Have you ever felt trapped in a prison of difficult thoughts and emotions?
I bet you have. All of us have! In this blog I would like to share with you how to free yourself from such binding feelings by applying the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – ACT (typically pronounced as the word “act”) is a form of psychotherapy that uses acceptance + mindfulness strategies, and was developed in the 1980’s by Professor Steven C. Hayes from the University of Nevada.
The objective of ACT is not the elimination of difficult feelings, more so it’s the allowing of the mind to be present with what life brings and to “move toward valued behaviour”. Acceptance and commitment therapy invites people to open up to unpleasant feelings, learn to not overreact to them, and to not avoid situations where they are evoked.
The steps of ACT are:
- Accept your thoughts and emotions
- Choose a valued direction
- Take action
The ACT steps were further developed by Susan David and Christina Congleton:
- Recognize your patterns
- Label your thoughts and emotions
- Accept them
- Act on your values
Recognize your patterns
The first step is to notice when you’ve been hooked by your own thoughts and feelings. How can you do this? A clear sign is if your thinking becomes repetitive and unhealthy – perhaps a narrative you are hearing in your mind seems like an old, past thought. For example, you may find you are constantly annoyed with a colleague, thinking:
There is no way I’m letting anyone speak to me like that!
Perhaps you had similar thoughts and feelings about certain colleagues in your previous job? It can be like being caught in a loop, where you again and again play the same scenario.
You must realize that you’re stuck in a loop before can make steps to change!
Be mindful – label your thoughts and emotions
When the same thoughts are running through your head over and over again, there is no room to examine them. What you could find helpful is to name your emotions and thoughts. So instead of thinking:
My co-worker is wrong – he makes me so angry.
Give your emotions and thoughts labels:
I’m having THAT thought about my co-worker again and it’s making me angry.
Labelling allows you to see your own thoughts and feelings for what they are – less or more helpful sources of information. Slowing down makes you more mindful of what is happening inside you.
Accept your thoughts and emotions
Acceptance is the opposite of control.
Imagine you had the power to not act on every thought you had, but respond to your emotions with an open attitude.
Susan David, the CEO of Evidence Based Psychology, and Christina Congleton from Axon Leadership offer such advice:
Take 10 deep breaths and notice what’s happening in the moment. This can bring relief, but it won’t necessarily make you feel good. In fact, you may realize just how upset you really are. The important thing is to show yourself (and others) some compassion and examine the reality of this situation. What’s going on – both internally and externally?
Source: Emotional Intelligence: Mindfulness, 2017, Harvard Business Review Press
Act on your values
When you liberate yourself from difficult thoughts and emotions you allow yourself to see more possibilities, enabling you to act upon your values.
If haven’t had a chance to think about what your values are, take a look at this list. Which of these values are important to you?
The next time you make a decision, ask yourself whether it REALY is consistent with your values.
It’s impossible to block difficult thoughts and feelings. However, with time and practice, each of us can free oneself from unhealthy patterns of thinking.