“Who do you want to be and how do you want to act despite these feelings of discomfort?”
For the past twelve years, my therapist has urged me to reflect upon these questions within our sessions. These two simple questions shed light upon my (and I believe society’s) ever constant search for the magic tip, skill, or product that will quell uncomfortable emotions, self-doubt and cultivate feelings of confidence.
No matter what I achieve, self-help book I read, or challenge I overcome, at times, I still find myself wanting to stop feeling aversive private events (i.e. anxiety), so that I can confidently conquer my next goal. Although I have not found the miracle cure for uncertainty and emotional discomfort, my therapy journey enabled me to develop effective coping skills by means of utilizing the six central principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). In the next section, I will briefly outline the six ACT principles and describe how we as humans and practitioners of Applied Behavior Analysis can employ these strategies to live a value-driven life.
1. Defusion: Recognize that your thoughts and feelings are only thoughts and feelings.
Many of us are preparing to sit for the BCBA exam. As we begin to read Cooper et al., take notes during our Study Notes ABA collective sessions, and emit behaviors that bring us closer to fluency, we might notice private events (such as anxiety or doubt) are present during our study sessions.
In accordance with the principle of defusion, we need to recognize that these feelings are just that—feelings. We do not have any data to evaluate whether the emotions or perceptions we are experiencing prove anything.
So, in the event that these feelings are present when you begin to study, simply tact them and move on. I like to say, “Oh hello there, little feeling of doubt. I see you.” Then, I continue with my task. If it helps, imagine you are sitting by a river watching leaves comprised of your uncomfortable emotion float away. Just “unhook” from the thought and let it go.
2. Acceptance: Allowing these uncomfortable private events to be present without emitting escape or avoidance-maintained behaviors. Just feel them.
Whether you are studying, recovering from an eating disorder, working out, going on a first date, or it’s just Monday, refrain from emitting escape-maintained behaviors. Simply, accept you are feeling discomfort and move the “F” on. You are still a badass, world-conquering goddess or god who can get shit done. You are smart AF and your feelings won’t stop you. So, don’t try to avoid them. Make space for them in your body and continue with your activity.
3. Present moment awareness and Self-observance: Focus on where your body currently is in the environment (utilize your senses) and recognize YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS.
Currently, I am utilizing these two principles as I write this blog. I am sitting in a comfy, but squeaky chair, the candle I am burning is lit (haha), and I am feeling anxiety and self-doubt about the content I am producing for this blog. However, I welcome this anxiety and self-doubt and I recognize it does not define me—I am a strong redheaded, powerlifting, mermaid-goddess and I will get my tasks done.
4. Identify your values and Take committed action: Pinpoint your goals, determine who you want to be, how you want to act, and DO IT!
For example, I want to utilize Applied Behavior Analysis to change the world. I value helping others meet their goals, teaching my clients effective coping skills, and supporting others as they learn to love their body and practice self-love. Therefore, I am going to continue to study and work hard to pass the f-ing board exam. Write out your values and determine what steps you need to make your dreams a reality. When you select and live your values you are conquering your fear, overcoming your self-doubt and embodying confidence.
If you have identified your values but do not know where to start, try the suggestions below:
· Get a drink of water
· Go to the gym and move your body
· Find a therapist
· Talk to your supervisor
· Follow positive people and groups on social media (I like Study Notes ABA-wink, wink)
· Join a study group
· Clean out one area of your house
· Message a friend
Getting started can be difficult and you might have aversive private events surface at the thought of even attempting to get started. Remember: You do NOT need to feel confident to act confidently. You do NOT need to wait to feel better to get shit done. As one of my favorite authors says, “The actions of confidence come first; the feelings of confidence come later” (Harris, 2011, p. 25).
So, in the words of my mentor, Dr. Maggie Pavone, “Just try.”
You will be so surprised to find out you already had the confidence to achieve your goals inside you the whole time.
Harris, R. (2006). Embracing your demons: An overview of acceptance and commitment therapy. Psychotherapy in Australia, 12(4), 2-8.
Harris, R. (2011). The confidence gap: A guide to overcoming fear and self-doubt. Boulder, CO: Trumpeter Books.
About the Author
Lauren is a Provisionally Licensed Behavior Analyst who loves to hand letter, drink coffee, and lift heavy shit. She fully recovered from a ten-year eating disorder and hopes to help others do so after she passes the board exam. You can follow her on Instagram at letters_and_lifting.