Positive Psychology – Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently started using The Book of Extraordinary Things, a guided journal to help explore the principles of Positive Psychology and see what impact they have on my own health and well-being. I thought I would share how things have been going since I started using it a few weeks ago. But first, a little background about my journaling history…

I have kept some sort of diary or journal since my adolescent days, although I admit I have not always been consistent in my efforts. There are definitely gaps where I (sadly) did not write at all and there are years where I documented my thoughts and experiences every day. I often like to look back at these journals to see what I was doing or feeling at a particular time in my life.

In January of this year, I committed to journaling every day and I have made it a part of my bedtime ritual to put my thoughts to paper before going to sleep. However, in the last couple of months, I started to notice that my entries were becoming quite rote – mainly just a rehash of my daily routines, and often a bit of fussing over something negative that happened to me. As helpful as it was to get these thoughts out of my head before going to sleep, I wasn’t feeling inspired and started to notice that it even soured my mood to revisit the “bad” parts of my day. For these reasons, I was excited to start using The Book of Extraordinary Things as a way to refresh my whole perspective on journaling.

Preparation

I first set aside some time to answer the questions in the “Preparation” section, a self-inventory where you can describe who you are and what you want in your life. It is a place to identify your strengths, values, and achievements as well as your goals and dreams. I especially loved the questions regarding what you want to do more of (reading for pleasure!) and what you would like to do less of (worrying!). There is also a “visioning” section where you can list things you want to celebrate in the next three, six and twelve months – and a full-page mini vision board for your complete creative expression around these desires.

Exploration

The majority of the journal consists of the “Exploration” pages, which can be used daily or weekly. As you’ll see in the screenshot below, the left side of the page has “Top Three Quests,” where you can list your most important tasks for the day. Below that is the “Field Notes” section which is flexible space that you can use however you’d like, e.g., plan your day, make lists, draw, doodle, etc. Personally, since I journal at night, I use the Top Three Quests to identify the most important or meaningful things I accomplished that day. And so far, I have been using the Field Notes as a general overview of the day, capturing any key thoughts or experiences that aren’t covered by the journal prompts – which are my favorite part of the journal (so far).

On the right side of the page are journal prompts based on the PERMA-V principles of Positive Psychology (click here for a refresher or if you missed Part 1 of this post). These questions are designed to cultivate awareness around what is “going right” with you and your day. It starts with identifying one good thing from your day (or week). Then, you can share how you used your gifts, and how you helped someone – or how someone helped you. You can describe something that inspired you as well as something of which you are proud. Finally, there is a line to simply express your mood.

I have found these prompts to be so helpful in expanding – and shifting – my perspective on what I want to document about my day. Even in just three weeks, I feel like I am much more focused and aware of all the good things that happen on a daily basis. Sometimes it takes a little time to think about it, especially at the end of a long day but I can always come up with something. It may be as small as patting myself on the back for making dinner at home when I really just wanted to order takeout. Or expressing gratitude for the super-friendly post office employee who made my day with her pleasant attitude in our five-minute encounter on a Friday afternoon.

I believe these journaling exercises are also helping build my resilience, as I find myself looking for the silver lining on those days when it seems like I am surrounded by negativity. For example, in the wake of all of the recent mass shootings in this country, I chose to focus on the brave police officers and emergency responders who put their lives on the line to help others in need. I was also inspired by the El Paso community members who rallied around the gentleman who lost his wife, his only family member, and feared there would be no one at her funeral. At his request, the funeral home invited the entire community to attend – and strangers came from El Paso and all over the United States to support him. The response was so overwhelming the funeral home had to move the service to a larger facility to handle the crowd. It is acts such as this that restore my faith in humanity in these challenging times.

Reflection

At the end of the journal, there is a section called “Reflection” with some prompts to examine your journey and reflect on the path forward. The journal is essentially designed to last three months if you use it on a daily basis, or close to two years if you use it weekly. I currently plan to continue using it on a daily basis and I look forward to some reflection and introspection at the end of three months. I plan to write a follow up post at that time too.

I typically refrain from endorsing health and wellness products, but I am willing to make an exception in this case. I love The Book of Extraordinary Things and I am so proud of my colleague, Alexis Buckles, for sharing her vision and bringing this book to life. It is beautifully designed and crafted from front to back and filled with the magic of possibility on the pages in between. If you are looking for a way to increase self-awareness and positivity in support of your well-being, I highly recommend checking out The Book of Extraordinary Things.

(Note: I am not being compensated in any way for blogging about this journal. In fact, I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign to help Alexis bring the book to life, so I paid for my copy. I just believe in supporting other wellness practitioners who have high quality, meaningful products or services to offer to those of us wanting to optimize our health and well-being.)

Highlights from the Mindfulness in America Summit

Last year, I fortuitously stumbled across the Mindfulness in America Summit held in New York City in October. I could not attend in person due to the distance, but they had a wonderfully inexpensive option to join via live broadcast. It was a wonderful day-and-a-half program with a number of leading experts in the field of mindfulness. I had hoped to attend in person this year, but alas, had to opt for the virtual ticket again. Nevertheless, it was another amazing experience with more excellent speakers. I thought I would share some of the highlights and the incredible ways that mindfulness is being applied in so many different arenas.

