Commitment -
Self Help for Anxiety



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September 2017

How committed are you in going for what you truly want? The answer may surprise you.

In the case of ACT therapy the A-C-T stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Although, in my experience, lots of us get past the “Acceptance" part, we come unstuck when it comes to “Commitment”.  This is a general human failing.

It seems that for the vast majority of human beings, simply allowing themselves to go for what they really want is just not on the cards!  This is a problem in all aspects of human life and doesn’t just relate to the need for commitment to self help techniques for dealing with anxiety issues.

Chalkboard listing New Year resolutionsDo you make a list that's almost the same year after year?

Do you recognise your own lack of commitment issues?

For example, how many times have you made the same New Year Resolutions year after year? 

Chalkboard listing New Year resolutionsDo you make a list that's almost the same year after year?

It seems a no-brainer really, doesn’t it. Surely if we have the chance to get something we truly desire we grab it with everything we’ve got? ….Well, no, we don’t… Although some of us manage it, some of the time, many of us don’t manage it at all for any of the time. So what’s the problem?

Let’s consider an example. The one which I often use is that of losing weight (one of my lifelong hang-ups).  I know I feel happier and fitter and more comfortable when I am at my optimum weight (about a stone lighter than I am most of the time) yet I can’t seem to get there and stay there.

From time to time I manage it - usually when I’m busy doing something I enjoy more than I enjoy eating chocolate or ice cream. But I never sustain it. Sooner or later the lure of that tub of salty caramel ice cream or the bar of Galaxy gets the better of me. 

I can maintain my ideal weight easily if I lay off the “bad foods” but then my head reminds me of that birthday card joke which on the front reads: “If you want to live to be 100, lay off the wine, women, and gambling…” and then inside it says, “You may not live to be 100 but it sure as hell will feel like it!”  And I justify my lapse. But that doesn’t help me get nearer my ideal weight.

My downfall every time, I know, is that the lure of having something delicious NOW far outweighs the promise of something good in the future.  But because I haven’t yet achieved that goal it has no positive emotion attached to it, so it’s just a desire. Ok so I have been that weight in the past, but it was fleeting and the emotions attached are now weak.

On the other hand, I had a bar of chocolate far more recently. Once that chocolatey image pops into my head it’s more than just an image. Attached to that image is the memory of the sweet, creamy taste…, the sensation as it melts in my mouth…  There sense of momentary satisfaction… The contest is over.

That’s a dilemma most of us can identify with and it’s perfectly understandable. Many businesses rely on this fact in order to persuade us to buy their non-essential goods. They make us aware of how great it will be to own them NOW regardless of how we’ll feel when we have to go without something else in order to pay for them later.

The temptation to grab something good now frequently, and understandably, easily overcomes the commitment to achieving something desired yet remote at some time in the future. (How often when you were swotting for exams did you persuade yourself you’d work much better if you just watched this film, met your mates, or maybe went to the beach first?)

But in all my years as a psychologist, I often found myself confronted by someone who insisted on choosing to turn down something good in the present that would also have improved things in the future as well! Instead they’d continue to choose what had always proved to be unpleasant and, in doing so, ensured it would continue into the future. 

Why would anyone do that?

I’m referring, of course, to the need for self help in overcoming anxiety.

Anxiety is created when we adopt bad habits in the way we respond to the brain’s warning signals. The more we persist in these, the worse the anxiety habits become and the more our lives are messed up.

The second step in overcoming any type of anxiety habit is to learn techniques that are needed to replace it. (The first step is understanding it) The third step is in applying these techniques one by one, day by day. (Read more about the three steps here)

But committing to self help techniques for anxiety isn’t unpleasant to do!

The techniques aren’t hard to do and not unpleasant - they’re far more pleasant to do than joining in with startle warnings and creating a fight or flight response, anxiety symptoms and even a panic attack!

Only by replacing the bad habitual responses to startle warnings, can anxiety be reduced and eventually overcome.

So why do so many people fail to do it!

Time and again people would come back to me saying that what I’d suggested didn’t work. Time and again we’d look at this together and discover that the reason it hadn’t worked was that they weren’t actually doing it!

The bottom line is not buying into fearful thoughts and, as soon as they arise, moving the awareness to other things and keeping it there. Simple as that. Anxiety can’t increase unless we focus on our fears. This one step repeated day in day out will eventually get rid of the anxiety habit.

Yes, the reward may be at some point in the future but, unlike my ice cream or chocolate cravings, what’s on offer in the here and now is actually better as well. It’s far more pleasant to think about the feel of stroking the cat, imagine you’re strolling across a tropical beach, or to slowly sip and enjoy the taste of a cup of tea… than it is to think fearful thoughts, isn’t it? But the technique needs to be practised when you are not feeling anxious first!

The alternative needs to have some positives inked to it. Practising the techniques - such as Calm Scene or Momentary Mindfulness - will allow a good feeling to be linked to the technique. Once this happens your brain will have a bit more reason to encourage you down that path next time anxiety threatens to overwhelm.

Brains link things. Whenever we link positives to any event then we become that bit more likely to repeat it.

Spanish dancer

The logic behind that can’t be faulted. The main reason people don’t do it is because they’re afraid it won’t work and that if they take their minds off the scary thoughts these thoughts will totally overwhelm them and they might go mad.

On the other hand, they do know that if they do what they’ve aways done - even though it causes them panic, excessive anxiety, etc - they will most probably come through it. So, bad as it might be, they continue to do what they’ve always done.

But really it’s like that time when you first try swimming without the armbands, or riding the bike without stabilisers - until you do it you won’t know. 

Faith is believing what you don't yet see. The reward for that faith is in seeing what you believed.

St Thomas Aquinas

Faith is believing what you don't yet see. The reward for that faith is in seeing what you believed.

St Thomas Aquinas

The logic behind that can’t be faulted. The main reason people don’t do it is because they’re afraid it won’t work and that if they take their minds off the scary thoughts these thoughts will totally overwhelm them and they might go mad.

On the other hand, they do know that if they do what they’ve aways done - even though it causes them panic, excessive anxiety, etc - they will most probably come through it. So, bad as it might be, they continue to do what they’ve always done.

But really it’s like that time when you first try swimming without the armbands, or riding the bike without stabilisers - until you do it you won’t know. 

Maybe it's acceptance that gets in the way?

So what gets in the way - I think it’s often the Acceptance part.

We come to accept what we see as our faults. We learn to live with them. We reach a point where we can’t envisage ourselves without them. Those faults and failings become part of who we are, of our identity. There’s an unspoken belief that if we lose our issues well lose our identity.

But true acceptance of something also implies not constantly trying to get rid of it.

We acknowledge that we will always wear armbands when in the pool, that we will never learn to swim.  In my case I’d have to accept I will always weigh nine stone rather than eight.

So we either accept it OR we commit to doing everything we can to change it.

Commitment means that everything we do is taking us towards our goal...

if it isn't... then why are we doing it?

light bulb

How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?

Only one... But it has to WANT to change.

light bulb

How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?

Only one... But it has to WANT to change.

We each tend to make excuses for ourselves constantly. We need to ask ourselves whether we want to be as we are - and we can each be whatever we choose. Nobody has to change unless they really want to. 

We then either accept it and stop trying to change it or wishing we were different  - OR - we commit to changing it and do everything in our power to change the way we behave each and every time.

So which is it to be, for me, the salted caramel ice cream or the happy weight? Hmm…. Is there a way to have both?


Note:

Only when I came to create this page did I realise that I wrote about the same thing exactly five years ago! Must be something about the time of year that makes me think along those lines!



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