Have you spent a lot of time and money on psychotherapy or self-help books, yet you still feel stuck in unhealthy habits?. Unfortunately, verbal insight and understanding do not always lead to changing self-destructive behaviors (e.g. addictions, procrastination, angry outbursts) or removing distress. Knowing why you are depressed, anxious, or feeling pain doesn't necessarily make you feel any better. However, if you get up and get active - walking, reaching out to friends, pursuing a hobby or creative activity, doing your yoga stretches, or even getting errands done, you will focus less on the negative feelings and they won't last as long. Understanding what is most meaningful to you in life (such as your health, family, or work) and committing to taking specific, manageable actions to achieve your goals in these areas can put you back in the driver's seat of your life.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy/Training (or ACT) is a short-term intervention used in psychotherapy or workplace settings. It combines principles of Mindfulness with techniques of motivation and behavior change. ACT can help you to break out of negative thought cycles, accept what you can't control, stop running away from pain, and be more able to tolerate risk, failure, and uncertainty to reap the rewards of a meaningful, engaged life. It can help your career and health by teaching you how to handle negative emotions and overcome procrastination.
Some core principles of ACT are:
Similar to Mindfulness, ACT therapists use exercises to help you remain present and focused on the breath or your present thoughts and feelings, rather than trying to avoid them. Feelings are momentary, changing experiences in our bodies and minds. However, because of childhood learning experiences, we often develop judgments about them and what it means about us that we have them - such as "You're depressed again - You're such a loser!" When you focus on and describe the direct physical sensations of pain or anxiety (e.g., my chest feels tight), rather than feeling helpless or trying to distract yourself, you may realize that they are not going to kill you and that they will eventually pass. Watching feelings rise and fall in your body, gives you a sense of them as transient experiences, rather than as who you are in essence.
Acceptance is often confused with passivity. In ACT terms, acceptance means "being willing to experience the present moment, even if it's not what we would have chosen." This also means accepting your life experiences and history, realizing you can never completely get rid of or make up for experiences of suffering. At the same time, you have a choice about what you do with your life now. You do not have to be so limited by old ways of thinking. Like any habit, change takes time and effort. Therefore, you will likely be uncomfortable for a while. It takes time to change your brain pathways and to have other people notice you are different and behave differently towards you. Like losing a lot of weight, you have to work hard for a long time before seeing noticeable results. Being willing means you no longer avoid uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, or situations by zoning out, not showing up, addictions, anger, or procrastinating. If you want to be healthier, you first need to be able to look at and experience how unhealthy you are right now. At the same time, you can commit to doing what you need to do in small bits, each day, to be a little bit healthier. Lifting the veil of self-deception can go a long way towards getting you focused on the right track.
(3) Separating Your Self From Your Thoughts
Your thoughts, feelings, and sensations are not who you are. ACT Training includes mindfulness, imagery, and language-based exercises to help you connect with your "observing ego" so you can observe your thoughts and experiences from a more objective vantage point.. Although your thoughts feel true, they are not necessarily the whole truth, because they are biased by your expectations from past experiences and self-definition. You do not need to let your thoughts and feelings determine your behavior. You can choose how to behave, based on your direct experience (what you see, hear, feel - independent of your judgments about these events) and your core values. You may think about a thought: "Is it kind? Is it truthful?,.." and so on. Based on the answer, you may choose to take the thought seriously or let it pass on by. Rather than changing the content of your thoughts, you can choose to change how you interact with them Thinking you are stupid or fat does not make you stupid or fat - it is just a passing thought in your head.
Core values are the things in life that are most meaningful to us and that enrich our lives. They include such things as "Being healthy," "Taking care of our families," "Being honest and accountable," or "Contributing to society." When people come to therapy, they are often so overwhelmed with distress, feelings of self-pity or anger, or struggles with pain or addiction, that they have lost touch with what really makes them fulfilled. Even if they know "I want to be a good parent," their day-to-day behavior may not reflect this because they are preoccupied with seeking escape from daily stress, thoughts about past, painful events, or trying to prevent an anticipated future threat. ACT therapists/trainers use imagery and writing exercises to help clients define their individual core values and gain motivation to reconnect with activities and people that enhance these values in our lives.
(5) Committing to Motivated Action
To live a meaningful, authentic life, you need to take risks, get out into the world, and tolerate uncertainty and anxiety. Exercises focus on setting manageable, attainable, meaningful goals - committing to taking specific, small steps that get you closer to your larger goals. The focus is on taking action, not expecting a particular result, since outcomes may be at least partially out of our control. To be successful is not necessarily to always feel happy or pain-free, but to live a full life despite the anxiety or pain. By facing what you fear, the fear will eventually lessen, and, even if it doesn't, you will know you have done your best with what you have. This takes you out of the cycle of self-doubt, regret, and second-guessing yourself.
ACT, also known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy/Training, when used in workplace settings, is a short-term intervention approach that has been used with substance abusers, people suffering from chronic pain and illness, patients with obsessive thoughts, anxiety, or depression. ACT works well with clients or employees who are tired of letting uncontrollable symptoms rule and want to take a more active role in defining and directing their own lives. I use ACT principles and interventions with almost every client to help them tolerate uncontrollable, stressful situations and focus on what they can change. ACT can create a basis for hope and help you tolerate the pain of changing.
According to SAMHSA's Registry of Effective Programs,
"ACT has been shown to increase effective action; reduce dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and alleviate psychological distress for individuals with a broad range of mental health issues (including DSM-IV diagnoses, coping with chronic illness, and workplace stress)."
For more information about ACT, go to this link:
Or watch this YouTube video by Dr Russ Harris:
Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist, and expert on Mindfulness, Managing Anxiety, and Depression, Succeeding at Work,, and Mind-Body Health. Dr Greenberg provides workshops and speaking engagements for your organization and coaching and psychotherapy for individuals and couples
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