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Steven C Hayes on PYP 425: How to Liberate Our Minds

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Steven C Hayes is the originator of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or Acceptance and Commitment Training, take your pick), one of the most important psychological approaches of the past 100 years.

Why the high praise? For several reasons:

  1. ACT is evidence-based
  2. ACT is learnable
  3. ACT is actionable
  4. ACT can be practiced and shared by pretty much any human in any role, unlike most therapies that require degrees and certifications.
  5. ACT is built from the ground up from fundamental theories of human cognition and behavior
  6. ACT seeks to create mental health, rather than simply address mental illness

In our conversation, we tackled the question that has vexed so many philosophers: Why is it so damn hard to be a human?

The answer, according to Hayes, lies in the very quality that has enabled us to tame fire, create civilizations, build the Internet, and invent flame throwers: our ability to create and share symbolic meaning.

We've evolved a system in the brain that can evaluate, compare, and problem-solve. It's a freakishly useful tool, this brain-part, but it's also problematic. It tells us fantasies about the world and ourselves that we get duped into believing. And when these fantasies conflict with reality, we suffer.

Hayes calls this part of us – and it's a part of each and every one of us, and never shuts up, and there's nothing we can do to make it stop – the Dictator.

The Dictator is the voice that says things like, “You're stupid.” “You'll never last on this diet.” “People shouldn't be mean.” “Unless you are thin, people will hate you.”

The first thing we can do to reclaim our power, and liberate our minds from the grip of this Dictator, is to create a separation between ourselves and the voice. ACT refers to this as defusion, as in undoing the fusion we accidentally made with the voice.

The Dictator gets in our way not only when we're trying to lose weight or be more productive. It can also put deeply distressing thoughts in our heads; racist, sexist, perverted, hateful thoughts. We don't want to embrace the thoughts, but neither do we want to suppress them and have them drive our words and actions without our conscious knowledge and consent.

For example, a racist thought that gets repressed might pop out in the ignorant comment, “I don't see race.” The shame that would be triggered by conscious acknowledgment of internalized racism is so great, the person must repress and deny its existence. When we defuse from the Dictator and its unbidden thoughts, we can accept that those thoughts exist in our awareness, and work overtly to challenge them and keep them from defining our actions.

Now about that fundamental theory of human cognition and behavior: it's called Relational Frame Theory, and it explains some of our weirdest quirks. Like, why do we sometimes binge on unhealthy food after passing a gym?

Hayes blew my mind when he shared the etymology of the word “suffer.” The -fer at the end is related to the word for “ferry,” to carry or transport. And the “suf” prefix comes from “sub,” or “under.” So suffering is choosing to carry pain like a burden, to keep it with us and refuse to lay it down.

ACT acknowledges that pain is an inevitable part of life. We talked about the three things that lead to pain: aversive events (experienced, witnessed, and recalled – so think about that the next time you turn on the TV news or scroll your Facebook feed), comparisons, and avoidance of unpleasant sensations and emotions.

We also talked about using ACT to change our thought patterns, break our identification with unhelpful thoughts, and make plans to adopt behaviors more in keeping with our goals. We spoke about the power of values, as opposed to goals, to drive sustained behavior change. And we looked at a strange exercise – repeating a single word over and over for 30 seconds – to hack our minds to let go of dysfunctional meanings and give us the space to create new, empowering ones.

In case this introduction doesn't work in convincing you that Dr Hayes is a BFD (that stands for Big Deal, of course), I've borrowed a few paragraphs from his website:

Steven C. Hayes is Nevada Foundation Professor in the Behavior Analysis program at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada. An author of 44 books and nearly 600 scientific articles, his career has focused on an analysis of the nature of human language and cognition and the application of this to the understanding and alleviation of human suffering. He is the developer of Relational Frame Theory, an account of human higher cognition, and has guided its extension to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a popular evidence-based form of psychotherapy that uses mindfulness, acceptance, and values-based methods.

Dr. Hayes has been President of Division 25 of the APA, of the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy, and the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science. He was the first Secretary-Treasurer of the Association for Psychological Science, which he helped form and has served a 5 year term on the National Advisory Council for Drug Abuse in the National Institutes of Health.

In 1992 he was listed by the Institute for Scientific Information as the 30th “highest impact” psychologist in the world and Google Scholar data ranks him among the top ~1,500 most cited scholars in all areas of study, living and dead ( His work has been recognized by several awards including the Exemplary Contributions to Basic Behavioral Research and Its Applications from Division 25 of APA, the Impact of Science on Application award from the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy.

Read the full transcript here

Steven Hayes, welcome to the Plant Yourself podcast.
I'm so glad to be here.
Yes, I want to talk to you about so many things, but essentially, you're one of the foundational creators of something called ACT, which is an acronym which I'm embarrassingly blanking on… Acceptance….
You can do it two ways: acceptance and commitment therapy or acceptance and commitment Training. That's the same thing, because it's not just for therapy, it's for human beings dealing with what they're doing.
Right. And so I've been you know, I'm a health coach, so I work on helping people change their behaviors, do different things to feel better in their bodies and their minds. And I started in the early 90s with, you know, imbibing all these theories. There was a precede/proceed model, rational actor theory.
There was the, you know, trans theoretical model of stages of change. And then I got into cognitive behavioral therapy and CBT and all of them had stuff to offer and all of them had things that were helpful. Nothing that I came across or read had a theoretical framework that was that felt like it was complete and comprehensive. Until I read your book, A Liberated Mind.
Can you can you just before I want to go into your story and how it all came about. But could you just from your perspective, like what was missing or absent or underdeveloped when you went into helping people psychologically, that you felt you had to really do all this extra work to create a foundation for?
You know, it's a great question.
And I have to say and all of these podcasts and stuff I've been doing liberated my brain out about a year. It's the best one I've had. It really is a good way to cast it. You know, what was missing.
And you know, what I sensed was missing coming from my background was that an account that was really started with the base for the foundation and took it all the way up to the point where normal human beings could apply it. So I you know, I did work in basic psychology as well as clinical psychologist who I am.
And when I sort of came into the theories that were there and that were trying to help people with mental health problems, but not just living their lives, what it seemed to me this was why is it like that?
Why is it so hard to be human? What are we trying to do anyway? Why don't we get in our own way? Why do we have everything that the rest of creation needs to be happy?
And we're not I mean, it's just it's a conundrum. The human condition is odd, doesn't make sense, because if you look around with the most successful species on the planet and with another frame or the least successful because, no, there's no other species on the planet that can suffer, admits its plenty. And so I spent the time trying to basically hack the human mind before stepping. And so here's how to help.
I mean, that's not where it didn't go quite in that sequence because I was learning things that would help, but I wouldn't put things out that would say here's how to help until I hacked at a basic level enough. And that's what I thought was missing. There was no basic account. There is no explanation as to why this is hard. Hmm.
Reminds me of a line from the poet David Whyte. “Why are we the one terrible part of creation privileged to refuse our flowering?”
Yeah. I mean, it's just like a mystery, isn't it? I mean, you look around and the world feels upside down right now. Yeah, but it's always felt a little bit upside down. This is particularly upside down now.
And I think the whole culture worldwide feels that I what you know, we're on a trajectory here where you could say, OK, I understand it, you don't have enough food.
I get it. You're in a war zone. There's less violence right now. There's ever been a history of the human species.
There's more there's less malnutrition, less starvation. Now, I mean, if you had to pick a time to be born right now, if it was if you just looked around, said, OK, I'm a baby in the other plane of existence and I'm going to land, but I don't know where, but it's on the earth. When should I do it? Now would be the best time to accept that rates of suicide, rates of depression, rates of anxiety, rates of PTSD, all these things, young people are standard deviation, borshoff off, blah, blah, blah, all those woe is me statistics we have.
And just in terms of our physical selves, you know, eating the wrong things, failing to exercise, doing things that are not good for our health.
And I think there is an answer here is.
A reason that it's like that and kind of figured out a bit about why that is so that's why when you read it, it sort of feels like that's complete yet because it was designed to be from the bottom up.
So many other systems that have answers tend to be religions or spiritual traditions. And, you know, actor resembles a lot of Eastern thought in terms of acceptance or, you know, or stoic thought. You but what was what I love about the book is sort of your relentless commitment to a scientific underpinning. Yeah. And I just I just love I was I read it and then I was listening to it again while jogging and I kept sort of smiling on my jogs.When you say right now, ACT is good, but here's another therapy that's different that's actually been proven better for this. So I would do that right now using ACT like the humility of of saying like we don't know yet, we don't have enough information. But what what do we know? So what's the answer to that question? Why are we so left off?
Well, the answer that I came to and I think in broad strokes, it's pretty likely to be so is that we're dealing with an evolutionarily recent adaptation. But you and I are doing right now, it's you know, we're speaking and listening in symbolic ways. We could close our eyes, have this conversation, and then we could imagine what each other was like.
But we can also imagine what we're talking about. We can you know, there's no other species on the planet that can do that. They're communicating, but not in symbolic, referential ways.
And, you know, we know that the language that the chimpanzees don't do it because your 12 month old baby will do what will put us on the pathway to be able to to speak and listen and and think symbolically by 12 months. All of it's really clear. We I think really the smoking gun shows up at around 12 months. And I can say with that is the language trained chimps, you know, years and years and years of training. I mean, I come out of the University of Nevada in Reno, which happens to be in Washoe County and Washoe, the chimps, you know, Alan and Trixie Gardner within my department.
And and they're not the only ones. But you probably have heard the term washow or you maybe know something about the gardeners and their sign language and chimpanzees. But it's not just them. Sue Savage and Duane rumbas troops in the land and so on.
There's been 30, 40 years trying to see, you know, why are we different than the chimpanzees, our closest relative? And some folks say, well, we're not that different. Yeah, but we're having a conversation right now over the Internet. I don't even know where you are, you could be anywhere, you could be on the other side of the world. I mean, think about it, what we're doing with science and technology in the fruits of this.
So here's here's the bottom line. The very things that allow us to succeed as a species, which is our problem solving abilities using this relational and symbolic ability, will produce all of the problems that are struggling with. As human beings, and so if you don't know how to rein in the very tool that allowed us to succeed, you're going to end up with this conundrum of prosperity and misery and within the same skin of it, in the same community, we've we've got to learn how to put our mind on a leash.
We need modern minds for this modern world. And the world gets more and more and more and more filled with not just the fruits of our ability to think and reason, but even the temptation to come into that network and take up to be whole and complete. Believe what your mind tells you about who you are, what the world's like, et cetera. And it's it's not so smart. I mean, the things that it's telling you to do or who you are.
A lot of it is just way off and produces itself misery. So that's why our strength is ou weakness.
OK, so what's an example when you talk about, like, symbolic language, like chimpanzees who use sign language for use aside for for banana. So what are we doing symbolically? That's orders of magnitude different and more powerful.

