Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

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Trying to "change" negative thoughts through cognitive gymnastics is like trying to win a war single-handedly. Why waste a life trying the impossible? In Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, advocate Dr. Steven Hayes escorts the mildly depressed, angry, and anxiety prone through a new approach to handling suffering--universal human suffering caused by language's illusions. Rather than fighting off bad thoughts and feelings with internal pep talks, Hayes beautifully explains how to embrace those pessimistic and foreboding mental voices (much like welcoming home one's cranky, play-worn children), "defuse" them with respectful attention, and commit to leading a purposeful life that includes their occasional ranting.

Intriguing exercises help readers identify their core struggles, parse these into manageable pieces, and develop effective ways to move beyond rumination. The work progresses easily, thanks to Hayes' engaging style and his grace in coaching readers. Critics of cognitive and behavioral therapies will warm to Hayes' logical explanations of language's pitfalls (even language used by other therapeutic approaches); his sometimes goofy--but surprisingly effective--exercises; well-timed etymology lessons; and his uncanny ability to predict and skillfully address reader reactions throughout the workbook. Ironically, the path to life clocks many hours in the mind; plan to dedicate an intensive month of introspection to this program. Anyone who has been accused of thinking too much, who begrudges compliments, pines for a different life, or feels trapped at a mental dead end can benefit from Hayes' superior guidance.--Liane Thomas

Dr. Steven Hayes answers a few questions about his book, and describes how his research was inspired by his own struggles with panic and anxiety.

Questions for Steven Hayes Can you give us a lay person's primer on acceptance and commitment therapy?

Steven Hayes: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is based on a rather remarkable fact: when normal problem solving skills are applied to psychologically painful thoughts or feelings, suffering often increases. Our research program has shown this in thousands of patients, in almost every area of human suffering. Fortunately, we have discovered why this is and we have developed some ways of correcting it.

The basic research underlying ACT shows that entanglement with your own mind leads automatically to experiential avoidance: the tendency to try first to remove or change negative thoughts and feelings as a method of life enhancement. This attempted sequence makes negative thoughts and feelings more central, important, and fearsome--and often decreasing the ability to be flexible, effective, and happy.

The trick that traps us is that these unhelpful mental processes are fed by agreement OR disagreement. Your mind is like a person who has to be right about everything. If you know any people like that you know that they are excited when you agree with them but they can be even more excited and energized when you argue with them! Minds are like that. So what do you do?

ACT teaches you what to do. I will say what that is, but readers need to understand that these mere words will not be useful in and of themselves. Minds are too clever for that! That is why the book has so many exercises and why we have a free discussion group on line for people working through the book ( What ACT teaches is acceptance of emotions, mindful awareness of thoughts, contact with a transcendent sense of self, and action based on chosen values. This constellation of skills has shown itself in controlled research to help with an amazingly large range of problems, from anxiety to managing the challenges of physical disease, from depression, to stopping smoking. Some of this work is said to have come from your own battles with anxiety and panic. How did these ideas apply to your own struggles?

Steven Hayes: It was my own panic disorder that first put me on to the problem we have now confirmed in our research. My panic disorder began a little over 25 years ago. I watched in horror as it grew rapidly, simply by applying my normal problem solving skills to it. Anxiety felt awful and seemingly made it impossible to function, so it was obvious to me that I first needed to get rid of it before my life would improve. I tried lots of things to do that. But this very effort meant I had to constantly evaluate my level of anxiety, and fearfully check to see if it was going up or down as a result of my efforts. As a result, anxiety quickly became the central focus of my life. Anxiety itself became something to be anxious about, and meanwhile life was put on hold.

After two or three years of this I'd had enough. I began to experiment with acceptance, mindfulness, and valued action instead of detecting, disputing, and changing my insides.

I remember a moment that symbolizes the change in direction. In the middle of a panic attack, with a guttural scream like you hear in the movies, I literally shouted out loud to my own mind. "You can make me feel pain, you can make me feel anxiety," I yelled. "But you cannot make me turn away from my own experience."

