ACT is a type of therapy focused on accepting your thoughts and feelings. The idea is that you can’t control when thoughts and feelings come so best to accept them, to live “in context” with them, and then make committed decisions about what to do next. In short, you can’t control your thoughts but you can control your response. Accepting your thoughts and feelings also allows you to focus on the present moment instead of wishing to go backwards and change the past or skipping ahead to the future.
The fundamental skills of ACT are diffusion, acceptance, presence, self-awareness, values, committed action. Practicing these skills creates psychological flexibility, which is the ultimate goal of ACT. Psychological flexibility is the ability to be present, available and to do what matters most to you. This will lead to a life that is colorful, vivid, rich and meaningful and characterized by vitality.
Diffusion teaches you to step back from your thoughts in order to observe rather than remaining affixed to them. When you are attached, fused or affixed to a thought, you become driven by it’s content. Diffusion teaches observation and detachment from these thoughts or feelings so you can be present with them and absent of their control.
Acceptance is fully engaged contact or presence with your internal experiences. Practicing acceptance sets the intention for you to become able to recognize your emotions and feelings without attempting to escape, change or control them. Acceptance is presence and self-connection without judgement or shame. Acceptance can also be viewed as acknowledgement and it’s a decision that you make over and over again.
Presence is the process of maintaining personal awareness without judgement. When you live in the past or in the future, you prevent yourself from moving forward toward your intended goal. Presence is the antidote for stagnation.
Self-Awareness is the practice of observing your inner and outer worlds and noticing when you are resistant to reality. Self awareness is a practice of willingness rather than willfulness, it’s accountability too, taking into account all the decisions that have led to where you are right now. The notion that “you create our own reality” fits into this skill of self-awareness.
Values are the qualities, paths or directions, defined by you, as important and meaningful in your life. Understanding and identifying your values helps to define your true self; who you want to be and what you want to stand for in this life. Intimately knowing yourself will allow you to respond more effectively when unwanted thoughts arise.
Committed Action is very simply DOING ALL THE THINGS! Using your values and the other ACT skills you have learned to take committed steps toward the goals you have made with your therapist. Values provide your direction and committed action is your behavior modification.
Many other cognitive behavioral approaches help people recognize unwanted thoughts too, but then they set out to change or replace them. ACT is different and says we ought to accept our thoughts, not change them. The golden rule here is, to ask yourself if you can change the situation or context of the thoughts you are having? If no, then you might want to work on accepting the feelings that are coming up. If the answer is yes, and you can change your situation somehow, then maybe you could try a cognitive approach and work on replacing those negative thought patterns.