Tag Archives: Acceptance and Commitment

ACT 101: The Observing Self

You’re introduced to someone you’ve never met before.  They say, “Tell me about yourself.”  How do you answer?  Do you say, “I’m a total stress ball, and have no sense of direction in my life?”  Probably not, except possibly if they are your new life coach or pexels-photo-573565.jpegtherapist.  More likely, you’ll answer with a basic description, including your roles.  “I’m a sales representative at ABC Company.” Or, “I’m a dad to 3 children.” Or, “I’m an accountant by day, and a sports nut on the weekends.”  And sharing those high-level descriptions of your roles and interests are fine, even socially expected, when having a conversation with someone for the first time.

With Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT), in which the goal is greater psychological flexibility, we dive a little deeper into the question, “Who am I?”  It is recognized that how we identify and relate to our descriptions, roles, thoughts, emotions and experiences has a profound effect on how we experience life.

For example, if we see ourselves as “a total stress ball, with no sense of direction,” we may make day-to-day choices that narrow or limit our world.  If invited to a party, we pexels-photo-206382.jpegmay think, “No one will want to be around me right now,” so we decline the offer.  Or if we see ourselves as, “overweight and undesirable,” we may choose not to go on a blind date even though we’d really like to be in a romantic relationship. ACT recognizes that the labels we attach to ourselves can impact more than just our perspective, it can affect how narrowly or broadly we experience our lives.  It can cause us to miss out on having or experiencing the things that matter to us.

So, let’s take a deeper dive into this idea of perspectives of ourselves.  ACT breaks it down into “three senses of self”:


When we describe ourselves by a story of our lives (roles, experiences, characteristics, thoughts, emotions, etc.), we’re describing what ACT refers to as Self-as-Content. In other pexels-photo-532389.jpegwords, these are the things that have been a part of you and your life, but are definitely not the whole of who you are.  You may be a mom, but you’re more than that.  You may be an engineer, but you’re more than that too.  You may be smart, or tall, or struggle with anxiety, but none of these represents the entirety of you.


Beyond the content of our lives as described above, we have the capacity to notice our experiences as they’re happening.  It is an awareness of what we’re sensing.  For example, “I am feeling angry,” or “I am seeing a car driving by right now,” or “I am in the process of planning an event for next weekend.”  Self-as-Process is the ongoing process of awareness; it is the realization that we are experiencing our life right now with our 5-senses.  We are making conscious contact with our present moment experience.


This sense of self is the most difficult to explain, because it is more fully understood as an experience.  It is the aspect of ourselves that is the answer to these questions, “Who felt the anger?” “Who saw the car driving by?” “Who is planning the event?”  And let’s take it even a step further.  Think of a time when you were a child and you felt angry.  Maybe a sibling played with a toy of yours and it broke.  Maybe your parents said no to your request to go somewhere or do something.  Think about who it was that felt angry then, and who it is that also feels anger sometimes now.  Somehow you know that there was a “you” then, and there is a “you” now, and that they are the same “you.”  Even though every cell in your body is a different cell, even though your bepexels-photo-247195.jpegliefs are different, your roles are different, your daily experiences are different. But at a deep level you know that you are the same you.  You know that there is an aspect of you that experienced all of those changing roles, changing emotions, changing thoughts; and that aspect of you is the true you.  ACT calls this our Observing Self, or our Self-as-Context because all of our experiences were experienced in the context of this sense of self.

So, why does knowing about these 3 senses-of-self matter?  Because there’s a spacious, calm, peaceful, and transcendent quality to our Observing Self, and when we experience the ever-changing events, beliefs, thoughts, and emotions in our lives from that stable, unchanging aspect of ourselves, we’re able to handle those events similarly to how we handle the changes in weather.  We might not like a storm, but we know that it will lightning-storm-weather-sky-53459.jpegeventually pass.

This 2-minute video demonstrates this metaphor by comparing our Observer Self to the sky in which the changing, sometimes turbulent weather occurs.

You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather. – Pema Chodron

Then finally, through the generosity of Russ Harris, I offer you the opportunity to further the understanding of these senses of self through a meditative exercise.  Here is a 14-minute audio, entitled “Many Selves.”

Often when someone practices being aware of their Observing Self, connecting with it, pexels-photo.jpgand experiencing the events of their life from that “place,” they also experience a greater sense of wholeness.  But, even if that is not the case, there is a greater capacity to be more psychologically flexible when dealing with the unexpected in life.

Just for today, I will remind myself

I’m more than thinking mind,

There is another part of me, I am

the sky, I am the sea.

