“Humans suffer, in part, because they are verbal creatures.” So says Steven Hayes, PhD, authors of Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life.
We, as humans, learn specific names for specific things and we create, without being taught, relationships (“relational frames”) between these, for good or ill. This is an activity singular to Homo sapiens. And it is the basis for our angst and all other manner of suffering.
Indeed, the authors state, we are not broken. We have thinking problems. Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life is a how-to manual for training the mind to move forward instead of using it to torture ourselves.
This unconventional workbook marries elements of 12-step programs and Buddhism combined with other disciplines and thought in a new and revolutionary way. The result is a comprehensive map toward a life you can love without trying to “fix” yourself. Because you can’t. The studies and references noted in the introduction and the back of the book will assure you that this approach is not only getting wide attention, but actually has demonstrable, positive results.
The difference between this and other self-help literature is in its holistic approach, meted out in user-friendly verbiage and interesting exercises.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT, is the authors’ guided road map to living fully now. They begin by asking us to think about these key concepts:
- It is normal to have psychological pain. It is an important part of all of us.
- You can’t eliminate it, but there are ways to avoid increasing it.
- Pain is one thing, suffering is another.
- You are not your suffering.
- Accept your pain, move toward eliminating your suffering.
- Get out of your mind and into your life and live a life you value. In the present.
The book will ask you to participate in your own “paradigm shift” — to view yourself and your circumstances in a different light and to accept yourself. It answers the question of why therapy is “not working” or why life is unfulfilling. When you embrace and accept your pain, it may diminish or transform into something beautiful. This may seem odd and even frightening to some but the book gently eases the reader through it. Just breathe and you will arrive at the other side, with a fresh, new perspective.
The exercises are by turns confronting and eye-opening. There is a momentum to them that takes the reader through the identification of “the problem” (chapters 1 through 10) and into a state of “aha!” where there is a foundation for the fertile ground for change (chapters 11, 12 and 13). The conclusion charges us with embracing the choice to change and live vitally. It is inspiring and definitely doable.
An interesting and ultimately rewarding experience contained in the book is learning how not to become our pain by not identifying with our thoughts. This is mindfulness. It is letting go. And it is acceptance.
Once we stop fighting, the authors promise, and just be with what is, the sting of suffering subsides and the reader has the chance to look his or her personal, psychological bogeyman in the eye. Then some magic happens: fear disintegrates, anger subsides, indecision leaves.
The beginning work looks at the etymology of suffering. Once you identify the issue, it is easier to accept it. The exercises on pages 170 to 175 take the reader through the major components for an extraordinary life, helping us to get to know what it is that we are really about, what we value.
In a time where events seem to be escalating ever faster toward out-of-control madness, Hayes and Smith offer more than mere hope. An anchor develops from working the work. It grounds us in our reality where we can create from a position of power.
I would have liked to have seen an appendix listing existing groups of people working this work, but it is new, and we can always take charge and responsibility for creating such alliances for ourselves. Perhaps the ACT therapists, listed on the ACT website, can guide us.
I don’t think a lack of previous study will keep a person from benefiting from this work. And sometimes, coming to a task with innocence and without prior “relational frames” can be life-changing.
Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
By Steven C. Hayes, PhD
New Harbinger Publications: October 2005
Paperback, 206 pages