Well, I created a ditty for it. Underneath the ACT work is relational frame theory, which is a an evolutionarily sensible behavioral theory of language and cognition that has several hundred studies behind it now. And we're able to do things like take kids who don't think and reason symbolically don't have a sense of self, can't engage in normal language, and they're sufficiently neurologically intact with the proper training to bring to bring them along. So we know how to take kids and developmentally disabled kids and bring them along.
And here's the ditty that summarizes that 40 years of work is that we can learn it in one, but then drive it into and put it in networks that change what we do. That's the ditty.
And what that means is if you have even a 12 month old baby who learns that, let's say this thing is a glass, and then I say, where's the glass?
That they will try to find the glass, the language and chimpanzees respond at 50 percent as chance levels 50 50. If you give them to to pick from, they won't know if you learn it and when they have it in one. Now, if you wanted to train it to and then you've got to, you can train a chimpanzee that, you know, the sign for this is such and such. And when you have the sign, orient towards this side of the street has to be trained.
We create a two way street and it begins with names. That's the first one. Simplest, the easiest. But then very, very soon it's different. If you say to a baby, you know, where's the metronome? And it looks around and it sees this and it knows it's a glass that sees this other weird object over there, it'll begin to derive that a metronome must be this. And I picked a word that's hard for a baby to say, but as soon as it can produce speed, it's like under certain conditions, it'll say metronome.
It'll produce it in that way, too.
You can learn it by what's called exclusion or their frames of difference. And then we're off to the races. I mean, eventually, you know, you can say to a, you know, a two year old, which do you want to, you know, a dime or a nickel. And they get already that you can buy candy. Whether they want the nickel, it's bigger is a four year old. They want the dimes, which are bigger. So now we've got comparison being arbitrary.
Well, if you just had that if you had names, attributes before and after and comparisons, you can say, yeah, I'm successful, but I'm not as successful as I should be.
In the first book, I put a story that says just like this, I think I can say it almost word for word is a New York Times, and I think it was in 1975. A six year old girl threw herself in front of a train today.
Authorities said her mother had died of a terminal illness. I'm just think about it. A six year old. Can already have the tools to say, I'll be happier in heaven with my mother than to live here. And so is there anything more about my life than taking yourself out by your own hand? Six year olds do it, five year olds to three year olds, no, not even one example, not one that it takes so little, so little for us to be so miserable.
So that's it, we're playing with fire where the the ones they invented this wonderful tool of language and cognition initially just of cooperation, you know, bring me the apples.
And I think that's really likely as the. Social monkeys that are. Around my kids, but, you know. So it makes a real challenge for us and now we put it on steroids with science and technology and the constant flow of information and you know, your 10 year old knows more than you knew at 18. I mean, they're just soaking in and they're overwhelmed by it.