—  Corinne Shields

Let’s practice ACT together!

ACT 101: Mindfulness

pexels-photo-261804.jpegYou’re reading a book, and you have to re-read the same paragraph once, even twice, because you’re not focused.  You just can’t quit thinking about what you said to a friend yesterday, and wish you could take it back.

You hear them call your name, then say, “What do you think?”  And you realize you haven’t been listening to your child, your partner, or to others during a meeting.  What they said a minute ago reminded you of something else, and your mind took a trip down memory lane.  You’re forced to say, “Sorry, could you repeat that?” So, they do, tersely.

fashion-person-woman-hand.jpgYou set something by the front door, so you’ll remember to take it with you to work.  As you pull out of the driveway, or into the parking space at the office, you realize you forgot it.  You were thinking about your busy calendar when you rushed out the door, and walked right past it.  Immediately, you think, “How could I be so absent minded?”

Do any, or all of these, sound familiar?  We call it running on auto-pilot, because it’s like a plane flying without anyone at the controls.  We’ve all done it.  It’s natural.  It is the way our minds work.  But, there is something that can help.  There is a way to improve your focus—by practicing and cultivating mindfulness.pexels-photo-289586.jpeg


What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness means becoming more aware of what’s going on—right here, right now.  We can appreciate our lives, instead of rushing through them, always trying to get somewhere else.  Being mindful can also help us to be less swept away by our powerful, habitual currents of thought and emotion, which can manifest as stress, depression, negative thinking, anxiety, anger, resentment or self-doubt.  ~ Tessa Watt

Although mindfulness is not something that can be understood by reading or sharing definitions, or explanations, to help convey the concept, I encourage you to watch this 4-1/2 minute video entitled, “What is Mindfulness.”  It does a good job providing a simple, clear overview.

So, stated succinctly, mindfulness (also known as “Contact with the Present Moment”) is being fully connected and engaged in whatever we’re doing and experiencing, while it is happening.  But, no matter how simple or thorough the description, to really begin to understand mindfulness and reap its long list of rewards, we must practice it, and experience it for ourselves.

There are 2 ways to practice mindfulness:

  1. Formal Practice, often known as meditation
  2. Informal Practice, which we’ll light-heartedly refer to as practicing while doing “everything else.”

Informal Practice

 First, let’s say a little about what we mean by “informal practice.” It is simply paying attention to any activity that you’re doing, while you’re doing it, and noticing the experience fully, with each of your senses.  For example, while brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or driving your car, ask yourself:

  • What do I hear?
  • What physical sensations do I feel?
  • What am I thinking?pexels-photo-434284.jpeg

This 2-1/2 minute video entitled, “A Beautiful Summer Day” nicely demonstrates an informal practice of mindfulness.

Formal Practice

 Now, for a formal practice, here’s a 10-minute Guided Mindfulness Meditation, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and a creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.   pexels-photo-267967.jpeg

Studies show that practicing mindfulness formally and informally daily, or on a regular basis, has many benefits.  In an article by the American Psychological Association, “What are the benefits of mindfulness” they list the following:

  • Stress reduction
  • Reduced rumination
  • Boosts to working memory
  • Focus
  • Less emotional reactivity
  • More cognitive flexibility
  • Relationship satisfaction
  • Fear modulation
  • Self-insight
  • Numerous physical health benefits
  • Improved sense of well-being
  • Reduction in psychological distress

So, if you haven’t already done so, I invite you to try mindfulness for yourself.  And if you come to cherish it as much as I do, you may choose to give it as gift to yourself every day as an act of self-love.  Then, you too may “Sit. Feast on your life.” as Derek Walcott describes in his poem, Love After Love:

The time will come pexels-photo-103127.jpeg
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

ACT 101: Committed Action

“I’ve tried so many times to reach my goal, but have never been able to stick with it.  I want to believe this time will be different, but I just don’t know anymore.”  Does this Can you relatesound like you?

You’re not alone in feeling discouraged from failing to accomplish a goal, change a behavior, or follow through on something meaningful.  We’ve all felt it.  We all know that staying committed is not always easy.  That’s what ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Training) is all about.

The aim of ACT is to give you tools to help you build a life of meaning and purpose–a richly rewarding life; a life that really, really matters to you.  And equally important, to give you tools to help you take committed action, no matter how many times you’ve gone off track.

