What is ACT? – Part 1: ‘Getting centred’

In this three-part series, I would like to share the six core components of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which some of you may be familiar with from undertaking ACT based therapy or reading well known books from Steven C. Hayes (pioneering developer of ACT) or Dr. Russ Harris (The Happiness Trap).  

ACT is one of the ‘third wave’ behaviour therapies that began in 1980’s that increases psychological flexibility by using mindfulness and various behaviour-changing strategies. The model is flexible and non-manualised, meaning that you don’t need to attend a specific number of sessions to undertake therapy.   

Today, I would like to introduce 2 of the core components of the model related to ‘getting centred’:  

1. Present moment awareness 

Super central in ACT is the idea about contacting the present moment which means being psychologically present: consciously connecting with whatever is happening right here, right now, no matter the thought, feeling or sensation.  

With increased awareness, we can then begin to identify what is internally happening for us and choose how to manage it with our developing toolkit! The way I often explain this to others is that we can either go through life with awareness or in autopilot (no awareness). This short video highlights this point. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQbx2haVfMU  

Just like all skills, practicing awareness can be done in small steps. One way to start practicing this is doing a simple/mundane task (e.g. brushing teeth, doing the dishes) and focusing on what you notice/observe/think/feel in the moment. Inevitably, our mind wanders! So, we gently bring it back to what’s happening in the present and keep coming back to the present each time our mind keeps wandering. FYI, my mind first wanders when brushing my teeth in about 10 seconds! 

2. Observing self 

This component can sometimes be tricky to understand as it’s a little more abstract. Essentially, the ‘observing self’ is the part of your mind that is responsible for awareness and attention. I often introduce it as the ‘noticing self’.  

For reference, the other part of the mind is the thinking self (thoughts, beliefs, memories, judgments, fantasies etc).  

Through practicing present moment awareness, the more you’ll become aware of the observing self, and able to access it to help direct your attention to what is important to you. This short video illustrates this point. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBPPr1hsbMM  

If you are seeking support for mental health concerns and are interested in this ACT approach, With Grace Therapy has a number of social workers and therapists able to help, so please reach out.  

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