So in your in the book, you talk about the like why our thoughts are so convincing to us. I think that and that was the purpose of this relational frame theory afte you know, I'm thinking about like I'm looking at you now over the Internet. I'm remembering the stories are like the first movies like this train that appeared on the screen, you know, very incredibly grainy, black and white and people that stampeded out of the theater in terror.
So, like, is it something is it something like that that we can where we created the symbolic language that that essentially could have any relationship whatsoever to reality or none at all? And our brains convince ourselves that what we're thinking is the real thing.
Exactly right.
If we don't catch how that happens and then bring it to heel, which is difficult, this evolutionarily recent adaptation begins to take over things that are a thousand times older.
Let me give you an example. The story that you tell about who you are and so forth sets up these midbrain structures, this narrative self that that harnesses areas where sensory and motor information can be filtered out, literally what you feel and sense or see with your with your sensory system will get filtered out as relevant or not relevant to this present moment based on the degree to which it fits within the story. So you don't even live in the world you live in.
You live in the world that your narrative is construction, constructing for you, you literally don't know what's right in front of your eyes. I mean, you can have somebody say, I love you and it's not going to land if you're living inside. Deep down, there's something wrong with me. And it's just an example. You know, it you know, this happens in other ways. I mean, if you put a cat in front of a mouse and then have a loud noise, what happens is a loud noise gets through and heads up to the reticular formation and stops not relevant.
I'm looking at a mouse. So. And that's important. You got to be able to have your underlying neurobiology enable you to focus on what's important to you, to eat and not be eaten. You know, it's down to that. Well, now we've taken the stories that we tell, the thoughts that we have, the beliefs that we have, the comparisons that we're making. And we're now deep inside the network in such a way that it's doing the filtering for us without us even knowing while we're asleep.
You know, it's doing it constantly. So, yeah, it's hard for us. So but if we can rein in the problem solving, analytical, judgmental, comparative problem solving mode of mind, we can have that repertoire and use it when we need it, when doing our taxes, fixing our car and deciding what investments to make whatever it is, and also have a motive. That's a lot more like just saying, wow, and you see a sunset or when you hear the story of an abused child, you know that we have the capacity just to observe and appreciate.
And, you know, it's in our wisdom traditions, our spiritual traditions. It's just not the analysis. But some of the solutions are I mean, contemplative practice will train a kind of broader attentional process. That won't be. Kind of yanked away by the chain of of cognition as easily, you know, just sitting and following the breath, you know, your mind will give you a thousand and one reasons to follow it and eventually say, boy, you're doing a good job meditating today.
And, oh, what a wonderful insight. You should stop and write it down.
I mean, it'll give you every possible temptation. And if you're a you know, you have a good teacher that to you come back and follow the breath, come back and follow training yourself a kind of the attentional flexibility that puts your mind on a leash.
But without that good luck, you're got to pray for only the right words to show up in your head or come in through your ears. And that's just not going to happen. You're going to hear every disgusting prejudice, lousy thing for I mean, how many things do you hate? How many things are, you know, all those things you know about?
How do you know about you? You heard about it. What does that mean? They're in their. They're doing their dirty work, even when you're not watching. I mean, you're biased, prejudiced, stigmatizing, fearsome, loathsome, weird, everything is in there. Oh, what are you going to do when nothing you do will do you better right away?
And that is a very moving part of the book when you're you're being very vulnerable and self revelatory about thoughts. You have prejudice, prejudicial thoughts.
And for most of us, I think for me, for most of my life, the thought itself induced so much shame that I wouldn't even allow myself to think that I would engage in all sorts of compensatory, uh, you know.
Acrobatics to to not because a person who thinks that thought is a bad person and I can't think of myself as a bad person.
Where does where does that come from?
Well, and then you look at the effect of that. Now, in some ways we want that because we don't want people kind of embracing the prejudice thoughts or, you know, on the one hand on the other hand, that kind of suppressive thing now means that it's important.
You got to avoid it, you got to stay away from it. Yeah, and then so it's very easy to say things like, oh, I don't see color. You know, race means nothing to me. Yeah, dude, because you're white male and you get away with everything and it's built into your privilege and what you're saying, you might as well say, yeah, I'm a racist, I'm not kind of racist that refuses to acknowledge the racism around me.
Because you can't because it's too painful, you know. And so what are we going to do with something like that? And I tell the stories in there of an African-American daughter, been married to two Latinas, you know, but, you know, and I you know, I'm Jewish by the maternal line.
And a half of my mother's relatives died in ovens because they were in the wrong category. And and that doesn't give me a pass. And I tell stories in their catching, you know, racist thoughts rumbling around from my history or actually know a few of them, even with regard to my own daughter. Mm hmm.
I had to tell her these stories at my age, you know, because am ashamed enough about them. I didn't want to talk about them, and she was very sweet. She's a grown woman now and said, you know, we all have those burdens to carry. And that's right. So but can we find a way to carry burdens like that that allow us to be honest on one hand and and allow us to.
Do what is moral and ethical and what we really want to be about, but not in a suppressive way, that ironically gives us exactly what we don't want to have power in our life to have way more power in our lives. And you picked a really good one. You know, Black Lives Matter thing that's happening now worldwide, people say, and time's up and they're right. Time's up. But you can't just fix it by shame and blame. You can't fix it by this wagging the finger, so.
Yeah, which I think is so challenging. Interpersonally and societally, because it's because we're asking people to do is very subtle and can easily be construed as permissive, like, oh, it's your views are OK. You know, I could feel it if I go out at night and I make a post social media post that just is angry and blames people for being jerks.
I get lots of kudos for that.
No, absolutely. And you see so much I mean, self-righteousness isn't going to solve it. Take this issue of the bias between peoples.
I mean, that is built in to a degree, of course, because this the the negative side of it and one driver and two, which was an extension of cooperation within your group, if I could ask for something and you could take perspective of me and we come into life for language able to do that, we have some basic sense of theory of mind and intentionality even before language shows up. You know, our ability to create this two way street, I think came because of that ability to take the perspective of the other speaker may say glass or let's say one that would be more likely when we were hominids, Apple and the listener hearing it would derive that the speaker wants an apple.
Mm hmm. Well, that's already a two way street. And maybe I could then get you an apple so you could say Apple from the other side of the ravine and maybe we'll have apples brought to you that you can't get over there, but your friend is over there and you know, that's all wonderful. Yeah, but the various social fabric in which cooperation like that can be selected based on multilevel selection theory and evolution comes when groups compete. So, yeah, we're the co-operative primates where the tribal primates, we're also the ones that enslaved other of our own kind because there's a there's an us and them built into multilevel selection.
You know, and when we were out there, just as warring bands and tribes, you can get away with that. We can't get away with that anymore. You know, global warming or covid, we're facing it right now.
Where's the us and them? I mean, the only us is all of us. And the only of them is another life form in the case of covid or the underlying success of the planet in the case of global warming. And so we're at a time now where the group has gotten so large that it's all of us. And that's why that's a challenge.
Yeah. So, I mean, I was thinking about that when I was listening to that part of the book in that, you know, I work with people on health. And so I understand why you're addicted to junk food, because your organism is living in an unnatural environment, completely crazy, in which your impulses are.
Let me get as much sugar as I can, because that's going to help me survive. Yeah. Or I'm not going to exercise because my nature is to conserve energy whenever possible. Sure. And also saying that, like, it's in our nature to have nothing to them. And we're now in an environment in which that's just as dangerous as eating every Snickers bar we can get our hands on. Exactly.
That's exactly right. In fact, that's one of the best ways I've ever heardt it said. You've done it twice to me, dude. Thank you for that.
I'm going to steal that thought. But that's exactly right. It's it's you know, evolutionarily, of course, you want to be attracted to salt and sugar and things like that.
I mean, fat, etc. I just do the math. You know, it makes perfect sense in terms of how much was available and what you're trying to do, energy conservation, all those things make sense. And we have this other paradox of amidst plenty, we have rates of, you know, diabetes, heart disease, et cetera, that just off the charts don't make any sense. And not just that. And here we are with what do we do with prejudice and stigma and Black Lives Matter.