Once you’ve clarified your values (see blog post, “ACT 101: Values”), in other words, freely chosen what really matters to you deep inside, who you want to be as a person, and what you want to stand for in your life– the next step is to set goals based on those values, and then take the first step on your new journey.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  ~ Lao-tzu

Often at this point, you’ll hear that voice in your head, “I’ve failed so many times.  I just don’t know if I have what it takes to try again.”  Is that happening for you right now?  I understand, and ACT has lots to say about that.  But for now, can you simply acknowledge those thoughts of doubt, and continue reading anyway?  Can you pay honor to your heart’s desire for deeper meaning in your life, by being open a little longer even if there’s a possibility that you may feel the pain of disappointment one more time?  Can you have the courage to hope?  If your answer is “Yes,” then you’re already practicing ACT!  You are moving in the direction of your values.  You are committing to take action.  You have already started the process of bringing your values to life!

What you just read is an example of practicing one of the 6-Core Processes of ACT, the one that is also the title of this blog post:  Committed Action.   It is a process in which you start taking small steps toward doing those things that really, deeply matter to you.  Then, you build new habits, new patterns of behavior.  And before you know it you’ve expanded your skills, broadened your life and are more fully engaged in doing the things that give your life real meaning.

Now, it’s time for a word of caution, and to share a little more about ACT.  The ACT approach to building the life you desire is not a linear process, it requires more pexels-photo-211757.jpegflexibility.  It is more fluid, more like a dance than a straight “shoot out of the gate” and “full-speed-ahead” motion.  There’s much more on that in other blog posts, but for now, let’s focus on this next step: identifying specific values-based goals.

In the blog post, “ACT 101: Values,” we discussed what is important to us and who we want to be as a person in an overall sense.  Now, let’s bring that practice into a specific area of our lives.  The following exercise may take a little time to complete, but it is so important.  I really encourage you to give this gift to yourself.  You deserve it!

The Bullseye Exercise*

  • Click on this link: Bull’s Eye Worksheet
  • Select one of the four life domains to use for this exercise. It can be the one in which you feel you want to make the most changes, or the one that sounds the most interesting, or even the one your finger lands on when you place it on the page with your eyes closed.  It doesn’t matter for this practice, because ideally you’ll want to repeat the practice for each domain over time.
  • Read the short description for the domain you’ve selected.
  • Answer the “Values” questions listed on the worksheet as they apply to that domain.
    • For example, what sort of person do you want to be in your relationships? (Or at work/school?  Or at leisure? Or in regards to your personal growth and health?)
    • In short, how does the ideal you behave, and what personal qualities does the ideal you bring to that domain of your life?
    • Feel free to use this link to help you define what is important to you in the domain that you’ve selected: Forty_Common_Values_Exercise.  (Select the 3 words that best describe what you want to experience or bring to this domain.)
  • Place an “X” in the area of the domain you’ve selected, which represents where you see yourself today. An “X” in the center means you are living in full alignment with the values you’ve chosen.  An “X” on the outer ring means your actions/qualities are not pexels-photo-226581.jpegaligned with your chosen ideal behaviors or qualities. So, place an “X” anywhere in between that best represents where you see yourself today.
  • Then, write down some action steps you can take that will bring you closer to your valued behavior/qualities.
    • Immediate: What is one small and easy action step that I can take today?
    • Short-term: What are some small and simple steps I could take over the next few weeks?
    • Medium-Range: What are some more challenging steps that I could take over the next few months?
    • Long-Range: What are the most challenging steps I could take that would mean I would be living in alignment with my values (being the person I want to be in this domain).  Allow yourself to reach down deep in your heart, pexels-photo-127968.jpegdream big, and fly free here.  You do not need to figure out if, or how, you would take those steps.

Next, before you take that first step of your journey, I encourage you to watch this 4-minute video on the difference between living a goals-focused life and a values-focused life.

Okay then, with the perspective of a values-focused journey, take action on your immediate-goal step today!  Then, stay tuned for more about ACT and how to take action even when there are barriers, and more tools for bringing your values to life.  You can sign up above to follow this blog and receive future posts, and “Like” the ACT in the Moment Facebook page.

Committed Action is one of ACT’s 6-Core Processes that help increase psychological flexibility and resiliency.  Another is mindfulness.  Regularly practicing mindfulness exercises trains the mind to be more focused, aware and alert.  Mindful breathing is a foundational practice for developing mindfulness.  For a short, yet very effective practice, I recommend MBSR’s (Mindful Based Stress Reduction) 6-minute breathing meditation.

And, one final perspective to support you on your way, remember…

The journey is the reward.  ~ Chinese Proverb

Let’s practice ACT together!

