Imagine you are on a bus and you are the driver, you are in control of the direction you go and the speed you go at. You begin heading towards your goals and the things you value in your life – maybe this is in your chosen sport, performing at your new job, acing that maths exam or graduating from university. On your bus you are joined by passengers along the way, some are nice and friendly and tell you that you are doing a great job. They cheer you on, provide constant words of reassurance and give you the confidence to continue on your journey. Along the way however you make a few stops and pick up some more passengers, these ones are not so nice and friendly. These passengers are loud and abrasive, they negatively evaluate your driving skills and begin to question and doubt your goals, values and your life’s direction. If this wasn’t bad enough already, these passengers are very loud and have drowned out those friendly passengers who have now moved to the back of the bus and are barely audible. These not so friendly passengers bring feelings of nerves and anxiety as they fight to take control of the wheel and threaten to drive you off course away from your goals and values.
This is an all too familiar story and if this sounds like the way your mind works, you are certainly not alone. The human mind is not evolved to make us feel good, rather it is evolved to evaluate and judge just about every encounter we have with one central goal in mind – to keep us alive. In the modern world, our minds are constantly on the lookout for: more money, better performance, more status, a bigger house and so on. We compare ourselves to others, evaluate our abilities and imagine all sorts of frightening scenarios, most of which will never eventuate.
The good news is that if this does sound like you, you are not defective! Your mind is simply doing its job and doing what it is essentially evolved to do. When you understand this fundamental aspect of being a human, it can free you up and you can open the door to all of your passengers. Once you learn to accept all of your passengers you can transport them on your journey towards your values.
Below are some simple strategies grounded in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to help you to learn how to accept positive and negative thoughts and feelings and continue onwards in your journey:
1. Let your thoughts come and go from your awareness.
2. Learn to observe your thoughts with open curiosity as opposed to feeling like you must act on them or get rid of them.
3. Make room for discomfort. Nerves and anxiety are a part of the journey. Treat these feelings as welcome passengers on the way to your destination rather than negatively evaluating them.
4. Keep bringing your attention back to there here-and-now. Use your sensory perception (what can you see, hear, smell, feel) to bring complete awareness back to the here-and-now.