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How to Unhook Yourself from Thoughts

Russ Harris & Melli O'Brien






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How to Unhook Yourself from Thoughts

In this interview Russ reveals why popular ideas about happiness are misleading, inaccurate, and often make us miserable.

I'm your host, Melli O'Brien and I'm

so delighted to be here right now with

somebody I admire very much, Russ Harris.

Russ is the author of several

really wonderful books, including

the international bestseller,

The Happiness Trap, which is

a personal favorite of mine.

And he's also a world-renowned trainer of

acceptance and commitment therapy, which

we'll learn a little bit about today.

So, Russ, thank you so much for

taking this time out for the Summit.

I really appreciate.

Oh, you're welcome.

You're welcome.

It's good to be here.

So Russ, you used to be a GP?

At one time, yeah.

So you've had that.


So you've had quite a career shift.

Could you tell us the story of

what made you change careers?

Well, yeah, as a GP, I just found I was

less and less interested in the physical

side of health and wellbeing, and much

more interested in the psychological side.

I mean, it's really an artificial

distinction to talk about physical versus

psychological when it comes to health,

in the sense that, you know, even the

most deeply physical things like cancer,

or having an arm cut off comes with all

sorts of emotional and psychological you

know, pain and difficulty and stress.

And so I found as a GP, I was just

more and more interested in the

psychological, emotional side.

And I started to lose interest

in writing prescriptions.

And you know, that I'm not denying that

there's obviously a lot of, you know,

genuine physical problems out there.

But for me, the interest was

in the psychological side.

And even if you take something like

the common cold, we're breathing

in those germs all year round.

Why is it that it's certain times of

the year we come down with it, you know?

And it's usually when we're stressed

or run down or not kind of coping

well with the, you know, the

ongoing stressfulness of our life.

So my consultation started getting

longer and longer and longer.

And then I started to find that I was

spending, you know, 20 minutes talking

to people about their feelings and

emotions and five minutes at the end

talking about their physical issues.

And I'm like, I might be in

the wrong profession here.


So it was a gradual realization that I

was in the wrong profession and psychiatry

didn't really interest me as whole.

The psychiatry, really just giving people

a diagnosis of a mental illness and

giving them medication is, it is that

there are some brilliant psychiatrists

out there, but a lot of them, a lot

of psychiatry as it was taught, it

was really this focus on medication

and diagnosis of mental illness.

And that didn't really interest me either.

So I gradually just started exploring

psychotherapy and coaching and

discovered mindfulness fairly early on.

And I was very excited by the concept.

And so now you spend most of

your time as a therapist to coach

and training other teachers in

acceptance and commitment therapy.

So what, why ACT?

What is acceptance and commitment therapy

and why do you, why is it your passion?

Why have you ended up doing that?

Well, Oh, gosh, that's a big question.

The ACT is the official

abbreviation, not ACAT.

So well done, you've got

the abbreviation correct.

And the name reflects a key message.

Accept what is out of your

personal control and commit to

action that improves your life.

And everyone likes that idea.

Oh, accept what's out of your control,

commit to action that improves your life.

It's a nice idea, but

it's not so easy to do.

And we often, are not really very

good at knowing what is in our

control and what's not in our control.

So for example, the vast majority

of thoughts that pop into our head

every day are not in our control.

You know, you don't choose

most of the thoughts.

They just appear.

And, you know, so, I guess I

explored mindfulness via various

processes and pathways before ACT.

And what I really liked about

ACT was a couple of things.

Fisrtly, ACT is not

just about mindfulness.

It's about mindfully living

guided by your values.

So the outcome we're looking for in

ACT is psychological flexibility,

which is the ability to mindfully

act guided by your values.

Mindfulness without values is like

a ship without a rudder, you know.

A serial killer could use

mindfulness to kill more effectively.

So you need to kind of, it's not just

enough to be mindful, you need to be in

touch with your values, how you want

to treat yourself and others and the

world around you deep in your heart.

What sort of person do you want to be?

What do you want to stand

for in life, and so forth?

And so ACT has this really nice

coming together of these elements.

You know, it's about values, it's about

action, goal setting, guided by those

values, living in the present moment.

And I also fell in love with that

because it was very flexible in the

way that it, you know, kind of help

people to develop mindfulness skills.

