Tag Archives: ACT

Can you control your thoughts and feelings?

Many of the self-help books out there teach people how to change their thoughts, physical sensations, feelings etc in order to feel better (including traditional CBT which targets automatic negative thoughts), if you’re one of those who have tried many of these techniques, how workable do you think they are? Do you think you really have so much control over your thoughts and feelings?

Try these:

(1) Try to recall something happened in the past week, anything — a dinner you had, a movie you went, a talk etc. [continue when you've got one] Now try to remove it completely from your memory, get rid of it so you will never think about it again in your life… Can you do it?

(2) Now, do not think about chocolate. As you read this, do not think about how a chocolate tastes, smells; do not think about its colour and texture; do not imagine how it feels when it melts in your mouth and how it feels when your tongue and teeth contact with it. Is it possible? Try again with honey maybe?

(3) Think about past experiences, whether when you have to give a public talks and feel very nervous; when a loved ones passes away and you feel really depressed; when your results doesn’t come out as good as expected and you feel disappointed etc etc. You hope you aren’t that nervous, depressed, disappointed, you try to get rid of these negative emotions as how they’re labelled, was the attempt successful? Did trying to control your emotions make it even stronger, ironically? So you’re more nervous trying not to be nervous?

So why ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)? Because in ACT, we understand in life negative emotions, thoughts, experience, sensations are all just as likely to happen as the positive ones, they are all part of our life, they are what make our lives meaningful, educational and contented. So in ACT, people learn to accept them, to live with them, instead of struggling with them, challenging them, changing them, getting rid of them.

What do you really want?

Deep down inside, what do you really want?

Happy? Rich? Healthy? Successful? A perfect husband/wife? A great job?

It’s the first day of 2015. Usually people are setting goals around this period of time. New year, new resolutions!

But this year I’m going to ask for some changes, how about not setting goals, how about asking yourself, what do you really value in your life? What’s most important to your life?

So what are values?

  • Our heart’s deepest desires: how we want to be, what we want to stand for and how we want to relate to the world around us.
  • Leading principles that can guide us and motivate us as we move through life.
  • Values are not to be evaluated, but serve as the chosen standard by which other things can be evaluated.

Why values and not goals?

  • A value is a direction we desire to keep moving in; an ongoing process that never reaches an end
  • A goal is a desired outcome that can be achieved or completed. Once achieved, it can be crossed off the list.
  • So if you want to get married, that’s a goal; But if you want to be a caring and supportive person, those are values. Values such as these are way of acting within your control, rather than consequences that are in part, down to external factors or up to chance.
  • Connecting with our values gives us a sense that our hard work is worth the effort. Values provide a powerful antidote: a way to give your life purpose, meaning and passion. Unlike goals, you may one day achieve a goal you desperately working hard for all your life and feel so lost not knowing what to do next.
  • Once you have had your values set, you can then work out your goals based on your values.

So now, sit down with a pen and paper (or your tablet/smartphone), take some time to really think what you really want and value in your different aspects of your life, imagine when you’re 80 years old and reflecting back on your life…

You’ll realize that values are like compass of your life giving you sense of direction! :)

Metaphors (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)

The PDF file below is one of the appendices from the book “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Psychosis” edited by Eric M. J. Morris, Louise C. Johns and Joseph E. Oliver.

It’s a short story of hopes, combining some metaphors commonly used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Definitely worth reading, and re-reading to understand more about ACT, and get a feel of the center approach and techniques used in ACT.

Click here: See the wood for the trees (pdf)


Related reading on huibee.com:

Thought Challenging or Thought Accepting?

Mindfulness and Acceptance Tasks 

Mindfulness and Acceptance tasks

Following my previous post Thought Challenging or Thought Accepting, here is a few tasks that may help to explore on how to “accept” your thought without causing too much emotional distress.

Task 1

Pick a word that may cause slight distress in you (e.g. “cockroach”, “snake”, “work”, “boss”, “kids”, “boyfriend”, “presentation” etc). Now repeat this particular word as quick as you can (while still making sure that the word is pronounced clearly) for 30 seconds.

This tasks doesn’t make you feel better about “presentation” itself, but after repeating the word for so many times, you probably can no longer take the word so literally – it loses its meaning. Same goes to negative thought (e.g. “I’m a failure”, “everyone hates me”). If those thoughts pop up in your mind, try to see them only as some words, accept them as they are, but not to relate yourself to them, as if it’s just some unrelated persons saying it to you.

Task 2

Sit down in an undisturbed place, close your eyes and imagine a tiger (or a dog if you find it difficult to picture a tiger in your mind). Let the tiger does whatever it wants to do there in your mind, not to control what it does or doesn’t. If the tiger stays quietly, let it be; if it moves around, let it be, too. Do this for about 5 minutes.

Next, for 5 minutes, try NOT to think about tiger at all. Do not think about tiger. Whenever it pops up in your mind, suppress it, avoid it.

What do you realize? Which part of task 2 is harder? To accept the tiger being there and does whatever it likes, or to suppress the tiger, avoid the tiger?

Task 3

Take a few minutes to practise to complete the following sentence, “Right now I’m aware of …”, and putting different descriptions at the ending each time. For example, “Right now, I’m aware of the brightness of the screen”; “Right now, I’m aware of the sound of the air-conditioner”; “Right now, I’m aware of some numbness on my left foot”; “Right now I’m aware of my thoughts on completing the homework”. Name and describe, avoid making judgement. By using language to describe things, you get to control your attention and get to connect to your field of consciousness, rather than its content, so you’re becoming like an observer to your experience. This task requires more practice!


Now imagine this: A and B fell over badly in public.

A thinks, “this is so embarrassing, ah, but it’s so funny at the same time”, so he laughs at his own carelessness and let go of it.

B thinks, “this is so embarrassing! Everyone is going to laugh at me and watch me like a clown”, he gets so angry and ashamed.

Most of the time, it’s how we relate ourselves to those incidents, thoughts, feelings etc, it’s really not what that happens. If we choose to calm ourselves down and accept whatever that happens, that come to our minds, and allow ourselves to feel the waves of our emotions, the discomfort will soon no longer be “discomforting”.

Thought Challenging or Thought Accepting?

Which do you think is better or more workable? To challenge your thought or to accept it?

Traditionally, the psychologists of Cognitive Behavioural approaches emphasize that our thinking style is what causes us to respond emotionally to events, so it’s our thinking style that determines our feelings, our ability to overcome and steer through when adversity strikes (Reivich, Shatte, 2002).

However, the Mindfulness and Acceptance-based approaches suggest that it’s not so much of the content of our thoughts and attitudes that matters, it’s our relationship with them, i.e. how we respond to them.

So the former approach traditionally teaches people to gather evidence and dispute the logic of unhelpful thoughts, whereas the latter approach says we can simply acknowledge the thoughts and distance ourselves from them, without getting into an internal struggle.

Have you ever tried to control or avoid unpleasant experiences and later coming to realize that it’s affecting you even more and causing more discomfort? (e.g. some noise while you’re trying to sleep; your worries; some palpitation and fears)

Psychological suffering (feeling sad, anxious, guilty etc) is very common and so realistically cannot be avoided. Our attempts to avoid or control painful internal experiences can compound and prolong our emotional suffering, at the same time damaging the quality of our lives.

I’ll subsequently write more posts on how to practise and achieve that. But from now on, start to notice those unpleasant experience, acknowledge them and accept them, instead of trying to control or avoid them.

10/9/14: Check here for some tasks  to explore Mindfulness and Acceptance.