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A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters

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“In all my years studying personal growth, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is one of the most useful tools I’ve ever come across, and in this book, Dr. Hayes describes it with more depth and clarity than ever before.”-Mark Manson, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Life is not a problem to be solved. ACT shows how we can live full and meaningful lives by embracing our vulnerability and turning toward what hurts.

In this landmark book, the originator and pioneering researcher into Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) lays out the psychological flexibility skills that make it one of the most powerful approaches research has yet to offer. These skills have been shown to help even where other approaches have failed. Science shows that they are useful in virtually every area–mental health (anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, PTSD); physical health (chronic pain, dealing with diabetes, facing cancer); social processes (relationship issues, prejudice, stigma, domestic violence); and performance (sports, business, diet, exercise).

How does psychological flexibility help? We struggle because the problem-solving mind tells us to run from what causes us fear and hurt. But we hurt where we care. If we run from a sense of vulnerability, we must also run from what we care about. By learning how to liberate ourselves, we can live with meaning and purpose, along with our pain when there is pain.

Although that is a simple idea, it resists our instincts and programming. The flexibility skills counter those ingrained tendencies. They include noticing our thoughts with curiosity, opening to our emotions, attending to what is in the present, learning the art of perspective taking, discovering our deepest values, and building habits based around what we deeply want.

Beginning with the epiphany Steven Hayes had during a panic attack, this book is a powerful narrative of scientific discovery filled with moving stories as well as advice for how we can put flexibility skills to work immediately. Hayes shows how allowing ourselves to feel fully and think freely moves us toward commitment to what truly matters to us. Finally, we can live lives that reflect the qualities we choose.

Editorial Reviews

Review

“In all my years studying personal growth, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is one of the most useful tools I’ve ever come across, and in this book, Dr. Hayes describes it with more depth and clarity than ever before.”–Mark Manson, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

“Steven Hayes possesses an extraordinary trifecta of skills: A brilliant theoretical and research psychologist, he’s also a compassionate clinician and a wonderfully engaging writer. A Liberated Mind is packed with jewels of insight and information that could change the way we deal with suffering as individuals and as a society. A compelling, revelatory read.”–Martha Beck Ph.D, author of Finding Your Own North Star

“Written for a very broad audience, Dr. Hayes is able to clearly translate the science and clinical complexity of this treatment into concrete guiding principles for people’s lives. These principles not only apply to psychological suffering, but also to physical illnesses, relationships, corporations, societies, and cultures. The book is honest, compassionate, and profoundly insightful. It will transform your life by liberating your mind.”–Stefan G. Hofmann, Ph.D. Professor of Psychology at Boston University

“The key to evolving consciousness is cultivating a flexible mind—open, present, empowered and aligned with deep values—and Steven Hayes does a brilliant job showing us how.   This book is organized around developing six psychological skills that clinical research shows, beyond all other factors, promote flexibility and translate into a happier and healthier life.  As you read this illuminating book, you’ll see how these skills are learnable, that you can start right now, and how when woven together, they offer a path to inner freedom.”–Tara Brach, Ph.D, author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge

“In our crisis-ridden society psychological flexibility is more needed than ever. Transcending shallow and ineffective behavioral approaches, Dr. Steven Hayes here presents a methodology, a skill-set, for emotional liberation that enables us to pivot from self-limitation to self-awareness and self-affirmative action.”–Gabor Maté MD, author, When The Body Says No: Exploring The Stress-Disease Connection

“We can spend our lives avoiding the thoughts and feelings that cause us pain.  But Steve Hayes has become a leader in his field by understanding that things that cause us pain are things about which we care.  By learning to use psychological flexibility we can turn toward the difficult places to live with richness and meaning.  Compassionate, helpful, and authoritative, A Liberated Mind shows us a powerful way to a fulfilling life.”–Susan David, PhD, author of Emotional Agility

“A Liberated Mind
 provides an outstanding introduction to a psychological approach that has changed many lives by turning us toward focusing on our values.  The ideas and advice presented here help us truly understand what matters so that we can live with greater freedom, courage, and joy.”–Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct and The Upside of Stress

Having dealt with his own problems, such as panic attacks, Hayes deftly explains how to pivot by creating habits, accepting vulnerability and changing perspective.”–Success Magazine

About the Author

Steven C. Hayes, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno. The author of forty-three books and more than six hundred scientific articles, he has served as president of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy and the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, and is one of the most cited psychologists in the world. Dr. Hayes initiated the development of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and of Relational Frame Theory (RFT), the approach to cognition on which ACT is based. His research has been cited widely by major media, including: Time magazine, The New YorkerThe New York TimesMen’s HealthSelfThe Wall Street JournalPsychology TodayO, The Oprah Magazine, and Salon.com. –This text refers to the hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Life should be getting easier, but it’s not. It’s a paradox of the modern world. At the very moment that science and technology are providing us previously unimagined longevity, health, and social interaction, too many of us struggle to live meaningful, peaceful lives full of love and contribution.

