I personally deal with anxiety, compounded by a moderate case of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). At times this has even lead to seasons of depression. When I have been down I have desperately sought for relief. Usually hoping for some quick fix solution. Like many, when I turned to the medical profession I was a bit put-off by, this pill “may” help and you should notice a difference in around 6 weeks. “Six weeks! I want to feel better now! In my impatience, I spent a lot of time researching all sorts of remedies, looking for an “easy button.” I tried everything from acupuncture to yoga, with dozens of things in between. Happily, I discovered Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) and have enjoyed much relief, bordering on complete healing. In fact, I have become such a fan of ACT, I even wrote a book on the topic.
The acronym ACT not only represents the name of this therapy, but also the three steps involved in this practice. These are:
A = Accept thoughts and feelings
C = Connect with your values
T = Take action (on a value)
I have found great usefulness in each of these steps. For example, learning to accept and just “be with” moments of discomfort and even fear brings great peace. There is also much wisdom in taking the time to discover your life’s purpose the supporting values. Finally, taking action, especially when each purposeful act is connected to a value.
As I have practiced ACT and taught these principles to others, I believe the real healing is in the third step – “take action.” In my recent studies, I have come across several quotes that support the value of taking action:
In the “Greatest Salesman in the World” Og Mandino said:
“Weak is he who permits his thoughts to control his actions; strong is he who forces his actions to control his thoughts.”
In the book “Failing Forward” John C. Maxwell encourages us to:
“Don’t wait until you feel positive to move forward. Act your way into feeling good. That’s the only way to feel more positively about yourself.” And, “You can’t avoid fear. No magic potion will take it away. And you can’t wait for motivation to get you going. To conquer fear, you have to feel the fear and take action anyway.”
Supporting the value of action, John Sternin said:
“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than think your way into a new way of acting.”
Finally, Jerome Bruner states:
“You’re more likely to act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action.”
For example, after a recent Monday at work, I returned home feeling quite discouraged. Oddly, I couldn’t really pinpoint the reason for may angst. My first inclination was to isolate myself and watch another episode (or perhaps more than one) of my favorite series on Netflix. Yet, I knew that after the momentary distraction, I would come out on the other side with the same gloomy feelings, perhaps even with a dose of quilt. At that moment, my two youngest children came bounding into the room and I was reminded that a better choice would be to take action, to act on two of the things I value most, my children. I quickly asked them, “how would you like to go up to the college and go swimming?” Of course, the exuberant answer was YES! And off we went. Did I immediately feel better? No, not at first. But it didn’t take long until all of us where lost in our happy play at the pool and my mood was lifted, and not just for a moment. I experienced first-hand actions controlling thoughts and acting my way into feeling good.
So, when you are feeling down or discouraged, think of a value and act! It really is a better way to live than turning inward, indulging in mind numbing distractions, or taking a pill and impatiently waiting weeks to feel better.
Disclaimer: This article does not imply that some people won’t benefit from psychological medicine or other therapies.