Two days ago, Thursday June 1st 2017, an article in The New Scientist magazine was published that I co-wrote.
It is a great achievement because it will be one of the largest impact writings about Relational Frame Theory (RFT) i.e. it is possible that more people will lay their eyes on this article than for any other RFT article that currently exists.
At a personal level it feels like a big deal; it feels like an ‘I made it’ moment. And, of course, ‘I made it’ moments matter only because of the history of moments where me making it wasn’t, by any means, a sure thing. I think of my A-Levels where I studied like hell for Psychology and scraped a B. I think of the first two years of my degree where my average mark was 57 (see picture below) and I think of starting my self-funded PhD where some members of staff in the Psychology Department weren’t happy about me being accepted onto the program because I wasn’t ‘PhD material’. How the hell did I, an average boy from a working class family, make it to a point in my life where I publish in a magazine that has a readership of over 100,000 people?
The answer is quite simple. When I was 20, I started reading a book about a new approach to human suffering named Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This is when everything changed for me. Prior to this point, unhelpful thoughts and feelings heavily influenced my decisions. Sure, they kept me in a comfort zone where I was safe but in that comfort zone I could make no progress towards the things that were important to me.
Have you seen the film ‘Yes Man’ with Jim Carrey? The film documents how a man’s life changed when he started saying ‘yes’ to everything. It’s a cool idea and following what I learned about ACT it is pretty close to the way I began interacting with the world. Of course, I differ from ‘Yes Man’ in that if someone asks me to steal a pig from a farm and paint it green then I wont say ‘yes’ (most of the time). However, if someone asks me to do something that is in line with my values, and provided this something wont infringe too much on my ability to self-care, then I say ‘yes’.
Over the years I have especially said ‘yes’ when the offer made me feel uncomfortable or when my mind fed me thoughts like: ‘You’re going to get found out – you’re not smart enough to do this’. My values guided my decision-making. Yes to a PhD, Yes to presenting my work at international conferences, Yes to travelling to the US to meet people like Steve Hayes and Kelly Wilson, Yes to lecturing in Cyprus, Yes to writing a book, Yes to going to the ACT Dublin Conference, Yes to meeting up in Bristol with some people I met at that conference, Yes to setting up an ACT centre with those people, and Yes to trying to write this New Scientist article with those people. Sure, it wasn’t plain sailing and it brought me plenty of failure and discomfort along the way but there is no doubt that I am where I am because of how readily I said ‘yes’. And I was able to say ‘yes’ because ACT taught me that saying ‘yes’ to things that are important to you, even when they bring discomfort, is a way of living that brings liberty and fulfilment (see any recent work by Aisling Curtin and Trish Leonard to learn more about ACT inspired comfort zones).
I guess you might be wondering why I am telling you these things. Well, for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to advocate for ‘yes’ living because of the positive effect it has had on me. However, secondly, and more importantly, I wanted to make a prediction for the future. Here I am, one average person, who became introduced to ACT, started moving outside of his comfort zone when his mind told him that he wasn’t worthy or capable, and started to achieve remarkable things (relative to what I thought was possible). But I am not the only person in the ACT community with that story. You see the thing about ACT is that it isn’t an approach you ‘do’ to other people; it is an approach that starts with oneself. So here is my prediction: ACT will get bigger and will stay the course. I don’t think this will happen because ACT will win therapy wars with 1000’s of studies (those wars don’t have winners). I think it will happen because over time more and more ‘average’ people will start to achieve remarkable things by saying ‘yes’ when their mind tells them that they aren’t good enough. If this does happen then although none of us will be remembered as individuals, as a ‘yes’ community we might just change the world.