And they do. And how do we deal with that? How do we deal with that in a world that doesn't make it easy for us? We better you know, here's one of my my answer to that is what we're going to need is good old fashioned Western science. No one that's honest, bold, you know, that's going to go anywhere that you need to go and is able to say to the sugar industry, no, is able to say, no, we're not going to, you know, put vending machines with, you know, soda pop in our elementary schools.
And, you know, that will, you know, use the information or say, no, you can not be continuing on this path of energy use that will make the planet uninhabitable for our great grandchildren, if not our grandchildren. Then on and on it goes. The same thing applies with our ability to regulate our behavior and our psychology. And I look at the world. I look at things like covid and so forth. I don't see psychologists there, except here's how to deal with, you know, trauma and anxiety and depression, but nothing about how to change your behavior, you know, touch your face.
OK, how are you going to do that? Just don't do it.
But weren't you ever a parent what would happen? Would you tell your kids just don't do it? I mean, you know, don't put beans in your nose. Every parent knows, don't ever say that to them.
They're going to do it. Well, so on and on it goes. You know that we just have not had a cultural conversation that is science-based about the reality of being human that allows us to filter out the woo woo. And get down to the smallest set of things that don't make the biggest difference. And what you saw in the book that you like - and you are unusual to focus on that, thank you for that - is that very spirit. And that very spirit is what we're going to need with diet and exercise and health.
And that's what we're going to need with how can we be whole and free inside the modern world?
Well, let's let's use that as the segue to find out how to be whole and free now inside the modern world. You talk about the inner Dictator, right?And I love that. I've done some work with a with a with a process that's related to Jack Trimpey's Rational Recovery, which is sort of like basically like creating a another character in your head that you can blame for all of your bad thoughts.
Right. Which is not exactly the dictator.
But and it's well, one reason this sort of caught that in the way, you know, is just to get us a little bit of separation that comes from that same spirit. That's a rational recovery.
But, you know, this problem solving mind, the analytic, judgmental, comparative abilities that are great with regard to, you know, problem solving, where that's needed to do a new taxes, fixing their car. But when it's applied to yourself, you know, you turn your life into a problem to be solved.
And once you're there, there's always going to be on the list of pros and cons, just as Americans are pros.
And so you'd never get your way in the peace of mind. You never really get your place into a place where love is worth the risk or you know that the pain that comes from loss doesn't overwhelm the the yearning for purpose. And I just yeah.
I just want to I want to stop and react to what you just said. And I've and I've heard it on the audio and I've read it, but it really just like pierced my heart personally, like turning your life into a problem to be solved. Like, I feel like that's that's my my my baseline addiction. Yeah.
And I and I'm hearing how I do that as a coach in a very well-meaning way.
Yeah. And, you know, and I think it's fine if we can rein it in when it's not fine. So it we're back to the same conundrum. I don't want to be a dog or a cat.
You know, my little dog dog if he were just let free, would be eaten by the coyotes out here and a matter of minutes.
Oh, but I don't want to be in that situation. I want to be a whole human being. I want to have this capacity to problem solve and reason. But I don't want it always to be dominating. I want a place where I can put down that burden, where I know how to do things like forgive or to just let go or to show up or to love.
To relax, to simply be and so, you know, we don't come out of the owner's manual, so we do what's logical, reasonable and sensible, but often that's what's pathological.
Mm hmm. Well, I mean, as I think about it, like when I think about, OK, if life isn't a problem to be solved, I'm pretty untethered a lot of the time. Like, but what are the rules?
Yeah. What is, you know, you know, just being I turn just being into a problem. Right. Like, I was like, yeah, I can I can meditate as a solution to all of my problems. Like, oh if I can just identify with transcendent spirit then the problem of Howie is solved.
Yeah, exactly. Well and you know, a good teacher, if you if you're in a eastern mindfulness kind of tradition, not just e-services and all of our wisdom traditions, including Western religions, all of them have at their core mystical experience and mystical leaders who had mystical experiences. They all do.
And they all in the midst of experience, something in the 90 percent and above human beings say they've had spiritual experiences. And I believe them.
And you ask them about it and they say that there's some sort of sense of connection, timelessness, universality, time, place and person drifts away, you know, ACT being heavily used now in psychedelic therapy. And, you know, people of my generation old enough to have sat on Hippie Hill in the panhandle of San Francisco. You know, we explored that part, too. And well, so, you know that finding a place in which we can sort of put that down and be able to use it when it's useful and not use it when it's useful as the game.
And to me, that means we need some guidance. And I think Western science will help.
What the psychological flexibility model says and answer to your question is the tools that we need are to be able to
1. Back up from our thoughts,
2. Open up to our feelings and sensations in a way that allows us to take what's useful inside them,
3. Come into the present moment deliberately as a conscious human being,
4. Recognizing this basic I HERE NOW awareness that connects me and consciousness to you right now and
5. From there to be able to tend towards what's meaningful, important as a matter of choice, what are the qualities of doing, of being of life itself, life's moments, the qualities of it, not the outcomes from it that we want to instantiate, that we want to give an example of: exemplify.
6. And can we build habits around that?
Those are six things, and that's the hack, I mean, if you had to pick six things, that will make a profound difference in your life. I just said what they are and they hang out together when you try to measure. And it turns out if you're doing one and not doing the other, you have a hard time falling, doing the one. It's like sides of a box that are only strong when all six there and they're put together in the proper way.
So. And ironically, all of us know it. We actually know this. We even know it without spiritual leaders telling us or whatever.
You can easily show that people know that they do better when they're open, aware and actively engaged in life than when they're closed off, mindless and being avoidant or driven by fame, money or other kinds of things that are not intrinsically important.
One of the things I noticed when I read about these six, as you call them, Pivot's in the book, is that all of them are obvious. They're commonsensical. I've heard them before. I've done them before. And they're all counterintuitive in the moment.
Yeah, that's exactly right. That's as beautiful.
In the moment, you know, you're pulled to do the opposite and yet you know full well that it's a wiser thing to do. So you get pulled into who's doing the polling. We're back to the dictator with it. We're back to the evolutionary mismatch. We're back to this then cortical over overlay, you know, actually harnessing ancient neurobiological systems for its own purposes, like some sort of virus or disease or parasite or something, almost. And we can't just rooted out, dig it out, get rid of it, because it's central to our success as a species and as individuals.
So that's the conundrum, is that we're constantly doing things that deep down we know is not going to liberate us, hoping that this time it will and being actively told literally by through images and words and symbols. This time for sure. I mean, it's Lucy's football. It's really going to it's going to happen this time. You know, you're going to talk yourself and self-esteem. You're going to feel great. You're going to solve yourself as a problem.
You know, now you're going to have another round of maybe I'll start living later.
And one of the things that I'm challenged by in your work is that, like you, you portray this as it's part it's an inevitable part of the human condition based on who we are as opposed to these are pathologies that are instilled on us when we're young. So, you know, you talk about some very traumatic experiences as a child in your own development of anxiety and panic attacks.
The the was it the preface of the book, the was or the I guess it was a Dr Gabor Mate, you know, praised the book.
He's on the back cover. My understanding of his view is that it's like childhood trauma is the cause. And if we could have a society in which children were raised properly, we would be different. I think to some extent there's overlap, but also if something like this is our wiring. And so we in a way, is liberating, like if I if I think about the ways in which I was messed up as a child, I can be very resentful and like, that was unfair and it shouldn't have happened.
And if only, like, I would be a good I would be happy now if only that hadn't happened. And you're kind of saying that.
Yeah. That, you know, on the one hand you want to say, let's create a nurturant society that's really trying to be there, that's, you know, reduce these insane levels of trauma and abuse. Of course, you'd you'd want to do that.
On the other hand, let me give you an example.
I was doing a training and kind of walking through some my own history, history of others, not by accident. Many of the people who are involved in the ACT work have, you know, visited pain directly.
And that's why they're psychologists and stuff they saw in their family to start their own hearts or and this graduate student comes up to me almost ready to weep. I can tell that there's a of and she says, I don't think I'll be a good ACT therapist. I haven't suffered enough.
