Last updated on 15th May 2019
"Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." Rumi
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Edison
Last week's session of the "How to live well - a shared exploration" course, focused on "How to live well: 5th meeting - positivity, savouring & gratitude". During this week's meeting we focused on work, work-life balance, and especially deliberate practice and character strengths. I said on the first evening of the course that one of the three course components is to look at the different areas of our lives - personal health, deep relationships & 'work in the world'. Interestingly it seems optimal if our needs for autonomy, competence, relatedness & beneficence are at least partly met in all three of these areas.
So this evening we focused on 'work in the world'. For some this will involve a paid job, for others home-making, and for others still, important aspects of 'work in the world' might involve engagement with groups, societies & other non-paid commitments.
Fairly briefly we looked again at the fascinating series of papers on longitudinal changes in life satisfaction by Bruce Headey & colleagues - for example "Choices which change life satisfaction: : Similar results for Australia, Britain and Germany", "Towards a theory of medium term life satisfaction: two-way causation partly explains persistent satisfaction or dissatisfaction" & "A theory of life satisfaction dynamics: stability, change and volatility in 25-year life trajectories in Germany". See the second of the Home practice requests (below) for the question about work-life balance that emerged from this.
We also talked about a particular interest of mine - Deliberate practice. This set of ideas has been extensively developed by Professor Anders Ericsson, who has published widely in this area ... see, for example, this year's 2nd edition of "The Cambridge handbook of expertise & expert performance". Ericsson provides a brief overview of his ideas in this piece on "Expert performance & deliberate practice", where he writes: "When experts exhibit their superior performance in public their behavior looks so effortless and natural that we are tempted to attribute it to special talents. Although a certain amount of knowledge and training seems necessary, the role of acquired skill for the highest levels of achievement has traditionally been minimized. However ... systematic differences between experts and less proficient individuals nearly always reflect attributes acquired by the experts during their lengthy training ... More generally, the accumulated amount of deliberate practice is closely related to the attained level of performance ...". This is deeply fascinating territory and extremely important to know about if one's serious about improving one's performance in any of a large number of areas of one's life. So I'm currently using these ideas to work on sports performance, on my helpfulness as a psychotherapist, and on the quality of my close relationships. Ericsson's recent popular book - "Peak: How all of us can achieve extraordinary things" - is an excellent way into this territory.
We looked too at Character strengths. Everyone had been asked to complete the VIA survey earlier in the week, and to bring the results into tonight's meeting. There are a variety of Report formats on the VIA website. I think the $20 VIA Me report is typically worth paying for. Our VIA Reports had listed the 24 character strengths for each of us, from most personally characteristic of us to least. Obviously this isn't some final, totally accurate verdict on our characters. The Strengths grid exercise can be useful here in teasing out which character strengths can be thought of as personal signature strengths for each of us. Research highlights how helpful it can be both for job performance and job satisfaction if one can use most or all of one's signature strengths in one's work. I have written quite extensively about character strengths - see, for example the 2016 post from when I started taking this area more seriously "European Positive Psychology conference: culture & use of strengths", the more general overview "Strengths of character: head, heart & gut", and the four-post sequence beginning "Twelve practical suggestions for exploring our character strengths (1-5): learning, spotting, relationships, and writing". Do glance at the 2016 conference report & the Strengths of character" overview. If this whets your interest there's lots further to try out in the "Twelve practical suggestions" sequence.
Here are the "Home practice" requests for this sixth week:
1.) This week's 12-breath practice is the full, final version. It gives us a fair amount of flexibility. The initial 5 breaths are the same as usual, so we start with reminding ourselves of our intention (e.g training, strengthening, re-connecting) before moving onto the, by now, familiar 3-breath mindful body scan and 4th breath naming. The second 4-breath sequence starts also with the familiar 5th breath self-soothing touch & encouragement, before coming to the first of our choice sequences - relaxing, recharging or savouring-in-the-present. Then the third 4-breath sequence also begins with the familiar reconnection to spine & heart, before moving onto our second choice sequence - WOOPing, goodwill or savouring-into-the-future (maybe TaDa's). Here is a recorded walk-through of this exercise. It can sometimes feel a bit fiddly having so many options with the 12-breath practice. Please keep going - it's extremely likely that, as you continue to practise, you will find the various ways of fine-tuning the sequence come more & more easily & helpfully for you.
