Mindful Choices For Well-Being
Awareness, Great Choices,
Center for Anxious Lifestyle Management
William C. Shearer, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., M.A.
Robin L. Shearer, M.A., M.P.H., R.N., M.F.T.
Purposes, Core Assumptions and the Four Pillars
ABOVE THE LINE: FROM DIS-EASE TO WELL-BEING AND HAPPINESS
Chapter 1: It’s All about Choices
Chapter 2: What is Mindful Choice Therapy?
Chapter 3: The Mindful Choices Model: Cultivating Strengths and New Ways of Being
ASSESSING MINDFUL CHOICES
Chapter 4: The Mindful Choices Assessment
- Choice One: Breath Awareness and Retraining
- Choice Two: Begin and End Your Day Peacefully
- Choice Three: Mindful Eating; Balance Mind and Body and Connect With Your Life
- Choice Four: Cultivating Mindfulness
- Choice Five: Engage in Self-Reflection and Deal with Negative Self-Talk and Distorted Thinking
- Choice Six: Connect with and Live Your Deepest Values; Purpose, Meaning and Balance
- Choice Seven: Intentional Relating
- Choice Eight: Physical Activity, Mindful Movement and Body Awareness
- Choice Nine: Develop Your Mindfulness Practices Toolkit
- Choice Ten: Self-Acceptance and Self-Compassion
ACTION PLANNING GUIDES
Chapter 5: Choice One, Breath Awareness and
Chapter 6: Choice Two, Begin and End Your Day Peacefully
Chapter 7: Choice Three, Mindful Eating; Balance Mind and Body and Connect With Your Life
Chapter 8: Choice Four, Cultivating Mindfulness
Chapter 9: Choice Five, Engage in Self-Reflection and Manage Negative Self-Talk, Distorted Thinking, and Maladaptive schema
Chapter 10: Choice Six, Connect with and Live Your Deepest Values; Purpose, Meaning and Balance
Chapter 11: Choice Seven, Intentional Relating
Chapter 12: Choice Eight, Mind Mindful Movement and Body Awareness
Chapter 13: Choice Nine, Daily Mindful Practices Toolkit
Chapter 14: Choice Ten, Self-Acceptance and Self-Compassion
Chapter 15: Forwarding the Action; Psychological Flexibility, Resilience, and Well-Being
Development of Your Anxious Lifestyle – Why Me?
Bill’s Story:-What’s Happening?
Robin’s Story- How I Became My Own Best Friend
Mindful Choices Scoring Sheets (Daily, 10 day, 31 day)
Mindful Choices Profile Sheets (single mindful choice, full assessment, 31 day charts)
Intentional Relationship Skills Self-Assessment (IRSSA)
Eating Disorder Recovery Roadmap
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Welcome to “Mindful Choices for Well-Being”
Become mindfully aware, make great choices, and turn those great choices into powerful and positive habits.
We want you to "thrive." We want you to wake up each morning full of enthusiasm about your life. We want you to feel confident, optimistic and empowered, living your values, having compassion for self and others, and finding purpose and meaning in each day. This is the true meaning of “well-being,” experiencing your life with a high degree of satisfaction and happiness.
This is a book about mindfulness and transformation. You will learn to use mindful awareness of your “here and now” reality to consistently choose well-being and quality of life. You will achieve freedom to be conscious and intentional in your choices. You will have powerful evidence based methodology for making healthy choices stick. You will loosen the grip of automatic negative habits while building a healthy and positive lifestyle that becomes automatic with practice.
You are a creature of habit – for better or for worse. According to a Duke University study, at least 45% of everything you think, feel, do or say is habitual. We can almost hear the protests. Not me! I’m already aware of my behavior. Everything I do is well thought out and purposeful. Well, not so fast, the evidence says otherwise. You may think your actions are conscious and intentional, but in fact much of your life is habit. You, like virtually everyone else, are largely living your life on autopilot, following your script, and responding much the way you’ve always responded. This “automaticity” can underlie either a life of well-being, or a life of stress, frustration and disappointment.
