Are you avoiding an essay? Are you constantly setting your alarm to snooze? Or do you catch yourself daydreaming during work zoom meetings? Dr. Nic Hooper, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at UWE and co-author of The Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) 2021 Diary, explains that Psychological Flexibility can help us get through those daily moments that make us want to be doing anything than what is in front of us.
Do you ever have the thought that most days are a slog? I seem to be getting that thought a whole lot at the moment. Now, before those ‘silver lining’ enthusiasts among you get to work in trying to convince me that it’s not all bad, let me say this: there’s a possibility that I get that feeling because most days are, in fact, a slog. For example, my days are filled with what I’ll call psychological conflict.
- I wake in the morning. I don’t want to get out of bed.
- I take my son to school. I have that strange feeling that only parents will understand, where on the one hand I need some space from my son and, at the same time, I don’t want to let him go.
- I begin work at home. Probably one hundred times throughout the day I have the thought: “I’d rather not be doing this”.
- In the afternoon, I exercise. Every minute of the session I don’t want to be there.
- It reaches the evening. Vegetables make my heart sink and the bottle of red wine from the cupboard starts luring me in its direction.
- I go to bed. My mind wakes up. I wake the next morning. Repeat.
Keep moving forwards
My life is about as blessed as a life can be, and yet, I find many days to be a slog. But, and here’s the important thing, I keep going, nonetheless. I get of bed. I take my son to school. I do my work. I exercise. I eat healthily. I don’t drink alcohol (too often). I persist with sleep. Do you know how I’m able to manage this? How I’m able to keep my feet moving despite the fact that many parts of my day bring me discomfort? I have a superpower. The superpower of Psychological Flexibility.
“I’d rather be able to fly”, I can hear you thinking. But Psychological Flexibility can help you to fly.
Let me explain. Psychological Flexibility, which is the core concept of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), involves understanding that mental discomfort is a normal part of the human journey and that embracing our discomfort allows us to move towards the things that are important.
Make discomfort your friend
Now those words may make sense to you intellectually, but you may not understand, right now, how profound the implications are. You see, generally speaking, when we have psychological discomfort our mind will come up with some ideas for how to avoid it. However, avoiding our psychological discomfort often means stopping from doing things that are important to us in the long-term. In my example above, it’s important that I take my son to school so that he gets an education, it’s important that I continue with work because I want to provide for my family, and it’s important that I eat vegetables and exercise because I want to be around in the future.
By making discomfort my friend, discomfort doesn’t have any power over the decisions I make. And you’re no different from me. If you can change your relationship with discomfort such that it’s no longer a barrier to valued action, then you’re liberated. You’re free. You’re flying.
Of course, I don't always get it right (I've got a hangover right now that can vouch for that), but for the most part, I do the things that bring meaning to my life even if they feel like a slog. If, like me, you also have days filled with slog, then take care, make discomfort your friend, and keep your feet moving. Oh, and maybe don’t buy wine from the supermarket.
Are you hoping for a happier and healthier 2021? The Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Diary 2021 is a unique aid for anyone seeking to build psychological flexibility. Weekly short accessible exercises and reflective metaphors will guide the reader to participate in recording their goals, identifying their barriers, and tracking their progress.