The Price

This is a story about two blog posts, two people wanting to make a contribution, and the price that comes with doing that.

In my last post I promised to write something about the difference between ACT as therapy and ACT as coaching. Before I did, I checked with Rachel that she was happy for me to do so, as we’d presented together on a similar subject before. This was her (edited) reply:

On 24 Apr 2015 22:27, “Rachel Collis” <racheljanecollis@gmail.com> wrote:

Go for it!

Also, if you think it is helpful, I would love you to link to the ACT Coaching e-book that goes with my ACT coaching training.

I have decided to just give it out free to folks.

No pressure, if you don’t think it is appropriate in the context of the post.

I then read the e-book. Reader, it is AMAZING.

It is the most valuable contribution to this developing field I’ve read and beautiful too (very Rachel). Needless to say it is far more useful, well written and valuable than my blog was going to be. I will be devoting the whole of the next post to it (no way am I shoehorning it into this).

But the question is, how does this happen? Here’s the next exchange:

On 25 Apr 2015, at 7:53 am, Rob Archer <rob@thecareerpsychologist.com> wrote:

Err. …Rachel this is amazing.  Why didn’t I know about this??

From: Rachel Collis [mailto:racheljanecollis@gmail.com]
Sent: 24 April 2015 22:58
To: Rob Archer
Subject: Re: ACT and coaching

 Cos I am an idiot!

It needs more work but I am quite pleased with it!

I then asked Rachel about the functions of ‘cos I am an idiot’ and she hinted at some aspect of her learning history that made praise both craved for and difficult to receive:

From: Rachel Collis [mailto:racheljanecollis@gmail.com]
Sent: 25 April 2015 23:42
To: Rob Archer
Subject: Re: ACT and coachingThe function of ‘cos I am idiot’ is that I do something- like spend hours writing an ebook – and then don’t tell people. I think it is EA around embarrassment and shame.

And there we have it.

Meaningful work, ‘towards moves’, contribution: all come with a price. And the more we value the contribution, the higher the price.

So I wonder what the next ‘towards moves’ are for me and Rachel?

I asked her if I could post the link for her, because I didn’t want her to undersell it. But then I felt caught between two options. I could:

  • Post it myself, to reinforce her value to the community by praising her work. This sounds good, but am I really trying to rescue Rachel from her discomfort, and thereby reinforcing her avoidance?
  • Let Rachel post it. But is that just testing Rachel’s willingness? And why wouldn’t I actively support a colleague who I believe, has done such important and valuable work?

And what should I now do with my post?

I am left with something I have worked on, not as important as Rachel’s, but a contribution nevertheless. I could:

  • Not post, and perhaps work on it some more, trying to offer something different to Rachel.
  • Post anyway, in the service of making my own contribution to something that matters to me.

Both of these feel like ‘towards’ moves to me….and both will probably come with a price.

If I don’t post, I will need to make way for feelings of jealousy that Rachel has written something far better than me, without even mentioning it.

If I do post, will I secretly hope that somehow my post will be seen as just as valuable (oh Rob, this is really good too!) – and move straight to feelings of rejection if that doesn’t happen?

So there we are again.  Two humans, on different sides of the world, both wanting to make a contribution to something that matters.

Both hesitating over the price.

Maybe we should ask our staff to read Harry Potter?

What if reading novels helped us to learn the perspective taking skills that we need to empathise with others? Maybe our staff development programs should include a book club. My kind of workplace!

 

Harry PotterRecently Vezzali et al. (2014) showed that the more Harry Potter books that undergraduates had read, the more positive were their attitudes towards refugees and other stigmatised groups. Interestingly, the strength of this effect was moderated by the extent to which participants identified with Harry or with Voldemort. Those who identified with Harry were more likely to take the perspective of the refugees and have more positive attitudes towards the refugees. While those who saw themselves as more like Voldemort were less likely to show these effects.

