The goal of ACT is to help people live a life that gives them meaning and purpose, found through “psychological flexibility.” Psychological flexibility means contacting the present moment fully as a conscious human being and based on what the situation affords changing or persisting in behavior in the service of chosen values.
It is through avoidance and control of emotional and physical pain that we become “psychologically inflexible” and as a result, suffering develops.
ACT is focused on helping people create a new relationship with difficult feelings, thoughts, memories, and sensations so they may move toward valued living. ACT uses a range of techniques to reduce the power of these thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensations without denying their existence.
The following components of ACT allow participants to develop greater psychological flexibility.
Values: Values guide us in the direction we want to move in our lives. They are freely chosen, dynamic and evolving. Knowing what our own values are allow us to identify the actions we can take so that we are living in line with what is most important to us. Individuals who live in line with their values tend to be more satisfied in their lives than those who do not.
Mindfulness: Rather than focusing on the past or future, mindfulness invites us to be in the present moment, just as we are, without judgment. Mindfulness ensures that our actions align with our values.
Acceptance: Acceptance involves a willingness to make room for all our experiences – both painful and pleasant ones. It doesn’t assume that we like, want, or approve of these painful experiences. It involves a willingness to experience discomfort in the service of a value driven life.
Defusion from thoughts: Defusion from thoughts teaches us to notice our thoughts for what they are – just thoughts, rather than rules that govern our life. The work includes noticing how the mind works, and deciding which thoughts are helpful to us or not.
Self as context: Self as context invites us to access our “observing self,” the part of us that is unchangeable and impervious to harm. When we access our observing self, we see “the bigger picture,” and foster awareness of our experiences without attachment or avoidance.
Committed Action: Committed action includes engaging in value directed behavior in the here and now, even when difficult thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensations are present.