Those who do not have the power over the story that dominates their lives - the power to retell it, reexperience it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change - truly are powerless because they cannot think new thoughts. - Salman Rushdie
It was the eighth session of this twelve session group last night. I wrote about the seventh session last week. Participants had their usual handout of a dozen slide miniatures covering the 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 "Forehead focus" that participants had already been working with. Then at the check-round, because several people were away on holiday, we had more time to address two or three individual issues that came up.
The main additional focus of the evening was around relationships and how we approach them. Two weeks ago we looked at the mortality risks of poor relationships, and began working with "Personal community maps". Last week we personalized this more, exploring our values through the "Respected figures exercise" and our hopes with the "Funeral speeches exercise". This week I extended this work on values, roles, hopes & goals by talking more about Self-Determination Theory. Participants received several handouts on Needs, Goals, Motivation and the questionnaire on Relationship need satisfaction - all downloadable from the "Wellbeing, time management & self-determination" page of this website.
This twelve session course is about "Life skills for stress, health & wellbeing". Happily the skills and focus that help one of these three areas are likely to help the other two areas as well. So, for example, good diet and adequate exercise make major differences to our physical health and mortality AND they also make major differences to our stress resilience too. In a similar way, life skills and focus that build our wellbeing ALSO help with stress resilience and with our physical health. Recent research highlights the validity of this understanding. See, for example, Sin & Lyubomirsky's 2009 article "Enhancing well-being and alleviating depressive symptoms with positive psychology interventions: a practice-friendly meta-analysis" and Chida & Steptoe's 2008 article "Positive psychological well-being and mortality: a quantitative review of prospective observational studies". So this evening's Life skills class focused on interventions to build wellbeing, and we can be confident that there will be a spill-over effect for both stress levels and general health.
Self-determination theory underlines increasing satisfaction of our needs for Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness as major ways to build wellbeing - see, for example, the 2010 paper "Persistent pursuit of need-satisfying goals leads to increased happiness: A 6-month experimental longitudinal study". I asked the group to begin working in this way - particularly with their needs for Autonomy and Relatedness. Increasing Autonomy involves leading a life that is more "self-chosen", that increasingly fits with our personal values. Last week's "Respected figures" and "Funeral speeches" exercises are great for clarifying what this is likely to involve. I linked this work on increasing Autonomy with increasing Relatedness (intimacy & shared activity) as well. I asked participants to check to see whether their "Respected figures" exercise from last week had highlighted any particular ways of relating to other people that they deeply respected. Similarly their "Funeral speeches" exercise would have underlined how they wanted to be with family, relatives, friends and others. Finally there was a link as well with the "Personal community map" exercise they have been working with. This clarification of values, lifetime goals, and relationships is a very rich and important way to identify autonomous goals for how we can relate better.
I linked this too with Jennifer Crocker's work on "Egosystem & ecosystem" or as the Beatles put it "The love you take is equal to the love you make" (the line that John Lennon is reported to have said was Paul McCartney's best lyric). Everyone had a chance to complete Crocker's "Compassionate & self-image goals scale" and I talked a bit about how this a pretty good validation of the Beatles' words. For some people this linked with what had emerged from the "Respected figures" exercise. And I talked too about Goodwill practice and how this can be usefully added to the Autogenics. Amongst other reasons for this is Barbara Fredrickson's research showing the way that Goodwill practice can build positive emotions and improved functioning and life satisfaction.
The Autogenic exercises they were to work on involved using any of four "Forehead exercises" once daily and either the longer or shorter "First goodwill exercise" once daily. The standard relaxation and mindfulness "Forehead exercise" options are given on the "Autogenic training, session 7" page of this website. The additional energising (typically morning) and quieting (typically evening) options are given on the "Autogenic training, session 8" page. I also introduced the possibility of linking compassion practice to the standard Autogenic Training sequence. There are a further 12 practice recordings as well as explanatory information on the "Compassion & criticism" webpage. Participants were given the "Suggestions for goodwill practice" and "Goodwill practice record" as well as a CD with the three initial "Goodwill" tracks: "Goodwill & Autogenics 1: introduction" - this is a brief 3 minute MP3 file introducing the initial practice. There are fuller details in the written Suggestions handout. "Goodwill & Autogenics 1: 16 minutes" - this initial exercise begins with an Autogenic Training relaxation and moves on to a Goodwill practice focusing on somebody that one feels particularly caring for. "Goodwill & Autogenics 1: 28 minutes" - a longer version of the meditation exercise given above. There is some evidence suggesting that longer practices are more helpful. The usual "Reflection & intentions" and "Practice record" were also provided.
And now you can move on to "Life skills ... session 9" .