Overview: A self-care/wellbeing plan is a set of personal strategies you have for looking after your physical and mental health. Measurement can help in both developing that plan but also tracking its usefulness over time. In this post I talk about measurement in a self-care/wellbeing plan with a focus on measurement providing insights and tracking progress. Reading time ~ 12 minutes
I am a psychologist. Psychologists love measurement. We try to measure all aspects of the human experience. Feeling sad? We want to measure it. Feeling happy? We want to measure it.
Perception, attention, concentration, knowledge, skill, imagination/creativity, thinking, judgement, language, memory, decision-making, feelings/emotions, emotion regulation, intelligence, beliefs, desires, motivation, identity (sense of self), problem-solving, mindfulness, compassion, empathy, prediction, connection, engagement, focus, planning, cognitive flexibility and resilience.
We want to measure them all!!! (insert maniacal laugh here).
Despite it being a foundation of my profession, I’ve not discussed measurement at all on the blog. I’ve always considered it a rabbit hole I didn’t want to go down.
However, I am working on a program at the moment (Healthy Habits Hub) in which I encourage students to develop good habits and use some kind of measurement to track their progress. For example, a student might increase their exercise to help manage stress, and use a stress measure repeatedly to see if the exercise is working.
Given that I talk about measurement in that program, I thought I should talk about it on the blog as well. In this post, I talk about the use of measurement as part of your self-care/wellbeing plan.
Wait up! – What is a self-care/wellbeing plan?
Your ‘self-care/wellbeing plan’ is the collection of things that you do on a regular basis (deliberately) to look after your physical and mental health. It might involve any number of different activities, for example:
- Time with friends
- Time in nature
- Going to the gym
- Pursuing hobbies and interest
- And many more……….
The difference between just doing these things versus them being part of a ‘self-care/ wellbeing plan’ is that when they are part of a plan, you are deliberately prioritising them in your life, in order to maintain or grow your health and wellbeing. A plan might also include the things you do to ensure that you follow through with these activities (e.g. set aside time, set reminders etc).
COVID and its consequences have got many of us thinking about how we look after ourselves in the context of high stress and uncertainty. I believe COVID has got more of us actually developing and implementing self-care/ wellbeing plans. So whilst COVID ain’t great (understatement!), what is good is that more of us are prioritising activities that help us relax, de-stress, rejuvenate, connect with others and maintain and build our energy levels.
To illustrate, when 2022 kicked off, I revised my self-care/wellbeing plan to prepare me for an exciting but mentally challenging year. You can read more about the changes I made in this blog post. In essence, I thought deliberately about the challenges I would face and prioritised certain activities that would help sustain me through those challenges.
As an interesting but related aside, students at Flinders can access a program called the Be Well Plan which teaches them how to develop an individualised mental health and wellbeing plan. In that program we teach you the types of psychological activities that build wellbeing, resilience and help manage difficult feelings, and also the science of habit formation, to help you get those activities reliably embedded into your everyday life.
Anyway – assuming you’ve got a plan (or something closely approximating a plan), where does measurement fit into this?
Measurement supports a self-care/wellbeing plan by providing insights that help you choose activities, as well as providing a means to track your progress (i.e. is the plan working to improve your wellbeing).
Insight measures help us learn something about ourselves which we can use to make better decisions. For example, I typically score high on conscientiousness (diligence) when completing personality measures. This tells me that to look after my mental health means being organised and efficient, but also warns me to not become too task oriented at the expense of other things (e.g. connection with others).
Progress measures help us track some kind of outcome to see if the changes we are making or activities we are engaging in are moving us in a desired direction. For example, my fitbit watch tells me how many steps I am taking per day which helps me track my progress towards being more active.
