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Practising "doing": autonomy, values and "driving the bus"

"When I get to heaven, they will not ask me 'Why were you not Moses?'  Instead they will ask 'Why were you not Susya?  Why did you not become what only you could become?'"  Susya, a Hasidic rabbi.

Earlier this week I wrote a blog post on "Practising 'being'" about "being", positive mindfulness, appreciation & openness to surprise.  In today's post I want to balance this celebration of "being" with a celebration of "doing".  I think they are both important for high levels of "wellbeing". The widely used "bus driver" metaphor makes this point helpfully when it suggests that we can all be seen as "bus drivers" steering the bus of our lives in the direction of our priorities & values (the "doing" aspect). Our challenge is to drive without being over-distracted or over-directed by the noisy passengers of our thoughts & feelings shouting in the back of the bus (a mindfulness/"being" aspect). 

High levels of wellbeing are not so common.  As I've illustrated in the post "The spectrum of mental health: moderate & full wellbeing", most widely used methods of assessing "flourishing" find that less than 20% of the population qualify for this high level of "mental health". [Update: Hone et al's recent paper "Measuring flourishing: The impact of operational definitions on the prevalence of high levels of wellbeing" gives higher prevalence levels for flourishing but shows how dependent these figures are on the specific criteria being used.  More development & agreed definition of the term is needed.]  If you're interested, one of the easier assessment methods is to fill in Ed Diener's flourishing and SPANE scales.  High levels of wellbeing are important for at least three reasons - it feels better(!), we function more effectively, and we're more resilient when facing difficulties. How can we build high wellbeing? Well one of the most interesting approaches to understanding this is "self-determination" theory with its emphasis on satisfying our key needs for Autonomy, Competence & Relatedness. 

To be Autonomous is to lead a life that is self-chosen and this implies that one has personal values that guide one's choices.  Quite an easy, fun way of shining light on our values is to fill in the "Respected Figures Sheet". The main qualities that emerge from this exercise are very likely to clarify our main personal values and how we would most want to live our lives.  In more practical, specific terms, one can drill down to Autonomous personal objectives using the sequence Roots-Roles-Goals-Diary.  So the values identified with the "Respected Figures" exercise are one way of clarifying our Roots ... how we want to walk the path of our life.  Identifying one's main Roles is a simple way of helping oneself stay aware of the various areas that make up one's life.  Then I prefer to use the "Funeral Speeches Exercise" to highlight key life goals for one's various roles, but the "80th Birthday Party Exercise" does the same job a bit less confrontingly.  One then brings it out of potentially pie-in-the-sky dreaming into the real world by translating these life goals into "5 Year, 1 Year & 3 Month Goals".  And then to the diary.

Sounds logical and straightforward ... and it's such a wonderful, hugely challenging thing to do ... to be clear about our values & goals, and then live them with commitment & courage.  For well over a decade, I have met about every three months with a very close friend to review how we have done in the previous three months and clarify our priorities across our various life roles for the next three.  I just got back from one of these quarterly check-in's yesterday.  As usual we tried to spend about 24 hours away from our homes ... in this case staying in a 'hut' by Carbeth, outside Glasgow.  We try to alternate our meetings between the West and East of Scotland, and we have stayed over the years in a variety of monasteries, b&b's and retreat centres.  So good to make this time, to check on our directions, to commit.  "A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words".  A celebration of "doing" to complement the earlier celebration of "being".

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