Self Help

The Happiness Trap How to Stop Struggling and Start Living - Russ Harris

Author Photo

Matheus Puppe

· 43 min read



Here is a summary of the key points from the Dedication section:

  • The book is dedicated to the author’s mother and father for four decades of love, support, inspiration and encouragement.

  • It is also dedicated to the author’s wife Carmel, whose love, wisdom and generosity has enriched the author’s life and opened his heart in ways he never dreamed possible.

  • No other details are provided in the dedication beyond acknowledging the support and influence of the author’s parents and wife.

  • Over the last 100,000 years, Homo sapiens evolved and spread across the globe as hunter-gatherers. The primary goal of early human cognition was survival, not pleasure or happiness.

  • The four essential needs for survival were food, water, shelter, and sex. However, the number one priority was avoiding danger and protecting oneself from harm.

  • Early humans with minds better able to anticipate and avoid threats lived longer and had more offspring, passing on these cognitive traits.

  • Today, our evolved minds are constantly scanning for potential threats, often worrying about unlikely dangers like job loss or rejection. We also vigilantly compare ourselves to others.

  • Belonging to a social group was crucial for survival, so the mind evolved mechanisms to avoid rejection from the clan like always seeking approval and feeling inadequate compared to others.

  • Primitive success meant having more resources like weapons, food stores, and offspring. Our modern minds still seek “more” in the form of money, status, possessions and an elusive sense of satisfaction.

  • Despite material and technological changes, the human mind remains shaped by its evolutionary past to often focus on threats, lack, and desires for improvement rather than experiencing lasting happiness.

  • Myth 1 states that everyone else is happy except for you, which creates more unhappiness by believing this.

  • Myth 2 says that if you’re not happy, there is something wrong or defective about you. Western society sees mental suffering as abnormal.

  • Myth 3 claims you must get rid of negative feelings to be happy. But achieving meaningful goals often involves both positive and negative feelings.

  • Myth 4 is that you can fully control your thoughts and feelings. But research shows we have much less control over inner experiences than expected.

  • These myths create a “happiness trap” by setting us up to struggle against human nature. This ultimately builds more psychological distress.

  • Our evolved minds give an illusion of control over the outer world but not the inner world of thoughts and feelings. Many techniques promise to control inner experiences but are ineffective long-term.

  • From a young age we are taught we should control feelings, which sets up unrealistic expectations about internal experience and contributes to the happiness trap myths.

  • Adults often send the message that emotions should be controlled, but they may struggle with their own feelings behind closed doors through drinking, crying, etc. Children don’t see these private struggles.

  • At school, crying or showing emotions could lead to bullying. As adults, phrases like “get over it” imply feelings can be turned on and off like a switch.

  • Most people put on a facade of being happy and in control to avoid embarrassment. They don’t openly share their difficult feelings.

  • Attempts to control or get rid of unpleasant thoughts and feelings through things like analysis, avoidance or suppression can paradoxically make the problem worse. It creates “vicious cycles” of suffering.

  • Having negative emotions is a normal part of being human, not a sign something is wrong. Trying to eliminate them isn’t necessary for health or success.

  • While solutions like distraction or suppression seem to work at first, over time they can exacerbate problems by preventing acceptance of difficult private experiences. The real solution is learning to allow uncomfortable feelings without needing to change or avoid them.

  • Scratching inflamed skin due to eczema makes the itch and inflammation worse over time, forming a vicious cycle.

  • Common control strategies to avoid unpleasant feelings include distraction, suppression, arguing, zoning out with drugs/alcohol, bullying oneself. These can become problematic if used excessively, in situations where they can’t work, or in a way that prevents doing valued activities.

  • Using control strategies excessively, like overeating to avoid anxiety, can lead to serious long-term problems like addiction.

  • Distraction only provides temporary relief and prevents dealing with the underlying issue, like watching TV instead of studying.

  • Some feelings like grief from loss cannot be avoided or controlled - they must be accepted and will pass in their own time. Trying to control or escape grief only ensures it will return. Control strategies are problematic when used in situations where they cannot actually work.

  • Donna had recently experienced a terrible loss that left her feeling enormous sadness, anger, fear, loneliness and despair.

  • Unable to accept these painful emotions, she turned to alcohol to push them away. Drinking temporarily soothed her pain but when the effects wore off, her grief would return even worse, leading to more drinking.

  • After 6 months, Donna was drinking heavily every day as well as taking Valium and sleeping pills to avoid her feelings.

  • The most important factor in her recovery was becoming willing to stop avoiding her pain and instead openly experience and accept her grieving process as natural.

  • Only by facing her difficult emotions was she able to effectively grieve her loss and move on with rebuilding her life. Controlling and avoiding her feelings had only made her condition much worse over time.

So in summary, Donna used substances like alcohol to avoid painful emotions after a loss, but this avoidance strategy backfired and led to worse outcomes. Facing her feelings directly through the grieving process enabled her recovery.

Here is a summary of the key points about t, anxiety, frustration and disappointment from the passages:

  • Michelle experiences feelings of anxiety, frustration and disappointment. She has upsetting thoughts that make her feel unworthy.

  • To try and deal with these unpleasant thoughts and feelings, Michelle engages in control strategies like working excessively hard to please others and put their needs before her own.

  • However, these control strategies do not actually get rid of the unpleasant thoughts and feelings. They reinforce her sense of unworthiness and keep her stuck in unhappiness.

  • The first step to escaping this “happiness trap” is increasing self-awareness. Noticing when one is using control strategies to avoid or change unpleasant thoughts and feelings, and the consequences of doing so.

