A self-coaching exercise: Happiness audit

Blog Post No. 52

25th August 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

A Self-coaching exercise which can improve the quality of your life:

The “Haversack and Balloons” exercise

Introduction

In this blog I am going to introduce you to an exercise that you can do, which is like a visual ‘balance sheet’ of your life at the moment.  It will help you to see if you need to bring more happiness into your daily life!  And it will help to balance self-support against the pressures of life.

I came across this exercise many years ago and found it to be really helpful for lots of people – in particular with students on my stress management courses and counselling courses. It’s a very simple and effective way of checking out whether you have a good balance of pleasurable and nourishing things in your life at the moment.  It’s important to watch that balance, as you need adequate resources to keep you going as you do all those daily tasks at work and/or at home.

Method

Print off a copy of this four-step exercise – shown in green – and follow the simple instructions:

STEP 1: Burdens and responsibilities (tasks, etc)

Write in the white spaces on the haversack those things that weigh you down at the moment:

Haversack image

(If you need to continue on a separate sheet of paper, then please do so.)

STEP 2: List the things that lift you up or raise your spirits

In each of the balloons, write in one thing which makes you feel good, and enriches your life, and keeps you happy on a daily basis.

Ballons image

(Again, if you need to continue on a separate sheet of paper, then please do so.)

STEP 3: Review

Weigh up your stressors and the supports (or balloons and burdens)

As you look at the two different aspects of your life at the moment, (your haversack and your balloons), see what proportion of problems and challenges you have weighing you down, and what proportion of daily pleasures and uplifting experiences you have filled in.

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STEP 4: Your action plan

For a happy and contented life, you need to make sure that you have a roughly equal balance of pressures and supports – or challenges and pleasures.

Your balloons will keep you going (and sane) as you handle all the aggravations life throws at you!

So decide what action you might need to take to increase your ‘daily balloons’ or reduce some of your mental burdens or pressures.

Make a list and commit to take action.

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Review

Reviewing this exercise carefully will show you immediately if you have lots of problems weighing you down, like an invisible knapsack that you are carrying round with you all the time.

It will also show the number of daily pleasures or supports which you have – (your balloons) – to balance those problems out. This balance does affect the quality of your life.

Of course, too little pressure and strain can be almost as bad as too much. You could (theoretically) be having lots of self-nourishing experiences and pleasures, but  too little in the way of challenges to keep you mentally engaged in life, and stimulated. Boredom can be stressful.  We feel happiest when we experience ‘flow’, which means that the challenges in our lives are balanced by our coping capacity.

A valuable way to do this exercise is to share what you have put on your diagrams with a trusted friend or colleague, and if you take turns to talk about your lists, you will both benefit from expressing your current problems, and finding out if you are both taking care of yourselves by having daily pleasures and supports to balance the work you are doing.

Your balloons

As explained above, your ‘balloons’ are the daily experiences which keep you happy and motivated, and supported, either outside of work, or within the work situation.  A helpful list of balloons might include: Solid breakfast; slow and relaxing journey to work; planned daily activities so work load is balanced; tea break or dinner break with friends or work colleagues whose company you enjoy; sipping water at fifteen minute intervals during the day; avoiding sedentary lifestyle, which means get up and move around ever fifty minutes or so; daily physical exercise; listen to relaxing music; dance; write out your problems every day; and so on; and so forth.

Let’s take one example:

Music as a daily ‘Balloon’

Book-cover

Caroline Webb, in her book ‘How to have a good day’ (2016) describes how one doctor (Rakesh) uses music as an essential strategy (one of his daily ‘balloons’) to keep him going when he is on duty in the Emergency Room of the hospital where he works. Describing his job, Rakesh told her:

“You’re constantly handling problems. You don’t have much time, and you never stop moving. In one hour you’re probably making perhaps one hundred or two hundred decisions: which tests to order, where to send a patient, and what interventions are needed. You’re on different shifts – sometimes morning, sometimes nights. A 12 hour shift can turn into a 14 hour shift if something bad happens with one of your patients.”

