Monday, July 15, 2013

Sentence Completions Facilitate the Art of Living Consciously

I have enjoyed Tal Ben-Shahar's book, Happier. One of the tips that I have found most valuable is Dr. Ben-Shahar's suggestion to use sentence completion drills as a means to raise one's self-awareness. He cites Nathaniel Branden's work in this area, turning readers to Dr. Branden's website, The Esteemed Self. Here is Dr Branden's description of this exercise:
"Sentence-completion work is a deceptively simple yet uniquely powerful tool for raising self-understanding, self-esteem and personal effectiveness. It rests on the premise that all of us have more knowledge than we normally are aware of – more wisdom than we use, more potential than typically shows up in our behavior. Sentence completion is a tool for accessing and activating these dormant or “hidden” resources.

 "Sentence completion can be used in many ways. Here I will describe a way I find particularly effective. The essence of this procedure is to write an incomplete sentence (or sentence stem) and then write a number of different endings, with the sole requirement that each ending is a grammatical completion of the sentence. Aim for a minimum of six endings.

 "To truly benefit from the exercises, you should work as rapidly as possible. Don’t pause to “think”, invent responses if you get stuck and don’t worry if any particular ending is true, reasonable or significant. The object is simply to let your thoughts flow forward without impediment.

 "When doing sentence completion exercises, it is best to work with a journal or computer. That way, past entries can easily be accessed for reflection."

I have chosen to operationalize Dr. Branden's suggestion with a few minor modifications. I offer this summary of modifications for your consideration.

In your gratitude journal, write out at least 5 replies for each stem. Work quickly, without over-thinking. Spend no more than 5 minutes before breakfast (B), no more than 5 minutes before Dinner (D), and no more than 5 minutes before bed at night (N). In addition, spend no more than 5 minutes  Sunday (S) to review and assimilate the past week’s entries.

B1. Living consciously to me means –

B2. If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my activities today –

B3. If I pay more attention to how I deal with people today –

B4. If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my most important relationships –

B5. If I bring 5 percent more awareness to (fill in a particular problem you are concerned about— for example, your relationship with someone, or a barrier you've hit at work, or your feelings of anxiety or depression) –

D1. When I reflect on how I would feel if I lived more consciously –

D2. When I reflect on what happens when I bring 5 percent more awareness to my activities –

D3. When I reflect on what happens when I pay more attention to how I deal with people –

D4. When I reflect on what happens when I bring 5 percent more awareness to my most important relationships –

D5. When I reflect on what happens when I bring 5 percent more awareness to (whatever you've filled in) –

N1-5. Today I am grateful for --

S1-5. If any of what I wrote this week is true, it would be helpful if I –

As I said I made a few changes from the original.

  • For one, I like to do this exercise daily, rather than Monday through Friday. 
  • I cut back to 5 completions from 6, because it's a bit faster and because the resultin sum of all sentences is a nice round number B (5 * 5) + D (5 * 5) + N (5 * 5) + S (5* 5) = 100. 
  • I used to write out the stems as well as the completions, but that took too much time. Now I have a printout of the above stems in my journal. 
  • What I call D3 above is something I added to the mix. In Dr Branden's list, there are only 4 stems for the evening. However, I prefer a "call and response" between morning and evening so I added D3 for symmetry. 
  • I tried writing out the stems and leaving blanks to be filled in later, rather like a template. But this did not work for me. If I did not complete the work on a given day, I wasted a bunch of space in my journal plus the time writing the framework out. Now I just do what I can, when I can, and if I miss a session I just move on. 
  • I use the abbreviations B, D, N, and S and the sequence numbers to cross-reference the stems and that keeps me straight and seems to be the fastest and most efficient process. The awareness and behavior changes that occur are more important than what the writing looks like on paper.
  • I prefer the journal rather than the computer foe many reasons. I spend too much time at the keyboard as it is. Moreover, I believe there is something special, personal. and intimate  about the mind-body connection of transmitting a thought through a pen to a piece of paper.
Try this at home! I recommend it. After you have performed this exercise for several weeks, visit Dr Branden's site. Look for more stems. There are currently two additional 30-week programs published. As of this writing, I am still learning from this first level.

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