  • Keeping a journal can help with self-awareness. Reflecting daily on control strategies used and how effectively they are working. This helps recognize when stuck in the trap.

  • The goal is not to resign oneself to misery, but rather to transform the relationship with unpleasant thoughts and feelings so they cannot hurt or control one. Learning new ways to handle them without struggling or getting crushed by them.

  • Thoughts refer to the words and stories that run through our minds. They are not reality, but simply words.

  • We often fuse or blend our thoughts with reality, taking them literally as if they are true descriptions of ourselves and the world. This is called “cognitive fusion”.

  • It’s important to be able to defuse or distance ourselves from our thoughts by seeing them as just words rather than truth. Techniques like adding “I’m having the thought that…” help create this distance or defusion.

  • The goal of defusion is not to get rid of thoughts or debate their truth, but simply to see them for what they are - passing words rather than reality. This prevents thoughts from having undue influence over our emotions and behaviors.

  • Our minds constantly generate stories and thoughts, many of which are negative. Learning defusion techniques helps prevent us from getting caught up in and reacting to every thought as if it is literally true. The mind loves to storytell, so defusion is a key skill.

Here are the key points about dealing with negative thoughts from the passages:

  • Negative thoughts are common - research shows about 80% of thoughts have some negative content. However, taking them as absolute truth can feed into anxiety, depression, etc.

  • Most psychological approaches try to eliminate negative thoughts through control strategies like challenging or rewriting them. But these don’t tend to work long-term.

  • In ACT, negative thoughts are not seen as a problem in themselves. They only become problematic when we “fuse” with them and react as if they are the absolute truth.

  • Defusion techniques like labeling thoughts (“there’s the ‘I’m a failure’ thought”), singing them to a tune, or saying “I’m having the thought that…” can help reduce “fusion” with thoughts.

  • Whether a thought is factually true is less important than whether it is helpful. Unhelpful thoughts that criticize, judge or blame tend to lower motivation rather than increase it.

  • Helpful questions to ask about a thought include: is it useful, does it motivate effective action, does it help values-based living? If not, defusion can be applied.

  • Thoughts are regarded as stories or bundles of words, not absolute truths. Beliefs should be held loosely to maintain flexibility. The ultimate test is whether a thought is helpful.

The overall message is to reduce reaction and struggle with negative thoughts, and instead focus on defusion and evaluating thoughts based on their usefulness rather than perceived truth value. This helps prevent thoughts from controlling behaviors and emotions.

  • Beliefs and opinions change as people grow older, so hold beliefs lightly rather than firmly. All beliefs are subjective stories or narratives, whether true or not.

  • Pay attention to helpful beliefs that create meaning and motivation, but don’t cling too tightly to any belief as they are still just stories.

  • According to ACT, pay attention to direct experiences rather than fully believing one’s thoughts. The “impostor syndrome” is an example where highly successful people doubt themselves due to overcritical thoughts.

  • The author used to suffer from impostor syndrome as a doctor but learned not to take critical thoughts like “I’m incompetent” too seriously, as thoughts will arise automatically and don’t need to be believed.

  • Defusion techniques like thanking the mind, naming the story, and using silly voices can help take the power out of distressing thoughts by seeing them as just words or stories rather than true reflections of reality. This allows one to interact with thoughts in a less believlng and more detached manner.

  • The person tried using defusion techniques when having anxious thoughts about giving a presentation, but still felt anxious.

  • Defusion is not meant to get rid of or control feelings - its purpose is accepting uncomfortable thoughts and feelings without struggling with them.

  • An analogy is made comparing the struggle with thoughts/feelings to war between countries. War is exhausting and consuming like constant struggle.

  • A temporary truce is better than war but leaves underlying tension, similar to grudging tolerance of thoughts.

  • True acceptance and peace between countries/thoughts is acknowledging differences without having to like or approve but focusing energy on moving forward productively.

  • Acceptance does not mean just putting up with or resigning to thoughts/feelings, but fully embracing life without struggling against uncomfortable private experiences. The goal is freeing up energy for valued actions.

  • Accepting reality means acknowledging how your life is in the present moment, without struggling against it. This allows you to gain a firm footing to make effective changes.

  • Acceptance doesn’t mean you like your current situation or will stay there - it just provides a stable base to take action from. Fully accepting reality is the most effective way to change it.

  • The Dalai Lama exemplifies this through fully accepting China’s occupation of Tibet while still actively campaigning for Tibetan independence.

  • In domestic violence, acceptance means recognizing the danger and taking protective action, rather than avoiding or fighting uncomfortable feelings.

  • ACT philosophy balances acceptance and action. You develop courage to solve problems that can be solved through action, and serenity to accept unsolvable problems through non-struggle.

  • Trying to avoid or control unpleasant thoughts and feelings through struggle is counterproductive. Defusion is an acceptance technique to reduce struggle, not a method of thought control. If defusion doesn’t reduce uncomfortable feelings, continued non-struggle is recommended over further attempts at thought control.

  • The goal of acceptance is freeing up energy for valued living, not getting rid of thoughts. Unhelpful thoughts may persist but diminished struggle reduces their impact. Thoughts themselves are not problematic - it is fusion and believing their content that causes issues.

The chapter discusses recognizing the difference between the “thinking self” and the “observing self”. The thinking self is the part of the mind that thinks, judges, imagines, etc. The observing self is responsible for focus, attention and awareness. It can observe thoughts but not produce them.

It encourages the reader to practice noticing this distinction through a brief exercise of closing their eyes and observing any thoughts that arise. This shows the observing self noticing thoughts produced by the thinking self.

