By Esther Gross
A good friend of mine sent me a just thinking about you card! The bold italic typeface in copper blue came popping out at me: If you diffuse for a few minutes, everything will work – including yourself!
I flew to the mirror instantaneously to check if I’m truly plugged into something!? Nopes! And then I swiftly had a change of heart! Perhaps my ear plugs are not tugging at my ears, but I find that against my better judgment I’m fused into something I would define as automatic negative self-limiting beliefs!
I’ll explain. How about when I take something personally that may not be personal. For example, believing someone’s brusque tone must be because they’re irritated by me?!
How about worry future fantasizing aka worry or fear about the future?
Would you believe that we have about 60,000 thoughts per day – MOST of which are woes which we are tuned into?
One of my mentors suggested that if I really wanted to experience less stress in my life, I should consider trashing all my negative thoughts! And so I would only have self-supportive thoughts which would lead me to feel invigorated and renewed in every aspect of my life!
I am going to alter my way of thinking. I am going to snap, crackle and then pop it, bit by bit and then reframe it! Or I would attempt to recall a delightful memory or an inspired vision I have about the future….
I must admit it, I’ve come along way. The art of reframing is quite powerful. But honestly what actually helped me nip the thoughts in the bud was ACT therapy!
Since I’m a very caring, daring, sharing person, I’d like to take this opportunity to share ACT with my fellow readers! It’s incredibly beneficial to those deep thinkers who find themselves wired in the mire.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) gets its name from one of its core messages: accept what is out of your personal control, and commit to actions that improve and enhance your life.
The aim of ACT is to maximize the human potential for a rich, full and meaningful life. ACT does this by:
a) Teaching you skills to deal with your painful thoughts and feelings effectively – in such a way that they have much less impact and influence over you.
b) Helping you to clarify what is truly important to you – i.e. your values, goals and vision and then use that knowledge to guide, inspire and motivate you to change your life for the better.
Halt! Before we begin I would suggest taking note of the following: no one has ever or will ever come into this world with the exact same mission as yours. The light you are meant to shine into the world is yours alone, as individual as your fingerprint, as personal as your voice print.
In addition, with the help of Hashem – we all have the inner-strength to deal with any misfortune in a responsible, proactive manner. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) teaches these skills to help individuals live and behave in ways consistent with their personal beliefs while developing psychological flexibility.
We all have experiences of every variety; some are pleasant, and some are unfortunately not. Pain, whether it’s physical or emotional is universal. While it may be unnerving, it is the struggle to fight, escape or avoid our pain that most certainly leads to so much more suffering.
ACT therapy highlights the behavioral aspect which aims at helping one to live a much more productive life by employing these six core ideas:
1. Cognitive diffusing: Distancing from, observing and noticing unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, and memories.
2. Acceptance or Allowing: Making room for painful thoughts, feelings, urges and sensations and allowing them to come and go without the struggle.
3. Contact with the present moment: Living in the here and now and experiencing it with compassion, openness, and curiosity.
4. Observing the self: Separating the event, thoughts, and feelings from ourselves and our mission.
5. Values: Discovering what is honestly most important to one’s true self.
6. Committed action: Setting goals according to our mission and carrying them out responsibly.
ACT centers on recognizing faulty beliefs and upsetting feelings that act as obstacles to living a purposeful life and aims to change our relationship with internal experiences, rather than changing the experiences themselves.
Why use the ACT approach? Because it works! Research suggests that ACT is effective with a wide variety of conditions, including eating disorders, anxiety disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, and others.
Just do it and you will be inspired to do it! Initially, most people balk at the whole idea; they wonder why in the world would they choose to pinpoint and then embrace their troubling thoughts and distressing symptoms.
I explain that getting all tangled up in a struggle to avoid pain is ineffective and often amplifies suffering and because acceptance often paves the way to taking action in the service of living a more joyful life!
Begin again now! Notice your uninviting thoughts that you’ve plugged into. Observe it, acknowledge it and then give it wiggle room! Imagine yourself unhooking = making a few space bars between your ANTs A-utomatic N-egative T-houghts and how you wish to respond. Some tell me they gently push the pause button, b-r-e-a-t-h-e, let go, return mindfully to the present moment, and then focus their energy on some positive purposeful act. This doesn’t guarantee that the thoughts will vanish; it simply means you that you are not driven by its content.
I would liken it to crossing a monkey bar. You have to recognize the fact that it’s there, let it be and then choose to move forward one bar at a time. Unleash your power to move on and enjoy it!
The past and future have no power over the present moment! Don’t live your life in the “what was” or “what will be”; live life in the ONE=Only Now Exists!
