There’s a skill in DBT called ‘Accumulating Positives,’ to build a life worth living. If you struggle with wanting to be alive at times or struggle with behaviors that could end your life, this is a crucial skill for you. If I’ve lost some of you, stick around for a few more sentences, this is a skill that benefits everyone. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy, we have an initial focus on reducing and stopping life threatening behaviors. We have a focus on behaviors that are getting in the way of a life that is meaningful and fulfilling. Almost all of us have behaviors that get in our way. Some people (this may be you) have or have had behaviors that severely get in the way of a meaningful life, to the point of the potential to die from those behaviors.
While DBT focuses initially on getting rid of these behaviors, that still leaves a pretty miserable existence. In DBT that is termed ‘quiet desperation.’ We are no longer doing things that blow up our lives, and we still aren’t doing things that make our life meaningful and fulfilling.
One skill that helps with creating a life worth living is Accumulating Positives. This skill comes in 2 versions, short term and long term.
I plan one thing every day that I enjoy or that is pleasant. Sometimes it’s a big thing, like going fly fishing. Sometimes it’s a small thing like admiring the trees out back of my place. Sometimes it includes other people like going out for coffee with someone or having a conversation with my wife. Sometimes they are solitary things.
Ok, a little confession. I don’t actually do this everyday. My intention is to plan one pleasant thing everyday, and it doesn't always happen. Most days I do at least one thing that is pleasant. And as I’ve practiced this and my mindfulness practice over the years, I’ve noticed several things happening.
One of those things is that I actually enjoy more things. The other thing I’ve noticed changing over time is having more adaptability with a plan to do something pleasant not going as designed and still being able to find it pleasant. I suppose that would be an ability to let go of the outcome or the expectation and being able to experience the moment as pleasant whether it turns out exactly like I wanted or not. If you are just beginning your journey of more skillful living, that may be a little down the road for you.
The other part of this skill is the planning. We tend to get more benefits from the skill if we are aware that we are using it. When we are mindful of the thing we are doing, it tends to help us more. If you are the type of person that gets lost in the negative (either outside events or self and others judgments) then this skill will help to help create more positives in your life. If we do 1 pleasant thing each day for a week, then we not only have the pleasant experience from that day, we can also go back and remember that experience and have another pleasant emotion in that memory.
The other part of Accumulating Positives is the long term accumulation. This involves determining values, setting goals based on those values, and then taking small steps toward achieving those goals. Research shows that having goals is very important in building a life worth living and a more fulfilling life. It does not seem to matter much what the goal actually is, so you don’t need to stress about finding the perfect goal, just that you have some goal to work towards.
If you don’t know what your values are, that’s the place to start. In the Linehan Handouts and Worksheets book, there is a list of values that you can go through and pick ones that fit for you. If you Google ‘values sort’ you will also find a number of different sets of values you can pick from. Several have instructions for how to use them.
Here are three that I’ve worked on from the list in the Linehan DBT manual: 1.Make room in life for spirituality, living by a set of spiritual principles, 2. Achieve significant goals, be involved in undertakings I think are significant, 3. Work on current relationships.
In terms of spirituality, I started with my recovery from alcohol. Spirituality really became of utmost importance to me because addiction was going to kill me. So, a powerful motivator. Living by spiritual principles is important in my life. I now meditate most days, pray, and really pay attention to how I attend to my relationships (relationships have a spiritual component, in my humble opinion.) I started with some mindfulness and prayers from my recovery program.
I attended my first silent mindfulness retreat in February ‘22 as part of this goal. I’ve had many small goals in relation to spirituality in my life and have tried to make progress along the way. Attending that retreat was a very important accomplishment. It was scary and I knew it was in line with my values and that I needed to do it. I did another one Feb ‘23.
I won’t bore you with all of the goals that I’ve set based on my values. I will say that creating these goals based on my values has meant that achieving them has been more meaningful than some other goals that I’ve accomplished. Graduating from college was something that was a goal, but it was not based in my values, it was the thing I needed to do to get to the next thing in my life. Yes, it was an accomplishment. It did not feel as significant as some of the goals I’ve accomplished that I set after assessing my values.
So, let me summarize. Do something each day that is pleasant, on purpose, to begin building positive experiences in your life. Create some goals based in your values to create a life worth living and then to find more fulfillment in life.
Btw, doesn't that guy in the picture look like he's having fun? I looked at a bunch of pics for today's post and I just kept coming back to that one. Hope you enjoy it. It made me smile.