It compares the thinking self to a radio that is constantly broadcasting, often negative thoughts. While we can’t turn it off, we can practice defusion skills to let those thoughts pass by without attention or belief. The goal is to focus attention on the present moment rather than getting caught up in the thinking self’s narration.

It introduces a technique called “Ten Deep Breaths” to practice focusing attention on the physical sensations of breathing, and allowing any thoughts to pass by in the background without engagement or attachment. The chapter encourages practicing defusion skills to disengage from unhelpful thoughts and focus on the present moment instead.

  • The passage describes a technique for mindfulness meditation where you focus on your breath while letting thoughts pass by without getting caught up in them.

  • If a thought captures your attention, acknowledge it by silently saying “Thinking” and then refocus on your breath.

  • Practicing this builds skills in letting thoughts come and go without fixation, recognizing when you’ve been “hooked” by a thought, and gently redirecting attention.

  • It’s normal to get hooked multiple times when practicing. The goal is to get hooked less often and unhook quicker over time.

  • In addition to brief exercises throughout the day, dedicating 5 minutes twice daily provides more focused practice of attention skills.

  • Acceptance means allowing thoughts without judgment or struggle, rather than trying to control or avoid them.

  • Scary future images often arise and cause fear, but practicing defusion helps see them as just pictures rather than predictors, reducing fusion and reaction.

  • Defusion techniques can be applied to images the same way as thoughts, initially focusing on them but ultimately letting them come and go without much attention. This reduces struggle and wasting energy, allowing focus on more constructive things.

Here is a summary of the key points about painful memories and cognitive defusion techniques:

  • Memories are often stored and recalled through our five senses, especially as visual images or “pictures”.

  • In cognitive fusion, we give these unpleasant memory images all our attention, react as if they are happening now, and see them as dangerous.

  • In cognitive defusion, we recognize the memories are just pictures of the past that can no longer harm us. We pay attention to them only if helpful.

  • The techniques described aim to help see unpleasant memories as just images/pictures rather than relive the emotions. This includes putting the image on a TV, adding humor, soundtracks, moving the location.

  • Defusion is about acceptance, not getting rid of memories. The goal is to let the images come and go without struggling with them.

  • More traumatic memories may require a therapist’s help. Self-applied techniques carry a risk of re-traumatization without professional guidance.

  • Continued practice is needed until images no longer cause distress when they arise. Defusion should be done to accept, not as a control strategy to eliminate thoughts/images.

  • The passage discusses facing demons or troublesome thoughts and emotions when pursuing meaningful changes in one’s life. It uses the metaphor of steering a ship toward shore while demons attempt to scare you and keep you adrift at sea.

  • It argues that these demons are inevitable, as our evolutionary mindset warns of dangers from anything unfamiliar in order to avoid getting killed. But we can overcome these demons by not allowing them to control where we steer our ship (our direction in life).

  • Facing demons means accepting their presence and knowing their power comes only from our belief in their threats, not from the demons themselves. Ignoring or fighting them is futile and risks wasting time rather than progressing toward goals.

  • Common demons include negative thoughts of failure, rejection or pain. Practicing defusion of these thoughts is recommended to reduce their influence. Painful emotions are another type of demon that can be transformed through understanding and practice.

  • The passage aims to help the reader see through the “special effects” of demons to perceive them as less frightening so they no longer dictate life directions or block meaningful changes. Understanding emotions from a scientific perspective is a key part of this process.

  • When faced with strong emotions like fear or anger, we tend to act them out through actions like shouting, clenching fists, etc. However, we have the ability to control our actions and respond calmly even when feeling intense emotions.

  • Public speakers, actors, poker players and others can display calm outward behavior despite feeling nervous or excited on the inside. They control how they act, separate from how they feel.

  • Encountering a grizzly bear would elicit intense fear, but the key is to control actions by backing away slowly rather than running, which could provoke an attack. Feelings are hard to control but actions can be consciously regulated.

  • While some reflexes can’t be controlled, most actions can be if we consciously observe our feelings and behaviors. Contrary to common belief, emotions don’t necessarily control our actions - we have the power to control how we respond.

  • Emotions are like the weather, always present and changing. They go through stages of being triggered by events, preparing the body for action, and the mind interpreting sensations. How we interpret feelings impacts our experience.

  • The fight or flight response evolved in prehistoric times to help humans survive dangerous situations like being attacked by a woolly mammoth.

  • However, in modern times this response often gets triggered in non-life threatening situations due to our evolved brain perceiving potential dangers everywhere as a precaution.

  • When our brain judges an event as threatening, it triggers the fight or flight response and unpleasant feelings like fear, anger or shock. When it judges an event positively, it triggers pleasant feelings like calmness or happiness.

  • The unpleasant feelings are not inherently positive or negative, they are simply feelings, but we evolved to prefer pleasant feelings due to our struggle switch that makes us want to avoid discomfort.

  • The struggle switch makes us resist and try to get rid of unpleasant feelings, which amplifies our suffering and leads to problems like addiction, overeating or debt from excessive avoidance strategies.

  • With the struggle switch off, our emotions are free to come and go naturally without amplification, and we avoid generating additional “dirty discomfort” from struggling. But turning it off requires expanding acceptance of unpleasant feelings.

  • The statements suggest that emotions are psychologically defective or a sign of weakness. People should hide their feelings and keep tight control over their emotions.

  • Expressing “negative” emotions like anger or fear is inappropriate depending on one’s gender. There is something wrong if one experiences these emotions.

  • Growing up, families may express certain emotions freely but frown upon others. Children learn which emotions are acceptable or “good” versus unacceptable or “bad”.

  • This childhood programming can influence one’s beliefs about emotions as an adult, such as judging certain feelings as bad, believing they must be avoided or suppressed, or that losing control of emotions is dangerous.