There was no, many other mindfulness

approaches placed major emphasis

on meditation, and you have

to do your mindful meditation.

And that's great if you like meditation.

It's great if meditation

fits in with your life.

But lots of people don't like

it, or don't want it or find that

it's just impractical to keep

meditation going on a regular basis.

And so, you know, if you wanted people to

exercise and you said, you've got to go

to the gym for 40 minutes every day, you

get a lot of negative reactions to that.

If you want people to exercise more and

you say, you know, Dude, go for five

minute walk at lunchtime, or take a

flight of steps instead of the escalator

or park your car a bit further away from

the supermarket and walk a bit further,

then you get a lot more people inonboard.

And so this is the kind of

ACT approach to mindfulness.

There is literally, you know, thousands

and thousands of different ways of

developing mindfulness skills and

meditation is just a small subset of the

many ways that we can develop mindfulness.

So I like the flexibility of the approach.


So it sounds like ACT has not so

much of a strong emphasis on, you

know, you must do formal meditation,

but there's much more opportunity

and scope for the informal practice

and just weaving it into daily life.

Yeah, absolutely.

I mean, there's no emphasis on meditation.

We use the word skills rather than the

word meditation, because meditation

comes with connotations of, you know,

ohm and Buddhist monks and so forth.

So it's like, if you want, I mean, we've

got some exercises here that you can do

as formal meditation exercises, if that's

what you wanted, that's what fits for you.


And some people love that and like that.

But we know that, you know, for

example, when people have done other

mindfulness-based meditation programs

and you follow them up a year later, most

people aren't meditating a year after

doing say an MBSR program, you know.

But what they're often doing is kind

of doing the little, the little kind

of informal mindfulness things that

you can fit in throughout your day.

So, it's like, and, you know, other

mindfulness based practices that can be

very powerful, you know, like yoga as a

mindfulness practice and Tai-Chi, and most

martial arts have a kind of mindfulness

practices built into them, although they

often don't use the term mindfulness.

So there's lots of these formal

things that you can do that come

out of ancient Eastern pathways.

And that stuff is great if you

like it and you want to do it.

And if it doesn't fit with you, there's

a zillion other things that you can do.

I love that.

And you know, that's something that's been

coming up in this summit a little bit as

well is that, you know, there's a, I think

a lot of people sometimes are actually

practicing mindfulness, but potentially

not realizing they're doing it.

You know, when they're alone in nature

or they're going for a swim or a surf,

and sometimes people are able to just

kind of realize that they can, I guess

accentuate or choose deliberately when

they're in those moments to either

elongate the practice or to just know

what they're doing as they're doing it.

Well, so yeah, I mean,

that's a good point.

Many people spontaneously kind

of get very present in two

kinds of sets of circumstances.

One is when they're in beautiful

environments like nature or another

is where they're doing, you know,

kind of some sort of activity

that they really enjoy, like

their favorite sport, for example.

Some people, you know, when you're

really playing or engaging with your

kids and actually, you know, for a

lot of us, when we go on holiday to

an exotic country, we're very, very

mindfully aware of all the different

sights and smells and shapes.

But probably where mindfulness is

most difficult or most challenging

and highly unlikely to come

naturally to people are in really

challenging, stressful situations.

It's very hard to mindful when

you're all sort of furious or

anxious or upset and so forth.

Or in doing the same old stuff that

we do all the time and we normally

just switch off or try to do stuff.

The mundane stuff.

The mundane stuff, yes.

So I wanted to ask you, cause I

know there's a lot of definitions

about, there's a lot of definitions

out there of what mindfulness is.

Do you have kind of a working

definition that you use?

I know it's a tricky question, but...

It is.

There's no consensus,

you know, there are many.

By far, the most widely spread

definition, I think is Jon Kabat-Zinn's

definition, which you've probably

talked about in other presentations.

But I'm kind of, out of all of these

different consensus, out of all of

these different concepts of mindfulness,

there are at least two things that

virtually everybody agrees on.

One is it's an attention process.

It's paying attention

and it's about focusing.

And the other that virtually everyone

agrees on is there is some degree of

acceptance involved as you pay attention.

So the shortest definition of

mindfulness that is out there

is acceptance with awareness.

That's Germer's definition.

I like that.

It's pretty cool.