However, even though much of your behavior is scripted and automatic, you needn’t be discouraged – learning mindfulness skills for personal mastery and well-being is a game changer. You can develop a discipline of being conscious and intentional. You can take charge of your habits, and the choices behind those habits. You can cultivate mindful awareness, consistently make positive choices and literally rewire your brain, making positive and healthy choices that become habitual. You can choose personal mastery, a peaceful mind and well-being, and you can develop mindfulness tools to make positive choices stick!
We work with people who want more out of life. Our clients want to consistently make better choices, and they want those choices to become solid habits. They are ready for change.
We’ve had a very successful psychology and consulting practice for over three decades, but we don’t have a typical client. Some of our clients have high anxiety. Some are depressed. Some have relationship issues. Some struggle with addictions. Some are dealing with food and weight issues. Some have workplace stress. Some are creative people who feel stuck. Some are leaders who want to improve leadership skills. Some want to feel more in control of their lives. Some want to develop a business or launch a new career. Some come seeking life-coaching to help them feel more effective, successful, and happy. All want more out of life.
What about you? Are you struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, food and weight issues, addictive or compulsive behaviors, stress-induced self-damaging reactivity or stressful relationship problems? Perhaps you’re simply feeling overstimulated and overwhelmed by daily frustrations and tensions, not having much fun and not having the life you wanted. Do you find yourself struggling to do the very things you really want to do anyway? Are you much too self-critical, unable to feel that your ordinary self is enough?
Perhaps you’re struggling to break free of bad habits or having difficulty forming positive and sustainable new ones. Time and time again you find yourself abandoning good choices and reverting to autopilot, clinging to bad habits that you wish you’d outgrown years ago. You might be telling yourself: “If only I had more willpower I’d get rid of the bad habits once and for all and adopt the good ones.”
Does it seem as though no matter how hard you strive you’re unable to get what you want? Do you sometimes sabotage your best efforts? Do you find yourself giving up on trying to make changes, abandoning changes that at first seemed all important, but later seemed unattainable? Do you move from one new interest to another, looking for instant happiness. Are you forever looking for the one thing that will finally make you permanently happy, only to become frustrated and disappointed, moving on once again? Do you have difficulty sustaining motivation long enough to transform healthy choices into lifetime habits?
In spite of good intentions, do you put up barriers to being truly successful? Do you keep getting in your own way? Do you find yourself stuck in your own perpetual Groundhog Day?
We’ve all been there. These are simply human qualities and virtually universal. Don’t be discouraged. What you need is a new way of thinking about change and a proven method for making solid transformational changes that take you to a greater sense of well-being and personal mastery. We’ll introduce you to a science and evidence-based process for being aware and focused, and transforming great choices into powerful and enduring life-skills and habits.
Today you are one step closer to a new you, choosing to live a life where you feel aware and alive, and on a positive path to growth and well-being. It’s all about envisioning a positive future, having clarity about self-imposed limitations and habits, and mindfully creating the life you want. Whether you realize it or not, you have the power to create and sustain a high level of personal growth and well-being. It's all about clearly seeing your choices and embarking on a clear, systematic, and active process leading to lasting change. That’s why we created the Mindful Choices system for self-directed personal growth and transformation.
Is This Book Different?
This is a book about a systematic, holistic, and action oriented process of choosing and creating well-being. It’s a guidebook outlining a process of regularly assessing your well-being across 10 Mindful Choices dimensions, focusing your attention, sustaining a high level of motivation, and creating lasting positive changes through ongoing intention, awareness, focus, and practice. It’s not just another self-help book, but a complete “how-to” manual for life-planning. This book integrates knowledge from mindfulness and contemplative traditions, Buddhist psychology, Stoicism, positive psychology, neuroscience, and acceptance and mindfulness-based behavioral therapies. It will not only give you the tools to manage stress, anxiety and depression, but will take you well beyond “normal” to a life of “thriving.”
Recognizing that 45% of everything you do is habitual, this book utilizes cutting-edge research and a process we call “habitualizing” to help you systematically develop powerful and positive habits that lead to a high level of satisfaction with your life. You’ll learn how to use mindfulness, focused attention, and practice to bring about transformational changes where powerful positive foundational habits seem effortless. You’ll learn how to use your mind to actually change your brain – in other words focused attention leading to changes in your brain’s circuitry, or “experience based self-directed neuroplasticity.” In short, this book is about systematically practicing brain-based behavioral changes that powerfully and positively impact your well-being
Who is This Book For?
