Building Psychological Flexibility with ACT
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on developing psychological flexibility and promoting values-driven behavior. It consists of six core processes that can help individuals overcome their struggles and live a more fulfilling life. We rely on the ACT model with our Therapy clients because it's simple, it's supported by a lot of research, and it helps our clients deal with a lot of difficult situations and emotions. If you're interested in learning more about ACT, don't just read about it, give it a try. Below are 6 ways that you can try this method out for yourself.
Acceptance: The first core process in ACT is acceptance. This involves acknowledging and embracing our thoughts and feelings, even when they are difficult or uncomfortable. One exercise to practice acceptance is the "leaves on a stream" exercise. Close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting beside a stream. Whenever a thought or feeling arises, imagine it as a leaf floating down the stream. Watch it float away, and then let the next thought or feeling arise and repeat the process.
Cognitive Defusion: Cognitive defusion involves recognizing that thoughts are just thoughts, and not necessarily true or accurate representations of reality. An exercise to practice cognitive defusion is to pick a word or phrase that you often associate with negative thoughts (e.g. "I'm not good enough"). Say the phrase out loud repeatedly until it loses its meaning and sounds like nonsense.
Contact with the Present Moment: The third core process in ACT is contact with the present moment. This involves being fully present and engaged in the here and now. One exercise to practice contact with the present moment is the "five senses" exercise. Take a moment to notice five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Self-as-Context: Self-as-context involves recognizing that we are not our thoughts, feelings, or experiences. We are the observer of those things. One exercise to practice self-as-context is the "observer self" exercise. Close your eyes and imagine yourself as a peaceful observer, watching your thoughts and feelings come and go without judgment or attachment.
Values: Values refer to the things that are most important and meaningful to us. One exercise to practice identifying your values is the "eulogy" exercise. Imagine yourself at your own funeral. What do you want people to say about you? What values did you embody in your life?
Committed Action: The final core process in ACT is committed action. This involves taking meaningful and purposeful action toward our values, even in the face of difficult thoughts or feelings. One exercise to practice committed action is to set a small goal that aligns with your values (e.g. call a friend, go for a walk, write in a journal) and commit to taking action, even if it feels uncomfortable or difficult.
By practicing these six core processes of ACT, individuals can develop greater psychological flexibility, increase self-awareness, and live a more fulfilling life. And an overwhelming amount of research points to psychological flexibility as the most important skillset in developing mental health.
It is important to note that these exercises are not a substitute for therapy or professional support. If you are struggling with mental health issues, seek help from a qualified therapist or healthcare provider.
Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple: An easy-to-read primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. New Harbinger Publications.
Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2012). Acceptance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of mindful change. Guilford Press.
Luoma, J. B., Hayes, S. C., & Walser, R. D. (2017). Learning ACT: An acceptance & commitment therapy skills-training manual for therapists. New Harbinger Publications.