It has not been a smooth path and it was several years before anxiety itself was obviously way down (getting it to go down was no longer my purpose, remember, but ironically when you stop trying to make it happen, often it does), but almost immediately life opened up again. ACT is the result of over 20 years of research, following the lead this provided. You are a language researcher and chapter two of Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life is called "Why Language Leads to Suffering." Can you tell us why you suggest that language is a source of human suffering?

Steven Hayes: Human language (by that I mean our symbolic abilities generally) is central to effective human cognition. It evolved to keep us from starving or being eaten--and it has done a pretty good job of that.

The key to symbolic processes is the ability to relate events in new and arbitrary ways. Our research program has shown this ability even in 14 month old babies, and we now know it comes from direct training from parents and others as part of normal language development. It is a wonderful skill. It allows us to imagine futures that have never been, and to compare situations that have never actually been experienced. That is the every essence of human verbal problem solving.

But that same process has a downside for human beings. For example, it allows us to fear things we have never experienced (e.g., death). It allows us to run from the past or compare the dull present to a fantasized future and to be unhappy as a result. And in my case it lead to the common sense but ultimately unhelpful idea that I needed to get rid of anxiety before I could live well.

We get a lot of training in how to develop and use our minds, but we get very little training in how to step out of the mental chatter when that is needed. As a result, this mental tool begins to use us. It will even claim to BE us. The overextension of human language and cognition, I believe, is at the core of the vast majority of human suffering in the developed world and human technology (the media) is only amplifying the problem by exposing us to an ever increasing stream of symbols and images. Learning how to get out of your mind and into your life when you need to do that is an essential skill in the modern world.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a new approach to psychotherapy that rethinks even our most basic assumptions of mental well-being. Starting with the assumption that the normal condition of human existence is suffering and struggle, ACT works by first encouraging individuals to accept their lives as they are in the here and now. This acceptance is an antidote to the problem of avoidance, which ACT views as among the greatest risk factors for unnecessary suffering and poor mental health. The process of ACT includes help for individuals to identify a set of core values, a personal set of objectives that matter to them personally. The therapy then encourages the individual to commit to behavior that furthers these values despite potentially painful emotional obstacles. Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life offers a five-step plan for coping with painful emotions such as anxiety and depression. It teaches you how to learn life-enhancing behavior strategies that work to further the goals you value most. You?ll learn to engage with and overcome painful thoughts and feelings with step-by-step acceptance and mindfulness-based techniques. You?ll find out how to let go of control, and develop compassion and flexibility. The realization that painful feelings cannot be controlled will open you to the possibility of fully emotional living. Once present, engaged, and aware, you can begin to build new lives for yourself filled with significance and meaning. This book is not about overcoming pain or fighting emotions; it?s about embracing life and feeling everything it has to offer. In this way, it offers a way out of suffering by choosing to life a life based on what matters most.

Customer Reviews:

  • plain english
    This is not a technical book. If one doesn't grow from it, then you're probably in a coma. You can pick it up, put it down, read for a short while or long. I can't emphasize how great this book is. ...more info
  • Self help-also for therapists!
    Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is the kind of psychotherapy that is based on science. Science is not always easy to grasp and many find the basics of ACT a bit difficult. Look here,there is help! Even though this book is primarely written for the general public it has much to offer also professionals. In one way because also proffessionals fight with personals problems, of course, but also as an excellent introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as such. Have you read the original ACT book from 1999 and found some of it hard to grasp? Or are you just interested in ACT and want a somewhat easier way of getting the taste of it? This is the book to get!...more info
  • This Book Will Take You Out of Your Suffering and Back Into Your Life
    This wonderful book is a breath of fresh air. It is a book for all of us. It is a book for those who feel that their lives are not working and who want more life in their lives. It is a book for you if you care about living your life with meaning, dignity, and purpose. It is a book for you if you want to make sure that your precious time on this Earth matters. This book will teach you how to go about doing just that. In a gentle and compassionate way, the authors will take you into your life and into the root sources of human suffering and misery. You will discover, perhaps for the first time, what you care about and what you want your life to stand for. You also will be brought face-to-face with what buying into your evaluative mind has cost you, in the coin of energy, regrets, missed opportunities, and needless suffering. You will learn why the struggle with unpleasant thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and memories is a rigged no win game. You will learn how to break free from your own struggles in these and other areas while redirecting your attention and energy toward areas of your life that matter to you. The book is full of simple and deeply moving exercises that will teach you how to bring compassion and acceptance to your mind and your experiences. It will take you out of your unnecessary struggles with your mind and back into your life. Be suspicious and try it for yourself....more info
  • Free Your Mind
    If you are looking for a fresh start- I would recommend the practices in this book. I would also recommend books by ANTHONY STULTZ and EZRA BAYDA for the foundations of this wonderful new approach to freedom from unhealthy thoughts and feelings....more info
  • If you tried other self-help approaches, try this, it's not like any other.
    Buddhism teaches that suffering is part of life and all our attempts to avoid the suffering only make it worse. ACT teaches the same thing. In that sense, Buddhism and ACT are the same. But ACT's intellectual roots are firmly within the Western scientific psychology tradition, so the author did not so much borrow from Buddhism, as arrive at the same result by a different method and then observed the similarity after the fact.

