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Using Williams & Penman's book "Mindfulness: a practical guide" as a self-help resource (9th post) - seventh week's practice

The seventh week's practice in the sequence described so well in Mark Williams & Danny Penman's book on mindfulness is covered in chapter eleven "When did you stop dancing?" (pp. 209 to 235).  I have already discussed the sixth week's practice in another recent post.  The week-by-week programme summary (p. 60) comments "Week Seven explores the close connection between our daily routines, activities, behaviour and moods.  When we are stressed and exhausted, we often give up the things that 'nourish' us to make the time for the more 'pressing' and 'important' things.  We try to clear the decks.  Week Seven focuses on using meditation to help you make increasingly skilful choices, so that you do more of the things that nourish you, and limit the downsides of those things that drain and deplete your inner resources.  This will help you to enter a virtuous circle that leads to greater creativity, resilience and the ability to enjoy life spontaneously at it is, rather than how you wish it to be.  Anxieties, stresses and worries will still come, but they are more likely to melt away as you learn to meet them with kindness." 

Researchers have shown (Hopko & Mullane, 2008) that "Relative to non-depressed individuals, mildly depressed participants engaged less frequently in social, physical, and educational behaviors and more frequently in employment-related activities", while - in a paper published last year (Carvalho et al, 2011) - decreased "environmental reward" was shown to be a particularly potent predictor of subsequent depression.  The results demonstrated "Of all variables (including stressful & traumatic life events, childhood maltreatment and cognitive vulnerability), decreased environmental reward was most strongly related to both self-reported depression and diagnosed clinical depression."  And these findings aren't only relevant for depression, they also apply to positive functioning as well - see Pressman et al's paper "Association of enjoyable leisure activities with psychological and physical well-being".  Happily working to reverse this disengagement from enjoyable & worthwhile activities has major benefits.  Fascinatingly "behavioural activation" is as potent a treatment for depression as much more complex forms of therapy - see Mazzucchelli et al, 2009 and Ekers et al, 2008 - and this means that it is easier (and less expensive) to teach therapists to deliver this type of effective treatment (Ekers et al, 2011).  Again I find it fascinating that this kind of approach transfers so well from treatment of depression to enhancement of wellbeing, so - in the paper "Behavioral activation interventions for well-being: A meta-analysis" - the authors reported "One of the most promising ways to increase well-being is to engage in valued and enjoyable activities. Behavioral activation (BA), an intervention approach most commonly associated with the treatment of depression, is consistent with this recommendation and can easily be adapted for non-clinical populations. This study reports on a meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies to examine the effect of BA on well-being. Twenty studies with a total of 1353 participants were included. The pooled effect size (Hedges's g) indicated that the difference in well-being between BA and control conditions at posttest was 0.52. This significant effect, which is comparable to the pooled effect achieved by positive psychology interventions, was found for non-clinical participants and participants with elevated symptoms of depression. Behavioral activation would seem to provide a ready and attractive intervention for promoting the well-being of a range of populations in both clinical and non-clinical settings."

So how are you doing engaging in valued and enjoyable activities?  If you click through to the post "Assessing and encouraging enjoyable activities", you'll find a number of self-assessment methods listed including the helpful "Pittsburgh enjoyable activities test (PEAT)".  When planning what one might do to increase one's activity engagement, I would highlight Self-Determination Theory's prediction that responding to our key psychological needs for Relatedness, Autonomy and Competence is likely to be particularly helpful - see the paper "Persistent pursuit of need-satisfying goals leads to increased happiness: A 6-month experimental longitudinal study".  The study's authors explained Autonomy as occurring when "you make your own decisions and choices, so that what you do is interesting, meaningful, and valuable to you." Competence was defined as occurring when "you feel effective and capable in life, and that you are doing things that you are good at" while Relatedness was explained to mean "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."  For fuller discussion of how you might choose what kinds of activities to boost, see the two posts starting with "Targeting behavioural activation better both for decreasing depression and increasing wellbeing".  I also find "The bus driver metaphor" a particularly good way of understanding the link between increased focus on valued & enjoyable activities and using mindfulness to cope with our "passengers" of potentially unhelpful thoughts & feelings.

Of course Mark & Danny do a great job of helping us look at the balance of our "Nourishing" and "Depleting" activities, and they make specific suggestions for working to alter this balance.  I tend to agree with their comment on the importance of leading with action when one is feeling distressed ... and noticing how feeling typically then follows.  I'm impressed with how firmly they state this tendency.  As has been said many times before, sometimes we have to "Fake it till we make it".  Remember too that this extends not only to obvious external activity change, but also to more subtle and repeatedly available postural change - see the sequence of posts beginning with "Embodied cognition: posture & feelings".  And this sense of activity change being repeatedly available during the day is highlighted too by Mark & Danny's instructions on post-Breathing space behaviour.  Good stuff. 

Click through for a downloadable reflection sheet and a practice record for this seventh week of the mindfulness course.  And for the final blog post in this series, see "Using Williams & Penman's book 'Mindfulness: a practical guide" as a self-help resource (10th post) - eighth week's practice".

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