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How to live well - a shared exploration: course questionnaires

I'm running a ten-session training, starting next week, called "How to live well - a shared exploration".  Here's a link to a description of the first evening - "How to live well: 1st meeting - values, self-determination theory, roles & goals".  Before, during & after the course, there's encouragement to fill in questionnaires.  This is suggested for at least three reasons.  One is that when we measure something, we tend to pay more attention to it.  Keeping track is often a therapeutic intervention in its own right.  Secondly we're using questionnaires to see if changes in our behaviours actually produce the improvements we're hoping for.  Does working through this training over a couple of months genuinely improve our wellbeing, relationships & lifeskills?  There are more comprehensive ways to measure this, but questionnaires are 'low tech' and one of the most straightforward ways to assess progress.  

A third reason for using questionnaires during the training, as well as pre- and post-, is to see whether we're going in the right direction.  Are we making some positive changes as we go through the various weeks of the course?  If we are ... great.  If not, it's possible that progress isn't being made because you've been unclear precisely what you're being asked to do, or because you've been too pushed for time & haven't prioritised the course activities.  We may want to be physically fitter, but if we don't put in the work it's going to stay a pipe dream.  Increasing our wellbeing, relationships & lifeskills has so much potential both to benefit ourselves (physically, psychologically & spiritually) and also to benefit those around us.  If you find you're going through the course and little is changing for you, do feel free to discuss it with me and do consider whether you can give it higher priority for your time & effort.  Please give this your best shot.  It potentially has profound value.  

There are two questionnaires that it would be helpful if you would fill in before the course, at intervals during the course, and at the end.  You will probably benefit further if you continue to fill these two questionnaires in occasionally even after the course finishes.  One of them assesses how well we're getting our key psychological needs met.  It's based on "Self-determination theory", which is an excellent way of approaching wellbeing and a central theme through the whole of this course.  We will be using the recent "Psychological needs satisfaction measure (NSM)".  On the back of the sheet, figures from Study 2 down at the bottom of the page give you some idea of how you're scoring compared with what may well be a roughly comparable group of people.  To flourish we want to score highly, quite possibly in the top 15% of the population.  People who are meeting their needs for Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness & Beneficence strongly will tend to experience higher well-being.  Those who are frustrated in trying to meet these needs will tend to experience higher ill-being.  It's like monitoring our 'psychological diet'.  Tracking how we're doing with these needs and making changes to meet them better is likely to be a very sensible thing to do.  It gives us an excellent compass to check whether our lives are on track. 

The Needs satisfaction measure both assesses progress and also reminds us of ways to achieve the progress.  There is a second questionnaire we'll be using that also potentially has this double function.  It's the "Scale of positive & negative experience (SPANE)".  Please click to download it and fill it in (initially for how, on average, you've been in the last few months).  At the bottom of the sheet, you can get an idea of how you score compared with others.  As before, to flourish we would want to be in the better 15 to 20% range on the SPANE-P, -N & -B subscales.  We tend to see positive/pleasant/welcomed emotional states as the outcomes or rewards of helpful behaviours ... and they often are.  Fascinatingly though, positive/pleasant emotional states also loop back to make helpful behaviours & better functioning more likely.  Barbara Fredrickson's rather wonderful work, including her classic Broaden & build theory of positive emotions, highlights that putting a couple of Ta-das (that skilfully boost positive states) into our daily To-do lists is likely to be a good wellbeing enhancing practice.  Please download both the NSM and the SPANE.  When scoring them before the course, think about how you've generally been in the last few months to get a pre-course measure of where you're starting from.  During the course, please experiment with occasionally rescoring these two scales for how you've been in the previous week.  Some people may find it helpful to do this at the end of each week of the training, others may prefer just to fill in these scales every two to three weeks.  Experiment to see what's most helpful for you. 

It makes sense to put your scores onto this downloadable "Progress chart".  You don't want the chart to disappear under a bombardment of numbers.  One possibility would be simply to choose one or two of the four Needs (NSM) measures where you score lower than you would want to, and one or two of the three SPANE measures that feel most personally important to work on as well.  Put your initial scores over on the left vertical line above "1" on the chart.  For the Needs score(s) you're going to keep an eye on, it may be best to have one square on the chart represent one unit of your score ... so if you want to track how you do with say Autonomy and you initially scored "3" on the Autonomy subscale, then you put a little cross three squares up on the left of the chart, possibly with a little "3" & a little "A" beside it to remind you which scale this refers to.  With the SPANE score(s) you select, it's often easiest to have each square on the chart represent three units of your score ... so if you're tracking, for example, SPANE-P and you start with a score of "23", then you put a little cross seven & two thirds squares up on the left of the chart, possibly with a little "23" & a little "SP-P" beside it.  If you want to be really "fancy", you can even use different coloured lines to link up the relevant scores as you move through the weeks when you re-assess how you're doing!  Sometimes "A picture is worth a thousand words".  

This is a course on lifeskills, relationships & wellbeing, so it makes good sense to have before and after measures of how we're doing in these areas.  For wellbeing we're already half way there with the SPANE.  Subjective wellbeing is probably the most widely used wellbeing measure in research & population surveys.  It consists of the SPANE (or other emotion questionnaire) and the "Satisfaction with life scale (SWLS)".  Click to download the SWLS, score it for how you've been in the last few months, and you can then see how you compare with others by looking at this SWLS background information sheet.  SWLS scores typically don't change quickly, but we can certainly improve over the ten sessions of this How to live well - a shared exploration course.  For relationships, we'll introduce appropriate assessment measures when we get to the relevant stages of the training.  I'm using the term lifeskills in a broad way, so there are a variety of ways of assessing them.  Examples will be looking at our use of exercise, what we eat, our sleep patterns, use of drugs (including alcohol & smoking), and our coping styles.  Again we'll bring assessment measures in as we go through the different stages of the course.    

As optional extras, we can also look at compassion and wisdom.  Here there are not strong reasons for choosing one scale over another.  Despite Paul Gilbert & colleagues' very interesting recent paper "The development of compassionate engagement and action scales for self and others", it makes sense to go with Kristin Neff's widely used short form of her "Self-compassion scale (SCS-SF)" and the associated, but much less well known, "Compassion scale".   Here are downloadable PDF's of both these scales, with Neff's website providing much helpful additional information ... and this downloadable Word format of the SCS-SF gives some typical scores.  Measuring wisdom can be something of a headache as illustrated in this excellent 4 minute animation from the great Evidence-based wisdom website.  I personally find Robert Sternberg's "Balance theory of wisdoma helpful way into this territory, and when it comes to assessment on the course we'll wait and, towards the middle of the training, we'll take a mixed methods approach using Igor Grossman's context/event-dependent "Situated wise reasoning scale".  Also potentially of interest is the "Twenty item values inventory (TwIVI)".  Simply looking at your 'raw' scores on the TwIVI illustrates the comparative importance you currently place on the ten assessed values (at least as the TwIVI describes them).  Here are some Norms and a description of a somewhat more 'sophisticated' optional Scoring method

But overall please decide for yourself how much you want to assess and track your progress.  It's probably sensible to explore using initial fairly regular application of the "Need satisfaction measure" and "SPANE" (as detailed in the third & fourth paragraphs above) to see if this is useful for you.  Otherwise ... be autonomous!  See what feels most helpful for you. 


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