Kabat-Zinn's definition

is also pretty useful.

My own definition is really just a

way that I've kind of distilled from

all the other stuff that's out there.

I would define mindfulness as

paying attention with openness,

curiosity, and flexibility.

So it's paying attention,

but not in any old way.

There's an attitude of openness

to what is here right now.

I might not like it, I might

not want it, I might not

approve it, but I'm open to it.

I'm not fighting with it.

I'm not running away from it.

I'm open to it.

Curiosity, most models of mindfulness

emphasize this curiosity and attention.

So even if it's something

really unpleasant or difficult,

I'm curious about it.

So curiosity, openness and flexibility.

Flexibility of attention.

Now we have kind of, you know, for

example of a rigid or inflexible

attention, think of a 13 year old

boy playing, you know, PlayStation.

He's glued to the screen.

He's absolutely fixed on the screen.

Burglars could come into

his house, steal everything.

As long as they don't steal

the PlayStation, he won't

even notice they're there.

That kind of rigid, fixed

attention is not mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a flexibility of attention.

I'm chatting to you right now.

I want to be engaged in the conversation

with you, but, you know, I smell

smoke coming from the kitchen.

I want to be able to shift my attention.

So it's kind of sometimes it's

inner directed to my thoughts and

feelings, sometimes externally to

the world out, what I can see and

hear around me, sometimes a very

narrow focus, sometimes a very broad

focus, this flexibility of attention.

So flexible, open, curious attention.

Many definitions include something

about the present moment, but I actually

think that's superfluous because you

can only ever pay attention to what's

happening in the present moment.

You can't pay attention to the past.

You have thoughts about the past, but

you can't pay attention to the past.

You can't pay attention to the future.

You can have thoughts about the future,

but you can't pay attention to them.

You can only pay attention to

what's here in the present moment.

So, even if you were paying attention to

the thoughts about the future or about the

past, you would be doing that attending

to those thoughts in the present moment.

In the present moment.

So I don't really, yeah.

So open, curious, flexible attention.

I like that.

And I came to your conference a couple

of months ago, as you know, and it

was, I really, really enjoyed it

and highly recommend it to others.

One of the things you said in

it stuck with me a little bit.

You said in the beginning of the

presentation, you said, and I

quote, "It kind of bothers me that

mindfulness is often referred to as

being exclusively a Buddhist thing."

Now, Russ, it kind of bothers me too.


But I'm curious to know

why it kind of bothers you?

Well, I think because, you know, almost

every article, every book, every speaker

attributes mindfulness to Buddhism,

but it's much older than Buddhism.

I mean, Buddhism's only 2,600 years old.

Mindfulness practices can be found

in all the world's religions.

And certainly, there are mindful

practices, well, even, look I'm no

expert on Buddhism, but from the little

bit of reading I've done, the Buddhist

scriptures make it very clear that

Buddha learned mindfulness from a Yogi.


That's in the original

Buddhist scriptures here.

So in the yogic tradition, mindfulness

goes back 4,000 years, but there are

also mindfulness practices in Judaism

that are 4,000 years old and in Taoism.

Although the Taoist scriptures

were written about the same time

as the Buddhist scriptures, about

two and a half thousand years ago.

But the Taoist teachings are

thought to be about 7,000 years old.

So, you know, mindfulness is ancient.

And you know, it's, I just, it's

not that it bothers me, it's

just that it's inaccurate to say

mindfulness comes from Buddhism.

And every world religion you can

think has got a contemplative branch

and the contemplative of branch of

Christianity, Islam, Judaism is very,

very similar to what you find in

Buddhism and Hinduism and so forth.

There's this kind of core theme of

mindfulness in the contemplative

branches of all the world's religions,

you know, which is interesting.

Whereas in the literalist branches

at the religions, obviously you

get away from that, you know.


I've found the same thing.

And I was talking to Joseph Goldstein

the other day and he was talking

about a similar thing as well, that

mindfulness, as a practice seems

to be quite well, widely spread.

And I think that, I think, you know,

I think it'd be fair to say that

mindfulness is a human thing, you

know, not exclusively a Buddhist

thing, but very much a part of that

lineage, yeah, which is wonderful.

So in your book, The Happiness Trap,

you talk about how our common ideas

about happiness often are not only

misleading, but inaccurate and actually

get us into a bit of trouble where

they end up making us miserable.

