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Compassion, wisdom & wellbeing training: 4th session home practice

These home practice suggestions link with the fourth session of the Compassion, wisdom & wellbeing training.  There are half a dozen requests for this next week.  

1.)  Please would you glance back at the handouts from the fourth session of the course & jot down further thoughts/feelings on this week's session 4 reflection sheet.  There was the development & maintenance of distressed states chart, the bus driver metaphor/mindbus description, the short self-compassion scalethe startingly effective way of dealing with conflicts handout, and the brief 15-item personality questionnaire with several fascinating research abstracts on the back ... including (now) the Roberts et al meta-analysis on the effects of therapy on personality.  What last night felt most interesting & potentially helpful for you ... what felt less clear or less helpful?  The series of eight Session reflection sheets you will hopefully have completed by the end the training can provide a succinct, personal way of looking back on the course in the future and reminding yourself what was most important for you.  (10 minutes total, or more if you want)  

2.)  Try to practise this week's loving-kindness meditation pretty much every day until our next meeting.  (15-16 minutes most days) ... new version now added.

3.)  Aim to continue practising a 12-breath mini-meditation three times daily.  What's new this week is a middle section on self-compassion.  We'll use soothing touch, so check out what suits you (in both 'private' and 'public' environments).  This short recording talks you through identifying what forms of touch you personally will use (we did this exercise during the fourth session itself, but you can always revisit if if you want to).  So the practice, as usual, begins by sitting tall & open, and setting an intention.  Then move through the mindful body scan in just three breaths, and 'name' the state of your internal weather on the fourth.  Now, for the next four breaths, experiment to see if 'soothing touch' adds to the helpfulness of the self-compassion sequence (the bus conductor with their 'kind hat' on).  In the first breath of this mid-section (the fifth breath of the twelve), you use soothing touch, and gently silently speak to yourself using your own name.  Be kind & encouraging, as if talking to a younger, loved, more vulnerable 'version' of yourself.  Again do the three-breath body scan as before, but this time it isn't just mindfulness.  This time either release, relax, unwind, soothe ... or, if your primary 'named' state (on the fourth breath) was more one of tiredness (than, for example, tension), use the scan to recharge & take in energy.  Play with these somewhat different types of self-care scan.  With the releasing/relaxing form, I often imagine my body & being softening, releasing, almost melting.  With the energising form, I typically imagine taking in energy from all around me on the in-breath, and spreading it out as imagined light & vitality with each out-breath as I move my attention through the body.  Experiment ... see what feels good for you.  Then we move into familiar territory again with a ninth breath reconnecting to spine & heart, and the last three breaths of whole twelve-breath sequence involving either a three breath implementation intention/getting-things-done focus or a three breath loving-kindness-for-the-people-you'll-be-seeing in the next few hours focus.  Here's a brief talk through of this new twelve-breath variant.  (9 minutes practice in total most days)

4.)  There is currently considerable public awareness of the potential value of mindfulness and of self-compassion.  Reappraisal though can provide real benefit too ... see, for example, the downloadable blog post "Reappraising reappraisal".  You have the startingly effective way handout.  The related post "A startlingly effective way to reduce interpersonal conflict and distress - the intervention & results described" contains links to several interesting research studies.  Please would you read through this handout (or blog post), then think of an interpersonal conflict you have had with someone close to you in the last few months.  It might feel reassuring to know that this kind of falling out is common ... see the post "Personal social networks: the frequency of conflict".  Write a description of the conflict from your point of view first, then write a description from the point of view of a neutral, compassionate observer (as detailed in the startlingly effective handout).  Do your feelings about the conflict & the other person shift a bit when you remember it through the neutral observer lens ... and, if so, in what ways?  How could you encourage yourself to use reappraisal more routinely?  I personally tend to use reappraisal more before and/or after a challenging event ... so I may pre-prepare how I want to approach the challenge and afterwards I may look back and reframe my understanding of it by stepping back to give myself a bigger perspective.  (15-20 minutes)

