I started reading up on acceptance commitment therapy as I that found some of its techniques useful towards my own life.
Acceptance Commitment Therapy – 5 Helpful Techniques
Acceptance commitment therapy is different from cognitive behavioural therapy. Cognitive behavioural therapy is the artform of challenging your thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Both practices are empirically supported with scientific research behind it. They aren’t the run of the mill fluffy self help practices or techniques.
Recently, I found out that techniques that are based on acceptance commitment therapy are more helpful for my own personal emotional well-being.
As an entrepreneur, I’m constantly weighing the odds when pursuing projects, evaluating potential partners, evaluating people on their skill sets and ambitions. Evaluating my personal relationships. I can up to multiple debates in my head in a short period of time. I’m also constantly ruminating on the blog ideas for this Singapore dating coach project, how to build up my Youtube channel, credibility and etc.
It can be really stressful.
1) Accepting Your Anxiety
The bedrock of acceptance commitment therapy is to go with, instead of against your negative feelings and thoughts as opposed to challenge it.
I find this more useful that the cognitive behavioural approach which is to challenge those negative thoughts in the moment. For Eg. When I’m feeling as if I’m not good enough, I’ll challenge those feelings and thoughts with successful projects, pursuits in my life. However, I would go back to debating the other side of it: which is ruminating on the unsuccessful projects and pursuits in my life.
On the other hand, taking the ACT approach, If I were to just accept these negative thoughts, and be non judgmental about it, I wouldn’t spend the mental energy ruminating over those thoughts in my head.
This is the major difference between CBT and ACT. Acceptance commitment therapy is to just accept those feelings in the moment, as if you’re nodding them as they pass by.
2) There’s No Such thing as ‘High Self Esteem’ or ‘High Confidence’
One other idea I got out of the research is that there’s no such thing as ‘high self esteem’ or ‘high confidence’.
Self esteem is basically an opinion about the person you are. Ultimately, self esteem is a mere bunch of thoughts about whether or not you’re a ‘good person’. It’s NOT a fact, and just an opinion.
The problem comes in is when you constantly have to justify and prove to yourself that you’re a good person or that you have high self esteem. You constantly have to justify the ‘you’re good enough’ opinion. All these proving and justifying of these takes a huge amount of time and effort.
If you stopped exercising for a few days, your mind says: See? I know you wouldn’t last. If you lose your temper with a friend or make a slight mistake at work, there goes your ‘high self esteem’.
When I was started off as Singapore pick up artist, I was constantly worried about how confident I was on a day to day basis. The truth is that some days I feel confident, and some days I don’t.
The more you try to justify your high self esteem, the need for perfection. The more it kills you inside. The better approach is to let go of the idea of high self esteem altogether. You don’t need high self esteem. What you need is merely: Self esteem. That’s all.
3) The Art of Defusing From Your Thoughts
In acceptance commitment therapy, whether a thought is true or not is not that important. It’s far more important if that thought is helpful or not.
Thoughts are also merely stories we tell ourselves.
We all have beliefs, the more we tightly hold on to them, the more inflexible we come in our attitudes and behaviours. The mind never stops telling stories, not even when you’re asleep. It is constantly comparing, judying, evaluating, critizing, planning, pontificating and fantasizing.
Fusion happens when you’re blending with your thoughts.In a state of fusion, it seems as if thoughts are reality, what we’re thinking is actually happening, here and now. This is where thoughts are the truth, and we completely believe them.
To defuse your thoughts, it’s first to bring to mind an upsetting though that takes in the form of ‘I am X’. For EG. ‘I’m not good enough’, or I’m incompetent’. Preferably a thought that often recurs and that usually bothers or upsets you.
Now, take that thought and insert this phrase in front of it: ‘I’m having the thought that….’ Now, this time, phrase it longer ‘I notice I’m having the thought I am X’.
This practice gave you distance from the actual thought as if you “Stepped Back” from it.
You’re no longer making your thoughts your identity.
4) Taking Valued Based Action
Lastly, the final part of acceptance and commitment therapy is to take valued based action.
Values are different from goals. A value is a direction we desire to keep moving in, an ongoing process that never reaches an end. A value is akin to heading west. No matter how far you travel there’s always farther west you can go.
For EG. Getting married is a goal. Being loving, honest and empathetic. These are values.
One the most fascinating revelations in the book man’s Search for Meaning, written by Viktor Frankl, who was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived years of unspeakable horror in Nazi concentration camps. It’s reported that the people who survived longest in the death camps are those who are connected with a deeper purpose in life. The deeper purpose if often rooted in his values.
One of Viktor Frankl’s values lie in helping others, and so, throughout his time in camps. he consistently helped other prisoners to cope with words of kindness and inspiration. He also helped them to connect to their deepest values.
Taking values based action gives our lives meaning and a powerful antidote to give your life purpose.
5) The Struggle Switch
One other good ideas I got out of the research is the idea of the struggle switch.
This relates to my huge lifestyle change recently. I went from a freelance web designer, back to being a University student. I had a shift change in my life values. Some of my old relationships exploded in my face, and I finally launched this project. Oh yeah, I also quit smoking.
Initially, I merely willpower through all these habits. However, the coping mechanism of willpower through everything didn’t last more than a couple of months. I was still ruminating and feeling crappy about myself.
When we beat ourselves up over our own thoughts and emotions, then that’s when the struggle switch is on.
‘This can’t be good for me.’ ‘I’m such a crappy friend’ ‘I shouldn’t be doing this.’ ‘I’m acting like a child’.
The more we struggle with or against these feelings, the more trouble we create for ourselves. When these negative emotions show up, the thing is not to struggle against it, but to just let it be. Our anxiety levels are free to rise and fall. Some times, they’re high, some times, low, more important, you’re not wasting your time and energy struggling against it.
You might even need up feeling guilty about being angry. You might feel angry about feeling anxious. There are secondary emotions that might come a long with the primary emotion. It’s a vicious cycle.
There’s no avoiding discomfort. However, there’s no need for additional suffering. This struggle switch is like an emotional amplifier. When you switch it on, we can have multi layer emotions such as anger about our anxiety. Guilt about our depression.
When it’s turned on, we’re completely unwilling to accept the presence of these uncomfortable emotions. Not only you’re unable to get rid of them but you’ll also do whatever it takes to get rid of them. this may be through pornography, binge eating and etc.
These are control strategies.
Instead of avoiding or struggling against these feelings, it’s better to ‘expand into it’. Expanding into your negative emotions is similar to the defusing technique.
It is to step aside from your thoughts and observe your emotions. By allowing these sensations to be there, two things might happen. Either your feelings will change, or they don’t. It doesn’t matter either way because this technique is not about changing your feelings, but accepting them.
There’s also no foolproof technique. It’s going to take practice and effort to practice acceptance and commitment techniques.
Now, I’d believe that not all negative emotions or thoughts should be merely ‘accepted’. Negative emotions can push us towards valued actions certain times. Furthermore, it’s not enough to just accept all your negative thoughts or negative feedback. If you see a clear pattern in your social interactions, and you’re feeling upset about it, then perhaps you got to change something about yourself.
You got to take values based actions towards improving that are of your life.
Lastly, acceptance commitment therapy techniques shouldn’t be used as another control strategy. When you’re failing your arms in the air and being frustrated and pissed of at why ‘defusing your thoughts’ isn’t working as it should be. You’re probably using it as a control strategy.
There’s nothing to control here. Just a plain awareness of your thoughts, accepting them, nodding at them. With no judgement.