Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
We can further our lives in many amazing through the process of thinking and the language we use to communicate thoughts. We have the ability to look prospectively at a problem, brainstorm a hundred solutions to that problem, pare those solutions down to the two or three that are viable, then even to lay out how each of those solutions might work out. This allows us
to select what will likely be the best solution- all within the space of our minds before even lifting a finger. Our thoughts and calculations allowed us to theorize the existence of black holes long before there was even any evidence that such things might exist. Language is a profound source of beauty and delight in our lives, from poetry to novels to lyrics and even the humorous wordplay of puns.
Yet, one single expression starts to show the limitations of thoughts and language- “a picture is worth a thousand words."
Neither thoughts nor words can explain or express the beauty of a sunset, the feel of a kiss, the love of a child, or that which compels us to do amazing things. Why climb that mountain? Because it's there. Why do I love my wife? Because I do. Why do so many of us invest in spirituality when we cannot prove that God/spirits, etc. exist? Because we have faith. There is so much to our lives and experience that our minds cannot wrap themselves around, leaving us often unable to express verbally what these things mean.
We are often taught to have nearly complete faith in our ability to think and the products of our minds. However, while our minds are terrific things, they do not encompass all of who we are. When we try to channel all of who we are through our minds, it becomes a hopeless endeavor. Minds can produce elegant thoughts and they can also become endless channels of confusion and bewilderment. Think about the expression mad scientist- the idea of scientist who delves so deeply into the mind that he/she somehow gets lost and never returns to flexible connection with reality.
There are many ways that our thoughts and language become things that we find ourselves controlled by rather than reflecting what we value in life. They become barriers rather than constructive, useful tools.
For example, we create language to organize our world and our ideas, but then we start to behave in ways that are consistent with the language rather than our own experience or desires. If I label myself as depressed, then I may find myself feeling self conscious about laughing. If I label myself as a nice person, then maybe I can't set a firm limit with someone because it goes against my label.
I develop the idea that I can control my thoughts, feelings, and experience the way I can control my external world. I use logic to say “once I finish college, things will go smoothly and then I'll start living. Then I complete college and say “once I get a job,” “once I get married,” “once I have a family,” “once I retire,” etc., etc. We can put off living for some magic vent that never happens. Not that events aren't sometimes magical, but these events are not talismans that keep bad things from happening in our lives.
Yet we keep buying into these ideas. When this doesn't work, we start to feel broken. Then we start buying into what Madison Avenue wants us to sell us. When my teeth are whiter, when my car is nicer, when I can download faster, then life will be OK. Yet none of this ever sets things up in a way that life is smooth sailing forever and we never have problems again. Then we feel even more broken. Please don't just take my word for it. Take a moment, put this book down, and reflect for a moment on how these things have played out in your own life. Check this against your own experience.
ACT is about developing a new, more flexible way of living based on what we value. In ACT, we say that we become stuck, not broken. The problem isn't our lives. It is the fact that the thing we believe is control is not control. Control, as we often understand it, is an illusion. Again, don't just buy this because it is written here, check it all against your own experience.
You can download free ACT handouts here. They are copyrighted, but permission is granted to print freely for client use.