  • In reality, all emotions are natural and serve an evolutionary purpose. Judging emotions often intensifies distress. While emotional regulation is important, strict suppression can be unhealthy. A balanced, nuanced view that validates all emotions is most adaptive.

  • Direct experience is more reliable than stories or judgments from others. To truly understand emotions, you need to connect with them directly through mindfulness rather than believe the narratives of the thinking mind.

  • Chronic struggling with emotions can cause physical health issues, but emotions only become chronic when we resist them. Acceptance allows emotions to pass more quickly without becoming entrenched.

  • The thinking mind tends to conceptualize emotions as large, dangerous demons. But the observing self reveals emotions to be relatively small and harmless when approached non-judgmentally.

  • Expansion is about making room for emotions instead of contracting or avoiding them. It involves sensing the body to connect with emotions through the observing self rather than thinking about them.

  • Distinguishing the observing self from the thinking self is important. The observing self notices sensations, while the thinking self comments and judges. Practicing expansion means siding with the observing self over the thinking self.

  • The thinking mind will constantly try to distract from direct experience of emotions through commentary, analysis, judgments, etc. These thoughts can be acknowledged without belief as the expansion process continues.

  • The passage describes a technique called “expansion” for dealing with unpleasant emotions. It involves observing the physical sensations in the body related to the emotion, breathing into those sensations, and allowing them to be there without struggling against them.

  • The core steps are to observe the sensations, breathe into them slowly and deeply, and simply allow the sensations to be present without trying to change or get rid of them. The goal is acceptance, not changing the emotions.

  • It gives an example session between a therapist (Russ) and a client (Donna) where Russ guides Donna through applying expansion to physical sensations of sadness, fear and pressure in her chest. He has her observe the sensations in detail and breathe into them to help create space for the feelings.

  • The key is turning off the “struggle switch” and simply experiencing the emotions fully without fighting them, even if one doesn’t like or want the feelings. With practice of these steps, the emotions may change on their own or they may remain, but either way acceptance is cultivated.

  • Allowing uncomfortable feelings to be there without struggling or fighting them can feel peaceful, even though the feelings may still be painful.

  • The mind often tells us we can’t handle unpleasant feelings, but direct experience shows we can make room for them.

  • When we stop struggling against feelings, the pain may still be there but we feel less frightened by it.

  • Painful emotions are often connected to meaningful experiences like love - we can’t have love without also experiencing some sadness or loss.

  • It’s about accepting feelings as they are, rather than resisting or avoiding them. This changes our relationship to the feelings and makes them less controlling over time.

  • The approach is one of willingness rather than wanting - we allow the feelings without actively liking or desiring the discomfort.

  • The goal is to observe feelings, breathe into them, and make space for them without judgment or struggle, not to feel good per se. Pleasure may come but isn’t the main intention.

So in summary, it’s about allowing unpleasant feelings to be present without fighting them, which can paradoxically feel calming even if the feelings themselves are still painful. The key is acceptance over avoidance or resistance.

  • Accepting all our emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant, is important because we cannot experience just the pleasant feelings without also experiencing the uncomfortable ones like fear, sadness, anger, frustration, and disappointment. These emotions are natural human products.

  • While self-help approaches often suggest activities like baths, music, reading, hot drinks, massage, exercise, and spending time with friends to feel better when we’re feeling bad, the author says we shouldn’t do these just to run away from or suppress unpleasant feelings.

  • Acceptance of our feelings should come first before engaging in other activities. We need to make room for and allow our feelings to be there as they are.

  • Once we’ve accepted our feelings, then we can choose meaningful and valued activities to take action on, not just activities aimed at feeling better. Engaging in valued actions despite how we feel is most fulfilling in the long run.

  • Acceptance is an ongoing process we often need to practice again and again, not a one-time action. The goal is to take valued action, not just feel pleasant feelings. With practice, acceptance can happen quickly even in situations where we can’t sit with feelings.

  • When feeling upset or stressed, you can feel sensations in your body, like tension in the forehead, jaw, neck, shoulders, etc. If you’re numb, practice accepting that numbness by finding where you feel it most and making room for the sensation.

  • The thinking mind can help with a concept called “expansion”, which is making room for unpleasant feelings in the body. It can offer self-talk reminders to accept the feelings or use visualization to observe sensations as objects and breathe into/around them to create space.

  • Urges arise from emotions and correspond to preparations for actions, like restlessness. To deal with urges, notice where you feel them in your body and the associated thoughts. Then determine if acting on the urge aligns with who you want to be and your life goals. If not, don’t act on it.

  • Practicing awareness of sensations and urges, and acceptance of uncomfortable feelings through techniques like expansion and urge surfing, can help manage distressing emotions in a healthy way. The more it’s practiced, the better the skills will become.

  • Your emotions are complex and influenced by many factors, including your physical state, learning history, and specific situation. There is no single or simple cause for how you feel.

  • Different people may have different emotional reactions to the same situation due to these various influences. This can lead to different impulses or urges.

  • Urge surfing is a technique from ACT therapy to mindfully experience and “ride out” urges without trying to resist or suppress them.

  • When you have an urge, observe it mindfully, breathing into the sensation. Allow the urge to rise and fall naturally without judgment, like a wave.

  • Check if acting on the urge aligns with your values and goals. If not, take an alternative action that is more valued.

  • The OBSERVE acronym outlines the urge surfing process - Observe, Breathe, Surf, Expand, Refocus, Values, Engage.

  • The key is to accept your internal experience, choose a valued direction, and take action - the ACT acronym. Finding balance over time is important, not reacting to urges but also not depriving yourself.

