PERMAnent Wellbeing in Times of Uncertainty / 6

At a time of unpredictability and change, RNCM Lecturer in Musician’s Health and Wellbeing Sara Ascenso explores how to maintain our mental health and wellbeing.

Today we finish our wellbeing series exploring the PERMA model of wellbeing developed by psychologist Martin Seligman. This model suggests five building blocks for wellbeing: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.

The final component of PERMA is a sense of accomplishment: making progress towards our goals, developing mastery and competence. Accomplishment is often defined in terms of external indicators of success. In the context of this model, however, the accomplishment does not have to appear significant to the outside world, as long as it is intrinsically meaningful to the individual.

Many of us can find ourselves struggling with this PERMA element as we face the current pandemic. It is hard enough to accomplish our goals in normal circumstances, let alone while adapting to so much change in such a short period of time. We might even invest in having structure and setting goals but at times it can feel like we are barely surviving the day. Some of us are experiencing severe motivation fluctuations, difficulty in concentration, memory slips and emotional instability, all preventing us from fully committing to our plans. It can be hard to even set any aims to begin with. Developing competence is one of the basic psychological needs and thinking of ways to best advance towards meaningful goals will be key in sustaining our wellbeing as we continue to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic. Goals direct our attention, mobilise our efforts, help develop new learning strategies and empower us through giving us a sense of control.

One thing to consider is that accomplishment is not just about what we might tend to see as our big achievements, or limited to our areas of work and study. It can be helpful to notice our accomplishment in relation to the simple daily behaviours that help us endure the current Covid-19 situation. Did we manage to keep our self-care routines? Did we prepare a good meal, or push ourselves to do some exercise? Did we keep up with connecting with others? Mastery in managing our own wellbeing during challenging times is accomplishment in itself. We might be accomplishing much more than we realise!

Process goals

A key ingredient to boost our accomplishment is to set clear, specific goals, with a realistic timeframe, that we can easily monitor. It is important to keep adjusting them until we find they are fully manageable, taking into account the new dynamics of a typical day and our own psychological state. As important as the goal itself, however, is to plan for the steps needed to get there. Some of our plans were postponed by this pandemic but many of our goals aren’t necessarily cancelled. What changed were the processes we need to put in place in order to achieve them. Besides setting outcome goals – what we would like to accomplish – our final completed puzzle, we can find it useful to also consider process goals. In these, we focus on what we need to do to reach the final outcome, one piece at a time. Research has highlighted the benefit of keeping both types of goals in order to sustain our motivation and sense of accomplishment.

In stressful times, we might tend to default to an ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking pattern where we conclude we either achieved a goal or we didn’t (and most of the time we conclude we didn’t!). However, as we engage in planning for the process itself, we start to realise that we are indeed making some progress. We may not have reached our final outcome yet, or even 50 per cent of it, but are we perhaps 10 per cent closer than yesterday? Consider listing some steps towards your goals, taking into account the changes to your daily circumstances that you might be experiencing due to Covid-19. At the end of the day, look back and notice the progress you’ve made and adjust the planning if needed. Can you advance with another piece of the puzzle tomorrow (perhaps an easier one, if you find there are extra pressures at the moment)? Remember to also plan for breaks and for healthy distractions.

On Your Mind

Sustaining motivation is not easy and it can be helpful to share this process with others. This is a time when we might benefit from a space to chat in a small group about how we are doing and discuss some of the strategies that help us keep making progress towards our goals.  Check out our new Friday afternoon ‘On Your Mind’ RNCM wellbeing group sessions here. This is a fantastic opportunity to join members of the wellbeing team online and chat about how to optimise our learning and mental health during the current pandemic (Panda and Delilah – the cats of two of our counselling team members – have asked to join too… we said yes!).

RNCM students are also welcome to join us for a 20-minute whole body warm-up to help start our day well – every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 9am on Moodle. These sessions are led by Bethan Wiliam (RNCM tutor in physical awareness, movement and dance) and Kenan Ali (RNCM tutor in stage combat).

The sessions are premiered at 9am BST but will remain available on the page in case you are in a different timezone or just prefer to go through them at a different time. Tune in here.

This week we continue to check how our RNCM community is boosting the PERMA elements. We had a chat with Emily Mason, Programmes and Assessments Coordinator. Here’s what Emily shared:

Emily Mason, Programmes and Assessments Coordinator

‘It’s been a really busy time, so I’ve been trying to find easy things to fit in that aren’t just work and Netflix. So far I’ve started learning Spanish on Duolingo and I’ve mastered an impressive four chords on the ukulele. I’ve also planted some seeds on the balcony, but I can’t remember what I’ve planted where so that’ll be a nice surprise in a few weeks!

‘I’ve been trying to motivate myself to do a bit of exercise each day and it’s been fun to do virtual Zumba twice a week, although the neighbours downstairs aren’t particularly thrilled about that. Living in a flat has been a bit tricky as we’re all on top of each other and it’s constantly noisy. We’ve been getting to know the neighbours a lot more though, and everyone’s helping each other out by sharing hair clippers, sewing kits, plants and cocktails. We’re planning a communal BBQ when we’re allowed to meet again. It’s lovely to be able to chat to people in real life from a safe distance across our balconies.’

It’s been great to be in touch. Please keep sending your thoughts on wellbeing to [email protected].

20 May 2020