Wise Work

Get Space From Your Busy Mind and Act on What You Care About

May 18, 2023

Try these three acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)–inspired practices. KEY POINTS We all have running commentary inside our heads, much of it you wouldn’t write on positive-affirmation cards. With a bit of space, you can respond with intention and values. Putting more effort and time into meaningful activities that express your values. Making the best […]

meditaiton bell with journal notes dr diana hill
PLEASURE AND INTIMACY WITH SEX THERAPIST DR. JENN KENNEDY
Now Trending:
I'm Diana!

Diana Hill, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, international trainer, and sought-out speaker on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and compassion

hello,

Try these three acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)–inspired practices.

KEY POINTS

  • We all have running commentary inside our heads, much of it you wouldn’t write on positive-affirmation cards.
  • With a bit of space, you can respond with intention and values.
  • Putting more effort and time into meaningful activities that express your values.
  • Making the best use of your time by letting go of tasks that aren’t worth it.

“You are being nibbled to death by ducks” is what Rick Hanson has told me about my life’s busyness.

Some ducks are life tasks; for example, my laundry pile has migrated from my closet to my bedroom floor. But most of the nibbling ducks are in my head: worries, what-ifs, comparisons, wants, resentments, judgments, and distractions.

How about you? Are you being nibbled to death by ducks?

Your mind is a problem-solving machine, continually seeking ways to avoid pain and get more of what you want. Thoughts are images, stories, words, and sounds that the mind produces to direct our behavior.

However, only some of our thoughts are helpful, and some are distracting.

A Running Commentary

We all have a running commentary inside our heads, and little of it is what you’d write on positive-affirmation cards.

Thoughts tend to fall into familiar categories:

  • Expectations
  • Planning
  • Shoulds
  • Biases
  • Criticisms
  • Conclusions
  • Ruminations
  • Worries
  • Random distractions
  • Wants and cravings

It’s not the thoughts that are the problem. They are like duck nibbles; they cannot harm you. But when you start running from thoughts, fighting with them, or getting bogged down, thoughts can derail you from doing what you care about.

You can respond to the nibbling ducks in your head with cognitive defusion practices. With a bit of space from those ducks, you have more power to respond to the nibbling ducks of your life with intention and values.

Three Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)-Inspired Practices to Try Out

1. Transcribe your thoughts.

What would you write if you were to transcribe your thoughts from today on a notecard?

I’m on an airplane as I write this. Here’s my mind’s transcription:

  • I forgot to pack underwear.
  • My son needs butter for his bake sale.
  • My back hurts.
  • The people behind me are talking too loud.
  • Should I eat my pretzels now or save them for later?
  • People will think this blog post is boring.

Notice that some of these need tending to. It’s probably a good time to stand up and stretch if my back hurts.

Other thoughts could be more useful. I can do nothing right now about my son’s bake sale, and telling myself I am boring doesn’t motivate me to keep writing.

What if I ask you to pass your notecard to the next person you see? How would you feel? Scared? Embarrassed? Mortified? Stupid?

The first step in freeing yourself from thoughts is to notice them for what they are, just a quacking mind!

Transcribe your thoughts, observe them, and don’t take them so seriously. It can be beneficial to say things like these:

  • I am noticing the thought that ___.
  • My mind is quacking ___.
  • Thank you, mind. I’ve got this.

2. Let your thoughts quack away.

We don’t have much control over the thoughts that come into our heads, but we have a choice of what to do with them. Instead of trying to “quiet your thoughts” or getting distracted by every quack, allow thoughts to be in the background.

Thoughts come and go like ducks in a pond, cars on the road, and lousy elevator music in the background. Let them be.

There’s a link between letting go and freedom. When you let thoughts just be, you can choose where to focus your energy.

Here are some examples of letting go of thoughts.

  • Imagine thoughts as quacking ducks in the pond of your mind.
  • Let thoughts go by like cars driving down the highway.
  • Allow thoughts to be in the background, like lousy elevator music.

3. “ACT” from your heart.

If you were to overhear your friends talking about you, what would you want to hear them saying? If you were to read your work review at the end of the month, what would you want highlighted? If you met your kids 10 years from now, how would you want them to describe you as a parent?

Your answers say a lot about what’s most important to you and how you want to show up in the world.

If you are feeling nibbled to death by ducks, your attention may go in many directions without pausing to consider how you want to show up right now. You may be spending a lot of energy on things that don’t matter to you.

Take a moment to ask yourself these questions:

  • Given the tasks on my plate right now, which ones are most important to me?
  • How do I want to show up in this task at hand?

Get your ducks in a row by doing the following:

  • Putting more effort and time into meaningful activities that express your values.
  • Finding ways to make less pleasurable activities more meaningful.
  • Making the best use of your time by letting go of tasks that aren’t worth it.

Ducks are nibbling all of us. Some are in our heads, and some are in our lives. Notice the ducks in your head. Let them go and focus your energy on showing up entirely when tending to the tasks of daily living.

At the end of your day, I hope you can say, “Whew! That was worth it.”

Be the first to get more resources like this by subscribing to my Wise Effort newsletter.

+ show Comments

- Hide Comments

add a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *