Last week, I attended a 4-day conference on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). I was really excited to learn more about this therapy style and improve my skills. I signed up early and made sure I adjusted my schedule so that I wouldn’t miss any of it. However, part of me didn’t want to go. You might think it’s because the training was a “boot camp” that ran for four days for twelve hours each day. My family might have thought that it was because I wouldn’t see them during this time. But neither of these reasons was the main reason that I wished I hadn’t already paid for the training. What worried me was that the training was unlike most of the educational opportunities I’ve participated in. I found out in advance that I wouldn’t be sitting in a room listening to someone lecture all day long but would be practicing the skills that I’d be learning. In addition to practicing my skills with the other participants, I would also have to share about my own struggles so that they could practice their skills. When I found out that this is how the conference would be, my mind started telling me that I was going to be judged by the other participants as a bad therapist and that I would be judged for not being a good enough person based on the personal issues I shared.
You might be thinking “Why did she decide to go? That sounds terrible.” I decided to attend this conference because I value learning and growing in my profession. So how was I going to cope with those thoughts about being judged? I could have avoided the whole situation. I could have avoided the exercises in which I had to practice the skills by going to the bathroom. I could have avoided feeling vulnerable when sharing about myself by sharing things that felt “safe”. But I didn’t do any of those things. When we avoid situations that scare us, we avoid feeling anxiety and fear. However, we also miss out on the experience and what is important to us.
So what did I do? I used mindfulness to notice my anxious thoughts and allow them to be there. I reminded myself of what is important to me and stayed committed to my goal to learn as much as I could in those four days. These steps allowed me to participate fully in each exercise to learn as much as I could. Feelings of discomfort showed up and I let them be there. Fearful thoughts showed up and I noticed them and let them be. Had I not used these skills, I might have missed out on an experience that was very meaningful for me. When we allow our values and what is important to us to guide our choices, we do things that are meaningful to us, regardless of any negative emotions or thoughts we may be having. Using mindfulness and ACT techniques allows us to do this. If you notice that you avoid uncomfortable situations but feeling like you’re missing out on life, I can teach you how to use these techniques so that you can live a life that feels meaningful to you. Reach out to learn more about how to incorporate these tools in your life.
“Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that – thoughts.” -Allan Lokos