  • Urge surfing requires practice in valued situations where urges may arise, to skillfully navigate them.

  • The chapter introduces the concept of “connection”, which is about fully engaging with your present experience rather than getting caught up in thoughts.

  • Our thinking mind acts like a time machine, constantly pulling us into the past or future through worries, plans, memories, etc. This distracts us from what we’re doing in the present moment.

  • Too often we are only half-present during activities like conversations, eating meals or commuting, because our mind is occupied with internal dialogues.

  • Connection means being aware of and interested in our here-and-now experience, without judgment. This allows us to be fully present and appreciate life as it’s happening.

  • Learning connection skills will help counteract the distractions of our thinking mind so we can engage more fully with our activities, relationships and own experience in each moment. Practicing connection makes the most of the present life we have.

So in summary, the chapter introduces the concept of connection as a way to engage fully with the present rather than getting pulled away by internal thoughts and dialogues. It emphasizes the importance of being present to experience life as it is unfolding.

  • The passage advocates for being present in the current moment, as that is the only time we have power to take action. It emphasizes focusing on effective actions that help us move in a valued direction.

  • To act effectively, we need to be psychologically present through accepting our internal experience, choosing a valued direction, and taking action.

  • Connection happens through the observing self, which brings full attention to the present moment without judgment. This allows us to engage with the world and appreciate each moment.

  • Exercises are provided to help the reader connect more fully with their environment, body sensations, breath, and surrounding sounds. Practicing brief awareness exercises daily can improve presence.

  • Simple exercises like noticing five things in the environment or fully focusing on a morning routine activity with all five senses can help center oneself in the present moment. The goal is to wake up our observing self and notice more of what is happening around us.

Here is a summary of the key points without including any unnecessary details:

The passage discusses the importance of being present and connected to daily experiences, even unpleasant ones. It gives the example of washing a dirty dog, noting how being distracted and judgemental made the experience worse, while practicing connection and awareness improved it.

Connection is framed as a skill that can help deal with painful life experiences like depression by focusing us on pleasant present moments rather than distressing thoughts. The reader is encouraged to practice connection during valued daily activities and chores to minimize struggle and make the most of each experience. Connecting fully even just once a day can enrich our lives. Connecting with unpleasant tasks is described as equally important for reducing stress and opening our perspective.

Some exercises are suggested to help the reader connect consciously with useful chores, noticing sensory details in a non-judgmental way and simply experiencing each moment. The overall message promotes mindfulness, presence and openness as ways to better handle both pleasant and unpleasant daily realities.

  • ACT is a mindfulness-based psychotherapy, but it differs from other mindfulness approaches in several key ways.

  • The main goal of ACT is to help people take effective action to improve their lives, not just achieve mindfulness or acceptance. Mindfulness skills are used to facilitate values-based behavior change.

  • ACT is based on behavioral psychology and scientific research, not religious or spiritual doctrines. It does not require adopting any belief system.

  • While similar to Buddhism conceptually, ACT was not influenced by it and has no religious or ritual practices. It focuses on practical application, not meditation.

  • ACT is not about achieving “enlightenment” but creating a rich, meaningful life. It accepts pain as natural and does not promise a pain-free existence through mindfulness.

  • Unlike some self-help approaches, ACT is based on rigorous scientific research testing its methods, not just one person’s life experience. It is an evidence-based psychotherapy.

In summary, ACT differs from other mindfulness approaches in its behavioral focus on values-based action and its grounding in psychological science rather than religion or spirituality. The goal is workable behavioral change, not meditative states.

  • The chapter discusses panic attacks and hyperventilation. Rapid, shallow breathing during anxiety causes a chemical imbalance that triggers physical symptoms like feelings of suffocation.

  • Slow, deep breathing helps rebalance gases in the bloodstream and reduces tension. It should be practiced regularly when feeling stressed.

  • Breathing reminds us we are alive and can help connect us to the present moment. Various breathing exercises are demonstrated to increase awareness of breath, thoughts, body sensations, and surroundings.

  • “Breathing to Connect” is introduced as a new regular practice to build self-awareness, acceptance, and ability to take effective action. It involves focusing on different elements during slow breaths and can be adapted based on situation. The goal is to gather awareness and perspective before responding to challenges.

In summary, the chapter explores how slow, deep breathing techniques can help manage anxiety physically and psychologically by rebalancing the body, increasing presence, and supporting acceptance and wise decision-making in stressful times. Regular breathing practice is encouraged as a tool for connection.

Here is a summary of the key points from the provided text:

  • Taking even one slow, deep breath can help collect your wits in stressful situations like a mental health crisis. It gives you a few precious seconds to acknowledge feelings like anxiety without getting carried away by them.

  • Breathing slowly and deeply acts as an anchor, letting thoughts and feelings come and go while your attention remains on effectively addressing the situation at hand.

  • Regular mindfulness breathing practice (like 10 minutes per day) can have noticeable physical and psychological benefits over time by helping you stay present.

  • In a crisis, taking a few deep breaths is important - it shows you’re alive and gives time to get present, notice your internal experience, and think of effective actions if possible.

  • Practicing “Breathing to Connect” regularly, especially when caught up in thoughts and feelings, can help it become second nature for when you need it most.

  • The aim is to control your breathing, not your feelings - allow any feelings to be there while focusing on connected breathing.

So in summary, slow, deep breathing can help collect yourself in stressful moments by providing an anchor to stay present and focused on effectively addressing the situation, rather than getting carried away by internal experiences.

  • The passage describes Donna’s process of utilizing running commentary and deep breathing to help her manage strong cravings to drink alcohol when feeling grief or distress.