We designed this book for you if you are wanting to transcend unwelcome aspects of your life, instead taking charge and transforming a life of good intentions, frustration and disappointment, to a life of action, meaning and satisfaction – a life you choose, a life of thriving! While most people continue into their future by perpetually and frustratingly re-creating unwelcome elements of their past, this book is about redesigning your life and systematically creating the life you want.
You probably know what you don’t want, but what do you want more of in your life? Do you want to feel more centered and balanced? More focused and creative? More energized and engaged? More physical strength, vitality, energy, and good health? More confidence and feelings of self-worth? More self-acceptance? More satisfying relationships? Greater satisfaction with your work-life? More control over your life? More fun? More contentment and peacefulness? Do you want to be powerfully motivated for sustained goal-directed behavior leading to well-being?
This book can be used by individuals with or without the help of a therapist or counselor. The language is straightforward with clinical jargon kept to a minimum. Individuals will find a clear pathway for moving from self-assessment to lasting positive change. Additional resources will be suggested and the program can be carried out at whatever pace is desired.
Counselors and therapists will find the book to be highly useful in targeting specific areas for growth and change, and in guiding change efforts step-by-step. Similarly, life coaches will find a complete package for guiding their clients from a-z in life development and personal transformation.
We also use the process extensively within a group counseling format. Individuals within the group can focus on the specific areas identified by their Mindful Choices for Well-Being Self-Assessment, while the group as a whole can focus holistically on the tools and methods for transformational growth and change. Mutual support and encouragement from group members well-versed in the Mindful Choices approach is a powerful factor in individual success.
Finally, this program has been used successfully as the centerpiece for wellness programs. Traditional wellness in the workplace programs focusing on exercise, nutrition, and disease prevention, have met with limited success. Our program, on the other hand, with a holistic focus on well-being, leads to a state of mind where choices for excellent self-care are wholeheartedly embraced and carried into action.
What Are the Purposes of This Book?
book has two purposes. First, throughout the book you will be
introduced to a wide variety of tools and choices for reducing
anxiety, managing stress, and overcoming depression. In this regard,
what we offer is very consistent with the goals of traditional
counseling and psychotherapy – reducing the distress stemming from
life’s everyday challenges as well as alleviating the anxiety and
depression that comes with other psychological and emotional issues.
Our second purpose is promoting your ability to thrive, moving beyond your dis-ease and achieving a high level of physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Consider the following continuum – “From Dis-ease to Well-being.” For most of three decades in private practice, we have focused on helping our clients move from -5 to 0, the state that is usually considered “normal.” This is what our clients and their insurance companies expected us to do, what we were trained to do, and what we saw as our mission – helping people alleviate the debilitating effects of stress, anxiety, and depression. We refer to these and other clinical problems collectively as “dis-ease.”
We borrowed the term “dis-ease” from wellness professionals and the addiction treatment community and we use the term to refer to the complaints of typical clients who exhibit a disabling mixture of stress, anxiety, and depression. In wellness language, dis-ease is a catchall term indicating the natural state of “ease” being out of balance or disrupted. When there is significant impairment, psychological or psychiatric treatment is warranted, and we assign a mental health diagnosis such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, dysthymic disorder (moderate depression), or major depression.
Once our client has reached a point in their recovery where they are no longer diagnosable with a mental health diagnosis, insurance coverage ceases. At that point, they are “normal.” They blend in with the general population, no longer meeting the criteria for an anxiety or depressive “disorder,” or stress and anxiety so severe that it disrupts normal functioning. They have become indistinguishable from the general population, a population made up of people who often experience significant stress in daily life and often don’t like their lives very much.
However, being free of a clinically definable psychological problem doesn’t necessarily mean you are thriving or have made significant and enduring improvements to your life situation. “Normal” doesn’t mean that you are free of happiness-limiting stress. It doesn’t mean you’re having fun. It doesn’t mean that you believe your life is going well, or you like the path you’re on.