So I was wondering if you could

tell us what those common mistaken

ideas are and maybe set the record

straight and tell us what, where

does true happiness really come from?

Oh, gosh.

Well, there's so many of them that

the, I mean, probably the biggest

ones are firstly, the idea that

happiness means feeling good.

You know, the Macquarie dictionary,

which is Australia's number one

dictionary, defines happiness as a

state of pleasure or contentment.

Well, if that's your definition of

happiness, you know, how long does the

state of pleasure or contentment last?

You know, think of the

happiest day of your life.

You know, how long before there was

some frustration, anxiety, irritation.

And so if your definition of

happiness is that it's feeling good.

It's a state of pleasure,

a state of contentment.

Then there's no such thing

as lasting happiness.

And you're going to struggle with

reality because the things that make

life rich, full of meaning, full, do not

just give you pleasant feelings, right?

Like you're married.

Do you have kids?

I don't have kids, but I do have a cat.

So it's kind of, you know, anybody

watching this presentation, just think

of a close relationship you have with a

partner or with your children, you know.

Real close relationships

bring painful feelings, right?

Even a cat.

Like cats are a lot.

He just ripped my pants this morning.

These are some of my favorite pants.


I mean, cats are a lot easier to live

with than a mate, but even cats and

dogs will push your buttons at times.

And so, you know, relationships

are fundamental to building

rich and meaningful lives.

And when relationships go well, there's

lots of lovely, pleasant feelings.

But when relationships come with conflict

or tension or loss or difficulty,

there's lots of painful feelings.

And so the things that make life

rich, full and meaningful, don't

just give you pleasant feelings.

They give, I often say to my clients,

if you're going to live a full

human life, you're going to feel

the full range of human emotions,

not just the ones that feel good.

So in the ACT model, we don't use the word

happiness because it's such a loaded term.

Most people think happiness means

feeling good or a state of pleasure.

We use the term vitality, a sense of

embracing life to the full, whether this

moment is a moment full of pain or a

moment full of joy or a mixture of both.

All we have is this moment.

So let's embrace this moment

of life, live it to the full.

Or the other phrase we use is a

rich, full and meaningful life.

And you know, a rich, full and

meaningful life is one in which there

is the full range of human emotions.

And unfortunately, our culture

doesn't really teach us how to

deal with the painful emotions.

So another one of the big happiness

myths is the way for me to

kind of build on the first one.

If happiness is feeling good, a state of

pleasure and contentment, then the way

for me to have happiness is to eliminate

my painful thoughts and feelings,

to kind of get rid of the unpleasant

ones and accumulate the pleasant ones.

And unfortunately, that, which

comes naturally to all of us, right?


You know, you don't like

unpleasant feelings.

Do you?


I don't either it.

But the more I start to live my life

based on this idea that I need to avoid

and get rid of painful feelings and

accumulate pleasant ones, I have to get

rid of my negative thoughts and replace

them with positive ones, the more tightly

I cling to that agenda for creating a

good life, the more problems it creates.

It gives rise to something that

psychologists call experiential avoidance.

That's a jargon word for you.

Experiential avoidance,

saturate that with subtitles.

Sure, we'll edit that in later.

Experiential avoidance basically

is the ongoing attempt to avoid or

get rid of unwanted thoughts and

feelings, usually uncomfortable,

unpleasant thoughts and feelings.

So everybody is experientially

avoidant to some extent.

But the higher your degree of experiential

avoidance, the more you're going through

life trying to avoid pain, trying

to avoid and get rid of unpleasant,

unwanted thoughts and feelings, the

higher your risk of depression, anxiety,

addiction, developing post-traumatic

stress disorder, long-term disability

from illness or injury, reduced

performance at work and so on and so on.

So high levels of experiential

avoidance, going through life trying

to avoid painful thoughts and feelings,

create huge amounts of problems.

So when we do that by, you know,

constantly distracting ourselves, trying

to stuff things down, push them away

or even this kind of a thing that I

think so common in our culture of just

kind of like pepping up and positive,

thinking your way through it and putting

on one of those nice glossy smiles

when underneath, you know, you can see

sometimes that people are miserable.

It's such a funny thing, isn't it?

