An Introduction to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, is based on the idea that increasing psychological flexibility is a key element to achieve wellbeing. As the diagram below from the National Library of Medicine shows, there are several pieces that contribute to psychological flexibility: 

• Attention to the present moment (mindfulness) 

• Values 

• Committed action (in the direction of values) 

• Self-as-context (self is where thoughts and emotions occur; they’re not a part of the self) 

• Defusion (separating oneself from thoughts) 

• Acceptance 


Present Moment Awareness 

Present moment awareness is an important starting point to be able to fully accept things as they currently are. Being able to anchor in the present helps in recognizing the transience of thoughts and emotions. It also helps you to recognize when thoughts are dragging you off in the direction of either the past (as with rumination) or the future (as with worry). 

Present moment awareness can involve formal meditation practice, but it certainly doesn’t have to. It’s equally valid to take an informal approach centred on active awareness of what is happening inside the mind/body as well as what’s perceived through the senses from outside of it in the right here, right now. 

Questions for reflection 

  • When you’re walking somewhere, how much do you tend to notice things along the way? 
  • How often do you feel like you’re running on autopilot? Do you think you might be missing out on things because of that? 
  • How often do you try to multitask? How does that work out for you? 

Mindfulness Techniques 

The situations described in the previous questions all make it hard to practice acceptance because your mind gets caught up somewhere else. Here are a few strategies that can help to connect mind and body in the present moment: 

Body scan: This involves moving your awareness in a systematic way over the entire body, noticing as many sensations as you can. The pattern you follow across the body isn’t important; what matters is covering the whole body and only focusing on one spot at once. You might pick up tension, discomfort, ease, or other sensations. Notice them, allow them to be, release them and keep moving with your awareness. 

Mindful eating: A classic ACT exercise is the raisin meditation, which involves curiously experiencing holding and then eating a raisin in each of the five senses in turn. You can also focus mindfulness on the eating process in general. Sit down with some food, with no tv or devices to distract you. Imagine you are eating this food for the last time ever, and you’re trying to imprint it in your memory. Notice the different flavours and textures. Have a party in your mouth. 

Mindful walking: There are a couple of ways to do this. One is to turn the mindfulness inwards, focusing on the movements of your body, the shifts in weight, the feeling of your feet hitting the pavement, etc. Your body is a truly amazing machine, and deserves to be noticed for it! An alternative is to direct your mindful awareness outwards. Home in on little details of your surroundings, like the way the sun hits your face, the way the breeze ruffles your hair, or the sound of the breeze rustling tree leaves. Focus on being exactly where you are at that moment, and be curious about what’s there along with you. 

Mindful Crisis Management 

• Slow down breathing 

• Take note of what’s happening inside of you 

• Open up, allowing space for whatever thoughts and feelings are passing through you 

• Pursue your values in deciding how to move forward in the situation 

You’ve probably heard the saying that the only way out is through. Similarly, Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” In challenging situations, mindfulness keeps you grounded and focused so you can see the way through and come out on the other side.

What’s key with the ACT STOP stance is that you’re not trying to suppress your reaction. It’s not necessarily going to be easy to open up to difficult feelings, but those feelings are going to be there whether you want them or not. If you let them flow freely through you, you’re better able to get to a place where you can choose actions that are consistent with your values.


Pritam Chakraborty

As I was moving through life, I occasionally saw brief glimpses of beauty.

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