The celebration of a new year is frequently accompanied by hopes, wishes, and goals for the coming year, which take shape in the form of New Year’s resolutions. I will start exercising. I will spend more time with family or friends. I will get a hold of my finances. I will start volunteering. New Year’s resolutions are wonderful for providing us with the opportunity to reflect on what is important to us and take steps toward what we value…our health, our family or friends, giving back. And yet, they are frequently forgotten about days after the ball drops or we quit after getting discouraged if we did not stick with it for a day or two.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999) provides six concepts that promote “psychological flexibility,” or the ability to connect with the present moment and make choices based on what is important to us. Below is a brief review of ACT concepts, which can provide you with support to either continue or “reignite” your resolutions at any time during the year and keep you moving in the right (valued!) direction.
- VALUES Values refer to what you believe is most important in life. To determine your values, you can ask questions like: What do I want to stand for? What do I want to be doing in life? Who do I want to be known as by my loved ones? (These often inspire our New Year’s resolutions!)
- COMMITTED ACTION Committed action refers to the behaviors we make in a valued direction; doing what matters. For example, if I set a New Year’s resolution of wanting to be closer with my family (a value), a committed action may be calling a family member once a week or meeting a family member for a meal.
- PRESENT-MOMENT AWARENESS (Mindfulness) Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” We spend a lot of our days thinking and fretting about the past or worrying about the future, which causes us to miss the life we are living, as we are living it. Mindfulness means disengaging from your busy thoughts and joining the moment you are in, now.
- DEFUSION Defusion refers to changing our relationship to and untangling ourselves with our thoughts. Thoughts are just thoughts, not facts. You can learn to separate from and watch your thoughts (such as imagining that your thoughts are passing through your mind as clouds pass through the sky) as opposed to being stuck on and controlled by our thoughts (which can frequently steer us away from our values).
- ACCEPTANCE Acceptance refers to opening up and making room for whatever thoughts and feelings you are having—both the enjoyable AND painful experiences (both a reality of living!). Once we can begin to acknowledge and allow our thoughts and feelings, we can stop struggling against them and start living.
- THE OBSERVING SELF The observing self refers to our ability to step back from ourselves, reflect on our experience, and “watch” our thoughts. When we can watch our experience, and get perspective, we have a greater chance of making helpful, values-based choices.
In sum, these concepts help you…ACT! A: Accept your thoughts and feelings and be present C: Choose a valued direction T: Take action!
For additional information:
Harris, R. (2008). The happiness trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Boston: Trumpeter. Harris, R. (2009). ACT made simple. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications. Luoma, J., Hayes, S., & Walser, R. (2007). Learning ACT. Oakland: New Harbinger.