ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Training. It can be used for therapeutic reasons or could even be used in somewhere like the workplace.
Let’s get it down to its essence – one of the three elements and if you break it down to A, C and T. That could be an easy way of remembering it.
Think of A as an accepting approach.
It’s about learning how to accept or be willing to accept our difficult thoughts and difficult emotions. What’s been found in loads and loads of research is that when you try to avoid your difficult feelings and helpful feelings then it actually makes it worse. This is because you’re resisting it and what you resist persists. So if you try to fight a difficult emotion or even a tricky thought, you find that that thought comes back to you even stronger. This is why learning the skill of being able to make peace with it and allowing it to be there is an important part of that.
Another part of the A or acceptance is also about learning to step back from your thoughts and emotions. It’s what’s called the transcendent self or observer self. It’s not just about being your conceptualized self, not just being your ego – but learning to step back or step out from yourself. This is an important skill in part of being able to free yourself up from your thoughts and emotions that may be holding you back. Being present or being mindful is also an important part of the A and the acceptance. You can’t accept something if you can’t be present to it. This mindful presence is important because it’s flexible too – sometimes you might need to be very focused or sometimes your attention may need to be more open. This sense of flexibility allows you to move your attention from place to place is important.
C stands for choosing values that you feel right for you.
So it’s about committing to a meaningful life. In fact ACT is not about trying to reduce your symptoms. If you’re using ACT for dealing with depression, or anxiety, or any other different challenges you may be facing – one of the unique things about ACT is that it’s not about trying to reduce those symptoms. It does become a very common side effect that it may reduce them, but your focus is not on trying to reduce the negative experiences. Your focus is about trying to cultivate a meaningful life and that’s what you commit to.
So ACT helps you to learn what your values are ,what’s truly in your heart – not something that your mind is saying, or what you feel compelled to do because other people tell you to do it, or what you think you should do because it’s right. It’s about what you really believe in, what in your heart you stand for. And these values are not goals, they’re not something you achieve – it’s like a direction you’re going. Imagine a compass – the compass is pointing North but in a sense you never get to North, but every day you take a step in that direction. That’s what ACT is about – stepping towards a more meaningful life through cultivating the values that you believe in.
And finally the T – as setting for taking action.
Committing to taking values-based action, cultivating habits which move you in a direction that helps you to live a more meaningful life. It’s about cultivating always called psychological flexibility. ACT is very much science-based and it’s not just been done on research in clinical settings, but also lab-based research. It’s backed in great depth of research there. and although people talk about it a lot now as if it’s a new therapy it’s actually been around for a few decades now.
A couple of good books on it is “Get out of your mind into your life” by Steven Hayes and also “The Happiness Trap” by Ross Harris. They’re great books to start with if you’re new to ACT and want to learn more about it.
ACT is a therapy, or training, an approach to coaching. It’s about cultivating your psychological flexibility. This is done by learning to accept, to step back from your thoughts, stepping back you and from yourself, and being able to see from a different perspective what’s going on. It’s about learning to be present in a flexible kind of way; being clear about your values and learning to commit to take action every day in line with your values.
This content was originally published here.