Why might these results have occurred? We have a clue already from the Vezzali et al study – those who had read more Harry Potter self-reported that they were more able to understand the perspective of the refugees. But unfortunately the measure of perspective taking that Vezzali et al used relied entirely upon the person’s own beliefs about their perspective taking ability. Participants rated themselves on items like: “I think I understand the way refugees see the world” and “In general I’m able to jump into refugees’ shoes.” This was not a measure of actual skill in perspective taking.refugees

How language allows perspective taking

ACT is based upon a theory of language and cognition called Relational Frame Theory (RFT). RFT has a lot to say about perspective taking and it has been used to develop behavioural measures of actual skill in perspective taking. According to RFT, perspective taking involves the skill of being able to flexibly (i.e. appropriately to context) use such terms as I – YOU and HERE – THERE. If we are to take the perspective of another, we must be able to appropriately distinguish between I-HERE and YOU-THERE. These relational frames are very hard for children to learn because the frames rely entirely upon the point of view from which an event or object is observed. For example, if I walk across the room my initial HERE becomes a “THERE” while my initial “THERE” becomes a HERE. From an RFT perspective, mastery of these so-called “deictic” relational frames (and others that rely on a point of view such as LEFT-RIGHT and NOW-THEN) is the basis of learning to take the perspective of others. And knowing how to take the perspective of others is implicated in almost all human functioning from work performance to schizophrenia.

It takes lots of training in a language community for a child to develop a good repertoire of appropriate usages of these terms. We can easily see this by watching how a young child easily confuses right and left, or gets confused about whether they or their toy had eggs for breakfast. Young children appear to have to learn that others have separate minds and that they might think and feel differently to the child.

We can only speculate about why reading Harry Potter might enhance attitudes towards minorities. Harry is a mixed minority/majority himself and he often takes the perspectives of underdogs.

HarryParseltongue Brazil here I come
Harry takes the perspective of a Boa Constrictor – “Thankssss Amigo”

So one way that Harry Potter might contribute to better perspective taking and enhanced attitudes towards minorities is through multiple exemplar training in deictic framing. Effectively the reader might learn something like “I like Harry. Harry is a minority figure, Harry is like a refugee. Therefore I like refugees”. These perspective taking effects might also be affected by an emerging sense of a coherent and stable self. “I am like Harry, Harry likes minority figures, I must like minority figures.”

 

The links between perspective taking ability as conceptualised by RFT and empathy for others are only just now beginning to be researched. Vilardaga, Estévez, Levin, and Hayes (2012) proposed that we first need deictic skills to take the perspective of another, but then when we do, their suffering can become our suffering so we need mindfulness skills to bring this suffering under helpful contextual control. I made a very similar argument in a recent article on the effects of mindfulness training upon empathy (Atkins, 2013). Unfortunately, although Vilardaga et al. (2012) showed that both perspective taking and empathy predicted how interested people were in social relations (measured using a social anhedonia scale), perspective taking and empathy were not strongly related to one another in their study (r = .13). So the link between perspective taking and empathy for others might not be as clear as we first thought.

So what does this all mean? RFT suggests that reading Harry Potter (or indeed any novel) might give people practice in shifting perspectives between I and YOU, HERE and THERE and NOW and THEN. And the intriguing possibility is that doing this might eventually lead to improvements in empathy and human relationships. But, while these studies suggest this intriguing possibility, we still have a lot of research to do exploring how and when reading novels enhances empathy for others.

 

Links to the papers mentioned in this blog:

Atkins, P. W. B. (2013). Empathy, self-other differentiation and mindfulness. In K. Pavlovich & K. Krahnke (Eds.), Organizing Through Empathy (pp. 49-70). New York: Routledge.
Vezzali, L., Stathi, S., Giovannini, D., Capozza, D., & Trifiletti, E. (2014). The greatest magic of Harry Potter: Reducing prejudice. Journal of Applied Social Psychology.
Vilardaga, R., Estévez, A., Levin, M. E., & Hayes, S. C. (2012). Deictic Relational Responding, Empathy and Experiential Avoidance as Predictors of Social Anhedonia: Further Contributions from Relational Frame Theory. The Psychological Record, 62(3), 409-432.

2013 in review

We’ve been quiet but we’ve not gone away.

Here’s a review of last year on this blog.  Thank you for reading and commenting and getting involved and encouraging us.  It is very much appreciated.

Here’s to another year of taking ACT into organisations and getting our ideas into the water supply.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 36,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

ACT and Conscious Evolution Part B: How ACT can help us respond to global change

Last week we looked at how our psychology gets in the way of effective responding to the challenges of global change. This week we look at how ACT might help us meet some of those challenges by helping us think long-term, more complexly and with others. I want to explore with you how ACT could impact upon society not just individuals.

