In differential diagnosis, where one looks at several likely or partial candidates to explain what a person is going through, I always look first for chronological age and second for self-report about the level of fulfillment of a variety of core needs.
For example, if a kid is presenting as depressed or hyperactive, I check in with them about how well certain needs are being met (such as participation, fun, and rest).
Few have been taught how to connect deeply with their own needs, to meaningfully track how anything is working for them. This isn’t from neglect as much as a lack of rigor in understanding and tracking over time the status of our own needs. Needs, like a baseball or a planet, have position, velocity, and acceleration.
Self-connection can have a scaffolded structure of skills and successes. You have to be specific in observing what is happening in your environment and the impact on you. Just as some therapists recommend a mood journal, I suggest any form of journaling. Tracking the passage of time increases the capacity to access the reminder “This too shall pass.” If time is a set of railroad tracks, then the train steams ahead. Record observations, both light and dark, of what happens to you on the train, and what you see in the scenery passing by.
To be calm in the present moment requires a sense of time, of past and future, that is as steady as railroad tracks but as uncertain as the weather. Journaling, with a date in the upper right corner of the page, helps. (Sometimes I pull from my journal entries in my blogs, and I always hope it is adds depth and clarity to this discussion).
One journaling idea is something I’ve coined “Needs Calculus”. I draw upon some of the work of positive psychology, including a “set point of happiness”, which asserts that people adjust to their level of happiness, and feelings arise from adjustments to their baseline expectations more than from any objective measure of well-being.
To take this concept further, I turn to math for counsel.
For those who don’t remember their calculus or physics: an object can be described by its location (where it is). Your needs can be seen as having position: somewhere between fully, dreamily met and eerily, nightmarishly unmet.
Movement is a change in location over time. Speed, when clarified with a direction, is called velocity. Needs have velocity: is it getting better, or worse? (More attended to, or less?).
Velocity changes over time, and this is called acceleration. Is it getting better more quickly, or are you reaching diminishing marginal returns? Is there a plateau of well-being?
I would be a jerk to try to fit in a change in acceleration over time (called “jerk”), but the metaphor can continue there if useful.
If you track need satisfaction over time, the area under the curve could be considered the amount of well-being. The unit of well-being over time is a “Happy-Hour.”
Start tracking wellbeing with a time axis, and see what requests of yourself and others arise naturally. This may provide some self-guidance as to how to structure freedom. Freedom without guidance may be spastic, which could be useful to tear down oppressive structures but doesn’t obviously lead to next steps.
For now, identify a few key needs along with their velocity and acceleration. Record this. Offer yourself gratitude for needs that are either well-met, getting better, or about to get better. We can’t know the future, but we can know position, velocity, and acceleration.
Increase Happy Hours. (And that goes for the kids and their caregivers).
Oh, and I’d love to hear the results of this practice (or any other thoughts you have about it) in the comments below.