*Much appreciation to Dr. Russ Harris for generously sharing this exercise freely on his website, thehappinesstrap.com



ACT 101: Values

Have you ever asked, “What truly matters in life?”  “What gives our lives meaning?”  “What does it mean to live a life of purpose?”  If so, you’re not alone.  Harold S. Kushner borderline-depression-psycholgie-personalities.jpgdescribes the inner searching that most of us have experienced at one time or another:

Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter…What frustrates us and robs our lives of joy is the absence of meaning….Does our being alive matter?

So, where do we find the answers to these questions?  The ACT response is, “deep inside your own heart.”  And you discover the answers by asking the questions from the perspective of YOUR OWN life.  “What truly matters in MY life?” “What gives MY life meaning?” What does it mean to ME to live a life of purpose?”  The ACT approach offers exercises to guide you through this process.  Then, when the answers come, you get to choose how to move forward.  After all, your life is your own; no one can live it for you. pexels-photo-618546.jpeg And there is freedom in recognizing that.  Freedom to be the person you want to be, to do what really matters to you, to behave in the way you really want toward yourself and others, and to dedicate your time and energy to what you truly want your time on this earth to be about.


Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of …your affections and loyalties…out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account – John Gardner

Click on this 1-minute video for a quick recap of values according to the ACT model.

So now, I’d like to introduce you to two exercises* that can help you clarify your values and uncover what really matters to you:

  • Your 80th Birthday Reflection
    • Imagine that you turn 80 years old today, and you take a reflective look back on your life. Then, complete these sentences:birthday-cake-cake-birthday-cupcakes-40183.jpeg
      • I spent too much worrying about…
      • I did not spend enough time doing things such as…
      • If I could go back in time to [today], what I would do differently from this day forward is…


  • Clarify Your Values
    • Click on this link:  Forty_Common_Values_Exercise
    • Read through the list of these most common values and write a letter next to each:
      • V = Very importantpexels-photo.jpg
      • Q = Quite important
      • N = Not so important
    • Once you’ve marked each value as V, Q, or N, review all the Vs, and select the top six that are most important to you. Mark each one with a star. Then, record those six values, and review them often to remind yourself that this is what you want to stand for as a human being. Allow these to be the principles that guide your choices and actions in life (much more about this in other blogs).

Clarifying and living in alignment with your values is so important.  Values can inspire and motivate you.  They can serve as an inner compass to guide you in your choices.  They give your life purpose and meaning, and make your activities much more fulfilling and rewarding.

Clarifying values is one of ACT’s 6-Core Processes that help increase psychological pexels-photo-321576.jpegflexibility and resiliency.  Another is mindfulness.  Regularly practicing mindfulness exercises trains the mind to be more focused, aware and alert.  For a short, yet very effective practice, I recommend this free 3-Minute Body Scan practice from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.

Let’s practice ACT together!

*Much appreciation to Dr. Russ Harris for generously sharing these exercises freely on his website, thehappinesstrap.com



ACT 101: Psychological Flexibility

Has this ever happened to you? Psychological Flexibility Meme

  • You set a goal to eat more healthful foods, but you give in to cravings, repeatedly, then think, “I’m never going to get this under control. I feel like just giving up.”
  • You want to be more loving to the people you care about, but you catch yourself in the middle of an argument, waving your hands, saying hurtful things, again. Then, you mentally turn equally hurtful words towards yourself, “What is wrong with me?”
  • You decide you want to further your education, but just can’t seem to force yourself to sign up for that next course? You think, “It’s just too hard.  I’m not smart enough.”

You wonder if you’ll ever be able to be the person you want to be, or accomplish the goals you’ve set for yourself.  It’s like trying to get to the top of a steep hill.  You take a running start with such good intentions, and up you go for a while. Then you lose traction and slide back down, maybe sometimes even tumble and roll back to the bottom of the hill.  You get up, look around and see you’re in the same place you started.  You grit your teeth, muster your dogged determination and try again…with the same result.  You try again, and again. You’re disappointed and frustrated, at the situation and at yourself.  You just feel stuck, and furthermore you’ve had it with this exhausting, painful pattern and you’re ready to call it quits.

Don’t give up.  Give ACT a try!  ACT recognizes this stuck pattern of behavior as a normal human experience and it offers 6 Core Processes that, when practiced, help you get unstuck, and help you develop the ability to move forward in the direction of your chosen values, goals, and ways of behaving, even when stuff gets in the way.  This is known as developing “psychological flexibility.”

