Monday, March 28, 2011

ACT Mindful Mixing for Psychological Flexibility

I really like this video of Kevin Polk’s (humorous as ever) demonstration of Mixing – 5 Senses & Unwanted Mental Experiences as part of the ACT Matrix for Psychological Flexibility:

Yes this is a light-hearted video, however the practice of Mixing, Blending, or even Diluting unwanted emotions (co-occurring patterns of thought and body sensations) I have found to be a very helpful mindful practice.

Mixing can be seen through many ACT lenses, one that can be useful is to see the practice as part of the Acceptance or Expansion processes (Russ Harris uses the latter term) of ACT. If looking at Mixing in this way, it can be seen that it can follow Russ’s four basic steps of Expansion laid out in ‘The Happiness Trap’:

Step 1 - Observe (Notice)
To mix mindfully you first observe the current emotional content (5-senses + mental experience). An attitude of Scientific Curiosity is only way to observe fully and notice judgements as judgements (i.e. defused*).

Step 2 - Breathe (and connect with touch, sight, hearing, smelling and tasting)
Breathing is bringing an essential 5-sense experience into the mix. Breathing can be experienced as a very spacious and tactile sensation. Each breath essentially reaches into every cell in your body via the lungs and heart filtering and pumping oxygen throughout the body (mixing again). Alongside breathing for the full mix experience the other senses can be brought in.

Step 3 – Create Space
With the breath as a guide you can open up to the sense of space around and containing emotions. Space can be seen as a very tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory and gustatory experience. Notice and play with the sense of space through each of the 5-senses alongside the emotional sensation.

Step 4 – Allow
As your mind inevitably starts to judge and evaluate the emotion you are mixing, notice the hook* in this. Saying yes to what is, is coming back to observing both your 5-sense and mental experience in a defused* way. Saying YES to what is in your 5-senses and, for example, ‘noticing’ that you are ‘having the thought this feels awful’ and ‘thanking your mind’ for it’s input.

With time and practice the Mix becomes a practice that comes easier. It is like a dilution of emotion. Where dilution does not mean that an unwanted emotion goes away, it just means that there is much more to your experience in this moment than just the concentration of an unwanted emotion. As Kevin point out on the video even if it doesn’t go away, with the Mix you get something ‘different’. This can be the start of a journey toward letting go of the unworkable struggle with unwanted emotions.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Learning to put yourself first!

I'm currently reading 'Your Life On Purpose' by Mathey Mckay, John P. Forsyth and Georg H. Eifert. It really has helped me to clarify what's really important to me. Like something I always known, but hadn't been able to get enough distance to see and verbalise - let alone act on, this book has enabled me to see the value of putting my self-development first. Just like you attend to your own oxygen mask, before you help others, as the plane looses cabin pressure, (thankfully I haven't had to put this into practice yet). Not only do I now see how important this first step is towards increasing valued living, I can now see how vital self-compassion is to me and for me, just like oxygen.

Coming into contact with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in 2007, as a much needed evolution of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has helped me to notice more and more those times when I haven't been holding this value as a vital activity. I feel very grateful to be able to use ACT in my work as a Psychotherapist, and savour seeing how liberating ACT can be even for people who have been suffering for years and years, and who have tried everything else. I value helping people to cultivate their own self-compassion. I can only fully move towards this value by putting my own self-compassion first. Self-compassion for me is in question in how I do everything I do. Noticing I can slow down to a gentler pace in all activities that are important. Steve Hayes often talks about the need to hold values lightly, just as we can learn to hold thoughts lightly. Self-compassion is the how for me of holding lightly. It is learning to become more and more self-forgiving (plenty of opportunities for that, thanks mind!) Giving yourself self-compassion especially at times when your mind says you need bring out a big stick to yourself, is the most life enhancing thing you can do imho.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

De-Scrooging yourself for Christmas

Watching an advertisement on Irish TV recently, which portrays how two employees have to go to great lengths to de-scrooge their boss, who on Christmas eve demands a pile of work gets done by the morning, it reminded me of how we need to work to de-scrooge ourselves at Christmas. This work can be especially needed when we’ve are struggling with anxiety and/or depression, and especially at a time when we ‘should’ be enjoying the festive season.