Sigmund Freud has been quoted saying psychoanalysis could treat hysterical and neurotic misery, but could not treat ordinary human unhappiness. Being “normal” simply meant normal human misery, something psychoanalytic therapy couldn’t help.
We don’t accept “normal” as the end goal. We don’t think the journey should stop simply because a clinical diagnosis has gone away. There is much more to a high quality life than the mere absence of pathological distress and clinical disorders.
On the other end of the continuum is “well-being.” Moving well beyond alleviating moderate to severe anxiety, depression, and stress, well-being is about finding meaning, balance and optimism, developing as a person, and believing your life is fulfilling and worthwhile.
One of the many tools we use is called the Life-Planning Roadmap, and it represents the total score from our 100 item Mindful Choices for Well-Being Self-Assessment. Possible scores range from 0 to 200 points, with 100 points being a level we consider “Normal.”
We find it very useful to talk about this general assessment of well-being in terms of being “Above the Line,” or Below the Line. Below 100 points, the point along the pathway that constitutes “Normal,” is where we find all the things that bring clients to our clinical services, complaints and conditions we lump together collectively as “dis-ease,” a state of imbalance, dissatisfaction and major distress.
Above 100 points or “Normal” is the area we refer to as “Above the Line.” This is where you find yourself thriving or flourishing. This is where you find “Well-Being,” a state positive psychologist Martin Seligman describes using the acronym PERMA, which stands for Positive Emotions, Engagement with life, Positive Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishment.
We are psychotherapists for the first half of the continuum, and life coaches for the second half. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. We don’t suddenly switch identities when our clients progress beyond the “normal” level. Rather, we see a seamless continuum with greater well-being and happiness the further you go along the pathway. We envision our clients at various stages of their life journey and don’t think of them merely in terms of diagnostic labels that need to be removed. Instead, we see our clients turning to us as temporary guides for an ongoing journey from wherever they are at present to a life they choose – a life of “flourishing.”
So, this is a book about a systematic and measurable pathway from -5 to +5, the Mindful Choices system for self-directed personal growth and transformation. No matter where you’re at on the pathway, there are choices for improving your sense of well-being and your overall satisfaction with the life you’re living. It’s a matter of becoming fully conscious of your choices, cultivating an ongoing mindful focus on the choices that really matter, removing roadblocks, and actively establishing powerful new habits and routines for a rich values-based life.
Our assessment process provides you with a way of knowing where you’re at along the pathway, a compass for establishing direction, and a roadmap for helping you clearly see the path before you. Our 10 interrelated and interdependent “Mindful Choices” encompass literally thousands of choices, large and small, for achieving well-being. We’ve drawn from over three decades of clinical experience and incorporated virtually everything we know that has anything to do with reducing and managing stress, anxiety, and depression, and then we’ve then gone even further mapping out a clear, step-by-step pathway for achieving and sustaining a profound sense of well-being.
These Mindful Choices were not chosen at random. Each choice area is full of opportunities for establishing “Keystone Habits.” These are habits that have far-reaching consequences and trigger the development of powerful and positive habits in very different areas of your life. You’ll discover that progress in one area readily results in progress in other areas as well.
Yes, you can make choices that will empower you to overcome stress, anxiety, and depression, but you can also choose happiness. You can make choices today that will contribute to your sense of happiness and life satisfaction tomorrow – and the day after! And you can systematically practice these new choices until they become solidly a part of a new and fulfilling life. Imagine developing a vision, actively pursuing that vision, making values-based choices, receiving precise and frequent feedback, actively practicing new behaviors, and steadily growing along the continuum “from dis-ease to well-being.”
This is your guidebook for a journey from a medical model focus on reducing pathological distress to a wellness focus on well-being and balance. It’s not a “feel-good” self-help book that leaves you longing for more direction. Instead, you will find yourself making choices and practicing powerful and positive behaviors. You will experience a guided step-by-step process where you become what you choose, and what you practice. As in everything else in life, practice is the key. You are what you do!
Self-assessment of present choices and clarification of desired future choices will sharpen your awareness and focus. Ongoing focused practice in implementing healthy choices will lead you to lasting personal transformation.