    The book begins by stepping you through the science and psychology of how the mind works, inviting you to see the inner workings for yourself through many exercises. Ultimately it leads to a simple conclusion - your anxiety, depression, or whatever ails may not be an "illness" at all, but simply normal mental processes that go awry when used to try to avoid negative thoughts and emotions.

    Most therapy attempts to remove the negative thoughts and feelings. ACT differs completely by asking you to ACCEPT negative thoughts and feelings as part of being human. To do this it shows you how to separate the "real you" from the contents of your mind. The negative doesn't go away, you just become more willing and able to live it. Then the focus switch to exploring your values, what's important to you personally. These values orient you on your journey through life. Finally you COMMIT to the course of action you yourself choose in accordance with your own values, and you use the skills you've learned to avoid the pitfalls that stopped you in the past.

    ACT bears one more resemblance to Buddhism. 2500 years ago, the Buddha stirred up the Hindu establishment by presenting ideas that were at once radically new and yet based in a deep understanding of Hindu mystical teachings. ACT does the same to western psychology. It is firmly grounded in a good and growing body of scientific evidence and clinical successes, yet could well turn out to be the most important advance in psychology since Freud. ACT is the first psychotherapy to develop a complete system around the idea that negative feelings are natural and normal, but it is our attempts to escape those feelings that creates pathologies. If you have tried other self-help techniques, therapy, pills and nothing has worked for you, it is definitely time to try this. ...more info
  • Stellar resource for those willing to do the work
    I purchased this book with no prior knowledge of either it or its methodology. What a stroke of luck. After 9 months of slow but diligent completion of the exercises contained within, my life has changed dramatically for the better. Dr. Hayes does not lie, however, when he states that the concepts are subtle and difficult to grasp, and that the work is hard. But the work does pay off. It offers not only relief from constant mental self-attack, but also an alternative way of looking out from "self" to the rest of the world. Thanks to the tools provided in this book, I am beginning to experience true knowledge of self and life as shaped by conscious direction, rather than as a string of reactive experiences lived by default due to prior conditioning....more info
  • Recommended
    This self-help book was a general recommendation by a professor at my grad school. It's an interesting read and is useful even for people who are not in crisis but are interested in ACT....more info
  • An end to suffering
    I'm a layperson, can't afford therapy, so I do it self-help. I've bought many self-help books, and while they have been interesting and true, they've never had any lasting worthwhile effect, except for me to look at myself and say, "Oh, I'm doing that wrong also, again!" This book is really what the other reviewers say it is. It was a total paradigm shift, which is what people need and why the myriad of other self-help books haven't helped your self! It is not an overnight fix, it is a bit heady, but take it step-by-step, do all the exercises, and it will be very worthwhile. I'm still trying to put it into practice into my everyday life, but little by little I'm seeing change, and at least now there's hope where there was hopelessness. Thanks so much to the authors for writing a book for the masses. There are many of us out there who don't have money to spend on therapy sessions that we would like to do. ...more info
  • Great concepts but could be presented better
    I love the concepts but find the descriptions a bit repetitive and painful. I wish he would use clinical examples. To see my detailed thoughts on this book please read my blog on it at: info
  • The Next Big Thing
    Psychological science continues to labor to improve upon psychotherapeutic and self-help strategies. While most self-help books claim to offer something new, different and effective, Get Out of Your Mind, truly represents the Next Big Thing. It offers a scientifically-based and empirically-validated approach that is novel and startling, while at the same time being remarkably sensible. It forces us to think about critical questions of human existance that we may never have grappled with before. What would happen if we stopped being consumed with controlling our internal experiences (for example, "lowering" anxiety) and instead focused on how to live the life we really want to have? Does our behavior truly need to be determined by the level of sadness or anxiety we feel? What do want our lives to be about? Is it possible to actually observe ourselves in the process of having thoughts and feelings? Is there a way to view thoughts, feelings, cravings, and sensations as simply products of our minds rather than as "us" or "truth"? Throughout this book, concepts are well-explained and illustrated through metaphors, examples, worksheets and experiential exercises. Whether you are looking for relief from psychological suffering, a way to enhance the way you live your life, or an intellectual and philosphical exercise about the meaning of life, this is a book worth reading and "doing."...more info
  • The most helpful therapy tool yet!!
    At the end of my therapy my therapist recommended this book to me as a continuation of my therapy. The book has been very halpful and in many respects more helpful then therapy. It teaches us to realise that we can choose to stand-back from our thoughts and observe them rather then buy into them. The most helpful part has been the Chapter on the 'observer self' which there is a great discussion about on page 99. ...more info
  • Last book you will ever need
    A general prescription for enjoying life as you live it. Very powerful and very effective. This is the real deal....more info
  • A must to read.
    I just finished reading this book by Hayes. A book for everybody....more info
  • You have to be a philosopher to read this
    When I got this book I started to turn the pages. One exercise seems kind of strange. It's called 'Attend your own funeral'. Are you ready for this? I am not. You have to be a philosopher to do this, I belive....more info
  • Powerful ideas ripped off from Claire Weekes
    To the author's credit, these are very powerful ideas that, as I know first hand, can have a VERY powerful psychological healing effect.