Let all thoughts of yesterday, or even of the immediate past, leave your mind. Instead, you should imagine that you are like a newborn child born, fresh and free! As the Torah states: “I have created you today!” (Tehillim 2:7)
Living in the now is defined as a process of non-judgmental, focused awareness. We spend so much time worrying about the future and ruminating about the past. While recalling a past mistake may prevent it from happening in the future, being enslaved by thoughts of the past and future comes at an exceedingly hefty price.
Let’s consider a talented, highly intelligent, high school graduate who had a disappointing interview. A continued emphasis on this occurrence may prevent her from pursuing a great job opportunity. Concentrating on the present moment compassionately however, would allow her to turn off her “what ifs” and help her respond in a more flexible, non-reactive manner that would be consistent with her values and goals.
Choosing our personal values (mitzvos & midos) are paths or directions that are purposeful. It isn’t about altering our challenges in life; it’s about meeting them mindfully. It’s not about bemoaning the fact that we’re hooked and stuck! It’s about recalculating and finding ways to set ourselves free.
Finally committed action is simply walking the walk and moving in the right direction in a healthy manner. Of course, obstacles such as thoughts, feelings and harmful urges may arise and threaten to interfere with taking positive actions in line with where we are aiming to go.
Our ultimate goal however, is having the ability to be fully present and opening ourselves up to our experiences so that we can take positive actions guided by our mission and of course seeking help and guidance from Torah authorities, close friends, and professionals while we’re journeying.
Zoom into the three C’s! Acting responsibly means to CHOOSE to accept what you can’t change; take a CHANCE to CHANGE the things you can control; CHOOSE to let Hashem carry the heavy end of the weight! It is concentrating on the present and opening up to do what truly matters in our lives and to lead a life that’s faithful, fruitful and characterized by true vitality.
For instance, we can decide between: there’s nothing I can do vs. let’s look at my CHOICES; I’m afraid to make that important phone call vs. this is a CHANCE to feel the fear and do it anyway; that’s just the way she is vs. I can CHOOSE to give the benefit of the doubt; I simply can’t change vs. I have the willingness to CHANGE by putting forth effort; It’s impossible vs. this is a CHANCE to believe that if I do the possible, Hashem will help me with the impossible!
Did you ever go surfing? The same wave that can be a source of pain can be a beautiful flowing source of power. It’s all a matter of how you CHOOSE to take a CHANCE to CHANGE how you respond to life’s calling.
Can you stop the rain from falling down? I guess not! The best thing one can do when it’s raining is, let it rain. There are so many rubber boots out there today! You can also choose a wide variety of umbrellas and of course, a nice hooded trench coat in a classic color. As you aim to keep a sunny disposition no matter what you’re wearing, you’ll stand out in the rain while embracing the day and not worry too much about getting wet! And you might even giggle to yourself.
Perhaps we can’t stop the downpour but I can join you for a walk in the rain! Over the next few weeks pick three different mind boggling incidents. Jot down the thoughts, feelings and urges you are plugged into, including your unpleasant physical sensations. Notice and observe them with mindfulness and compassion. Pause for a cause. B-r-e-a-t-h-e. Take a few moments to identify your values that are salient in this situation. Then choose a positive action or response that’s in line with your values.
Questions to Consider: What do you want to be about in this life? Are you letting all your fears and anxieties get in the way of living a mission oriented l life? Are you willing to face your painful thoughts, memories and urges as they are? Can you take the bold steps to wrap them in a cloak of kindness, forgiveness, trust, faith, and hope? Are you willing to unstick in order to stick to a relationship with Hashem? Are you prepared to make room for something new and reclaim your life? Is what you are doing, moving you forward or backward in your life?
Here is a list of words that can help you generate ideas about your values and help you set concrete and achievable goals one day at a time. Living a committed life as a committed Jew, even in difficult situations is what life is all about. Please note that some of these words may refer to an internal experience. In these cases the idea is to act calmly or with patience or with courage even if you don’t feel this way:
Acceptance, authenticity, balance, cheerfulness, connectedness, courage, determination, discipline, effort, faith, forgiveness, generosity, honor, humor, health, insight, integrity, learning, loyalty, meaning, nurturance, openness, perseverance, pleasantness, prayer, respect, responsibility, self-esteem, self-expression, spirituality, thoughtfulness, trustworthiness, understanding, unselfishness, vision, vitality, warmth, willingness, wisdom, etc.
Can you attempt to envision Hashem’s love and caring for all the details of your everyday lives? I assure you it can help you to heal your distress and help you to live life joyfully! Most importantly, believe the purpose of your life is to unplug and plug into a purposeful life!
Esther Gross is a certified life coach and the author of You Are Not Alone, A Yid Is Keinmool Nisht Alein, ChA-Zak, AmA-Zing Parenting, MA-Zal Tov, You’re Married – Now What!
Her new book “The States of Happiness,” distributed by Feldheim Publishers, will be available this week in all Judaica stores.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.