ACT = Psychological Flexibility

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In The Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris tells us:

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is based upon six core principles that work together to help you develop a life-changing mind-set known as ‘psychological flexibility.’ The greater your psychological flexibility, the better you can handle painful thoughts and feelings and the more effectively you can take action to make your life rich and meaningful.”

“Mindfulness + Values + Action = Psychological Flexibility”

PRINCIPAL 1: DEFUSION (mindfulness)

“Defusion means relating to your thoughts in a new way, so they have much less impact and influence over you. As you learn to defuse painful and unpleasant thoughts, they will lose their ability to frighten, disturb or depress you. And as you learn to defuse unhelpful thoughts, such as self-limiting beliefs and harsh self-criticisms, they will have much less influence over your behavior”

PRINCIPAL 2: EXPANSION (mindfulness)

“Expansion means making room for unpleasant feelings, sensations and urges, instead of trying to suppress them or push them away. As you open up and make space for these feelings, you will find they bother you much less, and they ‘move on’ much more rapidly, instead of ‘hanging around and disturbing you. (The official ACT term for this principle is ‘Acceptance’. I have changed it because the word ‘acceptance’ has so many different meanings, and can easily be misunderstood.)”

PRINCIPLE 3: CONNECTION (mindfulness)

“Connection means living in the present; focusing on and engaging full in whatever you’re doing. Instead of dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future, you are deeply connected with what is happening right here, right now. (The official ACT term for this principle is ‘Contact With The Present Moment’. I have changed the term in this book purely for ease of communication.)”

PRINCIPLE 4: THE OBSERVING SELF (mindfulness)

“The Observing Self is a powerful aspect of human consciousness, which has been largely ignored by western psychology until now. As you learn how to access this part of yourself, it will enable you to further transform your relationship with unwanted thoughts and feelings.”

PRINCIPLE 5: VALUES

“Clarifying and connecting with your values is an essential step for making life meaningful. Your values are reflections of what is most important in your heart: what sort of person you want to be; what is significant and meaningful to you; and what you want to stand for in this life. Your values provide direction for your life, and motivate you to make important changes.”

PRINCIPLE 6: COMMITTED ACTION

“A rich and meaningful life is created through taking action. But not just any action. It happens through effective action, guided by and motivated by your values. And in particular, it happens through committed action: action that you take again, and again, and again, no matter how many times you fail, or go off track. So ‘committed action’ is shorthand for ‘committed, effective, valued action’.”

My wife recently was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. That is one of those types of breast cancer you don’t want to have. After 5 months of 4 different chemodrugs and immunotherapy, she achieved a pathologically complete response (pCR), and now she is looking at a > 90% chance of not having to deal with this cancer again. There is always a slight chance it will not be gone. So you have to wonder, are these headaches cancer, are these back pains cancer, are my weird visual problems cancer, and are these twitches cancer?

To deal with these types of worries, my wife saw a therapist, and they practiced ACT together. Additionally, my wife and I practiced the ACT principles above together. Through Principle 6, committed action, she worked her Masterpiece Day Checklist and controlled the controllable.

Ultimately, the principles of ACT were practical enough she got kicked out of therapy for doing so well.

Remember, ACT can be beneficial in developing the psychological flexibility to deal with painful thoughts and feelings.