Get out of your head
Kirjoittanut: Kamil Wójcik - tiimistä FLIP Solutions.
Get out of your mind & into your life the new acceptance & commitment therapy
Steven C. Smith
This essay is based on the book Get out of your mind & into your life the new acceptance & commitment therapy by Hayes, Steven C. Smith, Spencer Xavier. Which I read as a part of my course Finding balance in Student Life NN00FU47-3001.
Goal of this essay is to encourage people to reach out for the book when in a moment of self-doubt. I would put it into a category of self-help books, although this one is based on real science, well tested and proven techniques. The book can be found here:
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Book talks about the ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), the third wave of behavioural and cognitive therapy(HAYES 2004). It’s based on Relational Frame Theory. I would say that the three elements: mindfulness, acceptance, and value-based living were the most important for me to remember when going through the book because it is so crucial to actually time after time remind ourselves about our values, bring back the focus on the present, and accept the things we cannot change. Simple as that.
In a way, I find it hard to write about this book as a whole, even to describe some general impressions. If I had to try, I would say it is surprising and revealing at the same time, kind of cliché. At first sight, many things might seem obvious and well known, while in practice we quickly fall into the trap of everyday life, struggles, and processes our brains create.
Recently I have encountered new and not necessarily pleasant experiences that lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, which brought anxiety to my life. We all deal with this type of feeling from time to time and we all have our own ways to deal with this. Some of us are better than others. That’s alright, it’s not a competition. Although, what happens when our strategy fails? It might turn out that our coping mechanisms are not all that efficient, and they just cover the real core of the problem. Our brains are designed for problem-solving, but we cannot solve all the problems. Sometimes we must just accept things how they are. Especially when we are talking about our own thoughts and emotions. Our brains constantly produce ideas and thoughts, we are unable not to think. Even when thinking about not thinking, we are still thinking. What is the most important about our thoughts and emotions is that we react to them on basis of belief or disbelief.
“Personally relevant negative thoughts are often the target of chronic thought-suppression, and these thoughts are high in frequency. Therefore, despite letting the mind wonder they come back at us”. This doesn’t need explanation, but I would like to add to it, that it really shows that many core issues have been often around us for years and “normal” problem-solving methods simply didn’t work and won’t work. While the frequency of the negative thoughts increases, it suggests that “normal” methods are counterproductive.
The book brings many examples and exercises, one of them is related to shifting from looking at the thought instead of from the thought. It means that we should not take everything that comes to our mind literally. That is simple enough in normal circumstances. When we are dealing with difficulties in life, it’s easy to start believing our own thoughts and acting on the emotions. An example of that is experiential avoidance. To shortly describe what it means we could think about going to the interview, as the time is approaching, our thoughts start to come in. We tend to question our competence, skills or even self-worth. We start to create a fixed idea of what is going to happen. We become rigid, which often influences our actions later on in the interview – because we knew it’s going to happen anyway, right? If our coping mechanism would be efficient and healthy, we would be able to approach this type of challenge in a more flexible manner. It doesn’t mean, that we would completely ignore the negative thoughts, but rather take them closer and then let them go, by accepting them and not acting on them.
Why would we do it? Because thoughts are just thoughts. The aim is not to judge whether they are true or not. We are not able to predict the future or change the past, we can only decide how we are going to act on our thoughts and emotions right now in the present.
I found highly interesting, the exercise with holding the breath. We measure the time how long we can hold our breath in the start of the chapter and towards the end of the chapter we are asked to do a second measurement. We compare them to each other (although it doesn’t matter if you are “good at it” or not), but there was a significant difference between the first and second times when I measured how long am I able to hold the breath. How come? In the chapter author is talking about letting go, it’s something we can learn, but our mind itself cannot do it. Our brain is designed to always add new information, we cannot erase anything from the past, it will always eventually come up again.
if you are not willing to have it, you will
Let’s say we feel stressed and anxious, but we are not willing to be anxious and stressed. Most likely we are going to just feel more anxious. If we are only willing to accept the anxious feeling today, to feel better the next day. We are not really willing to have it. Therefore, as in the quote above, we will indeed have it. This might seem to contradict but take a moment to look back at our own experiences and evaluate if lack of willingness has paid off. I personally am willing to try to accept the thoughts and feelings because in a way I feel like I struggled enough, therefore it is worth trying.
What about the breathing exercise? It is hand on proof that we can decide how to react to urges, feelings or even pain. During the second try I focused on sensations, my thoughts and actually it wasn’t the hardest to hold my breath at the end. It wasn’t even halfway through. When we are willing to have it, it’s easier to deal with it. I was able to hold my breath 30% longer. Not easy to take it into practice in other areas, but little by little as I was reading the book and using other techniques, I noticed improvement.
What we are trying to get a grasp of is looking at the thoughts instead of from the thoughts. Here, to help comes to the idea of mindfulness and the ability to get closer to own thoughts and feelings. They come and go without judging them. Book has referred to a few issues that I could closely connect with, for example: “investing in labels”. Keeping these in mind has changed my own way of thinking. It also slowed down the process.
We are told as kids that we cannot do something. For example, I was told that I cannot write as a kid, it went on at school. I wasn’t interested in reading books in high school, therefore I have had difficulties writing about them. It didn’t take long, I started to believe that I cannot write, but it has recently changed. I received good feedback and suddenly my own narrative has changed. I started to believe that I can produce decent text.
This process of attaching thoughts to events is called cognitive fusion. I have attached negative feedback in the past regarding my writing with the unpleasant experience, therefore I avoided writing itself. These types of events are shaping our perspective in which we act and function in society with ourselves, as well as understanding and behaving with others. That can be negative or positive, but what really matters is that we tend to get stuck in the past or future, instead of living in the present.
It can be an easy way to think about ourselves in a certain way instead of challenging our own believes and attitudes. One way to do it is to challenge ourselves, but that requires getting out of the comfort zone. Often the zone of discomfort is right in a front of us, in a form of reality that we try to push away.
Studies suggest that we are significantly less happy when distracted and not present. While the same study states that we spend nearly 50% of our time daydreaming, which makes us less happy. I won’t dive deeper into this, but I would like you to think about it and reflect on your own experiences.
Overall, I would like to highlight the three elements again: mindfulness, acceptance, and value-based living. As well as I want to encourage people to look into these, it can be difficult, but thanks to the book this essay is based on it can be done accomplished and bring some ease to our everyday lives.
Hayes, Steven C., and Spencer Xavier. Smith. Get Out of Your Mind & into Your Life the New Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2005. Print.
HealthyPsych.com. ‘Living in the Present Moment = More Happiness?’, 22 December 2014. https://healthypsych.com/living-in-the-present-moment-more-happiness/.
This course sounds really interesting and so does this book. I can relate to a lot that you mentioned in the essay and might have to read the book myself!
This book is very helpful from many aspects, but certainly it’s a must-read book for all “overachievers” at Proakatemia 😀
Luiza de Oliveira Vago
I am really interested in reading this book, not only because your essay makes me wanna read it, but also because it has a different perspective of life that can be really helpful and maybe even make it easier to live I would say. I have been trying to study more about mindfulness and acceptance too, which are sensitive topics to work on, but needed in order to live a better life.
You made the book sound interesting and reflected it well in your own experience. I would maybe add a few more catchy subtitles as you did with the subtitle: if you are not willing to have it, you will. I think this was a good subtitle and I had to read it twice because it took me a moment to understand it so that means it is a good subtitle! It was a good thing that you explained a few points in the essay with practical examples from real life. It made points easier to understand. Overall a good essay that was nice to read!