A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. - Einstein
Yesterday was the seventh session of this "Life skills" group. I discussed the sixth session last week. As usual the participants had a handout of a dozen slide miniatures covering material we were to explore. See slides 1-6, Powerpoint or slides 1-6, PDF and slides 7-12, Powerpoint or slides 7-12, PDF. We began with an Autogenic relaxation/meditation session using the "Belly focus" that participants had already been working with. We then split into pairs to discuss how last week's intentions had gone. Then to the full group and our usual check-round. This was followed by me introducing the main additional themes for this week.
In the early weeks of the course we have worked on "basic life skills" - exercise, diet, alcohol, smoking - as well as developing increasing experience with Autogenic Training, and looking at a cluster of other areas including sleep, goal setting & motivation. We have now broadened the focus to begin looking at relationships. I spoke last time about evidence showing the crucial importance of good relationships for our physical health as well as for our sense of wellbeing. Participants had been given the "Personal community map instructions" and asked to fill out the "Community map" and answer the "Personal community map questions".
This often helpful bottom-upwards procedure was complemented this evening with a top-downwards values-roles-goals exercise. Participants were given three handouts to fill in. The "Respected figures exercise" is a good way to clarify our values. It asks us to jot down three to five people who we have a lot of respect for. They can be relatives, friends, others we've met in our lives, people we've read about, historical figures, famous people. The key point is that there's something about the way they've lead their life that we really respect. There may be other aspects of their lives that we don't like at all, but they do represent - at least in some areas - qualities that we are moved by. In the second column of the form we write down what these qualities are that we genuinely admire. Then in the third column there's space to note - from the list in the second column - what qualities or clusters of qualities particularly stand out. I suggest to people that if we don't try to live our lives honouring these qualities that we've chosen, it's unlikely that we'll feel good about ourselves and how we've lived. In terms of the "Bus driver metaphor", that I've previously introduced, these qualities tell us about how the "bus driver" is trying to drive - what the compass bearing of our values is.
The second of the three handouts I gave them was a "Role areas" sheet. I suggested that we may well be in danger of leading lives that are somewhat out of balance. The stereotype would be of a committed career-focused person who didn't give enough attention & energy to their important relationships, or a self-denying parent or partner who focused on supporting others without also paying attention to their own health and enthusiasms. I encouraged the group to consider their lives as a series of roles - for example, "relative", "son/daughter", "partner", "parent", "friend", "worker" and so on. I explained that there isn't a right and wrong about what labels and role areas we choose to use. In my own life, the best way of dividing up my different life areas has evolved as my parents have died, kids left home, job developed, and so on. All of us are likely to need a role that we might label something like "administrator" that covers a host of practical house-keeping, financial and other issues. We all also need a role or roles that cover "self-care" including diet, exercise, sleep, and possibly also more psychological/spiritual aspects of our wellbeing as well. We may also want a role to cover other enthusiasms, activities, and hobbies. There isn't a right or wrong way of dividing up roles. I do however say that pretty much every waking minute should be covered by one or other role description.
The third sheet they were given was a "Goals for roles" exercise. Typically I use the "When they speak about me at my funeral" focus. I think that the acknowledgement of our mortality helps to concentrate our minds on what really matters to us. For some people though the rather less confronting "Eightieth birthday party speeches" sheet serves the same function. I asked the group to fill in the speeches they would really like to hear, focusing on their main relationship roles. As a way of reducing "writer's block" I often suggest that one just give oneself a couple of minutes per role to write out the outline of the speech one would want to hear. One of the slides I showed them is of a classic yin-yang sign. Yin is often thought as a more receptive and tranquil energy, while yang can be seen as a more active and fiery energy. They complement each other - in fact need each other to make up the whole. During this "Life skills" course we want access to both these energies - an increasing ability to be present, receptive, mindful, appreciative and also an increasing ability to be clear, value-directed, better able to act in ways that promote flourishing. This clarification of respected qualities and of goals-for-roles can be thought of as yang - as too can our earlier work on this course building better self-care with diet, exercise and so on.
I talked last week about the key health and wellbeing benefits of good relationship networks. One way of understanding this is through the lens of self-determination theory's need-satisfaction model. See, for example, the article "Friendship, need satisfaction and happiness". I asked participants to look at their answers to questions about their personal community map, the values that had emerged from the "Respected figures exercise", and the funeral speeches about their relationships roles. I then suggested they begin to choose particular goals that they could work towards in their relationships. In the fine self-determination paper "Persistent pursuit of need-satisfying goals leads to increased happiness" , participants were asked ""For the next six months, we would like you to give special attention to a psychological need - namely, the need for (autonomy, competence, or relatedness)." ... Relatedness was defined as occurring when "you feel a sense of connection with important others - you understand and care for these others, just as those others understand and care for you." ... Participants then brainstormed "some ways in which your (... relatedness) need is not currently being met," ... After this open-ended task, treatment participants were asked, on the next page, to list "four goals you can pursue, over the next six months, to better satisfy your (... relatedness) need," ... Participants received some general suggestions about types of goals they could list in their assigned condition, but received no specific instructions about what to pursue." In a similar - and broader - way I asked the "Life skills" group to begin working on relationship goals.
They were also encouraged to keep up - and possibly extend and develop - their exercise, diet and other self-care work. I added too the "Forehead" focus in the Autogenics and encouraged everyone to keep working with last week's "Reminder dots" exercise. As usual they were given a "Practice record" and a "Reflection & intentions" sheet.
And for next week's details, click "Life skills ... session 8".