Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life: The New Acceptance & 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:

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Practical Helpand Understanding
    This book gives practical help to those struggling with depression and anxiety - from mild sufferers through to those battling with chronic conditions. The exercises in the book are simple to follow but give some realistic and tangible ideas on how to improve your life. It recognises that nothing will give you instant relief, though gives lots of ideas on how to move towards a happier life. This book is great for anyone looking to break out of the pit of their depression and anxiety....more info
  • A good explanation of how we drive ourselves nuts.
    Yes, it has been said before, by various awakened sages, especially the Buddhists; and several modern Buddhists authors have also said it very well (Pema Chodron, Joko Beck, Jack Kornfield--"After the Ecstasy, the Laundry").

    Even so, I enjoyed hearing the practical message again (Be willing to feel what you feel when you feel it, without avoidance or clinging). The explanations in the book are helpful and the exercises are useful.

    I can recommend this book to anyone who has struggled to make unwanted feelings go away. It's a huge relief to lay down your weapons and walk away from the battlefield.

    ...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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
    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
  • 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
  • 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


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