Accepting a serious health issue can be hard so for the past few weeks, I’ve been describing strategies you can implement to transform that struggle into acceptance. The strategies have focused on mindfulness, how to be the fly-on-the-wall of your life, dealing with unhelpful thoughts and what acceptance really means. These strategies come from Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT). This week I explain the final two strategies: how taking Committed Action aligned to your Values are integral to getting to a place of acceptance with your health issue.
This is incredibly important. When we know what is truly important to us, we can more easily make decisions and take action in line with that. And that leads to living a meaningful life, which is what we all want for ourselves.
I’ll recap the ideas of Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) here and its benefits so you can see how all the strategies hang together. If you wish to read the series in full, you can find the first post here and the second post here. In fact, I encourage you to because it has useful ideas and strategies you can start implementing immediately. It will also give you the full picture of ACT thereby demonstrating the benefits of this talking form of help.Taking action which aligns with what is important to us enables us to live a meaningful life #AcceptanceCommitmentTherapy tell a friend
Accepting a serious health issue – Using ACT
The official definition of Acceptance Commitment Therapy, referred to as ACT (say it as the word ‘act’), is:
‘The goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility: the ability to contact the present moment and the psychological reaction it produces, as a fully conscious human being, and based on the situation, to persist with or change behaviour for valued ends.’ (Harris, 2007; Mindfulness Training Ltd., 2017)
Or to put it simply – To create a rich, full and meaningful life whilst accepting the pain and suffering which goes along with it.
You may read ‘accept the pain and suffering’ and think, ‘I’ve already got accepting this serious health issue to deal with!! What the hell is she on about?!’
Let me explain. Of course, we want to be happy more than we are sad or upset, yet sometimes life throws unpleasant or downright awful things our way. Sh*t happens as they say and it’s not fun. So when I say ‘accept’ this, I am not advocating saying ‘yes, this is such a great thing to have happened!’ It’s about acknowledging that yes, this sh*t thing has happened, this is how it has impacted me, this is how I feel about it.
As a society, we tend to push away and suppress bad things which happen to us or ‘bad’ feelings. So much so, anything ‘bad’ has become stigmatised. It is as if we ‘should never’ feel bad and ‘should always’ be happy. Yet when we suppress the ‘bad’ feelings, we don’t acknowledge them. And the ‘bad’ and unpleasant feelings so want to be acknowledged, they will leak out. The strategies used in Acceptance Commitment Therapy help you to visit with those feelings and acknowledge them so they become recognised as a normal aspect of your life. This all helps the process of accepting a serious health issue.
The key aspects of ACT are referred to in the above definitions:
- The ability to contact the present moment is being able to bring our attention openly, non-judgementally and with curiosity to what is happening in the here and now to ourselves, to others around us, to the situation. This is also known as mindfulness.
- Another side to contacting the present moment is being able to step outside of and observe ourselves. This is the first step in learning how ‘to stand in another person’s shoes’ and experiencing empathy with and for another. This can be learned.
- Become aware of our psychological reactions to the present moment and identify whether these are helpful to ourselves or not.
- Pain and suffering is a normal part of life, including unpleasant reactions we have to our here and now experiences, and it is important that we accept that. And accept the good things too.
- If our reactions are not helpful, then we may wish to change our behaviour.
- We change our behaviour to obtain what it is we value and want, i.e. our valued ends. But we need to know what it is we value to ensure our behaviour and actions we take align with that.
The following diagram shows these themes:
Let’s move on to talking about the last two principles of ACT, Values and Committed Action.
- What you believe and value in life like learning, having integrity, fairness, security, etc. You may make decisions based on our values. For example, some people preferred to be employed because they value the security of the pay check every month. Others may prefer to work for themselves because they value freedom of choice. When you make decisions which aren’t aligned with your values, there can be that sense of disquiet that something is not quite right.
- What you want for yourself in various areas of your life, the direction you want your life to take. These are the implicit or explicit goals you have for yourself regarding your:
- Physical health
- Psychological/ Emotional health
- Occupational – Your work, career, education whether paid or unpaid
- Relationships with family, friends, your social life
- Hobbies, personal interests, fun
- Where you live – home, town, city, state, county, country
- Spirituality, religion, faith
- Personal growth
This values exercise in this picture will help you learn more about what you value in life.
And to identify the direction you want to take in various areas of your life, get the Wellness Assessment which will help you do just that.
Committed Action means to take action to help you move in a valued direction in your life. Action can be something you say or do, a behavioural action for example. Or something you think or feel inside.
The Wellness Assessment I just mentioned will help you to start identifying some early action you can take in important areas of your life.
This is about committing to something for yourself. And that’s a lovely thing to be doing!
It is not about being perfect. Or expecting everything to happen perfectly.
It’s not about achieving everything by tomorrow. Small, even tiny goals that build on one another over time are great.
You will make mistakes, go off track, etc. That is part of life. It’s about learning from that and getting back on the track of your valued direction in life.Small even tiny goals that build on one another and are aligned to our values can become the tidal wave of change we have been seeking. #AcceptanceCommitmentTherapy tell a friend
So taking action which aligns with what you value will result in you living the meaningful life you want even with the health issue you have. And that helps so much in accepting a serious health issue. I often find when clients do this, the good things in their life take priority.
What’s it like for you?
What is most important to you in your life? If you were living your life as you wanted whilst still having the serious health issue, what would you be doing?
If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness or injury, or are caring for someone who is and would like support identify what is important to you so the action you take in 2018 aligns with that, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.
If you were living your life in 2018 as you wanted whilst still having #healthissue you have, what would you be doing? tell a friend
Special offer for Christmas and the New Year – 20% off all coaching packages between now and 31st January 2018. Quote code #XMAS17NY18
Have a happy, relaxing and joyful holiday season and all the very best for your 2018!
Pass it forward
Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, share using the icons below.
If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.
© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017
Harris, R. (2007). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Introductory Workshop Handout. Available here, (2017, November 20).
Whitfield H. (2011), Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Handbook, ACT Four Day Skills Intensive Part 1 & 2. London: Mindfulness Training Ltd.