ACT On Life

Empowering purposeful living

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Holiday Stress

Do the holidays stress you out? Do you find yourself dreading the season rather than enjoying it? We can get so caught up in “doing” that we lose sight of being in the present moment. I like to take a moment throughout the day to “drop anchor,” and notice what I am doing and why I am doing it. This gives me some “wiggle room” to decide whether I am taking action in service of my values or not. It’s easy to do and does not take a lot of time. Here is one way that i like to do that:

1. First, I take a moment to go inside and focus on my breathing as the “anchor,” noticing each in breath and out breath.

2. Then I notice any body sensations that are present, like tension in the shoulders, headache, fatigue, sore feet….just noticing those sensations.

3. Next, I notice the thoughts that are swirling around in my head, as though they are leaves blowing about in the wind, without attaching to any one thought in particular. For example, I might have the thought “How am i going to get everything done?” Or “The traffic is terrible.” I just notice those thoughts for what they are, just thoughts, and remind myself that I don’t have to buy into them.

4. Then I notice any feelings that come up. It may be a feeling of panic when the first thought comes up, or a feeling of irritation with the second thought. So I just notice that and try to make a little room for the feelings without trying to get rid of them.

5. Next I look at the action I am taking and decide whether this is something that is important to me in being who I want to be, or is this just an automatic behavior that does not need to be done? So, for example, I may notice that I am rushing to catch that sale on a toy for a grandchild for Christmas. In this case, the action is in keeping with something that is important to me, so I choose to slow my mind down, become more aware of my surroundings, appreciate what I am doing and who I am doing it for, and that it is my choice to be doing it. I take a stance of willingness to go with the flow of traffic and perhaps pop in a CD and enjoy the music as I make my way to the store.

Sometimes when I look at what I am doing, I find that I am like a gerbil running on its wheel, round and round. I had a list of things to do that included things I really do not need to do. As I think about what is important in the moment, I may decide that some things can wait and others can just be scratched off the list, period.

6. In any case, I can decide to be present in the moment, decide what is important, and take action in support of my values. This generally brings more appreciation for what I encounter in the moment, because now I am freely choosing what I am doing rather than simply running on automatic pilot, perhaps begrudging doing what I am doing.

All of this only takes a few minutes and can be done at any time. The more I practice, the easier it becomes and the more purposeful and meaningful my life becomes.


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Fusion with thoughts

When I get fused with my thoughts, I see the world through my thoughts, as though they are (the only)reality. My thinking becomes rigid and inflexible. For example, if I have the thought that the world is a terrible place, and I am fused with that thought, this thought becomes my reality. I am not open to another perspective, and I look for evidence to support my thought. I am biased in the kind of information I am willing to entertain or accept.  For example, I may key in on events in the news that supports my thought that the world is a terrible place. This is called a confirmatory bias. On the other hand, I dismiss, overlook, or minimize information that does not support my thought, like random acts of kindness. This is called an overlooking bias. We can generally see this in others, and yet we tend not to see this in ourselves. This inflexibility and rigidity can be psychologically unhealthy, constrict our world, and interfere with our relationships.

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Nature of thoughts

I would like to begin my blog with an introduction to the nature of thoughts. When you think about it, thoughts are a mental collection of words, which are formed by letters which represent certain sounds. So, we might say that words are a collection of sounds to which someone assigned a meaning. The words themselves are not the the thing, the meaning, assigned to the words. Language is a wonderful and useful tool that we use for communication, and yet it can work against us as well. We are so steeped in language and the meanings that we ascribe to words, or the collection of sounds represented by that group of letters, that we tend to see the words as one and the same as the meaning we have assigned to them.

So, why is this important? I invite your comments and will address this question in my next blog.

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Hello World

I am a clinical psychologist who practices Acceptance and Committment therapy (ACT for short). I see clients from age 5 and up and specialize in helping people with depression and anxiety. ACT therapy is about learning to accept things that are beyond our control, learning pschological skills for dealing more effectively with our thoughts and feelings, and committing to living a meaningful life in the direction of our values.

I also provide assessment for IQ, learning disorders, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and personality.