Everything we discuss is readily achievable by following a simple to understand step-by-step plan. We've kept it down-to-earth with an easily implemented action plan for increasing your awareness and focus, empowering you to make many large and small choices, and guiding you to follow through to achieving the life you want – and deserve.
Our Core Assumptions
Traditional Approaches and Change
- Much of what is done in traditional psychotherapy and psychiatry doesn’t go much further than alleviating distress and reducing pathology, providing symptomatic relief rather than transformational growth and change.
- Similarly, “talk therapy” and self-help books may not bring about needed changes unless there is increased awareness, regular focused practice and regular and specific feedback. Change requires action – and lots of practice.
- What is considered normal functioning in this society falls short of happiness and well-being. Quality-of-life limiting levels of stress, anxiety and depression are now so commonplace that substantial stress is accepted as normal.
- The fast pace of modern life is a major factor in stress, unhappiness and illness, and most people would be much happier and healthier if they knew how to slow down, take time to connect with themselves and others, and live their values in the here and now.
Balance, Beliefs, and Self-Talk
- Stress, anxiety, and depression largely result from a life out of balance.
- Much of our lack of balance stems from distorted beliefs and negative self-talk. Being human, we all quite naturally and habitually deny, distort, and falsify reality. We behave accordingly with “automaticity” rather than being fully conscious and intentional.
- Through our beliefs and self-talk, we often disturb ourselves and create or amplify our own problems.
- We largely disturb ourselves by what we have learned to tell ourselves. In the words of Epictetus, a first century Stoic philosopher: “People are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them.”
- We have limited control over our lives, yet we often think we must. Much of our difficulty comes from having to have things a certain way and thinking it’s absolutely terrible if something different happens.
- Our thinking is often dominated by “musts” and “shoulds.” We often think in absolute terms and engage in either-or thinking — either things are absolutely wonderful or absolutely terrible. Disturbing feelings and dysfunctional behaviors are usually rooted in absolutistic and irrational “musts” and “should” such as: “I absolutely must please everyone in everything I do or I have failed and it is absolutely terrible.”
- We are often unaware that our difficulties stem largely from belief-driven choices.
- Much of our behavior is driven by maladaptive “schemas,” or clusters of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors learned long ago, and automatically activated by current stressful “triggers.”
- Thoughts are just thoughts. They come and go. We can’t control our brain generating thoughts, but we can learn to control how we react to them. The solution is being mindfully aware of our thinking and neither avoiding those thoughts or attempting to drive them out of our heads. Our demons are often empowered by our struggling against them, or by avoiding them at all costs. The solution involves awareness, acceptance and choice.
Choices and Habits
- The quality of our lives is the sum total of all of our choices. Practicing those choices to the point of having powerful positive habits completes the picture. You are what you do and it’s the doing, again and again, that reshapes your life. Insight alone is not sufficient for lasting change.
- Happiness and well-being are at least 40% about choices, and those choices can be fully conscious and intentional. You can actually choose happiness.
- About 45%-50% of what we believe to be our choices are not conscious and intentional, and are in reality habits – habits of the mind, behavioral habits, and even emotional habits. Many of our habits work well for us, but many others are bad habits. We are often unaware they are habits at all, or that we have the power to change them.
- You cannot change what you are not aware of.
- With awareness and a systematic approach to change, new positive habits can be created.
- As new habits are created, new circuits are created in the brain. This is neuroplasticity. Self-directed neuroplasticity is a process of taking charge of habits you want to change, and habits you want to develop. It’s a process of using your mind to change your brain.
- We have vast potential for positive growth and change based upon our choices, yet many people are unaware they possess this power. You cannot make choices if unaware of the possibilities for choice or your capacity for choice.
Well-Being and Happiness
- Well-being and happiness are not accidental, or about luck. A life characterized by well-being and happiness, results from a definite structure: mindful awareness, conscious choices, regular feedback, and consistent practice.
- Well-being and happiness are not the result of a single decision or choice, but result from many values-based choices, large and small, with those choices consistently repeated until they become enduring habits.
- Well-being and happiness are not to be found at a destination or station you arrive at, but are the byproducts of how you are traveling – moment by moment, choice by choice.