Mm. And she's almost crying. You know, it doesn't matter because the basic mechanism of comparison and pain and stuff, if if you live a life of privilege, you'll wonder, did I deserve it?
And is that fair? And, you know, maybe I you know, so I ask people, you know, where is the how tall were you?
I usually do it by just holding my hand and said, give me a nod when that gets short. And of how tall were you when you first had the thought that maybe you're not lovable, maybe you're not good enough. And man, you get your hand gets down to the point where it's three or four or five years old. You know, in elementary school, people are having thoughts about their and that their adequacy. I write in the book, I probably shouldn't say this out loud, but I've got four wonderful, wonderful children.
Every one of them and the elementary school years came to me with questions about why they shouldn't commit suicide. Hmm. You know, people don't talk about this, but. I mean. That's not uncommon if you're thinking, no, I just raised a bunch of weird kids. No, it's not. It's not, you know, something like half of the human population. Well, for two weeks or more struggle with suicidal thoughts, half of the U.S. population, 98 percent of the human population admits they've had a suicidal thought and the other two percent are lying.
You know, something like 10 percent will make an attempt. So, you know, it's just freaking hard to be human.
And, yeah, I don't want that to mean take the gas pedal off the cultural conversation. We need to have to be there for our kids and give them the foundation for a successful life. Don't make it hard on them and recognize that while pain is universal, suffering need not be.
And if we don't give our kids the tools they need to step up, they're going to suffer. Can I give you an example? Yes, please. OK, so just take if you had to pick three things that are really quite toxic. One of them would be constantly exposed to aversive events. Right. That's part of why we don't want to have trauma. Right. Have you watched your television lately?
I don't have one, but I get plenty on the news.
Can you feel that this is almost traumatic?
I was I came into the kitchen today after my run talking to a friend and my daughter was making breakfast and I saw my wife and I said, boy, you know, I think, are we going to put our house on the market? Because it really looks like this country could turn fascist. And yeah. And my daughter was like, "Ah, stop it. I'm trying to have a good day here."
Exactly. And I had the same conversation this morning with my 14 year old - same conversation. So how is that? OK, so that's one constant exposure to pain. Here's another one, constant exposure to comparison.
You know, you just look at what our young people are doing. They're on Facebook, they're on Instagram, what's in their ginormous amount of comparison and often very cruel kinds of things, people say stuff on the Internet anonymously and stuff that they would never say in person. And even if they didn't, you can go to the Instagram posts and you can see the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful outsides.
But then when you're looking at it, if you were to check in, you're seeing insides that are not so wonderful. So that's the second one. That's comparison.
And then the third one, these three things together, predict misery. I mean, a shorter version of the whole psychological flexibility model we've been talking abouts, is not knowing how to show up when painful emotional stuff shows up, running away when it's hard. So take those three. Of comparison, judgment and experience of avoidance, and you've got the toxic triad, so it. Is built into our our our situation, unless so if I had to pick something, I'd say, yeah, let's not abuse our children and let's nurture them. And let's allow them to be exposed to small amounts of distress in meaningful in a meaningful frame and to learn that their own pain is not their own enemy. And, you know, we used to do so much better job of that. I mean, my mother would drag me off to the Stations of the Cross, I'm Jewish by the maternal line, but she had converted to Christianity in which as a young child, you're supposed to be on your knees, you know, going from one thing or another.
And then in the early days and seeing the Latin know what the heck was going on. Was I happy about that? Did I like that? No. What did my mother say?
She'd say, "Offer it up dear. Offer it up."
Meaning what?
Meaning, connect yourself to the suffering of others. Offer it up and so and she would say, you know, there are people who are starving right now. You know, so that. It was you know, we were we were supposed to fast we were supposed to sacrifice when Lent came around, we had to give up something. It was important that it had to be something you really liked, something you really wanted, or at times where you had to fast. You didn't eat meat on Fridays. I mean, I was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition.
But, you know, you look around all of the all of the traditions have this. They have periods of fasting. They have periods of, you know, of sacrifice. Right. Versus the modern world.
Yeah. So is it religious traditions? Are they have some psychological wisdom to them if they've survived for thousands of years. Exactly. And they're not they're not creating a world simply of butterflies and rainbows. But when you say gift giving you a meaningful context for witnessing the distress in the world.
You know, and my colleague David Sloan Wilson wrote a book really good when I recommend called Darwin's Cathedral, walking through the evolutionary reasons - he's an atheist, mind you - but the evolutionarily sensible reasons for our spiritual religious traditions in terms of how they helped us adapt to the challenges of the world.
Well, I can look at things like the traditions of self-sacrifice, of small amounts of distressed experienced in a meaningful context. Well, if you take that out then and you take the parts of nurturance and you don't want to abuse, next thing you know, you're a helicopter parent if you're not careful and the precious little dears don't have to do so much as fix their own lunch.
You know, I mean, it's like, you know, as as as a high school student, I mean, you know, as a university professor, I can tell you, I mean, there are parents calling in and challenging and pushing these little things that there that is an issue but that students should deal with in college.
Yeah, but Mom's going to do it. Dad's gonna do it. Why?
Well, so I. I'm going back to your saying of would we saw it because it didn't quite face it this way, but could we solve? The difficulty of being human by removing the painful challenges that we've had as children that our minds tell us are why we suffer and they are why we're in pain. That's true. I mean, but it isn't why we suffer. Because why? Because suffering requires.
A rejection of your own experience, it's right in the world has the "fer" part of suffering comes from the word that that means a ferry boat or ferrying it means to carry and the soft part is up. And under that, we've got up and under the pain and we're carrying it like a burden that's suffering. How do you put it down? You don't know what a painful thing is going to happen if a good friend of your may have died during our conversation.
You're going to get the call as soon as the Zoom meeting is over. You know, if you live long enough, all those things are common.
I mean, you gradually will lose your functions. You live long enough. Your your your friends will die. You live long enough. You just go through the list.
So happy, happy, joy, joy, let's not have any abuse. And that means we don't have any pain. And that means we'll all be happy now.
That's. Not so you can have. Even indulgence will produce suffering.
So there's a there's a Jewish tradition that the the obligation of a father is basically threefold to teach the Torah, to teach the tradition to his child, to teach them a way of making a living and to teach them how to swim. And I've I've sort of translated that as basically I want to teach my kids to make a living so they can afford therapy and to give them enough psychological insight to know that they're going to need it.
It's wonderful. I do think we need it. And but now. OK, but just take that issue of therapy, you know, and let's make sure that the kind of therapy that we're putting out there is evidence based and empowers people not just to deal with mental health problems, but to live their life whole and free. We're back to that.
And it turns out that we can do that not just in therapy. We can do that in many of our roles. I mean, teachers can do that and coaches can do that and business leaders can do that. And when you know what the what the processes are and.
Ironically, it'll make you more successful in all those roles, you as an individual, it'll be helpful to you in terms of power and empowering you psychologically, but it also make you more successful.
And so my vision would be, let's put the help we need from psychology and behavioral science into all of the gate keeper kind of functions where people have natural opportunities and willingness to learn.
And that means that school yeah, but that it also means in your required diversity training in your work site, it means in your health and wellness program, it means, you know, in your in your church.
It means so like that last one as an example. The chaplains of the U.S. military have adopted motivational interviewing, Problem-Solving therapy and ACT, and they teach all their chaplains these three things. Why?
Because they've realized they have to empower their the the recruits as to how to get through their training well and to function well and that they go to see their minister, their rabbi, their imam, whatever, rather than seeing the shrinks because they go on a list if they see this.
Since that's a beautiful example, put it put what is helpful to people everywhere.
Where my mind I just went was what would an ACT informed military look like? On the big scale, like we probably do a lot less dumb shit in the world.
Absolutely we would.
And, you know. There's parts of the military tradition that are like this, some of the samurai meditators, I mean. And do you know that it's actually been randomized trials of ACT, of mindfulness training et cetera, with pre deployment and post deployment in the military?
It's just very hard to get it into their culture traditions.
They know that they will have recruits who are better able to do it. I did a project with submariners.
