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Wednesday Wellbeing: ACT

"Don't believe everything you think." -Joseph Nguyen

"We're our own worst enemy." -Michael Strahan

The crown jewel of human evolution is located right between our ears. It separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom in two unique ways. Our brains, specifically the newer parts of the cortex, provide us with the unique ability to reason and express our thoughts in language. However, these gifts can quickly become curses if the machinery goes off the rails, as it is want to do. This is where ACT can help.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) was developed in 1982 by Steven Hayes to address some of the shortcomings of traditional cognitive behavioral therapy. His approach mirrors the approach of the much older Japanese-based Morita Therapy but with one big distinction: more action.

ACT is an easy way to remember Hayes' approach to processing difficult thoughts and emotions. First, we Accept our thoughts or emotions. They are there for a reason and clearly affecting us, so ignoring them would be counterproductive and actually makes their influence disproportionately stronger. Reframing negative emotions is critical for this step. For example, the first thing we may hear in our heads when we fail at something is usually something like, "I suck at this--maybe I'm no good." Instead we can translate that to, "I'm upset that I have failed this time but now I'm closer to knowing what does and doesn't work."

Next, we Choose a valued direction. After we have accepted our emotions and identified our limiting thoughts, we use our values to plot out the next steps. Let's say we value persistence, then failures will be just part of improving. Let's say we value relationships, then compromise will be expected. Let's say we value honesty, then difficult conversations and accountability will be the result. Applying our values can be very challenging, as the human drive to conform and fit in is extremely strong. Ignoring our values, however produces regret and resentment.

Finally, we Take action. This is the step that is unique to ACT. It is the hardest step to fully embody because it requires the most commitment. Once, we decide what is appropriate to do, then follow-through is essential. Without action there can be no feedback. If we procrastinate or second-guess ourselves, then we undermine our choices and values and reduce our ability to act effectively in the future. We must be courageous.

Next time you find yourself with a troubling feeling, use your brain to get back on task. Use the ACT steps to identify the negative thought or emotion, redirect your mind toward your values, and take action to improve your situation. Sometimes your action may me deliberate inaction, so be aware that remaining patient and still is also an option. Good luck.

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