- Life becomes much simpler when choices are based upon values. Values-based choices lead to a life of meaning and balance.
- Success is living your values. Values give meaning to life. Happiness is finding meaning and purpose in each day.
- Mindful awareness, openness to feedback, and a feedback rich environment form the foundation for healthy and positive choices. A life characterized by well-being and happiness, results from a definite structure: mindful awareness, conscious choices, regular feedback, and consistent practice.
- Compassion for self and others is absolutely essential for personal growth and transformation. Mindful awareness is the foundation for self and other compassion.
- Unconditional self-acceptance and unconditional acceptance of others are prerequisites for happiness. This means viewing your behaviors objectively and sometimes critically, but NEVER taking it a step further and globally or totally rating yourself as a person.
- All beliefs and behaviors are purposeful. All exist to help you meet your needs or avoid pain. Some however are maladaptive, ineffective, or destructive.
- Recognizing that each part of you, each trait, behavior, or habit, came into existence to help you, it is important to adopt a nonjudgmental attitude and investigate that quality mindfully with curiosity, patience, and compassion.
Our 10 Mindful Choices
- No matter what is going on, no matter what problem or life difficulty you are facing, no matter how much distress you are in, one or more of our 10 Mindful Choices will help.
- Our 10 Mindful Choices are interrelated. Progress in one Mindful Choice area generally means making progress in other areas as well. These choices are known as Keystone habits.
- Having a good working knowledge of Mindful Choices, being mindful of situations calling for Mindful Choices skills, and regularly practicing their application, means you will be able to use these “foundational skills” when needed, instead of turning habitually to ineffective or destructive knee-jerk reactions.
- Transformation can be self-directed and should not be expensive. While a therapist or life coach who believes in your capacity for change can be very helpful, such a guide is often not essential. Similarly, there is no super guru or magical program needed. In fact, we see an inverse relationship between what you’re spending and what you’re receiving in terms of transformational growth and change. Don’t look for solutions outside of yourself. When someone promises nirvana and asks for your credit card, quickly move on. Powerful answers lie within yourself, and helpful resources are abundant. You already possess the magic. Look inside.
- With the help of our Mindful Choices for Well-Being program, you can develop the tools to effectively become your own therapist.
Our work is based upon nearly 40 years of clinical and personal experience and represents an integration of diverse approaches. While we have included applications from theoretical approaches such as object relations, social learning theory, cognitive behavioral strategies, interpersonal or systems theory, and systems thinking, there is a primary emphasis on the following Four Pillars:
1. Mindfulness, contemplative practices, Buddhist psychology, Stoicism.
2. Mindfulness and acceptance-based behavioral therapies such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction MBSR, and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). A significant part of this book is inspired by ACT and we will therefore focus most attention on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. We also draw heavily upon Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT). Utilizing the earlier form Rational Emotive Therapy (RET). We also draw upon Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT).
3. Positive Psychology and the science of happiness and well-being.
4. Neuroscience and brain-based change strategies, psychobiology, mind-body medicine and cognitive neuroscience.
Although we have been open to whatever is useful and evidence-based from a wide variety of sources, we have worked to make sure that there is nothing inconsistent or contradictory within our work. For example, wherever we have utilized cognitive strategies, we have made sure that they are consistent with our focus on developing the qualities of moment to moment, non-judgmental mindful awareness and acceptance of internal experience, rather than a reliance on distraction, symptom management, development of competing behaviors, or avoidance. We emphasize one such approach, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, the most useful strategy we have found for moving from mindful awareness of present choices to values-driven choices.
Similarly, we have incorporated major findings from the relatively new field of positive psychology, and with amazing compatibility, we draw upon 2500 years of wisdom in the application of the practice of mindfulness to all aspects of human existence. Neuroscience completes the picture with new understanding of how our brains work, an understanding leading to powerful insights for overcoming our built-in negativity bias while cultivating greater happiness and well-being in our lives. Most intriguing, recent brain research powerfully demonstrates the validity of ancient teachings on mindfulness and acceptance. Thus neuroscience is a bridge, connecting ancient wisdom with cognitive-behavioral therapies via high-tech 21st-century science. Increasingly, an understanding of neuroscience has led to extremely useful evidence-based behavior change strategies that work through actual changes in brain function.