Rakesh confirms that the job is emotionally draining as well as mentally and physically challenging… And so what he does to keep going throughout a long shift, is that he uses music to shape and alter his mental state.  He says:

“You know that you are going to walk into a full waiting room, and as soon as you walk in you’re going to need to spring into action. So I pump up my energy levels on the drive to work, with music that will do that for me, like some Linkin Park.

”Once I arrive I switch to Reggae music and we have it playing in the background for everyone. It’s sort of happy but also relaxed, which is how I need to feel to perform at my best under pressure.”

His use of music to keep him happy whilst doing a very demanding job, impressed Caroline Webb, who stated:

“One thing I’ve noticed about people who are able to sustain their energy in gruelling jobs is that they know themselves really well. They understand what causes their peaks and troughs, and they know the quickest way to lift their spirits when needed.”

The power of music to uplift you

What is the evidence that music be effective in improving your day? And what does it improve? A review of 23 studies covering almost 1,500 patients found that listening to music reduced heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety in heart disease patients (Bradt & Dileo, 2009: Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0014029/.

If you doubt that music can change your state for the better, then let me suggest that you have a listen to the following extract from Mozart’s piano concerto No. 23 (second movement) played by Helene Grimaud:

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How did you feel after listening to that short extract? The value of listening to Mozart’s music has been very carefully researched.

Listening to Mozart’s music can help reduce high blood pressure

Mozaet-pictureAccording to a new research report, listening to Mozart and Johann Strauss’s music can help lower hypertension, which means really high blood pressure. Listening to Mozart can not only soothe your mood, but also help lower blood pressure as well as stabilise the heart rate.

The findings showed that listening to classical composers,  Wolfgang Mozart and Johann Strauss (the younger), for 25 minutes, could lower blood lipid concentrations and heart rate.

The study analysed 60 participants who were exposed to 25 minutes of music by Mozart, Strauss or ABBA — a Swedish pop group formed in Stockholm in 1972. Another group of 60 participants were allocated to a control group that spent their time in silence.

The participants who listened to Mozart lowered their blood pressure.  (Specifically, Mozart lowered their systolic [upper reading] BP — the pressure in blood vessels when the heart beats – by 4.7 mm Hg, In the case of Strauss, by 3.7 mm Hg; whereas no substantial effect was seen for the songs of ABBA.  Diastolic [lower reading] blood pressure — when the heart rests between beats — also fell by 2.1 mm Hg for Mozart and 2.9 mm Hg for Strauss.)

Here’s what the researchers said:

“It has been known for centuries that music has an effect on human beings. In our study, listening to classical music resulted in lowered blood pressure and heart rate. These drops in blood pressure were clearly expressed for the music of Mozart and Strauss,” said Hans-Joachim Trappe and Gabriele Volt of Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.

But Mozart’s music had the strongest effect,” they added.

In addition, after exposure to the music of Mozart and Strauss, cortisol levels (which are stress hormones) were found to have dropped more in men than in women.

Quiet music of a slow tempo, and long legato (meaning that the notes are played or sung smoothly and connected together), are regarded as beneficial for the cardio-circulatory system, according to the paper published in the Journal ‘Deutsches Arzteblatt International’.

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I love to do Chi Kung exercises to Mozart music in the mornings; but I also find other forms of music to be uplifting balloons.  Here’a good example:

“Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson

Kids-cover-of-Uptown-FunkA fortnight ago I heard an amazing sound on Zoe Ball’s BBC Radio 2 music programme, and I enjoyed listening to it so much that this is one of my daily balloons, as it is full of energy and movement.

Here’s Mark Ronson’s official music video for ‘Uptown Funk’ performed by Bruno Mars. By the number of views of the video you can see that it’s pretty popular: (2,623,758,877 views on You Tube).

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Conclusion

If you try the ‘Haversack and Balloons’ exercise, you might find it to be a useful, quick self-coaching tool that can help you search for ways to enhance your daily life-balance. It can help you to produce an Action List for ways to reduce the pressures under which you labour, and to increase those experiences that uplift you and keep you going under pressure.

And if you need some help with this process, please contact me.

Best of luck.

That’s all for now.

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Email: Renata Taylor-Byrne

01422 843 629

(Or 44 1422 843 629 from outside the UK)

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