    To his discredit, he totally ripped them off from a book called Hope and Help for Your Nerves by Claire Weekes. Now he's the founder of a "new school" of therapy. Please. He should grow a pair and credit his source.

    Five stars for the fact that the ideas are good. Minus three for intellectual grand larceny....more info
  • If you have anxiety or depression, GET THIS BOOK NOW...
    A truly magnificent work. Unlike many of the traditional McTherapy books that I wasted my money on, this book actually worked. It has transformed my life in ways that I cannot even begin to appreciate.

    ...more info
    This new approach is interesting, from my perspective as a therapist. But the editorial review is quite misleading about cognitive-behavioral therapy. The editorial implies that CBT is difficult and unsuccessful. In fact, there is strong evidence for the effectiveness of CBT (unlike the approach presented in the book, which has preliminary evidence). As a therapist, I have seen it work wonders in some patients and be helpful for many more patients. For one type of anxiety, in which people are troubled by their excessive worries about real life problems or potential problems, CBT is not especially effective, and Acceptance based therapy may be more helpful. For depression and many types of anxiety, CBT is a treatment of choice....more info
  • Get Out of your mind and into your life
    I have just begun this book with my chronic pain specialist and already have benefited from it. I'm sure as I go along I will learn more to help me deal with chronic pain and being a military wife with a husband serving in Iraq. This book is beneficial for many aspects of your life that may be troubling you or causing you to fall. I would strongly recommend this book....more info
  • Not just your regular feel good book
    I was confused for years by positive thinking books that promote the suppression and judgment of all negative thoughts. I also didn't do well with the fake it until you make it model. After years of searching, I found relief and success when I read Optimal Thinking: How To Be Your Best Self because I learned to use the simple optimal roadmaps, especially - Accept, Understand, then Optimize - for negative thoughts and feelings.

    Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life is a fine book that does not cater to the erroneous belief that positive thinking will always save you and negative thinking will always destroy you. The author asks some excellent questions such as "Am I this negative thought or is this just a thought?" etc. These questions provide personal understanding. The concept in this book is not new for me, although I did come across some excellent questions I have not pondered previously.

