is about being your best whole self.

Start where you are at. Set goals and create an action plan in each Wellness area. Keep it simple and actionable with a positive outcome. SMART goal setting is a common approach used for decades which believes that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and have a Timeline. Starting your day in the right mindset and kickstarted with physical activity (something that makes you sweat!) can have huge benefits. I recently read Robin Sharma’s book called “The 5 am Club” which focuses on the power of morning healthy habits.

I have written previously on the challenges of behaviour change (Change Wheel). If change was easy – we wouldn’t keep talking about it. Judith Hibbard from the University of Oregon is well known for her research on patient activation which acknowledges the individual’s role in behaviour change. Individuals require knowledge, confidence and skills to manage their own health and ultimately lead to positive outcomes. Individuals with high levels of activation feel empowered – whereby others with low activation have a more passive approach and less likely to seek help. Try to assess your own level of activation in the different Wellness spheres and seek help, guidance and inspiration in the areas that need some attention.


In summary – wellness starts with awareness (personal health audit, checklist) and requires action (goal setting, activation) to improve outcomes. Wellness is social. We need each other for support, guidance and inspiration. Have a growth mindset – so that wellness becomes a personal journey of exploration and new experiences. It should be fun and meaningful to be sustainable.

Be a lifelong learner and become an expert on you!


  1. Sir William Osler

  2. Atul Gawande

  3. Robin Sharma

  4. SMART goals. Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management's Goals and Objectives", Management Review, Vol. 70, Issue 11, pp. 35-36.

  5. Behaviour Change.

  6. Judith Hibbard. Patient Activation.

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