Why is it so hard to be happy? Why is life so difficult? Why do we suffer so much? And what can we do about it?
ACT-Acceptance Commitment Therapy is all about taking action, but its more than any action. Its about values-guided action. When you become clear on what really matters to you and what you want your life to stand for, you create a path or a direction for your actions. You become values driven instead of reactive. You start to use your values to motivate, inspire and guide your actions and behaviors.
ACT is all about mindfulness, being fully aware of the present moment with an openness and acceptance without the need to control or change anything. You accept what is here now, even when you are experiencing painful feelings or thoughts. This does not mean that you love what you are experiencing, it just means that you are not fighting, resisting or avoiding it. You are allowing it to be there. You are not in a struggle with what is here now.
This creates a type of psychological flexibility which is the ability to be in the present moment with full awareness and openness to your experience and to take action guided by your values.
The goal of ACT is to live a rich and meaningful life while accepting the pain that goes along with it.
Most people get so fused or caught up in their thought that it is difficult for them to actually engage in their life in a meaningful way. Or they may try to avoid and push away those negative thoughts such as, “I am not good enough”, or “Why does this always happen to me?”, but this just makes it worse, as it becomes physically exhausting and draining to continually push away or resist these negative thoughts.
For example, try this, take your hands and put them side by side like a book. Now take your hands and place them up in front of your face, so close that they are touching your nose. Now imagine that your hands are a symbol or metaphor for your thoughts. When you are caught up in your thoughts, fused with them, this is what it is like. Those thoughts are all you can see. How much can you see around your hands (thoughts)? How much can you engage with the world around you? Are you free to paint a picture, watch a movie, cook a meal, hug your child? No, you are not because you are blinded by your hands….your thoughts. This is what it is like to be caught up with your unwanted thoughts, they are all you can see. How can you create a meaningful life with this going on? The answer is, you can’t! Now slowly lower your hands onto your lap. What is it like now? How much can you see and interact with the world around you now? Much better I imagine. You can now see the world around you, you can engage in your life. You can enjoy a movie, or dinner with a friend. And did you notice that your hands (thoughts) are still there… they are on your lap. They are still there, but they are not interfering with your life. You have learned to let them be there, with acceptance. When you give up the struggle of pushing them away, and you also stop getting caught up with them, you can live a meaningful life, all the while letting them be.
When you let your thoughts be and are committed to values guided actions, you will be able to live your life with more balance and ease. The pain of these thoughts will still come and go, but you have given up the struggle, which has a dramatically positive impact on your well being and your life overall.
Avoiding or pushing away thoughts is another way that some people cope with their unwanted thoughts, but it too has a cost. Some people will use drugs, food, shopping, sex to push away and avoid their thoughts, but this comes at a high cost too; addictions, poor health, debt, and not living consistently with your values, (if you value a healthy and balanced life) and the thoughts are STILL there.
You may even avoid situations, like socializing with others, that provoke your anxious thoughts, what is the cost here? Sure, you may feel better in the short term, the anxiety provoking thoughts stopped, but at the cost of missing out with friends, or loved ones, which over time can lead to isolation and depression.
So what can you do about this?
We have 2 distinct elements to our mind, the thinking self, and the observing self. The thinking self is the part that is always thinking, generating thoughts, beliefs, memories, judgments, and so on. But most are not familiar with the observing self; the aspect of us that is aware of what we are thinking and feeling. Another term for this is “pure awareness”.
For example, as you go through life, your body changes, your feelings change, your thoughts change, your roles and responsibilities change, but the YOU that is there observing all those things never change. It is the same YOU that has been there your entire life.
When you start to notice your thoughts and feelings from this observing self, you create an openness, a space that puts some distance between you and your thoughts. You allow them to be there, without getting caught up or fused with them.
Looking at your life’s experiences from this context is freeing and liberating and allows you to create a richer, fuller and more meaningful life.
ACT on life, not your worries or fears.