Because instinctively, it feels like

the thing to do, to try and push away.

But you're saying that in that pushing

away, it's almost like actually you

use the analogy of quicksand in the

conference, which just is, yeah.

Could you kind of give us that analogy?

I think that's a really great

analogy to explain, I think,

the futility of it, I guess.


Well, I guess it's so, it's a fairly

classic metaphor in the ACT approach.

When you fall into quicksand, you know,

every instinct tells you to struggle.


You know, and the more you struggle

in quicksand, the faster you sink.

You've seen those old cowboy films,

you know, the bad guy with a black

hat falls into the quicksand and

struggles and struggles until,

you know, there's just a black hat

left on the top of the quicksand.

But that's not what the good guy does.

The good cowboy, the one with the

white hat, he doesn't struggle.

He lies back and stretches out and floats.

And if you lie back and stretch

out in quicksand and then

you can kind of float on it.

So you you lie back, you stretch out and

you whistle for your horse to rescue you.


And if you don't have a horse, then,

you know, a trained sheep dog or in

Australia, a kind of domesticated...

A kangaroo.

There you go.

Could be very useful.


So, but that doesn't come naturally.

We only would know that because

we saw those old cowboy films.

Our instincts are to struggle.

And so it is with painful emotions, our

instincts are, when painful emotions

show up, we tend to struggle with them.

And unfortunately the more we

struggle with them, typically the

greater and greater the impact

and influence they have over us.

So anxiety disorders are

not caused by anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are caused

by struggling with anxiety.

The more I live my life trying

to avoid and get rid of anxiety,

the more problems it creates.

If I start avoiding social situations

because I don't like the feelings

of anxiety that show up when I

socialize, my life becomes very narrow.

If I start taking drugs and alcohol

to push away the painful emotions

that life is dealing me right now,

I start to develop an addiction.

If I start avoiding any kind of

challenging issue at work or deadline

because it's bringing up too much

anxiety for me, then the deadlines

and the challenges don't get met

and then I get even more anxiety.

So we kind of, you know, I

often talk about zombies.

Are you a zombie fan?

Do you like zombies?

I don't watch scary movies.

I'm one of those sensitive types,

even the slightest hint of blood

seems to almost make me want to vomit.

So no, no zombies for me.

All right.

Well, definitely don't

watch the Walking Dead.

I love zombies.

And the reason I love zombies is because

they're like the opposite of mindfulness.

So zombies are on automatic pilot,

no self-awareness, no consciousness,

no sense of living by their values

or engaging in the present moment.

They're just pushed around by their

most basic primordial instincts.


And well all of us go into

zombie mode throughout the

day, again and again and again.

We go on to automatic mode and

there's kind of two zombie moves

that we make throughout the day.

One is something pleasant shows

up that I really like or want.

And, you know, that might be drugs,

might be alcohol, it might be food,

it might be an attractive person, it

might be, you know, a plasma television,

something that I really want or like

shows up and I go, urggh, urggh.

You know, just kind of urggh,

that's what I want, urggh, you know.

And that underlies so many addictions

and compulsions and when we get

obsessed about things that I have

to have in order to be happy, urggh.

And the other zombie move, something

unpleasant shows up and it could be

a difficult task or a challenge or a

situation or a difficult person, or

it could be unpleasant feelings and

emotions inside my body and the second

zombie move, I don't know if you can

see this on camera, it's kind of all

over that, so that is kind of I'm not

prepared, second zombie move is kind

of this it's like, ugh, ugh, ugh.

Kind of get out of the way.

And we go through our

life like this, ugh, ugh.

Whereas mindfulness mode is different.

Mindfulness mode is kind of

turning towards what's here

with openness and curiosity.

So something I really like or want

shows up in instead of uugh, ah.

And something unpleasant shows

up and instead of ugh, go, ah.

So zombie, ugh, ugh ugh.

And then mindful, ah.

Zombie, ugh.

Mindful, ah.

You know, and that's a big difference.

Ah, here's something I don't want.

Here's something I do want.

Kind of make room for them, let

them be there and respond to

them in a way that's flexible.

You know?

So you're, so with mindfulness in that

approach, you have this ability to

stand back from the urge is still there

to push or pull, but you have a choice

about whether to play them out or not.


And the more you develop that

capacity, I mean, that's how you are

able to break self-defeating habits.