(As I write this, I notice my doubts – ‘who am I to write about global change?’, ‘these issues are far too complex for a short blog’, ‘do I really think ACT can make a difference in the face of huge, powerful and rich vested interests?’ and so on. And yet, here I go – stepping beyond the ways my language machine tries to protect me, and just moving my fingers to write something that might be of value to you.)

How can ACT help us to meet the psychological challenges I outlined in my last blog? Challenge number 1 was our natural human tendency to respond to short-term reinforcers.  This challenge is at the heart of ACT in the way it helps us name and act in the service of long-term values. Do we want our society to be about ever-increasing consumption or something deeper?

ACT helps us to think long-term

We are evolving in at least four dimensions: genetic, epigenetic, behavioural and cultural [1].  Just as genetic evolution is based upon variation, selection and retention of genes, behavioural evolution is based upon variation, selection and retention of behaviours. Conscious evolution happens when we turn our language machine back on itself, and consciously select behaviours that work well in the long-term, not just the short-term.

We usually think of ACT as being about individual change. And change at that level is important. ACT helps people better manage their emotions so they might reach out to a friend instead of, for example, buying another pair of shoes to feel better in the short-term. Furthermore, mindfulness training might help people act on their pro-environmental intentions.

But global change is happening so quickly we cannot rely upon incremental individual change. We need new forms of public dialogue oriented around purpose and values. ACT works to support dialogue: suspending our own beliefs long enough to take multiple perspectives, keeping conversations directed towards bigger interests not particular positions, and loosening the hold of automatic, self-protective and reactive patterns of responding. We need these skills to get beyond polarised debates and turn our collective attention towards the longer term.

ACT helps us to think more complexly

The second family of barriers to change I talked about last week concerned the complexity of our thinking.  As Einstein recognised, we cannot solve global problems at the same level of thinking that created them.

From the perspective of ACT, thinking is our capacity to relate things to one another, even arbitrary and abstract symbols.  As we mature, given the right mix of challenges and supports, we can learn to relate things in increasingly complex ways  including being able to take bigger perspectives on our own and others behaviour. More complex thinking helps us notice how our existing assumptions, beliefs and values are constraining the range of solutions we can imagine to global challenges. Do I really need that large house, new car or overseas holiday to be happy?

The complexity of our thinking also depends on emotional balance. Thinking about complex issues is uncomfortable because we experience doubt, uncertainty and fear.  And we think more simplistically when we are under stress, relating in ways that make us feel more certain, more right or more comfortable in the short-term.

Learning to manage discomfort helps us to think more complexly.  If you are anything like me, you might have noticed yourself sometimes switching off from even thinking about global change because of the difficult emotions it raises.

ACT enhances awareness and emotional balance. Both contribute to thinking more complexly.

ACT helps us to think together

The last psychological barrier that I considered was how self-interest often trumps the interests of others.  Effectively responding to global change will inevitably involve responding in the collective interest. ACT appears to enhance pro-social behaviour.

Within evolutionary theory there is increasing recognition that selection occurs at the group level as well as the individual. So there is a selection pressure for pro-social behaviour. In other words, groups that work well together tend to survive. In highlighting self-interest, public discourse based upon economics has unduly ignored how cooperative we are. Governments, laws, hospitals, schools and even language itself are all fundamentally cooperative.

The science underpinning ACT shows that language, cognition and even our sense of self is intrinsically social.  ACT increases pro-social responding in different ways: Increasing self-compassion increases compassion for others, increasing self-awareness increases our capacity to understand others’ perspectives, learning to defuse from harsh self-rules and critical stories about ourselves is associated with reduced stereotyping of others [2]. The skills we learn in ACT not only help us get along better with others, they call into question the very idea that we were ever separate to begin with.

It is this aspect of ACT that may ultimately have the most impact upon the way we deal with global change. We need an ‘orthogonal rotation’ in consciousness (to quote Jon Kabat Zinn) where ‘me’ becomes ‘we’ not just conceptually but lived sense conveyed so beautifully by Martin Luther King:

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality.” (Martin Luther King)

In a real sense, all life, not just human life, is inter-related. ACT turns that idea into science and action.

[1] Jablonka, E., & Lamb, M. J. (2006). Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life: The MIT Press.

[2] McHugh, L., & Stewart, I. (2012). The Self and Perspective Taking: Contributions and Applications from Modern Behavioral Science: Context Press.

Hello Again!

Some of our subscribers have not had any updates from Rob and I for some time. If you are not in this group then feel free to ignore this post.

We weren’t excluding you on purpose, it was all due to a tricky IT problem. But all is now sorted. Thanks to some top IT support from my son, Patrick. (Thanks Pat!).

So what did you miss?

The most popular post in the last few months was this one:

Successful People Feel Bad Too  – It is about how we all pretend that we have got it together even when we are feeling sad and overwhelmed.

Some readers seemed to also enjoy this post on what my chickens taught me about conflict resolution.

We started a Working With ACT Facebook page – if you are so moved you can now ‘like’ us!

You may notice that I (Rachel) have been dominating the blog somewhat in the last few months as Rob has been fiendishly busy with his other projects. But he assures me that he will be back delivering his own quirky style of writing soon.

So, ‘Hello Again’, we hope you are pleased that we are back.

So Do You Really Care About Your Team?

How likely is it that your team would say ‘Yes’ in response to the following statement?

My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person’

If they do say ‘Yes’, would you be one of the people they think of as demonstrating ‘caring towards others’?

Gallup has found that people who answer ‘Yes’:

  • Are more likely to stay with the organisation
  • Have more engaged customers
  • Are more productive*

So, caring about your employees/co-workers seems to be a good idea. But, so often this comes across as fake and, in my opinion, fake interest is worse than no interest at all.

In order for this to feel authentic to both you and others, it needs to connect to a deeply held value. So, my question for you is: Who do you want to be at work? How do you want others to see you? If ‘caring’ is a value you want to enact at work then not only will you feel authentic and vital but you might just be adding to the bottom line too!

* Taken from Vital Friends – Tom Rath

When Your Mind is Saying: ‘You Just Aren’t Good Enough’

I want to tell you a secret…I have a fierce ‘I am not good enough story’ running today. It has been in my face on and off most of the day.

What triggered it? My dear friend and co-blogger, Rob Archer, has written four really good posts in the last few weeks. In case you missed them, there are two on values here and here and two on talent management here and here. They are really good. I feel intimidated. My mind is telling me how embarrassing it must be for Rob to have to put up with my inarticulate ramblings on this blog. I have a strong impulse to delay posting until I come up with something absolutely brilliant.

So what do I do?

I breathe…and pause for a moment. I lean into myself with kindness. I acknowledge that this ‘I am not good enough’ story has been around for many years. If I dig around, I can even find my first memory of it (I was 4 and got in trouble at school for needing to go to the bathroom during class – let’s just say that the incident ended with me wearing some borrowed knickers from the school knicker cupboard). This story is an old friend that visits me often. And I know that it is trying to help, trying to keep me safe. To protect me from further ‘knicker cupboard’ embarrassment. I also acknowledge to myself that I am not the only person in the world that has that story running now and again.

And I think ‘What do my values tell me to do here?‘ This endeavour – Working with ACT – really matters to me. Being authentic and real really matter to me.

So here I am writing away…whilst my mind whispers, ‘This is rubbish, who wants to read this’.  Thanks mind.

Handling Painful Thoughts and Feelings

If we are to live rich and meaningful lives, painful thoughts and feelings are going to come along for the ride. If I love with all my heart, at some point I will get hurt. If I value doing a great job at work, sometimes I will make mistakes and look like a fool. If I want to really connect with someone, I have to show vulnerability.

So, what is the best approach to handling the painful thoughts and feelings that are an inevitable part of life? Russ Harris suggests letting go of strategies that don’t work in the long run, such as:

  • Ignoring your painful thoughts and feelings
  • Believing your painful thoughts and feelings
  • Not believing your painful thoughts and feelings
  • Resisting your painful thoughts and feelings
  • Letting your painful thoughts and feelings control your behaviour.

Instead, Steve Hayes suggests:

  • Honouring your pain the way you would honour a friend by listening
  • Walking with your pain the way you would walk with a crying baby
  • Carrying your pain the way you carry a picture in your wallet

Could you show yourself that compassion when you are in pain?