Software and Computer Engineering

Let's Read "Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life" by Steven Hayes

In this self-help book, Hayes guides you through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for dealing with suffering and, he claims, living a richer and more meaningful life. This book was recognized as consistent with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Steven Hayes is a clinical psychologist know for developing Relational Frame Theory (RFT), which is a theory of human language, cognition and behavior, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which is an evidence-based psychological intervention. As I read each chapter of the book, I will update this post to reflect my thoughts and understanding.

Idea 1 -- Pain is a part of the human experience

Pain comes in many forms. Trouble with relationships, falling short of your own expectations, remembering painful memories of your past, not getting something you wanted, and so on. It is important to realize that every person has a personal relationship with their own pain and their own struggle, even when things seem fine from the outside.

Living our lives to the fullest does not mean avoiding all pain. We will get a fair share of if, yet we like it or not, but how we position ourselves in relation to the pain we experience makes all the difference on how it affects us and our lives.

TV commercials and social media both paint an unrealistic picture of happiness being composed of pleasure and (implicitly) the absence of pain. In reality, happiness is not quite that. You can experience happiness even when in pain, and often, avoiding potentially painful experiences is in itself what keeps you away from being happier.

Thus, the moment to take action is now, not “later when I'm not in pain anymore”. Waiting for things to get better before you take action is a common trap. We must first take action for things to get better. We must live with our pain, our past, our memories, our fears and our sadness (and not in spite of it).

Idea 2 -- Avoiding pain leads to more suffering

For most of the things in our lives that bother us, getting rid of it solves the problem. If you don't like the smell of thrash in your living room, taking it out regularly is the solution. If you don't like some device you use, getting a new one might solve your issue. Unfortunately, this does not quite work for our own thoughts and feelings.

Research has shown that the more we try to suppress some undesired feeling or thought, the more it comes back, and even stronger. This is something baked in our human psyche and there's no way around it. Trying to suppress painful thoughts or memories is something that precisely leads us to longer and more suffering.

What to do? Experiencing our pain in an honest way, acknowledging it and welcoming it, in all its aspects, was demonstrated to be the most healthy behavior. This requires practice and patience, as adopting this behavior only expecting pain to go away is useless. Acceptance must be genuine and with no specific goal for it to be effective and truly liberating. The moment we let go of desires and expectations, we are free.

Idea 3 -- We believe our thoughts to be reality

Consider the fact that suicide attempts are not observed among other species and pre-verbal humans. Our ability to think and communicate about concepts in an abstract manner is the greatest tool that allowed the human species to take over the globe. On the other hand, this allow the very same mechanisms that lead us to seemingly inescapable deep holes.

We can fool ourselves with our thoughts. We can let ourselves believe in exaggerations, falsehoods, or be overconfident. These thoughts acts as a fuse for extreme emotions and poorly thought out actions. We can even let ourselves believe that our thoughts are the world and let ourselves be continuously immersed in them (which I believe relates to the title of the book).

To counteract this, we must practice mindfulness, an active awareness of thoughts, sensations and emotions. By practicing it, we can be aware of our thoughts, without acting upon them, taking them as additional information. Our thoughts and state of mind shape the world that we see, much like optical lenses, so being aware of our own biases and distortions help us take in a more accurate view of the world.