Whatever the self-defeating habit is,

it's likely to be some combination

of uggh this or uggh that or both.


And so you need to be aware

that you're doing that.

And notice, there's an urge to do these

things and let the urges be there and

let the thoughts and feelings be there,

come to this kind of open curious,

ah, this is what's going on here.

And then make a choice.

And that's where the values come in.

You know, if I just let my values guide

what I do here, what would I choose to do?

How can I act in a way that supports me in

being the person that I really want to be?

What do I really want here

instead of just reflexive action?


What do I want to be about, you know?

So often when we, you know, lose

our temper, you know, we're not, you

know, we lose touch with our values.

We just get so caught up in our...


The, I think, you know, building on what

we're talking about in ACT, you talk about

cognitive fusion and cognitive diffusion,

which I think in some, Spiritual texts

or some religious traditions or spiritual

traditions is sometimes referred to as

identification or non identification.

I think we're talking

about the same thing.

So I was just wondering if you could,

we just kind of touched on that ability

to stand back from feelings and thoughts

and be a bit, have a bit more choice.

Could you explain what cognitive

fusion is and also how mindfulness

helps with cognitive diffusion?

Well, yeah.


I think the best thing is I'll

take you for a little exercise now.

I'll get you to do it with me.

Oh, I'd love to.

And anybody watching the,

anybody watching the video, I'll

get them to do it with me too.

So if you just kind of turn so that

you can kind of, particularly viewers,

you know, you can kind of see the,

everything in front of you right now.

I want you to imagine that in front

of you is everything that makes your

life rich, full, and meaningful.

The people you love, the activities

you love, your favorite, you know, food

and music and all that kind of stuff.

Also what's in front of you right now

is all the real problems and challenges

in your life that you have to face up to

and deal with, all the difficult stuff.

And also what's in front of you right

now are all the tasks you have to do on

an ongoing basis to make your life work.

And I want you to imagine that your

hands are your thoughts and feelings.


And just kind of put them

together like pages in a book.

I might just kind of step back

a bit from the camera again.

So, if you're watching this at

home or wherever you're watching

this, I want you to kind of do a

lot of imagining that everything

you care about is in front of you.

Your hands are your thoughts and feelings.

And now copy me.

See what happens is you get hooked by

your thoughts and feelings, caught up,

entangled in your thoughts and feelings.

And so kind of bring your hands right

up till they're covering your eyes.

The technical name for this is fusion.

So your now fused with

your thoughts and feelings.

Or if you don't like the term fused, you

could say hooked, entangled, caught up.

And so notice three things

keeping your hands over your eyes.

Notice three things.

Firstly, how much are you

missing out on right now?

You know, if the people you love and the

activities you love or in front of you,

how disconnected and disengaged are you?

How much are you missing out on?

Secondly, notice how hard it

is to focus your attention?

If, you know, if you keep your hands over

your eyes and look back at the computer

screen and the video of me, just imagine

that I am the person you need to focus on.

How hard is it to focus on me like this?

How hard for you to focus on the

task that you need to do or to

engage fully in what you're doing?

And the third thing to notice is

how difficult is it to take action?

How difficult is it like this to do the

tasks that make your life work to drive

a car or type on a computer or cuddle

a baby or hug the person you love?

You know, it's very difficult.

Ever so slowly, again copy me here.

Ever so slowly, bring your hands

away, kind of, this is diffusion,

starting to diffuse, to unhook,

detach, disentangle, diffuse.

And now look around and

notice the difference.

How much richer and

fuller your experience is?

How much more you can see and take in?

How much easier, excuse me,

how much easier to engage and

connect to the person you love?

How much easier to give me your full

attention, keep your arms around?

How much easier is it now to take action,

to type on a computer or drive a car or

hug the person you love or cook dinner?

So notice you haven't gotten rid of

these things, they're still there.

You haven't chopped them

off and gotten rid of them.

They're still there.

If there's something useful you

can do with them, then use them.

You know, even the most painful

thoughts and feelings often

have some useful information.

They alert you to things in your life that

you need to take action on or, you know,

important values connected to this pain.

But if there's nothing useful

you can do with them, then

you just let them sit there.

So this is kind of the, fusion means

we get entangled, caught up in our

thoughts and feelings, and they have

a huge impact and influence on us.

