This will be the first in a series of posts that chronicle my relationship with a new way of thinking I’m studying called ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It is a concept based on six core principles that promote “psychological flexibility” – the ability to adapt to thoughts with awareness and openness – and, in the long run, hypothetically allows one to handle painful thoughts with greater efficacy and, in turn, live a more meaningful and rich life. While the theory sounds promising, I am still in the very early phases of learning this technique and am interested to see how effective it is. If you’re interested in joining me on this journey, be sure to pick up The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris, who writes on this ACT methodology in great detail. The following were the key points from Chapters 4 and 5 of his book that resonated with me the most.
Although I’m still early on in my reading, I have started putting into practice the technique’s first core principle: thought defusion. Simply put, thought defusion is “relating to your thoughts in a new way, so they have much less impact and influence over you.” In ACT, the main goal is not to debate whether or not your thoughts are true or false, but whether they are helpful. With thought defusion, then, the aim is to not get rid of or battle your thoughts, but to simply see them for what they are – a string of words.
This useful approach forces you to ask the questions “Is this thought helpful? Does it help me take action to create the life I want?” If the thoughts are helpful, they should be held onto, but if they aren’t, they should be defused. To figure out whether a thought is helpful, you should ask yourself:
- Does this thought help me to be the person I want to be?
- Does it help me to build the sort of relationships I’d like?
- Does it help me to connect with what I truly value?
- Does it help me, in the long term, to create a rich, full, and meaningful life?
By answering yes or no to these questions, you can determine how useful the thought is to hold onto. These thoughts, of course, are just stories, subjective narratives in our minds that are contextualized by current life situations – whether they be job, relationship, or health-related. To know which stories to believe, you should:
- Be wary of holding onto any belief too tightly, as these beliefs change over time
- Remember to use thoughts that help create a rich full and meaningful life
- Pay careful attention to what is actually happening, rather than just automatically believing what your mind says.
In close, the more tuned in you are to your direct experience in life (rather than your mind’s running commentary), the more empowered you are to take your life in the direction you truly want. By freeing ourselves from the oppression of our thoughts, we can invest our time, energy and attention in more meaningful activities. This, of course, is easy to say and hard to achieve, and will be the challenge I tackle over the days and weeks ahead.