You want to be happy, but we are all wired to notice threats and fears, in fact probably up to 70% of your thoughts are negative every day.
And we all make the mistake of buying into popular happiness myths.
- Thinking that happiness is our natural state.
- That if we have food, water, shelter and loving relationships, then we will naturally be happy.
- That if you are not happy, then you are defective and need to be medicated.
And that we should think ourselves happy and be able to control our thoughts and feelings.
If only it were that easy.
Instead, Acceptance and Commitment Training shorten to ACT pronounced like the word "act" offers you a way to accept unhelpful thoughts and feelings without being affected by them.
Here are five things to understand about Acceptance and Commitment Training.
1. ACT is part of a psychological movement that is based on functional contextualism
Functional contextualism is a philosophy of science that stresses that behaviour must always be understood in relation to the context that it takes place.
This means that no thought, feeling or memory is a problem or dysfunctional rather it all depends on the context.
In a context where we avoid valued living our thoughts, feelings and behaviours often function in a way that is harmful and toxic.
In a context where you are open and accepting then the same thoughts and feelings aren't so life-limiting.
As an ACT life coach, I don't set out to change or eliminate your unhelpful emotions and thoughts, instead, I aim to fundamentally change your relationship with them.
So they no longer become a barrier to what you what your life to be about or who you want to be.
2. ACT is based on the assumption that language causes human suffering
ACT is based on a theory of human language and cognition (called Relational Frame Theory). RFT can be complicated to understand, but a little demonstration should help.
Take a moment to picture biting into a lemon.
Imagine holding a lemon in your hand right now, looking at it and then taking a bite.
Did you notice that your mouth started to water right away, and you could almost taste the sourness?
Now think of the word lemon and see what else comes up, just place the picture of a lemon in your mind and see what other objects pop into your head.
Maybe you think of lemon cake, lemon tea, slices of lemon in gin and tonic, perhaps even a memory that relates to lemon, someone wearing a lemon coloured dress.
In RFT these are called private events and they show the human mind's ability to relate different objects to different events (tastes, smells, memory, thoughts, feelings and images).
Now let’s try something else: say the word “lemon” out aloud, over and over and over again,
as fast as you possibly can, for thirty seconds.
(NB: You have to do this out aloud, or it won’t work. So if you’re reading this somewhere public go somewhere private).
As you do this, notice what happens.
For almost everyone, within thirty seconds of repetition, the word loses all its meaning.
Instead, it becomes an odd sound: lemm-unn. At the same time, all the images, tastes, smells, thoughts and memories that were previously related to this sound, disappear.
(This exercise is known as Titchener’s Repetition, named after the psychologist who came up with it:
Titchener, E.B. 1916).
When you first learnt the word lemon as a child, it had no meaning. It was just a word; then you learnt to relate lemon to many different private events.
What's the big deal?
As a human being you can build vast relational networks between words that stimulate feelings and thoughts.
Some of those relationships in certain contexts will be helpful some will be unhelpful.
If I relate the words "awful" and "pointless" to my life, then some of this meaning will transfer over to me and my sense of self.
They will also transfer over to other relationships I have in my life, and I'll want to avoid contexts in which these words come up in my mind and evoke strong feelings in me.
As an ACT life coach, I help you to notice when your private events are unhelpful and keep you stuck in life.
3. The core message of ACT is to accept what we can't control and take action that improves and enriches your life.
ACT is all about accepting painful thoughts and emotions instead of struggling with them.
Instead of labelling a thought or feeling as bad and unwanted you notice and accept it.
This is where mindfulness comes into play in ACT.
Mindfulness enables us to choose the relationships we have with thoughts, feelings, sensations and memories and change the context from one of avoidance to one of acceptance.
We then change the function of the thoughts, and they have less impact on us.
As an ACT life coach, I help you become more mindful and aware of your present moment experience so you can move through your emotional roadblocks.
4. ACT is based on six core principles that work together to help you to become ‘psychologically flexible’
- Acceptance - Allowing thoughts and emotions to come and go without struggling with them.
- Cognitive defusion - Learning ways to put distance between you and your thoughts so they no longer act a barrier to what you want.
- Mindfulness - To be aware of the here and now and to be open and curious about your experience.
- Observing the self - How to develop a transcendental sense of self so you can step back from your unhelpful stories you tell yourself.
- Values - How to define your values with clarity and identify what you stand for and what truly matters to you.
- Committed action - How to define goals according to your values and help you commit to taking action even when action is difficult.
Psychological flexibility helps you build the emotional resilience you need to navigate the complexity that is inherent in your world.
It does this by training your mind to deal with the uncertainty, stress and conflicting demands that you have in your life and work.
Psychological flexibility helps you see your blind spots and enables you to take action based on your deeply held values rather than being driven by your emotions and unhelpful thoughts.
As an ACT life coach I help you become psychologically flexible so you can be who you want to be. in the moment.
5. It isn't just for use in a therapy setting
ACT isn't just useful for depression or clinical mental health illnesses.
It can be used by anyone to live a valued life free from excess stress and anxiety.
After using ACT principles every day I now wake up happy, I have a deep sense of fulfilment and inner peace.
I don't get caught up in my emotions and thoughts like I used too, and most importantly I don't have a sense that I'm empty inside.
Using ACT, I get my clients to a space in ten-weeks that took me over 40 years to reach.
ACT isn't about getting rid of bad feelings and painful thoughts instead it is a way to live your life that ultimately results in an increase in happiness and an overall sense of well-being.
"Happiness can only exist in acceptance" - George Orwell
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