There is no question that we’ve made incredible progress over the last fifty years. That computer in your pocket called your phone is 120 million times more powerful than the guidance computer for Apollo 11-the first rocket to land people on the moon. Progress in health technology has been similar. Leukemia killed 86 percent of the children who contracted it fifty years ago-now it kills less than half that. In the last twenty-five years, child mortality, maternal mortality, and deaths from malaria all declined 40 to 50 percent. If physical health and safety were the issue and you could pick only the moment to be born in the world but not to whom, you could not do better than to choose today.

Behavioral science is another matter. Yes, we are living longer. But it is hard to make the case that we are living happier, more successful lives.

We have more accurate information than ever about illnesses that are largely due to lifestyle. Yet despite billions of dollars spent on research, our healthcare systems are staggering under the dramatically rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and chronic pain. Mental illness is rapidly becoming much more of a problem, not less. In 1990, depression was the fourth leading cause of disability and disease worldwide after respiratory infections, diarrheal illnesses, and prenatal conditions. In 2000, it was the third leading cause. By 2010, it ranked second. In 2017 the World Health Organization (WHO) rated it number one. Approximately forty million Americans over age eighteen have been diagnosed as having an anxiety disorder, and almost 10 percent of Americans report “frequent mental distress.” We don’t feel as though we have adequate time. We don’t take care of ourselves the way we’d like. Our health suffers. Many of us are putting one foot in front of the other while lacking a real sense of purpose and vitality. Every day, someone who seems to have a good life decides to eat a bottle of pills rather than continue one more day.

How can this be?

I believe it is because we have not risen to the challenges of being human in the modern world. Some of the very things we have been doing over the last hundred years to foster human prosperity have created our conundrum. Take the case of innovations in technology. Each step forward-radio to TV to the Internet to the smartphone-has created greater mental and social challenges, and our culture and minds haven’t adjusted rapidly enough in effective and empowering ways.

As a result of our technology, we are all exposed to a constant diet of horror, drama, and judgment. In addition, many of us are left feeling overwhelmed and threatened by the rapid pace of change. A concrete example: only a few decades ago children ran and played freely in ways that could bring child endangerment complaints today. This increased protectiveness is not due to the world actually becoming more dangerous; research suggests it has not. Our impression that the world is less safe results more from exposure to uncommon events through the media. No matter how calm we feel, we can turn on our computers and see a tragedy unfold, complete with images of those who died just minutes ago. The twenty-four-hour news cycle shreds our veil of safety with constant videos of capricious violence.

Biography

My goal is a psychology of human functioning that transforms how we live our lives. That passion comes from personal pain. As a young professional I spiraled down into panic disorder and at the very lowest point in 1981 (www.bit.ly/StevesFirstTED) I found a way forward by turning toward pain and suffering, which then allow me to turn toward meaning and purpose. I tell this story in my book, A Liberated Mind. I immediately saw movement not just in myself, but also in my clients. Over two or three years I roughed out ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy … by the way ACT is called “act” not Aay, Cee, Tee), and did a few outcome studies. Then I put randomized controlled trials on hold, while I and my team developed a basic science approach to human language (Relational Frame Theory or RFT), clarified the philosophy of science issues needed to do science in this slippery area (functional contextualism), developed a new behavioral approach to scientific development, Contextual Behavioral Science, and work on the techniques, measures, and theoretical concepts that would support all of this, especially the applied model called “psychological flexibility.” Most of this was done at the University of Nevada, Reno, where I moved as a psychology professor in 1986.

Finally, in 1999 the first academic book on ACT appeared. At the time there were only 2 published randomized control trials of ACT. This book followed by the first RFT book in 2001, and then work really began to take off. We began doing outcome studies in earnest at the turn of the century. There are now several thousand studies on this work, including over 420 randomized controlled trials (see bit.ly/ACTRCTs) and nearly 80 meta-analyses (see bit.ly/ACTmetas). ACT and RFT is being developed by a worldwide association of over 9,300 professionals with nearly 30 chapters outside of North America — the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS: www.contextualpsychology.org). At ACBS you will find list serves for professionals and a list of ACT therapists (bit.ly/FindanACTtherapist).

I’ve written 47 books but mostly for academics. My first popular book was Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life (with Spencer Smith; New Harbinger Publications, 2005) but I have a cool new one I worked on for 11 years called A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters (2019; Penguin/Avery). It is a think book / self-help book / personal story / science story. It shows why psychological flexibility matters. If you want to be on my newsletter list go www.stevenchayes.com and click on “yes, please send it to me.” I will start by sending you a 7 part mini-course on ACT. If you want a short and beautiful illustrated Ebook on “ACT in a Nutshell” drawn by my daughter Esther (her depiction of the Dictator Within will stay with you, I guarantee!), go to stevenchayes.com/a-liberated-mind and I’ll send it to you.

 

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