Below, is a very brief description of each the 6 Core Processes, and we’ll be visiting each in more depth in other blog posts.  But first, let’s take a closer look at what is really happening here.  Initially, there is the desire to move towards something you value (a healthier body, improved relationships, or higher education, etc.).  Next, unpleasant thoughts show up like, “What if I fail?” or “I’m not good enough,” and difficult emotions arise like uncertainty, fear or frustration when things don’t go as expected.  Then, you want to avoid those painful thoughts and feelings, so you’re tempted to quit, or maybe you do quit. And maybe even more painful thoughts show up, “I’m such a loser.”

Again, all of this is perfectly normal.  It even has a name; it’s called experiential avoidance.  But, it’s keeping us from being the person we really want to be.  I encourage you to watch this 3-minute video that explains it.

So, let’s take a very brief look at what makes a difference, the 6 Core Processes of Psychological Flexibility:Hexaflex with credit

  1. Values – Clarifying what really matters to us
  2. Committed Action – Taking clearly defined steps towards our values
  3. Mindfulness – Being in contact and fully engaged in our lives moment-by-moment
  4. Self as Context – Recognizing the enduring part of ourselves that observes our experiences throughout the many stages of our lives
  5. Defusion – Detaching, or unhooking, from our painful mental experiences (thoughts, memories, judgments, etc.) that arise when we’re moving towards our values
  6. Acceptance – Expanding our capacity to experience those difficult emotions that also show up

ACT is about building skills in each of the 6 processes.  For a short, yet very effective practice, I recommend this 3-minute breathing space exercise to begin the process of noticing your internal experiences (thoughts, emotions and sensations), and to experience mindfulness.  I invite you to share your experience by leaving a comment.

Let’s practice ACT together!

Coaching – What Is It? How Can It Help?

coaching-pixabay-012917Although globally more and more people are hiring coaches every day, there’s still a significant amount of curiosity around it.  I’d like to help take some of the mystery out of coaching.

Coaching is a forward-focused collaboration between  two equals, you and your coach, with the aim to help you build the fulfilling life you dream about deep in your heart.  It is important to point out here that the intent is to create the life you desire, and facilitate your goal attainment.  Coaching follows your agenda, not the coach’s.

Coaching allows you to see options and resources that may have been hidden, and helps you maximize your potential and performance.   It is action-based and focuses on enhancing the quality of your life.  Coaching is about asking the right questions to reveal the right answers for YOU…then, it’s about taking action, while receiving encouragement, accountability, and support every step of the way.

At ACT in the Moment, the core purpose in coaching is to help you live a full, purposeful, rewarding life.  What would be possible for you if you had a partner in your life who helped you:

  • Identify what REALLY matters to you in your personal and professional life.
  • Clarify your core values
  • Set goals for what you TRULY want, not what you think you “should” want, and support you as you achieve them
  • Improve relationships
  • Learn how to deal with stress, doubt, fear, and insecuritycompass-poxabay-012917
  • Handle painful thoughts and emotions
  • Increase wellbeing
  • Shift your perspective
  • Navigate through challenge and crises more effectively and efficiently
  • Utilize untapped resources, both internal and external, so you can be the person you really want to be
  • Build confidence and resilience
  • Take action
  • Experience greater satisfaction at work
  • Improve performance
  • Complete a project
  • Live more fully every moment of your lifedestination-pixabay-012917

In summary, a coach can help you live the life you want to live, be the person you want to be, and express in the world in the way you intend.

Please note that coaching is not therapy.  Diagnosing and treating medical or mental health problems are outside the scope of coaching.  Coaching assumes the client is whole and functioning, and may be experiencing a challenge, a lack of progress, are feeling stuck, or simply understand the power of a coaching partnership to help them live a vibrant, meaningful life guided by their values.

How Does Coaching Work?

Coaching is usually delivered over the phone, although some coaches meet face-to-face.  Depending on your coach, your goals and your personal situation, coaching is delivered either one-on-one or in groups. Sessions usually range from 30 minutes to an hour, 2 -3 times per month.  Some coaches also offer just in time mini-coaching sessions, which typically last 10 – 15 minutes, and are laser-focused.  As well, some offer between session email exchanges, online discussions, or group chats.

You can hire a coach as a long- or short-term partner, for you, your business, your team, your family, or your organization.  There are coaches who specialize in unique challenges, particular positions or roles, life-stages, or specific goals, and there are coaches who offer a holistic approach to help you redesign and improve the quality of your life overall.

Whatever the focus or venue, in each session, the coach listens intently, asks questions to stimulate your thinking, provides feedback on their observations, supports you in expanding your perspective, helps you assess your options, create action agreements, and draw upon your resources. Every interaction with your coach confirms that you are not in it alone.

For more information regarding ACT in the Moment Coaching and Training, visit our website, like our ACT in the Moment Facebook page, or contact us.