Day 1

The conference opened with the father of modern-day mindfulness himself, Jon Kabat-Zinn. He led participants in a sitting meditation but made the point that every moment is the meditation. The message: yes, our daily mindfulness practice is important to build the skill, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that living our lives with awareness from moment to moment is what mindfulness is really about.

  • Mindfulness and Politics: I was so excited to hear from Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH), author of “A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit.” He was asked how mindfulness can help individuals deal with the current divisiveness present in our country these days. He emphasized the need for all of us to return to civility and understand that those with differing opinions are not stupid. He also shared an update on three key pieces of legislation related to mindfulness:
    • Federal education funds designated for use on social and emotional learning in schools, including programs to teach students mindfulness.
    • The creation of grants to help modify VFW facilities to include rooms for mind-body practices such as meditation.
    • The creation of a wellness program on Capitol Hill, to include mental health counselors trained in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction techniques as well as designated rooms in congressional buildings for meditation and similar practices.

 

  • The New Face of Mindfulness: There was a panel at the end of the day with three leaders representing the “new faces of mindfulness”: Jesse Israel (of The Big Quiet), Gabrielle Prisco (Executive Director of the Lineage Project) and Diego Perez (a writer known as Yung Pueblo). All three of them spoke openly about challenging circumstances in their own lives that led to their personal mindfulness practices as well as the work they are currently doing in that arena. I was most inspired by Ms. Prisco, who had previously worked as a lawyer in the family court system. She spoke of the toxic culture inherent in that system, for all parties involved (clients and staff) and the absence of the word “love” throughout the system and process. Her organization brings mindfulness programs to vulnerable youth to help them manage stress, build inner strength, and cultivate compassion. They also train youth-serving organizations in the development of mindful practices. She envisions a youth justice system built on love with workers pledging a Hippocratic-like oath to “first do no harm.”

 

Day 2

The second day was jam-packed with top-notch speakers representing areas as diverse as law, healthcare, the military and professional sports. For the sake of space and time, I have selected just a few of the sessions I found most meaningful:

  • Mindfulness in the Military: Anderson Cooper interviewed neuroscientist Amishi Jha, PhD and Major General Walter Piatt about mindfulness training for active duty soldiers. There has been quite a bit of research done using mindfulness in the post-deployment arena, particularly for soldiers diagnosed with PTSD. However, Dr. Jha recognized the need for such training both pre-deployment and in the field. She found a willing participant in Major General Piatt and has received grant funding to study the impact of Mindfulness Based Attention Training for soldiers, which is an adaptation of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program. Major General Piatt argued that all military personnel need “mental toughness” training much like the physical training (PT) that is required every day.

 

  • Mindfulness in Healing and Healthcare: Dan Harris (ABC Nightline co-anchor and author of “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress without Losing My Edge and Found Self-Help That Actually Works”) interviewed Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna. Mr. Bertolini was in a very serious skiing accident in 2004 and turned to yoga and mindfulness to help manage his pain after finding little relief from multiple pain medications. His personal experience and recovery were so remarkable that he suggested offering yoga and mindfulness to Aetna employees to help deal with stress. They did a pilot study in order to convince the skeptical Chief Medical Officer at Aetna and had incredible results: they reduced stress by 33%, increased productivity by 62 minutes/month and saved the lives of two employees who admitted that they had been on the brink of suicide due to the pressures at work. The program has since been rolled out to all employees and expanded to include other practices such as pet therapy and PTO banks (where employees can give their paid time off to other employees in need).

I was even more excited to hear Mr. Bertolini’s rationale behind Aetna’s decision to merge with CVS, which is grounded in the desire to address social determinants of health. In the United States, your zip code often plays a larger role in determining your longevity than your genetic code. The leaders at Aetna realized that an organization like CVS, with pharmacies/clinics in almost every community, would be better equipped to help reduce local barriers to health and wellbeing. Mr. Bertolini sounded like a health coach when he said, “We need to ask, ‘What is it about your health that gets in the way of the life you want to lead?’” He used the analogy of “TripTiks®” for health – similar to those highlighted road maps that AAA used to provide to members when they traveled, we need to help individuals map out the road to better health.

  • A Mindful Approach to Race and Social Justice in the US: I am not sure my summary can accurately reflect just how powerful this session was. Once again, I was awestruck by Rhonda Magee, a Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco, who also teaches mindfulness-based stress reduction interventions for lawyers, law students, and for minimizing social-identity-based bias. She, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Anderson Cooper had a moving discussion about the current “woundedness” in society and how the next two to three generations need to address it to help us all heal. They talked about using mindfulness and compassion to explore who we are in relation to each other and to help recognize our own biases. Professor Magee challenged us to begin conversations with people who we don’t think we have anything in common with and be willing to sustain that dialogue. That is not an easy ask in today’s world where it seems we become more divided every day, but as she noted, we need to turn the lens of awareness to where the pain is in order to begin the process of healing.

 

If you missed the summit but want to attend next year, click here to visit Wisdom 2.0, the organization that presents the summit. You can sign up for their e-mail list to stay abreast of this and other mindfulness events.