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Summary of the ACT technique

George Lilley

on 8 June 2015

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Transcript of ACT

3. Connection
1. Defusion
2. Expansion
5. Committed Action
4.The Observing Self
4. Values
The usual strategies for dealing with negative thoughts and feelings include: Distraction, Zoning out, Suppression
Arguing with your thoughts (Cognitive Therapy)
Self Bullying
Trying to think positively
Drugs, exercise. These don't always work, ACT offers another way!
We often fuse with our thoughts, BUT
Thoughts may NOT necessarily
be the truth
be important
be wise
techniques to defuse
Label - I'm having the thought that I'm a loser.
or I notice I'm having the thought that I'm a loser.
Name it - oh that's the loser story again, or the I'm inadequate story
Musical Thoughts - think the thought to music, e.g jingle bells
Use silly voices to repeat the thought.
Is the thought HELPFUL?
Thank your mind for that thought
Acceptance & Commitment Therapy
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.)
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 behaviour.
Connection means living in the present; focusing on and engaging fully 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.)
The Observing Self is a powerful aspect of human consciousness, which has been largely ignored by western psychology. It is distinct from the Thinking Self which judges, compares, evaluates, plans, fantasizes, etc..
The Observing self is fundamentally different from the thinking self. The Observing Self is AWARE but it does not think.
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.
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'.
When practicing defusion, it's important to keep the following things in mind:
• The aim of defusion is not to get rid of unpleasant thoughts, but rather to see them for what they are — just words — and to let go of struggling with them. At times they will go away and at times they won't. If you start expecting them to go, you are setting yourself up for disappointment or frustration.
• Don't expect these techniques to make you feel good. Often when you defuse a troublesome thought, you will feel better. But this is just a beneficial byproduct, not the main goal. The main goal of defusion is to free you from the tyranny of your mind, so you can focus your attention on more important things. So when defusion does make you feel better, by all means enjoy it. But don't expect it to. And don't start using it to try to control how you feel; otherwise, you're stuck right back in the happiness trap.
• Remember that you're human, so there will be plenty of times when you forget to use these new skills. And that's okay, because the moment you realise you've been reeled in by unhelpful thoughts, you can instantly use one of these techniques to unhook yourself.
• Remember that no technique is foolproof. There may be times when you try them and defusion doesn't happen. If so, simply observe what it's like to be fused with your thoughts. Merely learning to tell the difference between fusion and defusion is useful in its own right.
So here's what we're aiming for with all these defusion skills:
• If the thinking self is broadcasting something unhelpful, the observing self need not pay attention. The observing self can instead focus its attention on what you are doing here and now.
• If the thinking self is broadcasting something useful or helpful, then the observing self can tune in and pay attention.
This is very different from approaches such as positive thinking, which are like airing a second radio show, Radio Happy and Cheerful, alongside Radio Doom and Gloom, in the hope of drowning it out. It's pretty hard to stay focused on what you're doing when you have two radios playing different tunes in the background.
Notice, too, that letting the radio play on without giving it much attention is very different from actively trying to ignore it. Have you ever heard a radio playing and tried not to listen to it? What happened? The more you tried not to hear it, the more it bothered you, right?
The ability to let thoughts come and go in the background while you keep your attention on what you are doing is very useful. Suppose you're in a social situation and your mind is saying, Tm so boring! I have nothing to say. I wish I could go home!' It's hard to have a good conversation if you're giving all your attention to those thoughts. Similarly, suppose you're learning to drive and your thinking self is saying, 'I can't do it. It's too hard. I'm going to crash!' It's hard to drive well if your observing self is focused on those thoughts rather than on the road. The following technique will teach you how to let your thoughts 'pass on by' while you keep your attention on what you're doing.
Take ten deep breaths, as slowly as possible. (You may prefer to do this with your eyes closed.) Now focus on the rise and fall of your rib cage, and the air moving in and out of your lungs. Notice the sensations as the air flows in: your chest rising, your shoulders lifting, your lungs expanding. Notice what you feel as the air flows out: your chest falling, your shoulders dropping, the breath leaving your nostrils. Focus on completely emptying your lungs. Push out every last bit of air, feeling your lungs deflate, and pause for a moment before breathing in again. As you breathe in, notice how your tummy gently pushes outward.
Now let any thoughts and images come and go in the background, as if they were cars passing by outside your house. When a new thought or image appears, briefly acknowledge its presence, as if you were nodding at a passing motorist. As you do this, keep your attention on the breath, following the air, as it flows in and out of your lungs. You may find it helpful to silently say to yourself, 'Thinking1, whenever a thought or image appears. Many people find this helps them to acknowledge and let go of the thought. Give it a go and if it's helpful, keep doing it.
From time to time a thought will capture your attention; it will 'hook you' and 'carry you away',
if you can cultivate your Observing self, you can step back from your negative thoughts and feelings - you can't stop them but you can step back and observe them. As a result, you don't become (be fused with) your thoughts and feelings. Which means these thoughts and feelings don't overwhelm and dominate your life - as what can happen with Depression and Anxiety.
Cultivating the Observing self is one of the things that spiritual people have done for centuries. The basic technique is to start focusing on your breathing. Just sit back and focus on the details of your breathing, your mind will wander but when you become aware of this just go back and focus on your breathing.
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