Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Part 3: Present Moment Awareness

I hope you have a few minutes to engage in a few exercises with me….

First, I’d like you to take 1 or 2 minutes to imagine that you are sitting on a white sand beach looking at the ocean, watching the waves roll onto the shore. Set your phone timer if that would be helpful. And….go.

What did you notice? If your mind is anything like mine, it ran off on you to thoughts about plans for later in the day, work or chores that have to get done, maybe an urge to get up and make a cup of coffee, or clean off the clutter on my desk, or… Our minds are constantly pulling us in many different directions. The bummer is that it would do this, even if you actually were on a sandy beach! Our minds are like puppies, constantly running and jumping around and often up to trouble!

Here’s another exercise:

Where are your feet?

I hope you’ll take a moment or two to really consider that question. Where are your feet?

What did you notice?

One of my mentors in graduate school used to ask me this when he noticed my mind running away from me…either into the past or into the future. You might have noticed that this question brought your attention to the room you are in, the sensations of your feet on the floor…the moment you are actually experiencing in this moment.

Present-moment awareness, or mindfulness, is a central component of acceptance and commitment therapy, and is the topic of part three of this blog series that describes–experientially–the 6 core processes in ACT. Present-moment awareness means bringing awareness to the moment that you are actually living, without judgement of your experience (e.g., good, bad). It means participating in your life—not only in the fun moments but the challenging moments as well, as best you can with curiosity and openness.

When we practice mindfulness regularly, our minds can be trained (just like a puppy!) to focus and join us in our lives. Practice can take any number of forms including:

  • Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to notice where you are, maybe ask yourself, “Where are my feet?” twice per day.
  • Take one or two or five minutes and use your sensations to help bring you into the moment. For example, notice the colors or the sounds around you.
  • Eat a snack or meal mindfully–or even a bite or two; really noticing what your food tastes like, what if feels like in your mouth.
  • Use guided mindfulness practices. You can search for guided exercises online, or use an app such as Headspace or CALM.

“I suck at mindfulness” is what I hear often from folks just beginning to practice mindfulness. These practices are simple but not easy! Our puppy minds want to go here, there, and everywhere. Becoming distracted is totally normal and expected. When you notice your mind has wandered–great! You are mindful again! And then bring it back to the sensation your are attending to in that moment. Again and again and again. If your mind is feeling particularly busy, guided mindfulness exercises can be helpful because there are often cues to remind us to bring our attention back when our minds have wandered. As best you can, have fun with this…I’m sure you can come up with additional ways and moments that might be interesting to use for practice as well!

Click here for Part 1 on Willingness and Part 2 on Defusion. (Being mindful is an important component of both!)

By: Kelsey E. Schraufnagel, PsyD