In ACT, we try to undermine efforts to control our emotional or mental experience in exchange for focusing on valued directions and actions.
That means, we try to rebalance peoples’ focus on what they think and feel more towards what they actually do with their hands and feet.
I say rebalance because there’s nothing wrong with mental experience. It’s just that, humans being humans, we tend to experience more and more of life indirectly, or mindlessly, and this has the effect of robbing us of vitality and purpose. And in the workplace, it tends to mean repeating the same old routine, even when that routine is ineffective.
Trouble is, ACT is counter-cultural. The culture says you do not need to feel bad, ever. The culture says you can feel good if only you try harder, think better…or make the right choices.
If you doubt me, take a look at this:
“Believe deep down in your heart that you’re destined to do great things” ~Joe Paterno
This quote turned up in my twitter stream yesterday. It looks benign. It looks helpful. But it is seriously problematic.
Firstly, it implies that not only is it very important to get our ‘beliefs’ right but also that we can chose those beliefs. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is a con. We can try really hard to brain wash ourselves. We can repeat positive affirmations over and over. But deep down in our hearts most of us carry a secret – that we aren’t good enough. That we are too…something. Too selfish, too weak, too loud, too quiet, too greedy, too boring….if you dig around inside yourself and sit with the discomfort for a moment, you will be able to add your own words.
The brainwashing of our society makes the burden of that secret even harder to bear. Because apparently what we should be doing is believing deep down in our hearts that we are destined for something great. So we have failed before we have even started.
The quote also implies that we are all destined to do great things (as long as we get our thoughts stacked up right). And this is madness. What most of us are destined for is a life of ordinariness – raising children, working for a living, loving our family and friends. I think that chasing success and greatness are actually distractions from the challenge of doing the ordinary stuff well. I suspect that we want that distraction because it is actually really hard to do that stuff well.
I think a better quote would go something like:
‘Even on the days when you worry that you are a fool and a failure; be kind and compassionate. Come back to the present moment and do the next right thing. And let that be enough.’
I am paraphrasing Kelly Wilson here: In Appreciation of Crashing, Bliss Following, Hero’s Journeying, and Practice.
How about it? Will you join me in doing the next right thing and let that be enough?
In 2010, Diener et al did a huge survey of 136,839 people (who were a representative sample of the population of the world). They found that income is only moderately linked to positive feelings (whether you smiled or laughed yesterday or felt feelings of enjoyment).
Positive feelings are much more influenced by ‘psychological need fulfilment’. Psychological need fulfilment is about whether you have family or friends you could count on in an emergency, and also, whether, when you think about yesterday, you:
- Felt you were treated with respect
- Learned something new
- Did what you do best, and,
- Chose how your time was spent.
When managing staff, or managing yourself, it might be good to make sure these four things are happening regularly.
I was recently at an ACT workshop run by the amazing Kelly Wilson. He explored some interesting idea’s about how our minds work. How we have this endless drive to solve problems – and sometimes this isn’t helpful.
One of the wonderful things about ACT is that it is ‘open source’ – people are pleased if you use their stuff. So a few days later, I tried out Kelly’s approach: