It was 10th October 2021 and a book that I had not ordered came through the post. It was World Mental Health Day and Skybound Therapies had sent all the staff different books based on the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. ACT encourages us to embrace our thoughts and feelings rather than fighting or feeling guilty for them. It teaches us to focus on behaving more consistently with our own values and apply mindfulness and acceptance skills to how we respond to our thoughts and uncontrollable experiences.
The book that I received was called “Stop avoiding stuff”. My brain instantly went to “your boss thinks you are avoiding stuff”…. well of course my brain told me the worst, that’s what our brains are good at. Thankfully, I had done quite a few ACT courses and read a few books before this, so I already had the skills to acknowledge the thought that came to my mind and accept it was just a thought. However, the truth is, I definitely still avoid stuff in order to avoid those uncomfortable feelings! I sometimes find myself avoiding having difficult conversations with people, whether that is families I work with, my boss, or the waiter that brought out cold food for me. I have actively avoided public speaking ever since my school days and because it’s old and engrained, it’s a tricky habit to break.
So, how do we stop avoiding stuff that is hard? I can’t give you all the answers in this small blog, but firstly, this book encourages you to meet your avoidance. Think about how your avoidance works. Notice and understand what you are doing, when you are doing it and why you are doing it. Whatever it is, I’m sure it is working for you because you have avoided the situation and therefore you do not have to feel those uncomfortable thoughts. However, have you ever noticed that this relief is often temporary, as that situation only arises again in the future for you to only have to avoid again?
Just because you understand how your avoidance works, this does not mean that you can control it. Control is part of the problem as this is what avoidance is all about. We need to learn the difference between controlling stuff outside our heads vs inside our heads. Do you ever try to change your negative thoughts by thinking about the positive thoughts instead? Do your negative thoughts go away and never return? Likely the answer is no. The book provides 25 microskills to face your fears and do it anyway! It helps you practice willingness and gratitude, to acknowledge and feel the emotions and make peace with discomfort, it provides ways of detaching from our minds and focuses on our values.