Psychological Flexibility - Knowing that We are Not Our Thoughts or Feelings
ACT accepts thoughts, feelings, and sensations for what they are; and, teaches you how to sit with (accept) the discomforts of life; whereas CBT works on a more heady level to dispute thoughts. I have found that teaching others to distance themselves from unhelpful thoughts (or feelings, sensations) and see them for what they are (merely thoughts) is easier and more effective than trying to wrestle them to the ground using the same thinking that caused them to begin with! I have taught others to be okay with these thoughts showing up; and, using various ACT techniques to not get "hooked" into believing that they're true. The only things that are ever true are sensory - what we see, hear, touch, taste or smell - everything else is a story (i.e., thought). I teach people to own their stories. For example, if your partner went out the door this morning and the door slammed behind him/her, what is the story that you've told yourself? The only truth is that the door slammed. My guess is you're wondering if he/she is angry with you about something (your story). So, is it the reality (door slam) or the story (possible anger directed at you) that creates the difficult thoughts and feelings?
To me, ACT rests at the dividing line between psychology and spirituality. Several ACT techniques are about being aware of who you are - you are not your thoughts or feelings or sensations. You are more like the blue sky behind all of the storms (i.e., emotions) and seasons (i.e., moods). Within ACT is a push to be okay with what is ("it just is!") whether it's good, bad or ugly. We tend to struggle with the thoughts of not wanting to feel sad, scared or angry more so than struggling with the actual emotions. ACT helps you to be okay with all feelings just-as-they-are; and, teaches you how to sit with them. ACT also uses mindfulness, meditation and getting grounded in your body - similar to some of the spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, New Thought Christianity, and Taoism - but in a more functional, in-the-moment way.
All of these techniques, that keep you grounded in the present moment exactly like it is, are called "psychological flexibility."
Values and Actions - Focusing on What's Important
If you're not clear on what has meaning to you, then you can fill your days with any activity or people because there's no "guiding light" to sort through what's important versus what's a waste of time. Getting clear on what you want your life to stand for, what you want others to say about you at the end of your life can help shift you into valued living, focused living. And, if you're focused on these important values (and related actions) many of the trivial annoyances of life won't even register on your radar.
What has been your experience with ACT? [If you're interested in ACT counseling, check out the ACBS provider locator]
Photo - Creative Commons (Dave Soldano "Path to Sunrise")