Best possible self, meaningful photos and thought defusion


So I’ve been getting trained in a Wellbeing and Resilience program by the guys at SAHMRI Wellbeing and Resilience Centre.

It has been really good, for a number of reasons:

  • I really like the guys running it – Joep and Matthew – just flat out decent guys trying to make the world a better place
  • I think the underlying philosophy of the program is sound – it teaches people how to develop their own wellbeing and resilience plan, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach
  • There is the hope that in the future we’ll be able to make this program available to many students at Flinders
  • I’m getting reminded of cool activities and tasks that people can engage in that help them build their mental health

It is that last point that triggered this post.

Each session, participants in the program are encouraged to add some activities to their week that help them pursue specific desired outcomes, tackle challenges in their life, build up their mental resources or prepare themselves for difficult times.

A few have popped up recently that I like. I’ve described them briefly below and linked to a more comprehensive description if you want to try it out for yourself.

The purpose of the post is not to convince you to do these tasks specifically (although that would be a good outcome). It is instead to alert you to the fact that mental health and wellbeing can realistically be built and improved through engagement in activities that aren’t necessarily complex.  This is a simple but powerful idea that I often discuss using the language of habits and routines. Wellbeing is created through adding therapeutic mental and behavioural habits/routines to our everyday lives, some of them relatively short-lived, some of them ongoing.

If this notion appeals to you, stay tuned for more blog posts soon on Tiny Habits.

For a great list of activities that can help you build wellbeing, visit the Greater Good In Action website.


Best Possible Self

People are generally fairly good at identifying things about themselves that they don’t like and would like to change. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if we frame all our goals in terms of ‘fixing’ some aspect of ourselves, the focal point can become our faults.

The Best Possible Self exercise gets you to use your mind to time travel into the future and imagine your life if all the relevant areas of your life were going well: career, learning, relationships, hobbies, health etc. You describe it in as much detail as possible so you can almost sense what it would be like to live that life. It gets you defining your goals in terms of things to build and aspire to, rather than fix.

You can access a description of this exercise on the GGIA website. Takes only 15 minutes a day for 2 weeks.


Meaningful Photos

Finding meaning and purpose in life is considered by many (including me) to be a critical ingredient of happiness and life satisfaction.

However, it isn’t necessarily easy to discover what gives our life meaning in the context of everyday life.

Fortunately, most of us carry something with us, most of the time, that can help; a mobile phone.

In the Meaningful Photos exercise, you spend a week taking photos of things (people, places, objects, pets etc) that make your life feel meaningful. For me, I take a lot of photos of my garden.

At the end of the week, you review those photos and write down why the photo is meaningful to you. For example, photos of my garden are meaningful to me because they show me the beauty that comes from caring for something.

For a full description of the exercise, also visit the GGIA website. Takes around 90 minutes in total over a week, including the photos and reflections.


Thought Defusion

OK, so this exercise is a little more difficult. People generally have to practice this one quite a bit before getting used to using it.

When we’re distressed we typically experience a range of negative or unhelpful thoughts. If I’m struggling with a blog post for example, my mind gets full of thoughts like:

  • ‘I’m an idiot’
  • ‘I’m not cut out for this job’
  • ‘I’m not a very good writer’

Sometimes we get so caught up in those thoughts (fused with them) that we start believing all of them, getting even more distressed and getting distracted from doing the things that are important to us.

Thought defusion involves mental techniques that help us create some distance from our thoughts, so they don’t take over.

One such technique is to add the prefix ‘I am having the thought that….’ to any thoughts that we’re finding particularly upsetting.

For example, ‘I’m an idiot’ becomes ‘I am having the thought that I’m an idiot’.

Just this simple mental trick can help us notice these thoughts, rather than get wrapped up in them.

The University of Sydney has a neat little information sheet on Thought Defusion (They call it Cognitive Defusion) with a few different mental tricks.

Try using these tricks to help you defuse some of your more troublesome or upsetting thoughts. This is a technique that can become an onging mental habit.

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Psychological Tools

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