Hit a wall with work? Have a KIWI

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September 3, 2021

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half a kiwi on a pile of cardboard

Advice related to well-being often revolves around changing our habits: start something, stop something, enforce boundaries, etc. The challenge is that by the time we are worried about our well-being, we are already low on bandwidth to do more. 

This article is about how to look after your well-being without changing any of the things you already do.

The answer is the KIWI (not the fruit)

A few years ago, I was reading Christina Wodtke’s article on personal OKRs and was struck by her mention of “health metrics.” It made me realize that we can be creative with what we measure. This is when I started introducing my coaching clients to Key Wellness Indicators. After a lot of repetition, the name stuck:

Key Wellness Indicators = KIWIs

The idea is simple: A KIWI is a personal indicator of well-being. Specifically, KIWIs are personal behaviors that change when we are under stress. By keeping an eye on our behaviors, we are able to monitor our stress levels and self-calibrate when we are about to lose balance.

Finding our personal Key Wellness Indicators

Think about behaviors you change when you are under stress. 

Maybe you eat more junk food, order more takeout, go to bed later, sleep very little, sleep too much, watch more TV, lose your temper with the kids, forget to call your grandmother, abandon your skincare routine...

You get the gist. These are personal behaviors that you already have and know.

Key Wellness Indicators are different than health goals

It is common to confuse KIWIs with health or well-being goals.

Health goals are changes we aspire to bring about. This often looks like healthy habits we are trying to incorporate into our lives. Some examples are: doing more exercise, drinking more water, going to bed earlier, etc.

KIWIs, on the other hand, don’t require us to do anything new. KIWIss just tell us about the state of our well-being, and help us focus on behaviors that we do routinely. 


  • Behavior: I regularly work out three times a week. 
  • Health goal: work out three times a week, lift heavier weights, lower my resting heart rate. 
  • KIWI: Work out three times a week. 

The only thing that KIWIs ask us to do is notice when they are off. That’s it.

How Key Wellness Indicators work

KIWIs act as an early warning system for stress. They allow us to see when we are starting to lose balance before we hit the stress wall. 

To continue with the example above, anyone who works out regularly feels stressed if they stop working out. But this doesn’t happen the first week; it may happen a couple of weeks down the line. A little change in our KIWIs is not a big deal. The problem is when we don’t adjust back to a regular pattern on time. Then, we are close to the wall.

Monitoring our KIWIs allows us to adjust our behavior. 

In the Heron community, I’ve seen KIWIs fall within these categories: Connection to others, Family and Relationships, Self-care Habits, Chores, Boundaries, etc. See this page for some examples within each of these categories.

Choose Key Wellness Indicators that are easy to track and remember

Once you have a list of possible behaviors, choose the top three that are easy to track and remember. I recommend tracking your KIWIs once a week. This takes less than a minute but it does mean that you need to be able to “remember” the last seven days.

For behaviors such as number of hours of sleep, bed time, or steps, a smartwatch solves this problem. On the other hand, behaviors that are events, such as going to the gym or calling grandma, are easy to recall by memory.

Users are surprisingly spot-on when choosing their KIWIs. I’ve only seen users change one of them after getting started.

The top mistake is to be aspirational

If it is not part of your routine, it is not a KIWI. Choose a KIWI that represents the status quo of your well-being today. 

People interested in KIWIs are also interested in improving their health as well. It is great to have health-related goals; just track them somewhere else.

Key Wellness Indicators can evolve

KIWIs are surprisingly stable. I’ve seen users do an update once or twice a year but no more than that. 

There are two scenarios for changing your KIWIs:

  1. The KIWI became obsolete. You’ve stopped this behavior for so long now that it is no longer part of your routine. You’ve fallen off the wagon and getting back on it requires a goal. KIWIs also become obsolete when circumstances disrupt our normal behaviors (e.g., global pandemic, anyone?).
  2. Desire to reinforce a new habit. Health goals can become KIWIs when we feel confident that the habit is now a part of our regular routine. For example, maybe you took up running a few months ago. If the behavior is stable and you are not trying to improve it (i.e., run faster or further), then it is a good candidate for a newly minted KIWI. You can try it for a few months and see if it correlates with stress. 

How to use Key Wellness Indicators

I recommend tracking your KIWIs once a week. To track them, you can simply use a spreadsheet and put a reminder on the calendar to check-in. It takes less than a minute:

  • GREEN: The KIWI is stable. This is where you should be most weeks.
  • YELLOW: The KIWI is slightly off or off for the first time. Pay attention this week and adjust back to green. 
  • RED: The KIWI has been off for a couple of weeks. Adjusting this behavior is a top priority.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity. This is an awareness exercise. Just checking in on our KIWIs helps you pay attention throughout the week and self-calibrate.

KIWIs are also a great bounce-back tool. They give us a point of focus when projects and business goals seem to be falling by the wayside. If the KIWIs are off, that’s always a good place to start to regain balance across the board. 

How Key Wellness Indicators interact with everything else you do

Heron users commonly track business goals alongside their KIWIs. 

These are the patterns I’ve seen:

  1. When the KIWIs are yellow or red, the business goals fall behind or are likely to stall soon. The user is less consistent in checking in and identifying clear steps to move the business forward.
  2. When the KIWIs are consistently green, the user writes detailed to-dos for the week and is energized around the progress, even when business results are not met.


KIWIs is one of those simple ideas that work. They allow us to be active in looking after our well-being without asking us to do more of anything. By simply staying aware of key changes in our behavior, we are able to self-monitor and adjust for resiliency.

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