    I certainly recommend this book in conjunction with Optimal Thinking: How To Be Your Best Self. I also recommend Learned Optimism, to understand pessimism and optimism. Read all three....more info
  • Hands-on guidance
    A very good introduction to the benefits of mindfulness. The book is strong on explaining HOW to wrestle control of your life away from your emotions, fears, or anxieties -- as opposed to explaining WHY these issues have arisen. Sometimes its exercises seem rather pedestrian or childish, but you can easily skip over them.

    I would recommend some of Cheri Huber's books on mindfulness and Zen Buddhism as companions to this book and its approach. In particular, I would recommend her book titled "Be the Person You Want to Find." Although that book's title suggests it is about relationships and attracting the right mate, it really goes beyond that and into how to live a more fulfilling and authentic life day to day. I also would recommend Lorne Ladner's "The Lost Art of Compassion." It blends Western and Buddhist psychologies.

    I think ACT has more akin to Buddhist psychology than the authors care to admit, but I don't think that detracts from this book's usefulness at all....more info
  • All Is Clear
    I'm a relative newcomer to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a clinician and a non-scientist, so I have to admit that I've struggled with the underlying theory, Relational Frame Theory. When I've tried to explain/demonstrate RFT to clients, they've struggled too.

    This book had ended all that. Instead of giving myself and clients headaches, I just talk about the gub-gub, (you'll have to read the book) and how it goes wooo, and all is clear.

    The exercises are accessible-lighthearted and at the same time powerful and deeply humane. I've used them with clients and for myself.

    But most valuable of all is the huge sigh of relief I hear in the room when it becomes clear to clients that we are all in this soup of language together and that their experience is--dare I say it? Normal.

    Joanne Steinwachs, LCSW
    Private Practice,
    Denver CO.
    ...more info
  • Slow going, Poor Format
    This is a slow, slow read, with too many exercies that do not lead you very far into understaning the authors aims. The book meanders, is excessively long, and all of what is said could fit into a smaller, better edited work. I kept thinking as I read--what is the point....more info
  • Fresh, Novel, Interesting, Controversial and Potentially Life Changing
    Psychological treatments, like most forms of therapy, have been developing and adapting for centuries. In recent years the best treatment for depression, as well as a host of other psychiatric disorders, has being centered on a combination of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The behavior therapies largely replaced psychoanalytic theory. The transition from psychoanalysis was not smooth, and as an attempt to ridicule psychoanalytic ideas, some notorious behavior therapists used to train people with mental illness to perform simple actions and then they would watch with amusement as psychoanalytically trained colleagues concocted creative but often bizarre symbolic interpretations of behaviors that had just been created.

    We may now be on the cusp another revolution in therapy that could ultimately relegate CBT to the history books, rather in the way that CBT did to psychoanalysis. This new approach has sprung directly from the Buddhist traditions, and revolves around "mindfulness and acceptance". In the Buddhist worldview, each moment is complete by itself, and the world is perfect as it is; That being so, the focus is on acceptance, validation and tolerance, instead of change, and experience rather than experiment as the way to understand the world.

    For many patients it feels profoundly liberating to be able to see that thoughts are just thoughts and that they are not "you" or "reality." This realization can free an individual from the distorted reality that they often create and allow for more clarity and a greater sense of control in life.

    This idea that the solution to suffering is to increase acceptance of the here and now, and to decrease the craving and attachment that inevitably keep one clinging to a past that has already changed, is quite different from behavior therapy's emphasis on developing skills for attaining one's goals.

    But the notion that suffering results from things not being the way one strongly wants them to be, or insists they should be, is very compatible with cognitive-behavioral therapies. The work of Albert Ellis, who is still active in his nineties, is arguably the clearest and most consistent presentation of this point of view.

    The ideas in this book are fresh, novel, interesting and controversial. Some of the suggestion will be of great help to some people. Yet two problems remain for most people, and these are motivation to change and resistance to change. Without attention to those twin demons, progress can be very difficult.