  • Donna would verbally describe her thoughts, feelings, and urges out loud on a scale of 1-10. This helped her stay present with her experience instead of acting on the urge to drink.

  • Over time, she would choose a valued activity to shift her focus to, such as cooking dinner. She would then fully engage her senses to connect with the activity.

  • This technique helped Donna make choices consistent with her values instead of giving in to unhelpful urges, and the urges troubled her less over time as her grieving process continued.

  • Running commentary is a coping skill some find helpful for difficult emotions, while others do not. The passage suggests giving it a try to see if it is personally useful as a way of not getting overwhelmed by inner experiences.

So in summary, it describes Donna’s use of verbal processing and mindful awareness techniques to effectively manage cravings and stay aligned with her values when experiencing distressing emotions.

The passage discusses letting go of self-esteem and self-acceptance. It argues that fighting negative thoughts takes up mental energy and disconnects us from life.

It proposes viewing thoughts as mental events rather than identities. While thoughts like “I’m not good enough” will always arise, we don’t need to buy into or battle them.

Seeing ourselves as the “board” rather than the “pieces” allows distance from thoughts. Just as a documentary about a place isn’t the actual place, a mental “documentary” of ourselves made of thoughts/memories isn’t who we truly are.

If not defined by thoughts, who are we? This leads to discussing the observing self beyond just the thinking self. Overall the passage promotes accepting ourselves and acting on our values, without needing high or constant self-esteem from mental self-evaluations. It encourages mindfulness of thoughts as temporary mental events rather than identities.

Here are the key points from the summary:

  • Roberto Assagioli developed psychosynthesis, an approach that emphasizes self-awareness and harnessing all aspects of oneself (body, emotions, mind, spirit) for personal growth and union with others.

  • One of its core concepts is the observing self or “I”. This refers to our ability to witness or observe our own thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors from a detached perspective.

  • The observing self is seen as eternal and unchanging, whereas our thoughts, emotions, roles, and even physical body continuously change over time.

  • It gives us acceptance and non-judgment of ourselves as it merely observes without criticizing.

  • Connecting with the observing self can help rise above negative thoughts and beliefs to see them objectively.

  • In daily life we get glimpses of the observing self when we consciously observe our own observing, separating ourselves from our mental contents.

  • This perspective of consciousness observing itself can provide insights into our true nature beyond our changing mental and emotional experiences.

The key takeaway is that Assagioli saw accessing the observing self as important for self-awareness, acceptance and growth beyond identification with our constantly fluctuating mental and emotional states. Let me know if any part needs clarification or expansion.

  • The passage discusses the importance of values in creating a meaningful life and taking action. It talks about reflecting on what really matters to you, the kind of person you want to be, relationships you want to build, etc.

  • Your values are your deepest desires about how you want to live and relate to the world. They can guide and motivate you. Living according to your values brings a sense of vitality, even when difficult things happen.

  • It provides an example of how Fred was able to find meaning and satisfaction in a job he didn’t want by bringing his values of coaching/mentoring others into it.

  • Values are ongoing directions, not goals which are things that can be completed. Values like caring for others are lifelong.

  • Research on Holocaust survivors found those who connected to deeper values and purposes survived longer as it gave them reason to endure immense suffering.

  • Connecting to values makes hard work and challenges worthwhile, which allows you to accomplish meaningful goals and projects. Values give life meaning.

So in summary, the passage discusses how reflecting on your values can help guide you to create a fulfilling life and find meaning, even when facing difficulties, as values provide lasting motivation. It emphasizes the importance of staying connected to your deepest desires and purposes.

  • The passage discusses using values to give life purpose and meaning through a values clarification exercise where the reader imagines they are 80 years old looking back on their life.

  • It prompts the reader to consider what they spent too much/little time on and what they would do differently with the benefit of hindsight.

  • The exercise aims to highlight any differences between what the reader values doing versus what they are actually doing.

  • The next section contains a questionnaire to help the reader identify their core values in different life domains like family, relationships, and friendships.

  • It emphasizes focusing on how the reader wants to be (qualities, behaviors) rather than how they want others to be, as one only has control over themselves.

  • Clarifying values provides motivation and direction, whereas goals are future-oriented achievements. The questionnaire is meant to uncover the reader’s guiding principles rather than specific plans.

  • Answering without limitations and from a place of ideals/possibilities can reveal a person’s true values according to the passage.

The passage discusses addressing common issues or doubts that may arise when reflecting on one’s values. It describes several “demons” or negative thoughts that could challenge a person’s contemplation of their values.

Some of the key demons addressed include doubting whether the identified values are truly authentic; not knowing what one wants; avoiding thinking about values due to fear of disappointment or failure; making excuses to put off reflection; dismissing the process as corny or clichéd; and worrying that identified values may conflict.

The passage provides suggestions for dealing with each demon, such as questioning what you would choose if unconcerned with others’ opinions, visualizing one’s funeral to reflect on what matters most, and acknowledging negative thoughts without letting them stop the values reflection process.

Overall, the goal is to troubleshoot potential doubts or rationalizations in order to clarify one’s genuine values and priorities through self-reflection, despite discomforting thoughts that may arise. Facing these “demons” head-on is positioned as an important part of defining a purposeful direction in life.

  • Balancing values often requires compromise and prioritizing some values over others depending on the situation. For example, balancing work responsibilities with family time.

  • The author’s brother had to travel a lot for work, which conflicted with his value of spending time with his young son. However, he found ways to compromise like calling his son each night to read bedtime stories.

  • There are rarely perfect solutions when values conflict, so finding the best balance is important through soul-searching and choosing to focus on what matters most in that moment.