Submariners get talked into the service, you know, and then they find out, oh, my God, I'm in this metal tube without even a bed that I can call my own underneath water for the nuclear ones for months at a time.
By the way, if they sank, you know, we would have to die a miserable death. I mean, this is one challenging role being a submarine.
And we did the pre deployment. We found that they worked through their training guidelines faster than if they hadn't had it. There are more likely to be successful as recruits. Is that in their boot camp, is that in their military training? That's not you know, what's in there is very often it's been there for hundreds of years. And I actually had a general say to me when I was explaining some of what's there and what we found in some of our earlier studies and stuff, they said, oh, yeah, well, that's all very good.
But that's not the way it was done with me. And I turned out pretty well.
You know, like in other words, I'm I'm going to visit hell on them, just like was visited on me. You know, you're going to get. Rates of suicide, which they have. Domestic violence, which they have alcohol and drug abuse, which they have, that will make it very difficult for them to function as a fighting force, which they have. So, you know, pay me now or pay me later. I mean, you either show up to these problems and deal with them in a healthy way or they come back and bite.
And somehow in area after area in our culture, we're still thinking we can get away with doing things that are unwise and not pay the cost. It's not true.
You know, the single most common cause of worker absence in the world last year.
Depression, it was number five, then four, then three, then two, then one, I mean, it's now and it's not back pain. It's depression. And so, you know, how much of this can we carry as a human community? You pay for that and every product you buy, and that's maybe a crass way to say it, but you also pay for it and the human cost of lives that are not being lived.
So how are we going to do it? Yeah.
I want to give people a little taste of ACT in practical terms. I'd love to do the whole thing, but would take seven or eight hours. But as a coach, the thing that has shifted my practice the most in just the short time that I've been engaged with ACT is the part about values. Yeah. So the way I was the way I would do it is OK. Humans have two motivations, you know, basically heaven or hell, right.
I can either, like, approach something, avoid something, gain pleasure, avoid pain. And then the third one was habit. Like you, you used motivation to get people to adopt habits. And then the motivation doesn't count anymore because it's a habit.
And that worked OK. But there were a lot of times where people, because heaven and hell are generally in the future or if you're in hell, the thought of getting out of hell is in the future. And what I got from from ACT is the importance of I can live my value now. I can I can be in a kind of heaven now, even while my body is in hell, even while I'm still engaged in the struggle that being in concert with intentionally noticed and chosen values is better than getting to my goal weight.
Exactly. I mean, values don't go away. I mean, they are constant. There are media and they never give up. You can change them. It's not that, you know, as you think of through your values may change over time.
And when you embrace your values right here, right now, you're in a different state and moment by moment by moment. That's true.
And unlike, you know, pursuing positive and avoiding negative when those things are achieved they're done. They're finished. Yeah. Values are never done. What values are these chosen embraced qualities of being and doing.
And they're there. We yearn for meaning and purpose, and this is something that language is really our friend because that allows us to sort of embrace these kind of abstractions of qualities that we want to instantiate.
If you think of a common way that I asked people to sort of think about that, take a particular domain and think of a hero that you have. Anyone in that domain, and I just can almost guarantee you that you didn't pick a hero because of the car they drove or how big their house is, how big your bank account is, how many people applaud.
You picked it because there was something that you saw in that person that reflects how you want to be.
That's a value. And when you embrace it, you're on the journey towards it. I how to build it out in your last moments? Well, that's a that's a continuous process. So if you pick somebody like let's say.
You pick your grandmother because, you know, she was always there for you. Well, that tells you something about. Behaving in a loving way that's there for people around you. You want to do that or you wouldn't have said that's your hero, you want to be like that? Hmm. Well, what would it take for you in this moment? To have this very moment we're doing right now be about being there for others in a way that's loving.
Well, it might mean the answer, asking really good questions in the podcast, it might mean trying to answer questions in a way that is not about sounding clever or or looking good, but about serving folks who might listen to it later on. And if you if you do that, and if that's the positive thing, when would that go away? When would that disappear? When you have enough? Is it like eating pie at Thanksgiving? I'd say and now it's not like that because it's continuous and it never it there's never enough.
It's constantly available. It's always available. And it's never fully satisfied because it's only exemplified. And so it's like walking west, no matter how far west you go, there's more west to go. And so that's a wonderful thing. Didn't have his motivation because it means it's inexhaustible and it's always present.
And we're the only ones that can do that. We are the only creatures that's from this language ability. It's just like your appreciation of a sunset and saying, wow, how beautiful. You know, it has something to do with your symbolic mind. You can say how pink, a beautiful aesthetic appreciation and so forth. But but not this problem solving mind.
So let's let's use these other parts of our mind that allow us to have meaning and purpose continuously lifting us out. That's what the values work is about.
And related to values in a way that I don't totally understand. But I don't I'm not sure that matters. I did I did an exercise with a group that I coach called just cause. Yeah. That that I discovered in A Liberated Mind. Can you talk about that? Because it seems to be sort of opposite to choosing important values, because I know I have the sense that in my coaching group they were so attached to those values, to their values, that they were actually making themselves feel bad for not achieving them.
Yeah, exactly. It's just another example of no matter what we do, the Dictator Within part the evaluation comparison, problem solving part will grab it, say, oh, I've got it.
And what tells the story and next thing you know, it's messing it up. So the just cause thing is focused on this issue of choice. What does it mean to embrace a value and to do that with your whole heart and to not have to explain to the dictator within why as soon as you say why it's not conditional, the reason why I value this is well, then the real value is what you just said is the not the value.
Right. OK, so I love my wife. Why? Oh, she's so beautiful.
Well, I hate to tell you, but she just had a car accident and I can mess, you know, magically see forward. And I can tell you she's her face would be disfigured for the rest of the life and people will actually cringe when they see her. What are you going to say? Well, you heard me one. No, I love her. Well, then why did you say you loved her? Because she's beautiful. What did you mean by that?
May maybe a man, an inner beauty or something. OK, but be careful, be careful, dude, because your mind doesn't know how to do this. It doesn't know how to freely choose things. It knows this problem solving.
Mind knows how to predict and compare well leaps of faith, leaps of wholeness, peace of mind, values, choices, being able to say this. And when you say why, you say what you knew to say when you were four or five years old, then you're long ago for God. You know how to reign in the dictator within. You say just cause.
In other words, I own it, sue me if you don't like it. You know, period, you know, a sentence written with a period, this is of importance to me.
Why? This is of importance to me. Why just cause so that we we actually need some of the wisdom that we had before we learned to give all the reasons and explanations. We actually did a study years ago. My colleague and friend, the late Neil Jacobson, developed a measure of this. And by some of the early ACT work we asked people why around all kinds of things in their life.
And this is work, we wanted to focus on depression. So we would ask, you know, why are you feeling depressed? Why are you not doing this? Why are we asked? OK, here's the finding.
The more reasons people gave and the more elaborated reasons they gave, the more stuck in their depression they were.
And these less likely they were to be helped by psychotherapy.
All this why why why why stuff is dancing to the tune of the Dictator Within as if what? You have to get permission from part of your mind to be able to live? I mean, it's really bossy and it wants to know why, because that's the part that we're talking about, the part that problem solves.
So it's a good tool to have to know how to put a period of a sentence.
And one other exercise that I love. And I don't exactly know why I love it or why it's so powerful is repeating negative words over and over again. Can you talk about, first of all, where that what what that is and what that comes from?
The pivot is that we yearn for understanding or yearn for meaning and that we mean by understanding once we get Problem-Solving language going, that everything fits together. Yeah, but the problem is you got so much stuff you're carrying around that is inconsistent. You can always do a pro and con. Always. Is always a but I love my wife, but. You can fill out of that sentence, don't let her read it, but you could do it, do it.
Guess what, your mind's doing it.
You're just not saying it out loud, you know? So how do you actually deal with this yearning for things? Well, some thoughts are helpful in a given moment, some or not. So how do you get to that point where you can still have thinking but not have it dominate you in that way? Well, we've developed these methods we call diffusion. That's a made up word, not diffusion. Diffusion, meaning being able to step back from our mind, see what it says, see what that is meaningful.