These four perspectives are interrelated when it comes to goal setting, focusing on psychological strengths, utilizing mindfulness skills, and clarifying values and meaning in life.
Let’s take a brief look at each of the Four Pillars.
1. Mindfulness, contemplative practices, Buddhist psychology, Stoicism.
Mindfulness is present moment awareness, or conscious awareness of all that is happening in the here and now. It’s having an open and receptive attitude, without judgment. It’s having an attitude of curiosity and a willingness to turn toward one’s experience rather than away from it.
Mindfulness is nothing less than a way of living your life with alertness and presence. It’s a process of awareness rather than thinking. It’s about paying attention to your experience in the present moment rather than being captivated by your thoughts. It’s about being fully present in the “here and now” rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. It involves an attitude of openness and curiosity, no matter how difficult or painful your experience may be, rather than running from your experience or doing battle with it. It involves flexibility of attention with the ability to direct your focus to particular aspects of your experience.
Contemplative practices can be difficult to describe as there is no single contemplative practice. Basically, these practices involve moment-by-moment awareness and deepening concentration, understanding, and insight. They involve disciplined attention that is even more essential in our highly stressed society, a society characterized by fragmentation, multitasking, information overload, ever-increasing speed, and ceaseless distractions.
Many of these practices are discussed in this book, and we will provide you with resources for pursuing specific practices further. These practices include, but are by no means limited to, various forms of meditation, visualization, journaling, yoga, Qigong, Tai chi, attentive listening, music and dance.
Buddhist psychology is a nonreligious source of great ideas for well-being. Throughout the book we will draw upon Buddhist ideas such as the practice of mindfulness, compassion for self and others, acceptance, practicing loving kindness, and dealing with emotional pain realistically without making it worse.
Stoicism, the basis for all cognitive behavioral therapies, had its beginnings in ancient Greece and grew to maturity in Rome. While the current meaning of “stoic” is someone who is uncomplaining and rather passive, the real meaning of stoicism has more to do with being tough-minded and resilient in the face of difficulties. Historical Stoics such as Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius saw pursuing reason as a pathway to a virtuous life and tranquility. In the recent past Bill’s mentor Albert Ellis brought renewed interest in stoicism to psychology. In chapter 9, you will be introduced to Rational Emotive Therapy, a primary tool for becoming mindful of ways we disturb ourselves.
2. Mindfulness and acceptance-based behavioral therapies, and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) in the earlier form RET. Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT).
Mindfulness is central to psychotherapeutic modalities such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Mindfulness is also embraced by practitioners of positive psychology who see mindfulness as a foundation for facilitating a number of healthy skills and behaviors, therefore making it more likely that those choices will be exercised in decreasing negative mood, enhancing positive mood, or enhancing positive feelings and thoughts about yourself and your relation to your world and your future.
Although there are several approaches in this category, here we will focus specifically on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
ACT is a radical departure from traditional Western psychotherapy practices. It is mindfulness-based and values oriented and draws much from non-religious Buddhist psychology. Drawing upon the Buddhist notion that human suffering is inevitable, ACT similarly sees difficult thoughts and feelings as an inevitable part of the human condition, and not something that must be gotten rid of. Attempts to avoid pain often magnify it rather than eliminating it.
The name ACT stems from “acceptance” of what is outside of your personal control, and “commitment” to values-based choices for enriching life. According to Joseph Ciarrochi, Todd B Kashdan, and Russ Harris in their article: The Foundations of Flourishing:
“The aim of ACT is, quite simply, to maximize human potential for a rich, full, and meaningful life. ACT (which is pronounced as the word “ACT,” not as the initials A.C.T.) Does this by a) teaching you mindfulness skills to deal with your painful thoughts and feelings effectively – in such a way that they have much less impact and influence over you; and b) helping you to clarify your core values, and use that knowledge to guide, inspire, and motivate committed action.”