Both types of measurement can enhance a self-care/wellbeing plan. Insight measures tend to help us select the kinds of things we should be doing. Progress measures help us keep track of how we’re implementing those activities and whether they are working. Keep in mind that a measure can do both. For example, tracking my steps showed me my overall activity level was sub-par and I needed to walk more (insight). Once I started walking, tracking my steps helped me track my improvement over time (progress).
Finding the right measure(s) for your situation can be challenging. How do you know which measures will provide useful insights, if you haven’t yet had the insight? Also, there are lots of things to measure and lots of ways of measuring them.
Thus in the early days, the use of measurement in a self-care/wellbeing plan arises out of experimentation and following recommendations.
Here are a few different places to access potentially useful measures that have a health/wellbeing focus.
- I like the resilience measure used by the crew at Resilience Shield. It provides insights into how you are doing across 4 domains (body, mind, social, professional) and makes recommendations on activities that could boost each of these areas – https://resilienceshield.com/assess-your-resilience/
- The Greater Good Science Center out of Berkeley produce quizzes that assess a range of psychological capacities (e.g. self compassion, empathy, gratitude, altruism) and link those to activities that can grow those capacities – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes
- The VIA Character Survey is a good survey to help you target your strengths and values and think about how to harness them in your everyday life – https://www.viacharacter.org/
- At the Science of Human Potential website you can complete measures of personality that may provide insights into the more stable aspects of who you are – https://www.scienceofhumanpotential.com/tests . Additional personality-oriented measures can be found at https://openpsychometrics.org/
- Do you have a fitness tracker (e.g. Garmin, Fitbit etc)? Launch those apps to see what aspects of health your watch/tracker/phone can measure. For example, mine gives me sleep, stress and activity metrics I can use.
- There are a tonne of mood monitoring apps. A good Australian one is https://www.moodprismapp.com/ . The idea here is that tracking your mood will help you identify patterns of thinking and feeling that can be the target of therapeutic input. More mood tracking apps can be found at https://www.happierhuman.com/best-mood-tracker-apps/ .
- If you work with a health professional, ask them their recommendations on good measures for your situation.
This barely scratches the surface of what is available but gives you some good starting points. I will in subsequent posts keep the conversation about measurement going with further recommendations.
A few notes about measurement and self-care/wellbeing plans
Whilst I am pro-measurement and aware of the many benefits it can provide, there are caveats.
Virtually no measure, certainly in the mental health space, is perfect, and thus the results from them should be treated as guides and not truth. Do not place unquestioned faith in the results of a measure you complete. Error exists and also the results of the measure might need to be interpreted in a larger context to make proper sense. If a measure you complete yields an outcome that is disturbing to you, consult a health professional.
Be mindful of who created the measure and for what purpose. Look for measures that have been created or co-created with university research teams or clinical services. Those measures are usually developed to higher standards than those created purely for profit. They are more likely to be measuring what they say they are measuring and more accurately.
Ultimately, the best measures are those that support you to grow and get better in the domains of interest to you. They are ones that support you taking action. Sometimes we can get obsessed with quantifying aspects of our life and selves, but without taking action to change or adapt or improve. In that situation we’ve become obsessed with measurement, to the detriment of our self-care/wellbeing.
A measurement opportunity for Flinders Students
I mentioned the Be Well Plan before – a program that students can use to build wellbeing and improve their mental health.
That program uses the Be Well Tracker – a set of measures that help you track different types of wellbeing, resilience and negative mood states. It is an excellent tool for those looking to gain some insights into their mental health and then track it over time as they initiate activities to improve their mental health. I use it myself.
I’m talking with Be Well at the moment about providing any students who utilise Health, Counselling and Disability Services (reading this blog counts) with access to the Tracker, separately from the Be Well Plan program. I’ll post more about this soon.
Once available, this tool will be something you can use across your degree, to develop insights about your mental health and track your progress in improving or maintaining it.
In the meantime….
If you have any questions about measurement, feel free to throw them in the comments below.
I’ll revisit this topic regularly as I find good measurement opportunities/programs/resources.