But with a little bit of space between the observer and what you're observing. So you have some choice as to whether or not you're going to use that thought when you use it. Now, it's coherent in a different way. It's helpful. OK, great, that's useful.
But figuring everything out, not so much.
So how do you do that? Well, we've come up with hundreds, hundreds of these things and my books that teach people how to develop it. But we discovered one that the father of American psychology teacher, one of the fathers anyway developed, which is word repetition. And he he did it to show how language works, that words have meaning and context. And so what we found is that if you take a negative thought and you distill it down to a couple of words or ideally even one which actually works better, we know if it's one rather than two and three and four is to get more words that hang together better.
They support each other, get it down to one and say it out loud, fast for 30 seconds, about at least once per second. Just do it.
So, for example, I'm coaching someone who says they can't commit to this because they're lazy.
Yeah. So we're going to be the word lazy, right. So you just say the word lazy once and then it has a punch to it. Oh, it's heavy. You've heard it so often. You thought it so often. I'm just lazy. Other people have said it. Maybe even where you fear that they might have said it. You certainly thought it. It really is true. I'm lazy. No, I'm not lazy. I oh yeah.
You are lazy. No, I'm not.
Yes, you are. You getting a little dialogue inside your head. Just say lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy for about 30 seconds. You can feel actually time yourself at least once per second. We've done the studies on it and we come up with 30 seconds, says the sweet spot. That's why I recommend it at least once per second for the same reason we've actually done this research. Two things happened to stress starts dumping really fast.
And then believability behind that, the word starts losing its meaning, right behind that, you start noticing some things. You notice the sound of the word, you notice how hard it is to say it. You don't notice when you're normally talking that you're engaging muscles and talking, but when you say the same thing repeatedly that it becomes real obvious to you, it turns into a 30 Sakar or it will have a hard time even saying it because your muscles start fighting you.
Well, so what?
Well, the point is here, you're have been running away for maybe decades, for their whole life from the U.S., which at another level is also just a word.
And if I just say that to you, it's just a word, a big habit, it's really true.
You just do lazy for 30 seconds and see how it lands and something shows up. It's like a fog lifts and you realize you're living inside a story. You're living inside categories, judgments, predictions, comparisons all the time. And we're back to that point.
You know, even that narrative sense of self is even filtering out other information. You don't notice that lazy has a sound. You don't notice that when you say it repeatedly.
You know that the beginning of the end of the word actually can begin to blend. Or you can hear that the music of it.
People tell me that normal English are not English speakers sound something like this, Najia Rhino Horn and I mean, it sounds like a bad Texan, but we would say easily, you know, that Swedish sounds like good if you you know, you would do that.
Yeah. In Sweden, you get through that. They don't know what the music of sweets is. They're not hear the music. They're listening to the freaking words.
So, you know, we're swimming in a stream and not noticing that there's water. And so 30 seconds just tried. And it's one of hundreds of things that about the people want a quick boost on that.
Go to the TED talk I gave to the school of people with an IQin the ninety nine point nine percentile of teaching them how to back up a little bit from the Problem-Solving mind? Because they're brilliant. I mean, they have they have the problem solving mind not on steroids. And I go through about 12 of these things like repeating or giving your mind a name or saying your words and the voice of your least favorite part politician or a cartoon character or and then I finish this.
You know, I'm not making fun of the mind. Picture yourself as young as you were when you first had the thought that you're lazy. Really take your time picture of that and then take that thought that you've been having recently about how lazy you are with your exercise program. Put it coming out of the mouth of that young little boy or girl. They actually have the kids say it, "I'm lazy. I'm lazy."
And what would you do if you could meet yourself at that age? And my guess is you're not going to say snap out of it or what's wrong with you? Oh, no, you're not. You're probably going to want to just hug the kid or do some. So could you do that to yourself in front of the mirror this morning? How can you treat yourself the same way you treat? A child suffering with the same thing, and so diffusion is about self kindness, about stepping back and seeing how the mind works, we're being programmed.
You know, Mary had a little lamb and OK, try really hard to come up with something that has absolutely nothing to do with lamb in any way, OK?
Mary had a little...
A microphone. OK, so here, I'll give you a little comparison. Hot...
There you are, said that the fact that you come up with something has absolutely nothing to do with lamb doesn't mean that it doesn't have anything to do with lamb.
What you did was it's not the same as lamb. It's different from lamb. But in other contexts, people listening to us right now, the next time they see a microphone are going to think of a freaking lamb.
That's how and by the way, if that were really awful, let's say that was a prejudice thought going back to that one or that some sort of weird sexual thought or that's a violent thought. Man, you can head on the road to OCD on that, you know, don't show me the microphone.
Well, I wanted to ask you about that because in our community around, you know, eating and eating disorder, eating and binge eating and addiction, there's a school of thought that, like, you get it out of your house, right?
It's out of your house. If it's in your house, it's in your mouth that, you know, you walk by the cabinet and you see the chocolate, you're going to eat the chocolate. What I got from A Liberated Mind is that we do that to ourselves all the time through this kind of like framing of mental blowback that the very things we're trying to do when we think about exercising, we've tied it in our minds to overeating.
Yeah, no, no. Exactly, exactly. So so you get that reverse logic going. And so even your friends, your enemies are using your strengths, your weakness, you know, because they pull for.
So the solution to that is you pursue these positive values based visions not to get rid of or escape, but because they're intrinsically of importance to you.
So if you're exercising, because you want to see, you know, you're you know, your kids wedding, if you're exercising, because you want to be able to dance with your husband, if you're exercising because you want to live a long and healthy life, I mean, in which you do these wonderful things, you know, it's not as opposed to or in order to push away that not conversely, if you're exercising so that you're going to look really great and look really thin and look really slim and not wonder if people find you attractive.
If you're doing that so that you're going to get rid of insecurities about your appearance, you're playing with fire because that insecurity will probably still show up.
You know, how many people have dealt with, you know, with... it's gender biased, but it is more typical, let's say, with adolescent females who are like pinching their relet, you know, really thin stomachs and saying they're fat. I mean, body dysmorphic stuff can happen regardless of what your body looks like. Beyond that, even if that didn't happen, hey, I do look good.
I look good.
Yeah, but I don't know if I'm smart enough. I mean, the same thing you just played.
We'll play you in another way. And so let's do it a different way.
Let's pursue health, prosperity, love, community contribution by reining in the excesses of that Problem-Solving mind, showing up in this moment as a human being and focus on what's important to us. And that'll allow us to do it cleanly in a way where peace of mind and purpose can live together. And you don't have to get the purpose by this muscly attempt to get rid of something.
When you're dealing with a neurobiology that has no delete buttons other than a physical injury or brain deterioration, neither of which you want to wish for. So, you know, your history is not going away. Your insecurities are going at least by memory, echo through the rest of your life. If you know, it's more like if you had salty water and fresh water than it is, pick out the salt crystals and our mind tells us we'll do better when we subtract and eliminate.
And actually, that just adds you now have an easier neurobiological track. You know, you can go from, you know, put it on your track shoes to go out and exercise to I'm too fat, even easier, and everything needs to be done.
Cautiously because of that, it's not logical, it's psychological, that's the evolutionary mismatch we've got. You know, we're riding a tiger.
And so, yeah, defusion helps these defusion methods that get a little bit of fresh air in there unless the problem solving.
I know that there's a little more of us watching. There's a little more to it to us than just doing math problems
And one of the things I really appreciate about the exercises in the way you present them is, you know, whether the T is therapy or training. Eventually it has to be training. Yeah, because it's not it's not like a therapy. Like I'm going to go for 12 weeks and be cured. These are practices just like doing push ups, sit ups or going for a walk.
It's an awesome way to think about it. And then think about the how screwed up our cultural conversation is because we talk about mental health and it only applies to the one out of five who are going to have, quote, mental health problems or even worse, mental illness.
How about mental health? You know, how about mental resilience?
And, you know, what we do in the psychology area is tantamount to saying to somebody who's a cancer survivor, oh, I'm so sorry that you had cancer. I guess now you're going to have to exercise.
