If you’re just tuning into this column for the first time you might want to go back and check out some of the previous columns online. Over the past few columns I’ve been talking about reducing stress by becoming more psychologically-flexible.
In a recent post I discussed the six components of psychological flexibility: Valued Living, Mindfulness, Acceptance, Commitment, Observing Self, and Disentanglement. In this post I want to focus on Commitment.
Commitment is the flip side or action part of Acceptance. When you commit to something, you pledge to follow through with your plans.
Remember: Acceptance involves becoming more mindful of what is going on in your internal (thoughts, feelings etc.) and external (behavior, physical environment) environments and accepting this reality for what it is. This reality often troubling thoughts and painful emotions that you want to control, avoid, or eliminate. Unfortunately as we discussed in previous columns, the more you try to control, avoid, or eliminate these thoughts and feelings, the worse they get.
Commitment involves taking action while coexisting with your troubling thoughts and painful emotions. In a sense you take them along for the ride as you shift your focus off of them and onto taking action that is consistent with your values. This is called taking values-congruent action.
The best example I can give is being in a long-term relationship or marriage where you are mindful of the work and sacrifice involved in such a commitment , accept this, and decide to co-exist with it while moving forward in the relationship. You don’t let your troubling thoughts and painful emotions side-track you from doing what you need to do to keep the relationship growing.
Taking values-congruent action while co-existing with your troubling thoughts and painful emotions is hard work and not for the faint-of-heart, but it can be learned or re-learned. To help understand this better I want you to think about something that you accomplished that was really important to you. It could be anything from success in sports to raising a child.
Did this accomplishment come easy and not involve any sacrifice, troubling thoughts, painful emotions, second-guessing, sleepless nights etc.?
If you are like most of the people I’ve worked with you probably realize that anything major that you have accomplished and value was usually accompanied by pain and suffering. You accepted this as you moved forward and took action.
People often equate the pain and suffering related to their thoughts, feelings, and self-talk (internal factors) with other tangible barriers to their efforts to move forward. Barriers such as lack of financial resources, additional training and credentials, child care and other forms of support are different from pain and suffering associated with thoughts, feelings, and self-talk, and often can be controlled, avoided or eliminated. These are external factors in the outside environment.
This is why it is important to understand and accept the difference between internal (mental) and external (environmental and behavioral) barriers to moving forward and meeting your goals. It is normal to have troubling thoughts and painful emotions associated with the important things you value and want to accomplish.
Once you can accept this you begin to stress less over the thoughts and feelings that your mind creates as barriers to taking action.
There are many coaching techniques that I use to teach clients how to coexist with and embrace their pain and suffering as they take values-congruent action. Metaphors are often used. The following is a metaphor I use with my coaching clients over the years. It is taken from my book, Maximize Your Coaching Effectiveness with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Acceptance & Willingness Activity: My Acceptance & Willingness Umbrella
Purpose: The purpose of this activity is to help you develop acceptance and willingness to act despite the troubling thoughts and personal scripts, scary pictures, and painful emotions such action provokes.
Information: The metaphor, My Acceptance and Willingness Umbrella, shows you how you are already take values-congruent action (going to work, taking your kids to school, going food shopping etc) despite obstacles (rainstorms) by accepting them and using appropriate coping resources (umbrellas). Rather than letting the obstacles stand in the way of taking action, you accept that pain and suffering are part of these actions and are willing to act while coexisting with them.
- The next time you feel stuck and unable to take action because of the troubling thoughts, outdated personal scripts, scary pictures, and painful emotions, associated with it write those thoughts etc. down.
- Next, close your eyes and visualize the sky darkening, the wind picking up, and rain clouds swirling all around you.
- Now imagine that the messages your mind is telling you about the situation you are stuck on are raindrops just beginning to fall on your head.
- You feel the drops and say to yourself, I’d better use my umbrella.
- Imagine that you open your umbrella and it provides instant relief from your troubling thoughts, outdated personal scripts, scary pictures, and painful emotions. Like raindrops, they bounce off of your umbrella and don’t interfere with your doing what you need to do.
- As you continue “walking in the rain” with your umbrella, tell yourself; Just as I can use a real umbrella to help me manage the rain, I can use my acceptance and willingness umbrella to help me live my life while coexisting with unhelpful thoughts and feelings.
In the next column we’ll continue our discussion related to becoming more psychologically flexible. In the meantime remember to Stress Less and Live More.