I'm posting a link to this article I just read about ACT and how we can use values to keep moving forward when the slog gets tough. Enjoy :-)
If you've been reading lately, you know I've been excited to share more about what I'm learning about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). A lot of what ACT does is offer you a way to change your relationship with your thoughts.
Now, I'm guessing that phrasing sounds funny to you, "changing your relationship with your thoughts". What exactly is that?
We are not our thoughts.
I am not my thoughts.
You are not your thoughts.
There is more to you and me than what we think.
I've recommended the book, "The Happiness Trap" to you in an earlier post. One way that the author, Russ Harris, helps to make this idea, of changing your relationship to your thoughts, more clear is to look at thoughts as a string of words. So,
words on a page of a book (or on this blog post) are called text.
Words said out loud are called speech.
Words in our minds are called thoughts.
Thinking this way helps you to see that just like words in a book are not the book, thoughts in our minds are not us.
Can you see how this way of looking at thoughts helps create a bit of distance between you and your thoughts?
Well, that distance is a powerful way of helping you feel less controlled by what you think at any given moment. Practicing this helps to cultivate more of your observer self, the constant part of you that is more than what you think or feel.
Being able to see things with some objectivity helps you make decisions more based on all of you, and what you most value, not just what you are feeling or thinking in the moment.
Powerful! Try it, let me know how it works for you. :-)
“If you want something you have never had,
you have to do something you have never done.”
~ Mike Murdock
"I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become."
~ Carl Jung
"Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out."
~ Art Linkletter
At first read, I thought these two quotes were dialectics, that is opposing sides of the same idea. But reading them over and over, I think they are saying the same thing. That while we often don't control what life puts in front of us, we do control what we do with it, how we approach what life puts in front of us. Making the choice to focus on what we can control, even if it's only our response or reaction. Effective.
Social psychologist Arthur Aron wondered if having long time married couples act more like newly dating couples would result in an increase in marital satisfaction. He had couples generate a list of exciting activities and a list of pleasant activities that they might do together. Then he assigned some couples to do something from the list of exciting activities and other couples to do something from the list of pleasant activities.
I’ll bet you can guess what he found. :-) The couples who added some new and exciting activities into their life, acting more like newly dating than like long time married couples, had significantly more happiness than the couples that engaged in more pleasant activities or the couples that served as baseline and did nothing different at all.
Acting excited and trying new things results in feeling excited and more energized about your relationship. Keeping things fresh leads to more relationship satisfaction.
Several studies looked at whether the words you say and the way you say them have any effect on your mood. One study by psychologist Emmett Velten asked some people to read cards with increasingly positive statements on them (“I do feel pretty good today”). Another group read cards with neutral statements unrelated to mood on them (“The Orient Express travels between Paris and Istanbul”). Using pre- and post-tests of mood, the group that read the increasingly positive statements had a happier mood afterwards while the neutral statement group showed no change in mood.
Other researchers have expanded this format to include telling jokes, laughing, reading stories about happy events, all with the same result. Acting as if you are happy results in people reporting being happier.
What’s the takeaway here? If you want to feel a certain way, act the way you want to feel. Don’t wait for the feelings. Change your behavior and the feelings will follow.
So, how do you want to feel today? :-)
“In real life, love is much more than a feeling.
It is a long series of decisions to be together and to give to one another,
a commitment to work together to build a shared life,
a day to day involvement that changes who we are as people.
Love involves your entire being:
your love for someone is a part of you because it involves your feelings, your thoughts, and your actions.”
–Blaine J. Fowler
I’ve been thinking about love lately, about what it really means to love someone. Not just romantic love, but love in a more general way. I think our culture overemphasizes the feeling part of love and underemphasizes the thinking and doing parts of love. Dr. Fowler’s quote above is talking about love in marriage but I think it also applies to love in other relationships, in our friendships, in our family relationships.
Especially the “long series of decisions” part. ACT refers to this as “values in action”, living your life, behaving in your life, in ways that are congruent with what you value, what you want your life to stand for. Loving someone means feeling the feeling of love (that seems to me the easy part:-) but it also means choosing to think loving thoughts and act in loving ways.
Thinking loving thoughts and acting in loving ways when you are not feeling loving feelings is where the rubber meets the road, in my opinion. This deliberate and intentional “values in action” is the part that isn’t taught or emphasized enough in our culture, that loving someone is wonderful and feels good a lot of the time but it is also hard work and deliberate effort.
Worth it, as the saying goes, love is what makes the journey worth it. But also good to be prepared to live love, to think love and do love, not just feel it.
I’m posting this video that is available on youtube that captures one of the main concepts of ACT in a humorous way. The video is just over 4 minutes long.
Making room for all of us, even the parts of ourselves we’re not so keen on, and moving forward with what matters to us, that’s the key. What do you think?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is the newest addition to how I think about my work. As with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), I am learning how powerful this approach is through my work with clients and also with myself.
In a similar way to Bowen’s family systems theory, ACT believes that there is much to be gained by establishing some degree of objectivity of self, that is, being able to stand beside yourself and observe, of seeing your thoughts, feelings and behaviors with some neutral stance. In ACT language, this is known as defusion, that is, recognizing that you are not your thoughts and feelings.
ACT uses metaphors a lot and I like that. One metaphor to illustrate defusion is that you are the sky and your moods/thoughts/feelings are the clouds. Even on the cloudiest day, we know that there is sky behind the clouds. Translating that metaphor, no matter what your mood is in the moment, your self is constant.
We get into trouble when we fuse our thoughts/feelings/moods with our sense of self. In ACT terms, “I am a bad person” would be “I am having the thought that I am a bad person”. Read those out loud, can you feel the difference? Now I know that the second sentence sounds clumsy and not natural. And that’s the point! The ACT way of describing the experience creates just a bit of space between you and the thought. That space creates enough objectivity that you have room to work on decreasing the power of those negative thoughts, to be reminded that you are not your thoughts.
Another defining feature of ACT is the idea of psychological flexibility. ACT believes that suffering is created by inflexibility, of thoughts, actions, beliefs. Like in DBT, ACT theory is based on the idea that resisting the world as it is creates unnecessary suffering. ACT principles and techniques offer a different way of thinking, a different way to approach what life puts in front of us.
If you want to read more about ACT, I would suggest “The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living” by Russ Harris and Steven Hayes. Or see this article that summarizes ACT from the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science website.
My name is Carol J. Tadeusik. I am a licensed psychologist in Durham, North Carolina. I invite you to read my blog and get to know me and a bit about how I think. And by the way, I love comments!
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