And as we start to diffuse from our

thoughts and feelings, it enables us to

be present and engage and take action,

guided by our values to do the things

that make life rich, full, and meaningful

and engage fully in what we're doing.

And this is what we aim to do in ACT.

And so mindfulness helps us to

build that capacity to experience,

if you will, cognitive diffusion.

Would you say that mindfulness

is the means by which we're

able to kind of do this?

Well, what we would say in the

ACT model is this kind of three

basic mindfulness processes.

And you can see them all

in this little exercise.

So one process is contacting

the present moment.

So noticing right here, right

now, engaging in what is

happening in the present moment,

outside me or inside me or both.

Then the second process is what we

call diffusion, short for cognitive

diffusion, which is very specifically

around starting to recognize the

thoughts, images, memories, what we

call cognitions that are linked into.

I use the phrase, thoughts and feelings,

and what we're talking about is all

the kind of words and images from,

from some little pop-up thoughts

to deep interpretations of meaning.

All the stuff that shows up when you're

feeling sad or angry or anxious, you know.

That's all cognition.

So we start to become aware

of our cognitions and start to

separate and detach from them.

And then the third element is, you know,

at the end of this exercise, your hands...

Well, if I was sitting down,

you know, they'd be resting in

my lap and that's acceptance.

So allowing it to be there.

So you've got contacting

the present moment.

You've got diffusing from

your cognitions and you've got

acceptance, allowing it to be there.

And all of that is mindfulness.

There was

a practice that you led during the

conference which I think really is

a wonderful experiential practice of

knowing what it is to have that diffusion.

So I was wondering if you would

care to just guide us through even

just a short practice for a couple

of minutes to experience that.

I'm just going ask our viewers to

pick a nasty, negative self judgment.

You know, in ACT, we talk a lot about

how your mind is like a judgment machine.

It just conjures up judgements

all the time about yourself and

others and the world around you.

And virtually everyone's walking

around with multiple versions of

the I'm not good enough story.

Have you got some I'm not good at story?

Of course, I do.

And they usually start young.

My first versions of the I'm

not goodness story started when

I was about four years old.

What about you?

When did you start?

Oh, for as long as I can remember.

I think that's my oldest record, I think.


So it's kind of, and no one's

found a way to get rid of,

I'm not good enough stories.

All the positive thinking courses in the

world and self-affirmations don't stop

your mind from saying this, you know.

So,I'll get people just to give them a

taste of diffusion, bring to mind a nasty

version of the I'm not good enough story.

Something your mind says when it beats

you up or brings you down, put it into

a short sentence, like: I am X or I am

not Y enough, I am fat, I am stupid, I

am not smart enough, I'm a lousy mother.

I'm a, you know, I'm too judgmental.

You know, you get the idea.

So keep it short and sweet.

And I will say to the viewers, you know,

make sure you pick something that is

having an impact in your life today,

that in some way, when your mind judges

you this way, it pulls you back or

brings you down, something like that.

And first of all, I'm going to ask

the viewers to, for 10 seconds, to buy

into the nasty negative self judgment.

So do not challenge it.

Do not dispute it.

Don't try to push it away.

Don't try to replace it

with a positive thought.

I want them to experience fusion.

I want to, so for about 10 seconds,

and in fact it's more powerful if you

can close your eyes for this so that

you could cut off from the outside

world and really fuse with the thought.

So everybody watching the

video, please do this now.

Close your eyes and fuse with that

nasty I'm not good enough story.

I'm fat.

I'm stupid.

I'm not smart enough.

I don't measure up.

Just stay with it for a few more seconds.

Buy into it.

Believe it as much as you can.

Now silently, again keeping your

eyes closed, silently replay that

thought with these words in front,

I am having the thought of that.

So I'm having the thought

that I'm incompetent.

Now, finally replay it one more time.

The phrase is a bit longer.

I notice I'm having the thought that.


So I notice I'm having the

thought that I am boring.

And coming back.

And so, Melli, you can come back now.

And so can the viewers.

You have to tell me to open my eyes,

otherwise I'll just stay there.

With your hands, kind of, if this is

totally, you know, hooked or fused, and

this is totally defused, just show me what

happened during that exercise for you.


So you felt that kind of

unhooking and that diffusion.

