In his book the Happiness Trap, Dr Russ Harris suggests that we buy into three popular happiness myths.
Thinking that happiness is our natural state.
That if we have food, water, shelter and loving relationships, then we will naturally be happy.
That if you are not happy, then you are defective and need to be medicated.
And that we should think ourselves happy and be able to control our thoughts and feelings.
If only it were that easy.
Instead, Acceptance and Commitment Training shorten to ACT pronounced like the word "act" offers you a way to live a life free from excess stress and worry.
Here are five things to understand about acceptance and commitment training.
Acceptance and commitment training is based on functional contextualism
Functional contextualism is a philosophy of science that stresses that behaviour must always be understood in relation to the context that it takes place.
This means that no thought, feeling or memory is a problem is bad rather it all depends on the context.
In a context where we avoid living a value based life our thoughts, feelings and behaviours often act in a way that stops us from creating a life that we want for ourselves.
In a context where you are open and accepting then the same thoughts and feelings aren't so paralysing.
An acceptance and commitment life coach, doesn’t set out to change or eliminate your unhelpful emotions and thoughts, instead, I aim to fundamentally change your relationship with them.
Then they no longer become a barrier to what you what your life to be about or who you want to be.
2. ACT is based on the assumption that language causes human suffering
The buddha said life is suffering.
But in fact he should have said language is suffering.
It is our language that causes our suffering.
ACT is based on a theory of human language and cognition (called Relational Frame Theory). RFT can be complicated to understand, but a little demonstration should help.
RFT can be a little difficult to explain but the video below should help.
What's the big deal?
As a human being you can build a huge network of thoughts, words, memories and emotions that all can be related to each other in some way.
Some of those relationships in certain contexts will be helpful some will be unhelpful.
If you relate the words "awful" and "pointless" to your life, then some of this meaning will transfer over to you and your sense of self.
They will also transfer over to other relationships you have in your life, and you’ll want to avoid contexts in which these words come up in your mind and evoke strong feelings in you.
An acceptance and commitment life coach, will help you to notice when your thoughts are unhelpful and keep you stuck in life.
3. The core message of ACT is to accept what we can't control and take action that improves and enriches your life.
Acceptance and commitment training is all about accepting painful thoughts and emotions instead of struggling with them.
Instead of labelling a thought or feeling as bad and unwanted you notice and accept it.
This is where mindfulness comes into play in ACT.
Mindfulness enables us to choose the relationships we have with thoughts, feelings, sensations and memories and change the context from one of avoidance to one of acceptance.
We then change the function of the thoughts, and they have less impact on us.
An acceptance and commitment life coach, will help you become more mindful and aware of your present moment experience so you can move towards your emotions rather than away from them.
4. ACT is based on six core principles that work together to help you to become ‘psychologically flexible’
Acceptance - Allowing thoughts and emotions to come and go without struggling with them.
Cognitive defusion - Learning ways to put distance between you and your thoughts so they no longer act a barrier to what you want.
Mindfulness - To be aware of the here and now and to be open and curious about your experience.
Observing the self - How to develop a transcendental sense of self so you can step back from your unhelpful stories you tell yourself.
Values - How to define your values with clarity and identify what you stand for and what truly matters to you.
Committed action - How to define goals according to your values and help you commit to taking action even when action is difficult.
Psychological flexibility helps you build the emotional resilience you need to navigate the complexity of reality.
Life is chaotic, and we struggle to manage the uncertainty, stress and conflicting demands that life throws at us.
Psychological flexibility helps you see your blind spots and then you can take action based on your deeply held values rather than being driven by your emotions and unhelpful thoughts.
An acceptance and commitment life coach will help you become psychologically flexible so you can be who you want to be in that moment.
5. It isn't just for use in a therapy setting
Acceptance and commitment training isn't just useful for depression or clinical mental health illnesses.
It can be used by anyone to live a valued life and create a life free from excess stress and anxiety.
By the application of acceptance and commitment training principles I’ve gone from someone who suffered a lot of anxiety and stress from a childhood trauma.
To feeling peaceful, happy and accepting of who I am.
I really hated myself for my negative sometimes machiavellian thinking that was coupled with an intense desire to be a force for good in this world.
I had 26 years of functional depression, some years of drug taking mainly psychedelics, drinking and dysfunctional personal relationships.
After using acceptance and commitment training principles every day I now wake up happy, I have a deep sense of fulfilment and inner peace.
I don't get caught up in my emotions and thoughts like I used too, and most importantly I don't have a sense that I'm empty inside.
Acceptance and commitment training isn't about getting rid of bad feelings and painful thoughts instead it is a way to live your life that ultimately results in an increase in happiness and an overall sense of well-being.
"Happiness can only exist in acceptance" - George Orwell