  • Setting meaningful goals can help take action aligned with your values. This involves identifying the most important value domain to start with, then setting immediate, short-term, medium-term and long-term goals specific to that domain.

  • Goals should be “live person’s goals” focused on taking action, not “dead person’s goals” focused on avoidance or stopping behaviors. Visualizing effective action can also help achieve goals through mental rehearsal.

In summary, the key points are balancing values often requires compromise, identifying the most important values to focus on, and setting specific, action-oriented goals to help live according to your values over time. Compromise, prioritization and goal-setting are important tools.

  • The passage discusses the differences between a goal-focused life versus a values-focused life. A goal-focused life centers around achievement, status, wealth, and power, while neglecting deeper values and meaningful connections.

  • A values-focused life sets goals guided by one’s important values. This makes the goals pursue more personally meaningful. Even while working towards goals, one can find satisfaction in the present moment by living according to their values.

  • Goals are still important for a fulfilling life, but a values focus ensures the goals are truly meaningful. This leads to greater motivation to achieve goals which are aligned with one’s values.

  • Connecting with values gives a sense of contentment, fulfillment and abundance now, rather than waiting until goals are achieved. Living according to values provides satisfaction in the present.

  • Setting an action plan with specific, achievable steps can help work towards meaningful goals in a values-focused way. Both goals and appreciating the journey are important for a rewarding life.

  • Having long-term goals like a career, relationship, or financial success is good, but those shouldn’t be the only things that bring you satisfaction in life.

  • It’s common for people to think they need to achieve a goal before they can be happy, but that usually leads to unhappiness by constantly focusing on what’s missing.

  • Underlying every goal are core values - things like helping others, relaxation, learning, personal growth. You can start living by those values now through smaller actions.

  • By focusing on values daily, you gain fulfillment even before achieving major goals. This prevents unnecessary suffering and keeps motivation high for the long run.

  • Small steps like expressing opinions, sharing with others, relaxing activities, or exploring hobbies can nourish values immediately.

The overall message is one of hope and support. Don’t wait to be happy - find happiness now through everyday acts of living congruently with your deepest values. This maintains well-being on the journey toward your dreams. You’ve got this! Keep moving step-by-step in a direction that nourishes your spirit.

Here is a summary of the key points from the passage:

  • No matter what goals you achieve, there will always be a desire for more. True fulfillment comes from living according to your core values, which are always available regardless of circumstances.

  • The passage encourages embracing life’s abundant pleasures and positive experiences through mindful appreciation of small moments and sensations like eating, nature, relationships, etc.

  • Living according to your values will lead to improved relationships and responses from others as you act with openness, kindness and acceptance. Enjoy these positive interactions.

  • Even small achievements consistent with values can bring satisfaction. Notice and savor these pleasant feelings rather than focusing excessively on chasing them.

  • Cultivating mindfulness, appreciation, living by values and noticing abundance will make life more meaningful and rewarding. Life gives most to those who make the most out of what they’re given.

  • Pleasant feelings will come and go, so enjoy them mindfully but don’t cling to or centre your life around chasingthem. Let positive emotions happen naturally while focusing on core values.

  • The chapter discusses the four major obstacles to change - Fusion, Expectations, Avoidance, and Remoteness (FEAR).

  • Fusion refers to getting caught up in unhelpful thoughts like “I can’t do it”. Defusion techniques like seeing thoughts as just words can help overcome this.

  • Expectations talks about being unrealistic with goals, like setting too short of timeframes or aiming for perfection. Small, achievable steps are recommended instead.

  • Avoidance acknowledges that change involves discomfort, but trying to avoid it only perpetuates a vicious cycle. Acceptance of discomfort is needed to make progress.

  • Remoteness means disconnecting from one’s core values, which saps motivation. Reconnecting regularly by writing down and reflecting on values helps stay motivated.

  • Fusion is identified as one of the most common obstacles. The author provides a framework to help face fears of failure by assuming success is possible and taking action towards goals, rather than assuming failure and giving up. This can lead to personal growth through the journey of striving for goals.

  • When pursuing a valued goal, it’s better to attempt it rather than give up without trying. Even if you fail, at least you had the journey and personal growth from facing your fears.

  • In quadrant 3 you don’t try at all, so you miss out on the adventure, skills, and growth from facing challenges. You may later regret not putting in effort when you find out you could have succeeded.

  • In quadrant 4 you give up without trying, so again no adventure or growth. Even if failure was assured, at least by trying you gain something rather than drifting aimlessly.

  • Our mind comes up with reasons and excuses to avoid goals or challenges, through thoughts like “I’m too tired” or “It’s too hard”. But reasons are just thoughts - they don’t determine our actions. We can still pursue goals even with those thoughts.

  • It’s important to be honest with ourselves about what we truly value. Don’t let thoughts like “If it was really important I’d be doing it already” dissuade us from acting on our values. Values exist whether we act on them or not.

  • Techniques like acknowledging reasons as just thoughts, asking if we’d act if a loved one’s life depended on it, or labeling the underlying stories can help defuse reasons and excuses to avoid valued action.

Here is a summary of the key points about willingness from the passages:

  • Willingness means making room for or allowing negative thoughts, feelings, and sensations, even though you don’t like them, in order to pursue something you value. It doesn’t mean liking or wanting the negative experiences.

  • Willingness is necessary to overcome obstacles and pursue meaningful goals. Saying “yes” to discomfort expands your life, while saying “no” contracts it.

  • Willingness is an all-or-nothing proposition - you either allow your experience fully or you don’t. There is no middle ground of partial willingness.