So notice we didn't challenge the thought.

We didn't look at it, whether it was

true or false or try to get rid of it.

We just acknowledged

it's a thought, you know.

I am having the thought that I am X.

And then we added another stage, I

notice I'm having the thought that I'm X.

And that little simple mindfulness

technique, the diffusion technique

is something that I would encourage

all your viewers to take away

and practice throughout the day.

Anytime you realize you've been hooked,

you know, is my favorite term for fused,

every time that you've been hooked

by some unhelpful thought, just kind

of push your feet into the floor, you

know, ground yourself, center yourself.

Try replaying that little phrase, I'm

having the thought that, and if you're

still hooked, then go a stage further,

,I notice I'm having the thought that.

What I find is about 50% of

the time when I do this with

clients, they object initially.

They say, but it's true.

I really am, you know, X, Y, and Z.

So my response is, you know, in

this approach, in the ACT approach,

we're not interested in whether your

thoughts are true or false 99.9% of

the time, only, very, very rarely.

Most of the time, we're not interested in

whether your thoughts are true or false.

What we're interested in is when

these thoughts pop into your head,

when your mind starts telling you

this stuff, if you get all caught

up in those thoughts, does it help

you to be the person you want to be?

Does it help you to do

the things you want to do?

If it does, then obviously

use those thoughts.

But a lot of the time, most of the

time, nasty, negative self judgements

don't have that effect, you know.

So true or false, doesn't usually matter.

It's just does it help

me to hold onto this?

That's really helpful.

And especially in times of, especially

in the times when those negative nasty

thoughts are really starting to pile

up, just to have a moment of grounding

and noticing that they're thoughts.

They're just thoughts.



So, you know, the, and they may be

true and they may be false, you know?

It's like, I'll finish up with

an anecdote about this guy was

referred to me with depression.

He was a hugely obese

truck driver, massive guy.

And he was having lots of a really

self judgmental thoughts, you know.

I'm fat.

I'm disgusting.

I'm, you know, killing myself

with all this junk food.

Those were the milder ones.

There were really kind of he was really,

his mind was really tough on him.

It was basically just calling

him a fat slob all the time.

And we started to do a bit of

diffusion and he said, but it's true.

I really am fat.

And he pulled his shirt up.

Like, Okay.

Thanks for sharing.

So I had this little chat with him.

I said, you know, tell me

a bit about your values.


If I could wave a magic wand so that

all of these thoughts and feelings

were like water off a duck's back, they

weren't pushing you around anymore,

how would you like to treat your body?

Well, you know, I wouldn't

eat so much shit, mate.


So you might eat some more healthy food.


What else would you do?

Well, wouldn't sit around all

day watching crap on the teli.

Okay, you might exercise more.



So it sounds like there's a really

important value here, which is

about self care, kind of caring for

yourself, taking care of the body.

And if you were really in touch with

that value, you'd be doing things like

eating healthy food and exercising.

Now when your mind starts speaking

to you and saying I'm a fat slob.

I've got no willpower.

I've got no discipline.

I'm killing myself.

I'm disgusting.

If you get all caught up in those

thoughts, does it help you to live

that value of self care and taking

care of your body and eating well?

Oh no.

What happens when you get

caught up in those thoughts?

Well, I get depressed.

Then what you do?

I eat shit, man.

So I was like, okay.

So, I don't know how to stop your

mind speaking to you that way.

We're certainly not going to waste

your time and my time debating

whether these thoughts are true

or false, it's not relevant.

Would you like to learn a new way

of responding to those thoughts

so that next time your mind starts

telling you the I'm a fat slob story,

instead of this, you can learn to

do this so that you can then start

treating your body in a different way.

So it's a big paradigm

shift for most people.

Here of just seeing thoughts as thoughts

and not getting into judging whether

they're true or false or positive or

negative, optimistic or pessimistic.

That doesn't matter.

The big question is, if I let these

thoughts guide what I do, does it

help me to be the person I want to be?

Yeah, that's powerful.

That's a powerful story.


Thank you so much for your time, Russ.

I really appreciate it.

And I wish you all the best.

Thank you.

Thanks for having me.

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The Mindfulness Summit  null Playlist · 23 tracks

The Mindfulness Summit

Playlist · 23 tracks4.9

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