That's what we do, you know, because with the physical health, we would never do that.
We would say, do you push us to your exercise, you know, work on your flexibility, work on your strength. Why? Because physical health is important. Well, where's the mental training?
Where are we doing our mental pushups? What are they? And and they're there and the psychological flexibility exercises, you know, I do psychological flexibility exercises every freaking day. I've been doing it for 40 some years. And by the way, my wife will tell you I'm still not that good at it.
But I say back to my wife, I know I'm not there. I know I'm not. But you should have met me before. Yeah.
I mean, yeah, maybe I'm not, you know, Charles Atlas of mental resilience and mental flexibility.
But, you know, I was, you know, the the puny kid getting sand kicked back to those of matchbook things about, you know, isometric exercises and stuff back in the day, you know, the Jack LaLane kind of stuff.
You know, we're in need of modern minds for this modern world, the challenges that we all face are such that if we're not doing mental resilience, flexibility, training all the time.
We're going to be stumbling psychologically all the time. And look around you and see if that's not what you see, in fact, if you so it's not one out of five, it's five out of five. Mental health, this mental resilience, mental training as a five out of five issue, and if we didn't know that before COVID, don't we know it now?
I mean, my 14 year old just went off to high school. Wearing a mask is going to be there he was one day on, one day off, am I afraid for him and for my wife and I when he comes home?
Yes, I am. Mm hmm.
And, you know, the whole world has gone through this right now. So if we didn't know before, we should know it now. Do your push ups. Not every day, every other day, but I try to do my age every other day and push ups.
It's getting harder, but I can still kind of do it. But. Do the same with your mental skills and elaborate mind gives you the way to do it. That's why it's acceptance and commitment therapy or acceptance, commitment, training. It's the same thing.
I got three more questions for you. Yeah, so one is, I'm the health coach, I'm not a licensed psychologist. I'm not going to go back to school for psychology. I want to get trained in in ACT. How can I do that? What's the easiest way? Because books are great, but they're not the same as supervision.
Yeah, no, absolutely. And in that community, we embrace this fully.
You know, if you were to join the main ACT society called the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, you'll find that there's a coach's special interest group. There's also teachers, special interest groups. There's a special interest group for physicians. There's the special groups for OTs and PTs.
And, you know, it's it applies to anybody who works with people. Teachers need to know about this. Coaches need to know about this.
So, you know, I open up my online trainings to anybody, you know, conflict of interest warning. I do make money from these things, the books as well. But, you know, if you were to go to my website,, you know, I'll send you my newsletters and, you know, blogs, let you know about what's going on.
But people can have access to high quality ACT training in any professional role that where you're going to apply those principles.
When I say professional role, that means if it's legal, it counts. And so, you know, in some parts of the world, like we have an ACT clinic in Sierra Leone. In all of Sierra Leone, six and a half million people. There's one retired, psychiatrist and one psychologist. More than six million people. Hmm, you know, so, you know, we're out there doing ACT trainings with indigenous health workers and with nuns and anyone else, you know. So if it's legal and you can do it well, we'll help train in how to do it in the era of COVID, the easiest way is online training. If it's not too commercial I can mention if you put in, , it'll pull up my first online course, which is called ACT Immersion, which is was filmed in Hollywood like a Hollywood film.
I decided if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this at a level of quality. It's never been done before. And we spent an insane amount of money and the amount of time to do it, which we literally did it with union level videographers for four days in Hollywood. So the quality of the tapes and the interactions and so forth is really cool. It's focused on psychotherapy, but it teaches the principles and sets away in such a deep way that anyone who does any kind of human development or behavior change work will see the relevance.
It's a good thing to get the feel of it by you're watching and listening and seeing because then the books come alive.
And you know, I'm trying to do more of that, I have a new tape series that an outfit called Sounds True is just put out also on Amazon. So it isn't just books. People can hear the exercises, can see them being done and online kinds of things.
But that that audible book or CD called it's called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. That sounds true. Puts out is another resource. OK, great. So I'll link to all of these in the show notes for today. And you answered my second question, which is how can people get in touch with you if they want to learn more? So Stacy Hayes and Steven with a V.
Charlie is my middle name. Yes. All one word, no periods dot com. And if you on the landing page, it says, yes, please send it to me. That means you'll get a little seven lessons emailed description of ACT and little kind of mini course on ACT. And then you'll get my newsletters. I don't spam people they come out about every three or four weeks.
If you ever get tired of them, it's a one click opt out. And actually if you wander around that website, you'll see some things on A Liberated Mind.
I've posted, you know, tests people can apply to themselves to see how they're doing and their psychological flexibility skills to kind of examples of things they can do to put in their ACT toolkit to learn how to move each of these flexibility, each of these processes that are described in A Liberated Mind.
And if you had to pick one book to start with, A Liberated Mind would be a darn good place to start.
Hell yeah.
It just came out of paperback two weeks ago, cheaper, and it's kind of wherever books are sold or you can get it through all the online sources.
Great. My last question is any music you're listening to now that you're really enjoying that most people haven't heard of?
Oh, golly, I. I'm kind of a. I tend towards trance, techno, things like that, it's kind of fading away, trance, techno and all that, and I like new music rather than older music.
So lately I've been listening to really soft, soft versions of that have that kind of modal quality that don't have a beginning, a middle and end, but sort of go on that kind of raga.
Asked music that I've drifted towards my entire life.
I'm a guitar player.
My first real hero and guitar was a guy named John Fahey who played these long kind of Native American guitar that sound more like sitar type music. I mean, because it's it's not a one four or five chord sequence. It's a mixolydian mode, kind of, you know, four or five, if you know that from music. Anyway, there's.
A couple of folks I've been listening to a lot lately, Jens Burchert, I think his name and Thierry David, very soft kind of modal music puts you and kind of colors your your room.
All right, I'll go.
I'll go look at that. I haven't heard of any of those. John Fahey, Jens Burchert, and Thierry David. Yeah, I will look them all up on YouTube and put some links.
Yeah. Sounds groovy.
It is. It's actually in a groove. You'll see. It's very much get in a groove and just stay there kind of music.
Well there's, there's so much that we haven't talked about, including the social justice work, the transformational work, mental illness.
And like it's in the book and I'm sure it's in your courses and you've been really generous with your time. So I just want to like honor and thank you for, like, the the commitment to truth and to service that is clearly informed your career and is just, you know, oozing out of every single page of A Liberated Mind. It's just so wonderful to be to be able to get to have a conversation with you about these topics.
Really I can see how deeply you have explored it because you're coming at me with interesting and kind of kind of angle. So right back at you, I appreciate the integrity of what it is that you're trying to do here. And, you know, I hope that it's of use.
I can say to people, if they're listening, you know, if if you're struggling in some way psychologically, you know, there may not be a way out, but there is a way and and science can help you really learn from and prosper inside your particular human journey, even including the parts that are painful and difficult.
In hindsight, you may see that they're as important or maybe even more so than some of the things your mind is telling you have to have before you can live.
All right, Steven Hayes, thank you so much for all you do and for taking the time today.
Awesome opportunity and thank you for providing it.

Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.


Download the transcript of this conversation (PDF)

A Liberated Mind, by Steven C Hayes

Steven Hayes' TEDx talk

Learn ACT – online video program

Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society, by David Sloan Wilson

The etymology of “suffer”

Steven Hayes' musical recommendations

John Fahey

YouTube player

Jens Buchert

YouTube player

Thierry David

YouTube player

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4 comments on “Steven C Hayes on PYP 425: How to Liberate Our Minds

  1. Sam says:

    “I don’t see race”
    That isn’t an ignorant comment at all. I wish psychologists would leave their liberal politics at the door.

    1. Howard says:

      Maybe liberalism isn’t politics, but simple respect and decency.

  2. Nicola Favero says:

    Salve mi interessa sapere se esiste qualche libro che associ l’act con l’atteggiamento del musicista verso la musica sia in termini di studio che di approccio generale come anche l’esecuzione.

  3. The new world order illuminati freemasonic and other secret society into the ducomentries of heaven .com at good to parmission the link of the world life stand for the future of the all coming with life stand for the great activitis of great level coming life stand,,,,

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