2.) Please think a bit more about the Work-Life Balance question we considered during our sixth meeting. Remember in Headey et al's research (in your handouts) they asked something along the lines of "How many hours a week would you ideally like to be working at your job?" and "How many hours a week are you actually working at your job?". If there was a 3 or more hour difference between these two estimates, then one was considered to be over- or under-working (depending on whether one wanted ideally to have less or more hours of work). A difference of this size was found to be associated with lower life satisfaction ratings. How did you rate yourself ... and is there anything you want to do about this?
3.) We then went on to look at Deliberate Practice - see the paragraph further up this page for more details about this. You have a set of slide miniatures and I mentioned Anders Ericsson's recent book "Peak: How all of us can achieve extraordinary things". I illustrated this kind of approach by talking a bit about my own personal ventures into improving my badminton and, more importantly, into initiating a peer supervision group of psychotherapists where we plan to explore these deliberate practice approaches more fully. Are there areas of your life where you would really like to develop fuller expertise? Do consider whether it feels right for you to look at how you could try out deliberate practice ideas yourself.
4.) Character strengths! We used a grid exercise to see how well our top strengths, identified by the VIA survey, stacked up against various key criteria identifying our signature strengths. I also asked you to complete a week's Strengths Use record sheet and to consider whether you are using several, or even most of, your signature strengths in your work. If you're not, there's a description of Job crafting in your handouts. It's likely to benefit both ourselves and the quality of work we do, if we can craft our work to more fully allow us to express our key personal strengths. In your handouts are also links to a variety of other strengths use exercise, and see too the paragraph on strengths earlier in this blog post. Do put some time & effort into exploring your strengths more this week.
5.) Please look again at the "Funeral speeches" exercise that we introduced at the first session of the course (the "80th birthday party exercise" is an alternative if you feel a bit squeamish thinking about your funeral). I said at the first meeting that the request is to consider your life as made up of a number of roles - some linked with your relationships (e.g. Friend, Partner, Relative, etc), some with your work (e.g. Worker, Manager, Service Provider, etc), and some linked with self-care - what you do to keep yourself healthy & vital (e.g. Exercise, Diet, Meditation, etc). I personally also put in a role that I label Admin, which covers responding to emails/texts/letters, managing finances, looking after the house, and so on. There are horizontal rows on the sheet for up to eight roles. You can divide your activities into whatever roles seem to fit best for the way you lead your life. You don't have to have as many as eight, but I suggest you explore keeping to no more than eight (at least when you complete this exercise this time). As an example, currently the roles I personally am using are Relationships - 1. Partner, 2. Father/Grandfather and 3. Friend/Relative; Work - 4. Clinician and 5. Teacher; 6. Admin; 7. Self-Care Psychological/'Spiritual' and 8. Self-Care Physical. Now, at this 6th session of the course where we're focusing particularly on Work, is a good time to return to the life goals we have for our work (for me this involves both 4. Clinician and 5. Teacher roles). Review what you've written for your Work goals. Are there things you want to add or alter? At the second session of the course we introduced the "Goals for roles: how are you doing at the moment?" exercise. Please revisit this (or download it freshly again). Now for your Work role(s) fill in Celebrations and What needs work as well as giving yourself an overall Competence score for your Work role(s) over in the right column of this sheet. Are there any intentions you want to make that would increase this competence score for you? If you'd like to, you can use the "Goals for roles: 5yr, 1yr & 3 months plans" sheet for this.
6.) Remember our good friends, the four fundamentals of Diet, Exercise, Sleep & Dependencies. Please keep a focus on these too ... and also the Mindbus Coping and Gratitude & Savouring ideas from previous evenings.
7.) And lastly, do take a bit of time to write on your sixth session reflection sheets.
Great ... a good week for consolidating before we move onto the whole area of Relationships next week.