5.)  Review your scores on the 15-item big 5 personality inventory (bfi-s).  Remember that to optimise wellbeing we probably particularly need to reduce any tendency to high neuroticism/emotional instability.  In the descriptive statistics table below the 15-item questionnaire itself, we're interested in the 'self' column (indicating the questionnaire was self-completed) relevant to our age group.  Young Adults refers to 20 - 39 year olds, Middle-Aged to 40 to 59, and Older Adults to 60 plus.  The column gives mean (average) scores for each question, and the SD column gives the standard deviation.  Assuming a normal distribution of scores, which is probably largely correct, then about 68% will score in the range running from a standard deviation below the mean score to a standard deviation above.  The table below gives average/mean values for each question across the three age groups surveyed.  You probably won't be able to read the small script of the range.  Here are the relevant values as a downloadable document.

So for high wellbeing, we do well to score low on neuroticism as assessed in the first 3 questions.  Higher scores on extraversion (assessed with questions 4 to 6), and on conscientiousness (assessed with questions 13 to 15) also tend to link to greater wellbeing.  Agreeableness (questions 10 to 12) is interesting.  If agreeable behaviours are heavily driven by wanting people to like us, then higher agreeableness if anything seems to be associated with more psychological problems.  If however it's driven more by a genuine, autonomous wish to live with warmth & kindness, then high agreeableness does seem to be associated with greater wellbeing.  Openness to experience (questions 7 to 9) is not clearly linked to wellbeing one way or the other (in these research findings).

Please check how you've scored on the BFI-S, and consider how you could decrease your scores for neuroticism, and increase for extraversion conscientiousness.  Do have a look at the abstracts on the second side of the BFI-S dowload.  Become expert on the various coping responses highlighted in the mindbus/bus driver metaphor.  Note too the findings from Headey & Muffels 2017 paper"A theory of life satisfaction dynamics: stability, change and volatility in 25-year life trajectories in Germany" with its abstract reading "An adequate theory of life satisfaction (LS) needs to take account of both factors that tend to stabilise LS and those that change it ... In this paper we set out a preliminary revised theory, based mainly on analysis of the LS trajectories of the 2473 respondents in the German Socio-Economic Panel who reported their LS for 25 consecutive years in 1990–2014. The theory entails three sets of propositions in which we attempt to account for stability, change and also volatility. First, it is proposed that stability is primarily due to stable personality traits, and also to parental influence on LS. The second set of propositions indicates that medium and long term changes are due to differences and changes in personal values/life priorities and behavioural choices. Differences in the priority given to pro-social values, family values and materialistic values affect LS, as do behavioural choices relating to one’s partner, physical exercise, social participation and networks, church attendance, and the balance between work and leisure. Medium term change is reinforced by two-way causation—positive feedback loops—between values, behavioural choices and LS. The third set of propositions breaks new ground in seeking to explain inter-individual differences in the volatility/variability of LS over time; why some individuals display high volatility and others low, even though their mean level of LS may change little over 25 years".   Remember too the Roberts et al meta-analysis on the effects of therapy on personality.  (15 minutes) 

6.)  These findings on how our actions & choices affect wellbeing feed directly back to values and the goals we focus on in the different roles of our lives.  Please revisit the 'goals for roles' exercise introduced in session 2.  I suspect that if all you did over this course was to increase how your current 'competence' in the different key roles in your life moved towards how you would ideally like to be ... as, for example, highlighted in the funeral speeches or 80th birthday party exercises ... I would bet this would very significantly increase your overall wellbeing.  Optimising wellbeing certainly isn't just about setting & achieving autonomous goals, but this is a major way of nourishing how we feel in & about our lives.  Try to work on building competence in these roles ... maybe even linking it to your strength use this week.  And remember, our physical wellbeing is profoundly entwined with our overall wellbeing.  The basic foundational skills/habits of good diet, adequate sleep, exercising well, and monitoring any tendency towards dependency/addiction (alcohol, sugars, smoking, etc) are hugely important.  (a few minutes to longer depending on available time & interest). 



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