Based on stoicism, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) is based on the idea that we disturb ourselves by things we have learned to tell ourselves. We use an earlier version of REBT created in the late 1950s by Albert Ellis. Rational Emotive Therapy or RET is a remarkably easy process for discovering your specific irrational beliefs. As such, it’s a great mindfulness tool as you soon find yourself being more conscious of your negative self- talk and dysfunctional beliefs. Once fully aware, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy provides a quick and effective way to simply notice irrational beliefs, determine whether they are useful or helpful, and choose to continue on guided by your goals and values.
Compassion Focused Therapy integrates science-based approaches with mind-training practices dating back thousands of years. CFT’s foundation is in evolutionary psychology, affective neuroscience, attachment theory, behaviorism, and cognitive behavioral therapy. CFT is particularly helpful in overcoming shame and self-criticism. In the words of Russell L Kolts, PhD, author of CFT Made Simple: A Clinician’s Guide to Practicing Compassion-Focused Therapy:
“Compassion gives us a way to turn toward the things that scare us — with kindness, wisdom, and courage — and to work with them. When we stop trying to avoid discomfort, we can turn toward suffering and look deeply into it, so we can come to understand the causes and conditions that create it – perhaps even learning enough to help make things better.”
3. Positive Psychology and the science of happiness and well-being.
The aim of positive psychology is to make available all that has been learned about healthy living and well-being. Like ACT, the aim of positive psychology is the promotion of human flourishing. A major working assumption of positive psychology is that thriving is not simply getting rid of the negative aspects of life, and that there are choices for promoting healthy living and well-being.
4. Neuroscience and brain-based change strategies, psychobiology, mind-body medicine and cognitive neuroscience.
A relatively new term in scientific vocabulary is “neuroplasticity”. We now know that you can use your mind to actually bring about structural changes in your brain. According to Daniel J Siegel, author of “The Mindful Brain,” neurons that fire together wire together. In other words “repeated firing of neurons in specific areas would result in markedly increased synaptic densities in those regions that were activated with mindful practice.” Siegel goes on to state that “Mindful awareness is a form of experience that seems to promote neuroplasticity.” Purposely paying attention to the present moment seems to stimulate the brain to promote growth in specific brain regions associated with the creation of well-being.
Much of our work builds upon what brain research says about developing habits. You are constantly creating habits, good ones and bad ones, and you create them for a reason. Your brain, literally the most complex thing in the universe, uses about 20% of total body energy. Still, in spite of this enormous energy supply, your brain would quickly be overwhelmed if it had to deal with the incredible flow of information coming at you each second. Consider for example, driving your car. If you were conscious of each and every detail, you’d have to focus on thousands of pieces of information and make thousands of decisions. You probably wouldn’t get very far. Your brain’s solution is the creation of habits. Anything you do more than once is on its way to becoming a habit, thus freeing up your brain to tackle more complex situations. Throughout this book, we will be guiding you step-by-step in the transformation of basic mindful choices into powerful and enduring habits for well-being.
In short, brain research has led to an understanding of how to rewire your brain, freeing you from destructive ways of thinking and behaving, while building on choices that utilize your values and strengths, choices that lead to resilience and well-being, or “thriving.” We will be discussing how you can use specific brain-based practices such as Memory Reconsolidation or Coherence Therapy, and other strategies such as Mental Contrasting, Intention Implementation, and Visualization Meditation.
This has been a brief introduction to our “Four Pillars.” More will follow throughout the book.
A Look Ahead
In Part I you will learn why choices matter, how you can become more mindful of your choices, and how to transform positive choices into enduring habits. You will learn about Mindful Choices Therapy and the Mindful Choices Model for cultivating strengths and new ways of being. You will learn about “Keystone habits” that lead to powerful positive habits in widely varying areas of your life.
In Part II you will be presented with the Mindful Choices for Well-Being Assessment, a 100 item self-test covering the 10 mindful choice areas.
Part III is an Action Planning Guide giving you step-by-step guidance for systematically becoming masterful in each choice area.
Finally, our website _________________________presents you with related forms, articles, and additional resources.
You have begun an important journey, and one that will be transformational. We begin in Chapter 1 with a short story illustrating the power of “Mindful Choices.” Enjoy your journey. Carpe diem!
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Seligman, M. (2012). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. New York, NY: Atria Books.
ABOVE THE LINE: FROM DIS-EASE TO WELL-BEING AND HAPPINESS