    For anyone interested in personal growth and development and an easy introduction to a whole new approach to therapy, this book is highly recommended....more info
  • Life changing
    Exellent book if you truly want to eliminate painful memories and emotions and self destructive behaviors this book can help. It is on the cutting edge of the latest research about how your mind works and shows you how to make permanent changes. It changed my life....more info
  • Make every moment count
    Life is precious and we are told to make every moment count. Yet many of us spend a significant portion of our lives trying to sort through the ghosts of our pasts, carefully planning to avoid future pain and disappointment, and attempting to make ourselves right, all the while missing out on our life as it unfolds. We desperately try all the tools that society hands us to achieve happiness and a fuller, more meaningful life, but these methods often produce short-lived gains or worse come at some significant personal cost. This book offers a novel approach to making every moment count. You will learn about how and why our most tried and true methods for achieving internal comfort can actually backfire and take us further away from our most valued experiences. More importantly, you will learn how to change your relationship with your internal experiences in a way that allows you to connect with your life as it unfolds....more info
  • A time for value
    This is a great book for helping you get your life back on tract. It's a step by step way of getting to know yourself, and what you think is important in your life. A program that leads you to setting up goals (values). It shows you how to deal with the sticking points that have stopped you living your values and reaching those goals. This book would work quit well with a therapist too. I really cannot simply say enough about the simplicity of grasping the approach and making it work. Best Wishes...... Vern...more info
  • A different sort of self-help book
    This is a different sort of self-help book. It's not just for depression, or panic attacks, or phobias, or how to stop eating or drinking too much, or how to improve your relationships, or how to get your finances in order, although it can help you with any of those things and many more. This book is about discovering what you care about the most, what your top priorities are in life, and about getting your life moving in those directions. It teaches you how to keep psychological obstacles, such as fears, worries, sadness, anger, negative thoughts, and bad memories, from getting in your way. Strangely, it doesn't tell you how to get rid of those obstacles. In fact, it shows how trying to get rid of them often makes them worse. Instead, it teaches how to work with them so they don't run your life, so that you can make room for them and go where you want to go. The book has many exercises that are sometimes funny, sometimes a little odd, and always illuminating and thought provoking. This is a different way of looking at life and its challenges. For people who feel that their lives aren't working and are willing to consider a new perspective, this is worth a serious look. ...more info
  • I'm free
    I've been in and out of therapy for over thirty years,and have read at least fifteen self help books. Basicly I was told, kill the negative self talk,say positive affirmations and one therapist said, "just snap out of it."

    I constantly battled with my self. I also suffer from anxiety attacks. I've work for 20 years for a very large orginazation with a few thousand employees. Once it became obvious that I was suffering from anxiety and self esteem issues, I became the subject of the rumor mill. I really don't know how I lasted on the job so long.

    But this book changed everything. I've learned to seperate myself from my thoughts and feelings, accept them, and then move on to live the life that I want. I realize now that my life will never be pain free, but in spite of that pain I can live the life I want. I don't have to battle my painful thoughts any more. They don't last as long, hurt as much, or stop me from doing my thing.

    This book is not for everybody, but neither is any religion or spouse. But I can bear witness that it has changed my life for the better....more info
  • HELLOOOOO...this is already a +2500 year old tradition for Chrissakes
    ...called BUDDHISM!!!

    Sigh. The practice of not straining to repress or suppress negative thoughts/emotions/impulses/states but rather simply ALLOWING them to come and go ("like leaves floating by in a stream, or clouds passing across the sky") is *ABSOLUTELY BASIC* Buddhist meditation technique.

    Ditto with the simple technique/acquired-habit of mindfulness and conscious breathing is one of the core practices of a wide range of Eastern meditative/spiritual traditions.

    Leave it to some enterprising Westerner to repackage, oversimplify, oversweeten and dumb it all down into some slick New-Agey, "Scientific" Psychobabble and Self-Help package and rake in all the cash!

    If you want to get a little closer to the real stuff, I would recommend Charlotte Joko Beck's excellent book, "Everyday Zen: Love and Work," and Pema Chodron's "When Things Fall Apart."

    Oh well I'll still give it 4 stars because at least it will expose more people to at least a FEW bits and pieces of the true dharma... much more so than most best-selling self-help dreck in any case. Deduction of 1 star for total lack of originality, LOL....more info


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