  • Practicing acceptance, defusion from thoughts, and presence with feelings through ACT techniques can make discomfort more bearable and willingness easier.

  • Examples are given of people who were willing to feel anxiety, vulnerability, sadness, and discomfort in order to pursue goals like finding a partner, spending more time with family, recovering from addiction, and career change.

  • The author applied willingness to feel anxiety, discomfort, and struggle in order to write the book, which was an important goal and value for both self-growth and helping others.

Here is a summary of the key points from the passage:

  • The author wrote a book and initially struggled with overcoming procrastination and inertia to start writing.

  • To help overcome this, he wrote down all the unhelpful thoughts, feelings, sensations and urges he expected to experience, such as anxiety, frustration, tightness in his jaw, etc. This helped him prepare for and handle what he may face.

  • He also wrote down inspiring quotes to remind himself of why he was pursuing this goal.

  • He broke the large goal of writing a book down into much smaller and more manageable steps, like writing one sentence at a time.

  • He forced himself to take the smallest first step of writing one sentence, while experiencing unpleasant thoughts and sensations. But he observed them non-judgmentally and committed to continuing to pursue his goal.

  • Over 18 months, he continued writing through many challenging sessions, and eventually completed the book. While commercial success is unknown, he found personal fulfillment and skill development through the process.

  • The passage emphasizes how writing out plans, values, and goals can aid motivation and follow-through. It’s a useful exercise to overcoming procrastination.

  • Commitment means taking action in line with your values, even if you are uncertain about achieving goals or facing difficulties along the way. What matters most is the direction you are moving in, not whether you reach specific destinations.

  • Making mistakes and facing setbacks are natural parts of any learning process. Commitment involves accepting mistakes compassionately and getting back on track, rather than giving up.

  • When committing to something, you cannot control outcomes or how you feel, but you can control your actions and continuing in a valued direction. This is what Mel Gibson did when making The Passion of the Christ despite uncertainty.

  • Success is redefined as living according to your values in each moment, rather than achievement of goals. This allows fulfillment regardless of external validation or accomplishments.

  • People who commit may go off track at times but can recommit by accepting what happened, choosing a valued direction, and taking action. Progress is non-linear but commitment leads to continual learning and growth over time.

  • Persistence is important but must be balanced with assessing whether a different approach may be needed if the same actions are not working. Commitment involves adapting while staying focused on valued directions.

Letting go of struggling against unwanted internal experiences and embracing the present moment fully.

Self-as-context: Realising that you are not your thoughts; you are the thinking experiencing, reflecting self that can choose which experiences to attend to.

Values: Clarifying your deepest and most heartfelt personal values.

Committed action: Setting valued daily, weekly and monthly goals and taking consistent steps towards them.

Acceptance: Making room for difficult feelings and circumstances.

Practising these principles leads to psychological flexibility: the ability to move towards valued living in the presence of pain, discomfort, fear or judgment. With flexibility, you can follow a meaningful path despite life’s obstacles.

So in summary, ACT is about defusing from unhelpful thoughts, feeling fully the present, expressing your deepest values consistently through committed action and accepting whatever life brings your way. Doing so creates freedom to choose the life you want—the meaningful life.

  • Allow feelings, sensations and urges to come and go as they please without fighting them, running from them or giving them undue attention. Focus on being fully present.

  • Recognize that you are not your thoughts, feelings, etc. These are transient whereas the observing self is constant.

  • Clarify your core values - what kind of person you want to be, what is meaningful to you.

  • Take valued action aligned with your values, repeatedly if needed. Stay committed.

  • The full ACT formula is: Accept your experience, Choose a valued direction, Take action.

  • Live according to these principles for a richer life but don’t see them as rigid rules. You will slip up at times.

  • If feeling stuck, identify fusion, unrealistic expectations, avoidance, or remoteness from values. Apply relevant ACT skills.

  • Apply ACT principles across all domains to transform dissatisfaction. Focus on what you can control: your actions and attention.

So in summary, it encourages adopting an accepting, present-focused stance while staying committed to values and taking meaningful action in one’s life.

  • The passage encourages people to live in the present moment and make the most of every moment. It emphasizes that life only gives the most to those who actively engage with and appreciate what each present moment has to offer.

  • It notes that the only time we truly have is this current moment. So we should notice what is happening around us in each moment, appreciate it fully, and live fully in the present rather than dwelling on the past or future.

  • This ties into the idea that by fully engaging with each present moment and making the most of life as it unfolds, we position ourselves to receive the most rewards from life. Rather than passively experiencing life, we should actively notice, appreciate and engage with each moment.

  • The passage promotes mindfulness, or active awareness and appreciation of the present. It suggests this approach can help us derive more fulfillment from life.

Here is a summary of the key points from Not The Event:

  • The book introduces ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) as a framework for defusing from unhelpful thoughts and connecting with the present moment.

  • It discusses cognitive fusion vs. defusion, and techniques like naming stories and thanking the mind to distance from thoughts.

  • Emotions are examined as natural responses rather than things we need to control. The struggle switch is introduced.

  • Expansion techniques like body awareness and allowing help develop perspective on internal experiences.

  • Urge surfing can help ride out urges to act on thoughts without judgement.

  • Values and committed action are explored as the path to a meaningful, values-based life. The reader reflects on their values.

  • Goals are developed aligned with values. Willingness, acceptance and commitment are emphasized over willpower.

  • Fear, avoidance and unrealistic expectations are analyzed as barriers. Connectedness to experiences and people is stressed.

  • Mistakes and uncertainty are embraced as natural parts of growth towards experiencing life fully. ACT is presented as a philosophy of life rather than a strict protocol.

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About Matheus Puppe