Let’s face it, Christmas is often a very predictable and, for many a painful season. Just as we will be given some form of proverbial novelty Christmas knit, we find ourselves in old and family(iar) circumstances.  Thinking styles like ruminating about the passing year and worry about the one to come; alongside close contact with family and the patterns of behaviour, thinking and feelings this automatically entails;  all in a context where the subliminal ubiquitous reminder from the media and their marketing interests is that it is absolutely necessary to be happy!

It’s just like in Scrooge (Dickens’ novella ‘A Christmas Carol’) you get visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. These ghosts can come in any order or indeed all at once for a triple whammy.

The Ghost of Christmas Past
You end up in a cycle of rumination about the past. You find yourself endlessly going over and over the past finding more and more to say about what you should and shouldn’t have done! Just like for Scrooge, with this style of thinking, your whole life seems to be a string of regrets. The more you indulge this ghost, the lower your mood seems to go, and the more haunted you become.

The Ghost of Christmas Future
What if…? But what if…? Here you are preoccupied by worry about the future. Again it seems compulsive and just as you answer one ‘what if’, another one starts to rattle its chains. The more time you spend on worrying about the future, the more anxious you become.

The Ghost of Christmas Present
At first it seems unusual to talk about the present as it is a ghost, but this ghost is in fact the most pernicious and is indeed the foundation for the problems of both the past and future. This is the self-judging, evaluative, critical thinking that we get totally wrapped up in. This ghost present wraps us up in a little parcel and tells us all about ourselves. It is the most ghostly indeed because the things we believe about ourselves (I’m a failure, I’m useless, I’m unlovable, I can’t cope, I’ll lose my mind…), don’t actually exist in the world of our 5 senses. Have you ever actually seen, heard, smelt, touched, or tasted a failure etc?

Excessive alcohol and/or drug use can seem like brief refuges from these ghosts for many over the holidays, but usually these short term solutions rebound, and the haunting becomes fiercer!

De-Scrooging yourself
If you are one of the many who can easily find themselves caught up in one or other of these seemingly believable Scrooge thinking styles, (including any of the many unworkable attempts to exorcise them), there is something you can do! De-Scrooging yourself here is equivalent to ‘Defusing’ yourself from being wrapped up in these unhelpful and draining ghosts. Defusion is a term used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or ACT – said all in one word, and part of the new wave of mindfulness based CBT therapies). Defusion is unwrapping yourself from the evaluative language, haunting memories and catastrophic images of the future. Defusion involves the acknowledgement that these ghosts will turn up, and that hiding and avoiding them is pointless and usually serves only to make their moans and cries even more realistic and frightening. (How can you get rid of something that is inside you without causing more damage?) Indeed these ghosts don’t need to be challenged. Defusion is noticing that each ghost is just that, a ghost. These ghosts can’t cause you any actual damage; they can only rattle their chains and do their wailing moaning thing. Notice the difference between “I am a failure” and “I’m being visited by the familiar ghost of ‘I am a failure’”. You are not these ghosts. Noticing these visitors and letting go of them is like unwrapping yourself from them.

A Christmas Present to yourself
The real present, here and now, does not judge you. This gift is always present and available; it’s everywhere and in everything that your senses are bringing to you in this moment. Letting go of the fusion to the stories of our past, future and all the judgements that come with them is the kindest gift you can give yourself.

Sometimes holding out to the future can help, especially when it’s held very lightly. What would you like to give yourself for next year? What things will you make important by your actions over the coming months and years. I know there is a trend to slag off New Year’s resolutions, but I don’t find that useful. I will be coming to the third year anniversary of (finally) giving up smoking. Some resolutions are gifts we can give ourselves for ourselves.

Have a Mindful Christmas!

Chris McConnell